USB flatbed scanners group test review

USB flatbed scanner
Photo of USB flatbed scanners group test
£65 + VAT

The new Astra 4500 from Umax is a low cost but surprisingly fast 1,200 dpi scanner. Using a USB 1.1 interface to good effect at lower resolutions, it does, however, struggle at higher resolutions.

Unfortunately this scanner has a tendency to ‘redden up’ all the images it scans and at low resolution they are also dark, whereas at higher resolutions the red becomes too bright and the image also begins to lack accuracy.

However, when used at 300 and 600 dpi to scan documents and store images it works reasonable well, and at these resolutions it is also fast; a colour A4 scan took just 35 seconds at 300 dpi.

The Umax 4500 may not have as many buttons as others in this group, but the three provided – scan, copy and e-mail – are basically all you need anyway.

Umax supplies a limited software bundle with the Astra 4500, comprising copies of MGI PhotoSuite SE, TextBridge 2.0 SE for OCR (optical character recognition) and Papercom for document management.

The Astra 4500 is best suited to routine document scanning because of its relatively low image quality at higher resolutions, which is a disappointment as it offers fast scanning at a low cost.

The AstraSlim is the cheapest of the scanners in this group test and also the slowest, but in its favour it is remarkable thin – just 34mm – and the images it produces belie its price and performance.

Its thinness is explained by the fact that, unlike all the other scanners reviewed here, the Umax AstraSlim doesn’t use a CCD chip. Instead it uses CIS (Contact Image Sensors). These sensors sit very close to the document being scanned and send the scanned image straight to the PC, so there’s need for bulky and expensive lenses, mirrors and chips. The downside of using this method is that the temporary files are very large, while resolution, clarity and colour sharpness are all sacrificed to some extent.

For this reason the AstraSlim is best used with a pretty powerful system with at least 128MB RAM, and preferably a lot more because of the size of the temporary files required.

Despite this, the images that the AstraSlim produces would shame many of the more expensive scanners. Having said that, although details and textures are well reproduced, colours are on the dim side, and it takes an age to scan. A full colour A4 page took an incredible 250 seconds to scan, but this is also down to the limitations of the scanner’s USB1.1 interface.

The bundled software package is very usable and is ideal for beginners; it’s just lacking in features for more advanced users. The same can be said for the ReadIRIS OCR software package; fast but with no frills. Umax backs the AstraSlim with a two-year warranty.

Business users will not give the UltraSlim a second glance, but if all you want to do is to scan some pictures at home then the UltraSlim is a cheap and easy to use solution.

We reviewed the Canon CanoScan D1250 U2F a while ago, and there’s little to say that wasn’t already covered in that review. The scanner is not quite as sleek and stylish as some of the other models in the Canon range, but it makes up for that in both speed and image quality.

Using the USB 2.0 interface, the CanoScan D1250 U2F processes a full page exceptionally quickly; as fast as any of the other scanners reviewed here. More importantly, however, the quality of the scan is very good, even at these high speeds. Canon seems to have managed to achieve what many of the others have failed to do, combining high speed with good image quality.

48-bit colour depth is used to over-sample the image during the scanning process, reducing it to 24-bit for use with the supplied software suite that includes Arcsoft Photobase (photo album), Scansoft OmniPage Pro (optical character recognition), Canon Photorecord for printing photos and Adobe Photoshop Elements for image editing.

There are short-cut buttons on the scanner for ‘scan’, ‘copy’ and ‘e-mail’, plus one for ‘photo’. This latter is designed to be used when scanning photographs, which can be done in a ‘several at once’ mode, with the scanner automatically identifying and cropping the individual images. Larger objects can also be scanned, using the CanoScan D1250 U2F’s adjustable lid, which lifts up out of the way of books and other bulky documents.

Although priced higher than the rest of the scanners reviewed here, the Canon undoubtedly offers exceptional image scanning quality and is fast too. If you don’t need the slide/negative scanning feature, you can buy a similar model for less money.

The OneTouch 8920 from Visioneer is a quick, easy to use scanner, which comes with a good software bundle. However, this is another scanner that sacrifices quality for speed.

