Need a Scanner? How about your Smart Phone?

Need a scanner, but don't want to buy a pricey dedicated scanner or multi-function printer?  If you have one of today's high-powered smartphones (or tablets), you can use that instead.  Thanks to the high-quality cameras on today's top smart phones and applications made to scan via your smart phone, scanning a document or photo with great results is as easy as opening an app and snapping a picture.

While you could just use your smart phone to take a photo of your document, today we will look at three free apps you can use to scan using your smart phones.1  These apps do more than just take a photo of the document, as you will see below.


Evernote, a popular on-line note-taking service, has built a free scanning app called Scannable. It's useful for scanning receipts, business cards and printed documents.  It uses optical character recognition (OCR), which can detect letters and numbers on whatever you scan and embeds the characters into the pdf, making the resulting document easy to edit or search.  It can also use this feature when scanning business cards to pull such information as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, allowing you to save them to your phone.

What makes Evernote Scannable so great is its ease of use.  All you need to do is open the app and point your camera at what you want to scan, locate it in the viewer and scan!  It even supports merging multiple documents easily.  Once scanned, it can improve the contrast and brightness to make it as clear and readable as possible.  You can set the app to automatically save any scans directly to your Evernote account or manually export them to your iCloud storage or the Camera Roll in the Photos app.  You can also choose to share scans in a message or email, or to other apps on your phone.

The biggest downsides of Evernote Scannable are (1) that it is only available for Apple iOS devices, and (2) that it doesn't really keep a list of ongoing scans.

And don't forget: you'll need to save or discard a scan once you've captured it in order to save or share a new one.


This app is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone so you need not worry about compatibility.  In addition to taking a photo of your printed documents, receipts, business cards and even hand-print or doodles on a whiteboard,  this app contrasts the text so that it is easily readable. And if your photo is crooked, out of focus, too light or dark, etc., it will automatically apply a filter to enhance it or straighten it out!  Most importantly, the scan quality is stellar (of course this depends on your phone's camera quality).

When you finish a scan, CamScanner analyzes the content of the image and automatically organizes everything into folders by their type. That means, all of your business card scans are saved in one folder, while documents go in another. 

Like Evernote Scannable, CamScanner has OCR, but you'll need to download a plugin to use it. With OCR, you can search documents by keywords or phrases, which works phenomenally. You can also use OCR to export and edit text from your scans, but to this you'll need upgrade to the full paid version of the app.

The basic app is free, though you can pay to upgrade it to add functionality. You do have to sign up for an account, though, but that’s free, as well.

Microsoft Office Lens:

Windows 10 users with a Micosoft account might want to check out Microsoft Office Lens, available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.  This simple app lets you scan documents, whiteboards and photos, and import them into your Microsoft account. You can save a scan as a pdf or add it to OneNote or OneDrive. If you're a Windows 10 user who relies on these types of Microsoft services a lot, then this app is a great choice for you.


1 As you probably know, the number and relative ranking of apps in Apple's app store and Google Play Store vary with time, sometimes quickly. The three apps discussed in this wiki article were considered best-of-breed by the author at the time he was researching the subject. The general rule of thumb for selecting a scanning app should be: ease of use, rendering into pdf format that allows you to merge scanned pages on the fly; and embedding of OCR into the pdfs of scanned print.


Written by Eric Rostetter, Senior System Administrator
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