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More than meets the eye
Maybe Fujitsu’s design team felt nostalgic for their now-dead printer division, because there’s no way around it--the S1500M looks like a printer (or at least a scanner with an identity crisis). That’s not a bad thing, mind you. In fact, the scanner’s unusual design underscores Fujitsu’s main selling point: The ScanSnap reinvents the wheel, scanning practically any paper document as fast as a printer prints pages, aiming to bridge the gap between high-end, sheet-feeding office scanners and the cheapo, consumer-grade flatbed scanners that never align pages properly. We are happy to say the ScanSnap wins on both counts, delivering a product that not only scans with aplomb, but also innovates, adding features that we now want to find in every scanner.
When you open the box, you’ll find a strange piece of machinery that unfolds to become your scanner (like some kind of Transformer in office-appliance cladding). The compact design is a huge plus, as the ScanSnap can easily fit on the corner of a desk, on top of a cluttered table, or even in your backpack, if that’s how you roll. Operation is distinctively quiet, and build quality is sturdy. The only obvious design flaw is an output tray that can’t hold multiple pieces of paper, so be prepared to keep some sort of collection device handy when the scanned materials start flying everywhere, or manually remove the sheets when they’re done.
The ScanSnap is not a flatbed scanner--it instead uses ADF, or automatic document feeding--and this is where it stands apart from traditional scanners. Instead of putting in each page one by one, you put pages in the document feeder, and the scanner intelligently takes one page at a time and scans it, double-sided if you wish. The ScanSnap will perform color and grayscale scans at up to 20 pages per minute, which is markedly faster than anything you could accomplish with a hand-fed, flatbed scanner (unless, perhaps, you have an insanely fast scanner and have the hand-eye coordination of a world-class cup-stacking champion). Using the highest quality setting slows your output to five pages per minute, but even at this more logy pace, the ScanSnap has the remarkable ability to scan pretty much anything that fits within its spec range, even the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, were you to rip out its pages one by one, frayed edges and all.
This brings us to the scanner’s big drawback: It’s not a flatbed scanner, so it can’t handle 3D objects or even be trusted with any page that’s out of its 12 to 34 lbs paper thickness range (the paper stock for the cover of Mac|Life is 146 lbs, and even flimsy magazine covers usually weigh in around 100 lbs). This limits your scanning hijinks, though common office documents should never pose a problem.
Indeed, during our tests, we got the best results when scanning standard 8.5x11 sheets, and the ScanSnap faltered with thicker paper or odd-sized pages. Fujitsu provides a carrier sheet to use with smaller items. It works fairly well, but you’re stuck if you try to scan anything wider than 8.5 inches. That said, the vast majority of users will be scanning single 8.5x11 pages, and even as a heavy-use device, the ScanSnap performs well.
With the Mac-specific version of the device, Fujitsu demonstrates that it cares about our kind. The software allows you to handle scan jobs in groups, letting you feed, say, 30 pages into the scanner and leave for a cup of coffee. The software can print the scans directly, open them in MS Office, or add them as images to iPhoto. And while the S1500M’s sticker price may dissuade those on a budget, Fujitsu also bundles Adobe Acrobat 8 (a $200 value), which is a great add-on for users serious about digitizing their paper.
ScanSnap’s best feature is also its main flaw: The feeder technique yields unprecedented speed at the cost of making it difficult to scan nonstandard page sizes. At the end of the day, though, it really has one job—to scan—and the ScanSnap does this exceedingly well.