One of the best points of the OneTouch 8920 is how easy it is to set up and use. Seven one-touch buttons on the front panel – scan, copy, OCR, fax, e-mail, a custom button and cancel – control all the scanning and ‘send’ functions. Customising and configuring the scanning functions is made easy by using the supplied ScanManager software.

Although the 35mm transparency adaptor is built in, it’s so small (scanning area 25mm x 37mm) that it just manages a single slide and care needs to be taken when using negatives to avoid damaging them.

Visioneer supplies the OneTouch 8920 with a one year warranty and a good software bundle, comprising Adobe Photoshop LE, ScanSoft PaperPort Deluxe 7.0, TextBridge Pro 9 (an OCR program) and Scan Manager Pro.

However, one of the best features of the OneTouch 8920, its speed, compromises what a scanner is all about, namely image quality. When tested, instead of producing bright clear colours, the output consisted of muddy colours with some faint areas disappearing completely, while greyscale scan were even worse; out of focus and with lost detail. Even negatives suffered; images were fuzzy and grainy and in some cases suffered from poor colour matching.

Unquestionably, the OneTouch 8920 is a fast USB 1.1 scanner but its downfall is its poor imaging, which is fine for scanning documents with few graphics, but not appropriate for good quality image scanning or film/negative scanning.

Not so long ago, a scanner was something that you plugged into your PC via the parallel port – or sometimes a dedicated interface card – before waiting an eternity for a poor representation of a colour or greyscale image to struggle onto your monitor screen.

With the introduction of USB 1.1 the tedious time delay has been reduced quite a bit, so fast, accurate scans are no longer the domain of very expensive professional scanners. Instead they’re available to most people at a fairly reasonable cost.

In addition, USB 2.0 scanners are beginning to make an appearance, so there will soon be a wide choice of these fast devices, although for now USB 1.1 is still the most common interface around.

The latest scanners have plenty of buttons to relieve the scanning process. In addition, most include some form of adapter for transparencies and slides, while some also include heavyweight imaging software from companies such as Adobe.

We’ve taken a look a six of the latest scanners, ranging from £60 to £145. Most are USB 1.1 models, but we’ve included a few USB 2.0 devices to see just how noticeable the speed difference really is.

Click the ‘NEXT’ link below to find out more.

Although the 3570C is a well priced scanner with some useful features, it’s a bit of a curate’s egg when it comes to image quality and performance.

When used to capture opaque images from paper documents such as photographs and magazine pages, or when capturing text from books, the scanner produces good quality scans. However, it’s not so good when it comes to scanning slides or film. Although opaque colour scans display sharp focus, the colours appear to be a little washed out, not quite as saturated as they should be.

This is perhaps a response to previous scanners from HP, which tended to err in the other direction, producing over-saturated colours. However, it’s nothing that can’t be sorted out with a few tweaks in an image editor.

Slides and negative scans are also less than perfect; slides take on a soft focus while negatives appear to be out of focus, with distorted colours. The scanner makes a much better job of opaque greyscale images and preserves contrasts well, but introduces slight pixelisation on fine detail. Its scanning time performance is average, which is disappointing as it doesn’t seem to make full use of its fast USB 2.0 interface.

Feature-wise, the 3570C has some nice details; when you begin a transparency scan, the backlight turns on automatically. There’s a grooved plastic strip above the backlight to hold 35mm film and slides, but care must be taken when loading slides to avoid damaging them. To aid in scanning from thick documents or books, the lid slides up on a good set of hinges, or can be removed completely.

HP supplies its own Photo & Imaging (P&I) software with the 3570C. This comprises Director, allowing scans to go direct to the printer or another application, along with Image Editor which allows basic image editing to be done. HP backs the 3570C with a one year hardware warranty.

If you only need to digitize opaque documents, the Scanjet 3570C will do the job easily, providing good quality images at a reasonable price. It’s less impressive at handling transparencies, though.

The most important facet of a scanner’s specification is image quality and it was disappointing to see that although several of the scanners we looked at were very fast, image quality appears to have been sacrificed for speed, even with some of the USB 2.0 scanners.

