Plustek SmartOffice PS286 Plus review

Auto-feed, duplex scanner to help turn your office paperless
Photo of Plustek SmartOffice PS286 Plus
£350

Got a desk piled high with clippings, torn-off stories from newspapers and reams of press releases, brochures or annual reports? Plustek’s PS286 Plus thinks its can help you take a step closer to your ‘paperless office’ dream by taking 50 of those pieces of paper in one go and converting them all to searchable PDFs. If you fell out of love with the flatbed scanner, this diminutive gadget (no bigger than a DAB radio) could be the answer – though there are, as we’ll see, a few catches.

Getting started
The installation process for the Plustek is long-winded and rather manual for our tastes. It’s laid-out as a step-by-step guide that’s easy to follow, but there are a few steps that are merely ‘follow on-screen instructions’, which is inevitably where the software failed to install first time around.

Although the PS286 Plus is supplied with software only designed for XP, Vista and Windows 7, Plustek’s website offers drivers for a Mac, too – although in our tests, these failed to work.

Bundled software
Four separate software packages come bundled, suffering not only from occasionally poor English, but also from duplicated features.

Abbyy FineReader 6.0 Sprint Plus – a standard issue with many a scanner – converts scanned images into editable and searchable text files, which are then handled by New Soft Presto PageManager software.
Meanwhile, NewSoft Presto ImageFolio is for photo editing (as if anyone needs more software for that) and BizCard Finder 3 is a text recognition software specifically designed for business cards.

All very useful, but rather finickety – so it’s a good job that the PS286 Plus’ drivers can talk TWAIN to any old PC and be used rapidly and simply to churn through a load of A4 scans to PDF, Word or Excel.

That said, it’s actually worth persevering with the supplied software, if you have the time, since there are some niceties. Nine separate functions can toggled to on the front of the unit – via a twee LCD screen that bears only a single digit, and each function can be customised (such as scanning a document that opens as a PDF in a particular application on a PC). There’s even a sticky label on the front of the unit where you can write down a description of each. If that’s rudimentary, it’s also useful in an office of multiple users – and there are some notably advanced features elsewhere that lift the PS286 Plus up a peg or two, such as credit card scanning and even scan-to FTP.

Speedy scanning
The PS286 Plus is quick. It depends on what kind of resolution you choose to scan in, of course, but with a collection of pages torn out of magazines, newspaper clippings and business cards, we found it a relatively quick process – once the parameters have been set – to digitise everything on a desktop, even double-sided pages.

Occasionally, the automatic document feeder went awry after drawing in a crumpled edge, but in general it coped with large loads of paper in one go. In our tests, a single page of A4 took 20 seconds at 300dpi, while five pages took just over a minute. We wouldn’t recommend using anything lower than this resolution, though doubling the resolution to 600dpi takes less than twice the time.

Photos are also handled well, though the JPG/TIF/BMP files produced appeared washed-out compared with a dedicated photo scanner, with noticeable artefacts.

Although the Plustek PS286 Plus does come with a cute carry-bag, we’re not sure why; this is a useful desktop gadget that replaces a scanner at a stroke – but it’s mains-operated, so it’s useless on the road.

Company: Plustek

Website: http://www.plustek.com/uk

Positives
  • Speed, small size, searchability.
Negative
  • Ugly software, poor photo scanning, faulty Mac drivers.

Verdict

The way the PS286 Plus works is a huge improvement on flatbed scanning, but comes at a high cost.

And with some decidedly unfriendly software, we're sure it's suitable only for those who don't mind going through a drawn-out set-up and getting-to-know you process. Plug‘n'play this ain't, but once set up it's a real time-saver - and step closer to the mythical paperless office.