There might well be times when you want to snap images of business cards, cash register receipts, brochures, or pages in a book while you're on the go. TurboScan is one of an emerging breed of software apps designed to turn your iPhone into a portable document scanner, without the need for extra hardware. As we'll see in this review, TurboScan produces good quality images and easy doc sharing, although it might take you a little bit of work to optimize your images.
Just completing a five-month run as the top business app download in Apple's App Store, TurboScan competes against a bunch of other apps in this burgeoning category, including GeniusScan, DocScan, ScannerPro, and JotNot, for instance. Essentially, these apps give you a portable alternative to the traditional desktop scanner, which takes pictures of hard copy docs placed on its glass.
Outside of these apps, there are other ways of using your iPhone to grab images, convert them to formats such as PDF, and e-mail or upload them to cloud services sharing. So to be worth installing, let alone paying for, an iPhone scanner app needs to offer something extra.
In the case of TurboScan, an app priced at $1.99, the advantages can be found in features that boost the quality of the electronic images as well as the convenience of managing those images.
To get started with this software, just click on the Scan button and take a picture of the item you want to scan. The system then tries to determine the edges of the image. This is easier if there is good contrast between the image and its background ? a white piece of paper on a dark desk, for example.
TurboScan lets you adjust this image frame by cropping the picture more precisely. You can also adjust for brightness, rotation, and mode (color, black and white, or photo).
As you adjust the image frame, TurboScan attempts to straighten the image by using a feature called "perspective adjustment." The image straightening is also supposed to compensate for "skewed perspective," the tilting which occurs when you can't quite hold the camera exactly parallel to the object, or when the image is curved, as with an open book.
When you're done scanning, TurboScan saves the image to its library. If you want to, you can also add pages to form a document, or a collection of scanned images.
TurboScan can save your finished images as JPEGs or PDFs, or open them in your PDF reader. It can send them as PDFs to other apps installed on your phone, to your camera roll, or to an Apple AirPrint-compatible printer.
You can edit the image name, date-stamp the filename, and set the document size -- such as US letter or legal, A4, Receipt (8 cm wide), or business card size -- for each image. You can also e-mail the image to yourself using your phone's existing email app.
If you already have images on your phone which you'd like to enhance, you can also grab the existing images from your camera roll, run them through the TurboScan tweaks, and treat this as a scan.
In testing TurboScan on my iPhone 4S, I found that the app does most of what it's meant to do pretty well. The app makes it easy to use your iPhone as a quickie portable scanner, to add quality adjustments to images, and to file and forward the scanned docs.
Sending scans to the Dropbox and Evernote apps installed on my phone took only a click. Emailing PDFs and JPEGs to myself was also easy and fast.
On the other hand, the perspective adjustment feature might have worked better. This feature is well intended. It's much more difficult, of course, to take a perfectly straight image with your iPhone than it is to place the document on a flat scanner window.
Some of this distortion can come from wrinkling that can happen to print docs. especially with cash register receipts that you've put into your pocket. Without a scanner lid to press down the paper, I had to smooth out my receipts manually. It makes sense for an iPhone app to try to straighten a slightly out-of-tune image whenever possible.
If the document is against a dark background, TurboScan can do a good job of autodetecting the image edges and adjusting the perspective.
However, I also discovered that if you're using the iPhone flash, it's best to take a straight-on shot. As you can see in the first image (above), when I captured the image from an angle instead, TurboScan's edge detection system got fooled).
Even in a case like this, you can get a better result if you adjust the frame. The next image (above) is a lot straighter, although the top part is stil wriggly.
I then played around with other image adjustment features -- such as the contrast buttons below the image, the image-rotation arrows, and the "color" feature -- to get an better result (which you can see in the third image).
Yet when I tried scanning a page from a book, TurboScan couldn't get rid of the distortion of the page towards the book spine, even though the documentation implied that it could.
Currently in version 2.51, TurboScan requires iOS 3.0 or later. The software is designed to run on Apple's iPod touch and iPad, in additon to iPhone.
If you ever need to scan hard copy documents while away from home or the office, you might want to check out TurboScan. At $1.99, it's much less expensive than a flatbed scanner. Since you can run the software on your iPhone, you won't need to carry along portable scanner hardware.
It might take you some time to learn how to straighten the images, but you'll probably get the hang of this after a few tries. TurboScan's "perspective adjustment" feature, though, doesn't work that well with certain kinds of documents, such as pages in a book.
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