All-purpose flatbed scanners group test review

powerful low-cost scanner
Photo of All-purpose flatbed scanners group test
£100 + £44

This is a long, silver and grey scanner with a series of seven software-control buttons along its front edge. These offer functions such as scan-to-Web, OCR and e-mail, as well as one-touch scan. There’s even a custom button, which you can assign to a program of your choice.

Install the ScanWizard 5 software, connect the scanner’s power supply and its USB cable and you’re all set. The software offers two operating modes, one for beginners, where nearly all settings are adjusted automatically, and a second for experts, offering several separate dialogues and far more scope for manual settings.

Alone among the scanners reviewed here, the ScanMaker 4900 works with the older USB 1.1 standard. Partly due to this and partly due to a lot of automatic adjustments before each scan, the scan times on our test documents were not good. 43 seconds for a simple mono page scan could be irritatingly long if you need to OCR a multi-page document.

The scanner comes bundled with a useful set of software, including Adobe Photoshop LE and Ulead’s DVD Picture Show, both of which can do a lot more than simply saving your scans.

Scan quality was variable, at least at default settings, with vivid colours coming out pale and insipid. Strangely, the preview scans in the ScanWizard 5 software looked considerably better than the final results in our selected application. You can compensate for these problems fairly easily, but many people simply want to scan, using their scanner straight from the box. Even with this shortcoming, though, the ScanMaker 4900 is good value at its price.

Umax offers a two-part solution for scanning; its scanner and the optional transparency adapter. The scanner can be bought on its own for around £100. The adapter sits like an ice-hockey puck on the glass of the flat-bed and can handle a variety of media, from 35mm slides to negatives in several sizes. Many of the transparency adapters included with entry-level scanners are pretty cursory and this device is better made than most.

The design of the Astra 4700 is fairly conventional, but with only three special-function buttons at the front. These enable one-touch scanning, copying and e-mail, but other tasks have to be initiated from within the scanning software.

The Umax driver looks slightly simplistic at first sight, but a strip of extra buttons, initially hidden, broadens its scope. It can, in fact, handle most of the tasks you might set it. The scanner comes bundled with MGI’s PhotoSuite and the PaperCom document manager. Both of these applications are useful in their own right and work well with the scanner.

Scanning speed for the Astra 4700 was quite impressive, with the 8 by 8-inch print completing in a group-leading seven seconds, but scanning the 35mm slides took over a minute, which was not so quick. The A4 text scan, important for OCR work, took just 13 seconds.

Image quality was reasonable, with fair reproduction of colours, though darker hues could look a little lifeless. Reproduction of line art was a little better than we had expected, and better than the subjective results our sample images suggested. Overall, this scanner and transparency adapter is a flexible combination at a competitive price.

Converting printed material into digital form is one of the key functions most people ask of their PCs. One of the most common types of device for doing this is the flatbed scanner. Scanners, which can scan paper, photographic prints, and often transparencies and negatives, are the key tools for transferring all kinds of printed information into its electronic counterpart.

Flatbed scanners used to be the preserve of the professional graphics artist and the terminally wealthy, but recent advances in design and production have reduced prices to the point where most people using home computers can afford to add them to their systems.

The most obvious recent addition to these cheaper scanners is the transparency adapter. With more and more interest in digital photography, the ability to scan images from conventional photographic transparencies is seen as a growth market. There are two approaches to transparency scanning; through an integrated backlight in the lid of the scanner and using a separate, puck-like device which you lay on the flatbed. The integrated approach is definitely more convenient.

The other notable trend in these entry-level devices is the number of extra controls provided by rows of buttons on their surfaces. With a single button press you can now start a scan or a copy, or scan directly as an attachment to an e-mail or to FTP to your Web site. Although you can still do this from within the software supplied with these scanners, it’s often easier, particularly at the start, to just press the button.

Here we’ve reviewed six of the best all-purpose flatbed scanners. Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

Several unexpected features single this scanner out from the crowd – though not all of them are good. For a start the device is much longer than most A4 scanners, with an extended lip at the front, into which is set a two-digit LCD display and no fewer than eight buttons. While the number display may be useful if you use the scanner for a lot of copying, and it may well be handy to switch between colour and greyscale scans from the button panel, none of these extras is vital.

All the software supplied with the Scanjet is integrated into one HP application and this installs well, though it’s not always easy to use. The scanner driver, in particular, has the annoying habit of resetting any parameters you set, at the end of a session. This makes it particularly awkward when you’re using it from a third-party application, such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.

The transparency scanner takes the form of a separate unit which you lay on the flatbed in the middle of a template which exactly fits the scan bed. It can scan three slides or a strip of negatives in one go, but is still not as easy to use as the built-in adapters fitted to other scanners.

The performance of the Scanjet 4570c was on a par with the Epson scanner on the print and text page tasks, but it completed the transparency scan in less than half the time, the fastest in the group. Image quality was good even at the default settings and it’s only the irritating shortcomings in some of its software that holds it back.

The quality of the scanners you can now buy for under £150 is surprising. We’re close to having reached optimum optical and interpolated resolutions and colour depth, so most manufacturers are looking to improvements in feature sets to win your money.

Many scanners, even in this price range, now include transparency adapters and one-touch buttons to simplify common tasks. In this group, depending on make and model, you get from three to eight software-controlled buttons for things like scanning, copying and e-mailing.

