Here’s one to add to your growing list of must-have productivity apps. Microsoft Office Lens, newly available for Android and iOS after a year of exclusivity on the Windows Phone market, uses OCR to turn snapshots of whiteboards and other documents into searchable and editable Word, PowerPoint or PDF files. This isn’t a new trick, but in typical fashion Microsoft has come up with a couple of interesting features that make it an app worth introducing to the workplace.
To its great credit, Microsoft Office Lens is remarkably simplistic in both aesthetic design and operation. Launching the app takes you immediately to camera mode, where you’re shown four action buttons. There’s a button to turn flash on or off. Another button lets you choose between document, whiteboard and standard photo mode. A third button opens up a drop-down list of options where you can import photos, access your recent history, and set photo resolution. The fourth button is the shutter, appropriately represented by a camera icon.
Because of its intuitive design, the app is simple to use. Aiming your camera at your intended target launches a feature that automatically identifies text and draws a border around it for ideal framing. One of the more impressive capabilities of Microsoft Office Lens is that shots can be framed from literally any angle and the app will automatically crop, clean and straighten the text, placing it evenly into a straight-on, two-dimensional view.
After an image has been captured to your liking, you’re given the option to perform manual cropping before final processing. Choosing whiteboard mode produces the cleanest and crispest outcome. You can then save images to your connected OneNote or OneDrive account in Word, PowerPoint or PDF format. You can also save images to your local smartphone memory if you don’t have a Microsoft account. Images converted to Word can be edited and images converted to PDF are searchable.
Another selling point of Microsoft Office Lens is its ability to take a snapshot of a business card and transfer the information to your smartphone’s list of contacts. In testing, results were hit and miss on business cards with more complex designs, leading us to the conclusion there’s still work to be done in this area. The ability to import existing snapshots into the app is helpful, but unfortunately OCR and image straightening doesn’t work with imported images.
Marketed as an app to save teams time capturing meeting notes and putting them into easily sharable and searchable digital format, the functionality of Microsoft Office Lens doesn’t begin and end in the office environment. It’s also an app that can be used to capture and store permanent digital copies of important documents and receipts that may degrade over time. If you want to try it out, it’s available now as a free download for Android and iOS. The app requires Android 4.1 and up, or iOS 8.0 and later.