The best image quality of the bunch belongs to Canon’s CanonScan D1250 U2F, and while some of the scanners here are nearly as fast, none come close to the Canon in terms of image quality.

Both the other USB 2.0 scanners, the HP ScanJet 3570C and the Visioneer OneTouch 9000, were disappointing in terms of the quality of colour, transparency and slide scans. This was particularly disappointing with the Visioneer OneTouch 9000, as it uses the USB 2.0 interface to full effect and is lightning fast.

Three remaining units, the Microtek Scanmaker 4800, the Visioneer OneTouch 8920 and the Umax Astra 4500, all suffered from poor handling of transparencies and slides, the worst offender being the OneTouch 8920 which suffered from poor management of colour scans as well.

Despite its slow performance, the Umax AstraSlim produces reasonable quality scans; maybe not good enough for business use but certainly fine for the home. Its low price is also attractive.

Overall, the Microtek ScanMaker 4800 is the best of the rest after the Canon unit. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a good compromise if you can’t afford the Canon.

If you’re just scanning documents on a limited budget, then the Umax Astra 4500 is worth a second look, as at low resolutions (which is all you need for document scanning) it is surprisingly fast. At the other end of the scale, Umax’s AstraSlim is worth looking at for home use; it offers reasonable scans despite being painfully slow.

Microtek’s Scanmaker 4800 is a low cost scanner which offers features often found on more expensive models, but it suffers from slow performance and poor image quality when scanning from film or slides.

Despite its low cost, this scanner offers 48-bit colour depth, a maximum resolution of 2,400 x 1,200 dpi, USB1.1 interface and a film/slide attachment.

Easy to use, it features five buttons to control all the functions you need. A ‘Scan’ button generates a preview of your image in the ScanWizard 5 driver, which you can then alter, scan as is, or send to another image editing application. Three other buttons allow you to scan the image and transfer it to your printer, e-mail program, or word processor, while the fifth button sends your scan directly to a Web site of your choice.

The ScanWizard 5 driver has a lot of useful features, including a pared-down control panel that lets you set the brightness, the contrast, and the saturation; unfortunately, you cannot switch between panel modes while working on the same pre-scanned image.

Although it produces good colour images, the ScanMaker 4800 is painfully slow. The greyscale scan speed is a lot faster than colour, but the image suffered, looking overexposed. Worst of all though is the quality from film and slide scanning when using the LightLid. Although you shouldn’t expect crystal clear images from a scanner with this price tag, these images were still disappointing.

If your budget is limited, the ScanMaker 4800 is easy to use and offers good quality colour and greyscale scans, but if you want to scan film and slides, save your money for something more capable.

If you are looking for speed rather than image quality, then look no further than the OneTouch 9000, because this thing is fast.

Using a USB 2.0 interface, it’s a lot faster than any USB1.1 scanner and is almost as fast as some FireWire scanners. In contrast to its speed, though, the image quality is rather poor. When tested, colour photos took on a reddish cast both on screen and when printed. Also, when scanning monochrome photos, the scanner increased the contrast so that both highlights and shadows lacked depth in detail, although image quality improved when scanning line art.

Despite the OneTouch 9000 being capable of performing 48-bit colour scans and its driver being capable of passing these to an image editor, the bundled editor, ArcSoft PhotoImpression, can only handle 24-bit data, so you will need to install a third party editor such as Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop LE, or Ulead PhotoImpact to edit in raw 48-bit.

For ease of use the OneTouch 9000 comes with five quick start buttons. Although four of the buttons are preconfigured for scanning, copying/printing, e-mail and OCR, they are easily customised to whatever function you want.

The rest of the bundled software package isn’t as fully featured as some but is still adequate for beginners or intermediate users. ScanSoft PaperPort Deluxe 7.0 includes ScanSoft’s optical character recognition engine and automatically converts simple documents (such as typed pages) into editable text.

While the OneTouch 9000 is unquestionably fast its relatively poor image quality limits its use; it’s not suitable for professional work.

Company: Umax

Contact: 0870 906 3300