All bar the Microtek ScanMaker 4900 include transparency adapters, usually built into the scanners’ lids, and these all worked to produce reasonable, high-resolution scans from slides. The Microtek scanner has an optional transparency adapter costing extra.

If your budget is tight, you could do a lot worse than go for Canon’s very able CanoScan 3000F. This neat, well-designed scanner incorporates most of the features of its rivals, but scans quickly and produces results nearly good enough to use without tweaking. It also includes a good software bundle, with lesser-known but useful photo editing and image organisation software.

If you can run to the extra cost, though, Epson’s Perfection 1660 Photo produced superior scan quality and needed little adjustment for full-colour print or transparency scans straight from the box. Like the Canon, it integrates the transparency adapter into its lid, which makes it very easy to switch from print to slide or negative scanning. For everyday work, it’s also the quickest in the group, producing results in around 10 seconds.

The cheapest of the six scanners in this group, the CanoScan 3000F is surprisingly well-equipped. Although little bigger than an A4 sheet, it uses a proper cold cathode lamp for illumination, as do all the scanners in this group, rather than the LED strip employed by some entry-level devices.

It uses what Canon calls a Z-hinge to enable the convenient scanning of thick books and it has a transparency adapter built in. This is revealed by sliding off a white plastic cover from the underside of the lid and you can then scan a slide or a single frame of 35mm negative. Three buttons on the scanner’s front edge provide one-touch scan, copy and e-mail functions.

Installation is straightforward; install the software, connect the USB 2 cable and plug-in the power supply. Canon’s flexible ScanGear driver has both beginner and expert modes and ArcSoft’s PhotoStudio editing software and PhotoBase for image management are also supplied. PhotoStudio, although not one of the best-known editing packages, includes a good range of tools and filters.

The CanoScan 3000F is not the fastest scanner in this group, taking 18 seconds to scan an 8 by 8-inch colour print and nearly a minute for a 35mm transparency. It’s also not the quietest, making a variety of whizzes and clunks during the scanning process.

Scan quality is in general acceptable, though flesh tones can come out with an over -pink tinge. This is easily adjusted for, though it would be more useful to have the defaults correct from the start. Overall, this is a neat, high-spec scanner for its asking price.

We tested the scanners by measuring the amount of time, in seconds, that they took to perform scans of three different types of source. These were; an 8 x 8-inch, 150ppi (pixels per inch) photographic print; an A4, 300ppi mono page of text and a 35mm, 1,200ppi slide.

Scanner performance results

Scanner performance results

Scanner performance results

This is a big, beefy scanner and although it costs more than some of its competitors in this group, it also produces above average results. It sits quite high off the desk and makes a fair amount of noise when scanning, with as many buzzes and clunks as the Canon device.

A row of buttons along its front edge, including a convenient, illuminated scan button, offer one-touch copy, e-mail and scan-to-Web functions. A transparency adapter is built into the scanner’s lid and it can cope with up to four slides at once, or a complete strip of 35mm negatives.

There are just two sockets at the rear of the Perfection 1660 Photo, for USB 2 and power connections. Epson’s own scanner driver is easy to use and well-functioned, but if you need more photo processing muscle you can call on either ArcSoft’s PhotoImpression 4 or Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, both of which are bundled. Photoshop Elements, while a cut-down version of Adobe’s flagship painting package, still has most of the more useful tools and filters in that product’s feature-set.

Scan times for the 8 x 8-inch colour print and text page tests were impressive at 9 and 10 seconds respectively, though the transparency scan, of a single slide, was a little slow at 65 seconds. For day-to-day scanning, this is the fastest device in the group.

It also produced some of the best quality scans, straight from the box. Images were lively, without being over-vivid, and pastel colours reproduced accurately and close to their originals. The Perfection 1660 Photo is a good general-purpose scanner at a very reasonable price.

This is the only one of the six scanners to be designed as a landscape device; wider than it is deep. Depending on how and where you’re going to use it, this layout could be convenient. There are five easy-use buttons along the scanner’s long edge, which initiate scan, copy, OCR and e-mail functions. The fifth button is programmable to launch an application of your choice.

One of the highlights of this scanner is its Scansoft PaperPort software. This provides good control of your scanned documents and enables you to feed them directly into the appropriate application, so OCR documents go to your word processor, while colour prints are scanned to a graphics program, such as the excellent Photoshop Elements which is bundled with the scanner.

The OneTouch 9020 comes with a transparency adapter built into its lid. While it only scans a single slide or negative at a time, it does so quickly, completing the scan in under 30 seconds. Other scans are also commendably quick for a device of this price, with the 8 by 8-inch colour print scanning in just 12 seconds.

Scan results were not that good, with an unpleasant yellow cast over skin tones by default. You can compensate for this, using the well-designed scanning interface in the Visioneer driver, but it’s annoying that you can’t get better results without adjustment. Compensating for scanning shortcomings is made easier by the facility to save and reload custom presets from within the driver. Overall, the specification and facilities of the OneTouch 9020 are good, but scan quality is below par in its default mode.

Below are sample images scanned with the scanners in their default modes.

sample image Canon

sample image Epson

sample image HP

sample image Microtek

sample image Umax

sample image Visioneer

Company: Umax

Contact: 0870 9064400