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PlanOn DocuPen X05 Scanner Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

When it comes to mobile scanners, they don’t get more portable than the PlanOn DocuPen X05 ($369), part of a series of scanners that look like—and feel as light as—a ballpoint pen. It’s particularly suited for road warriors who want to scan documents on the go, but can’t sacrifice space in their bag. The device not only has a microSD Card slot for storage, but it also packs Bluetooth connectivity for transmitting scans to smart phones. Just be warned that a compact design like this necessitates a few compromises, particularly in terms of speed and the ability to scan more than one page at once.

Featherweight Design
The best thing about the DocuPen X05 is that it is what it sounds like: a portable scanner that looks like a pen. At 2.5 ounces and 8.9 x 0.5 x 0.5 inches, it can fit inside any bag, and won’t weigh you down in the least. The pen has a rounded feel—and soft, too, thanks to the black satin finish—with an exposed area on the bottom that houses the scanner and a set of miniature rollers that allow the DocuPen to glide smoothly over documents. To top off its good looks, the X05 comes with a soft leather case.

On top of the black finish are plenty of metal accents, including a long decorative strip running down the middle, followed by two unlabeled buttons: one for turning on Bluetooth and the other for power (it’s not labeled, but the power button is on the right). There’s also a two-line OLED screen on the front, which displays information such as the remaining battery life and memory (it accepts microSD Cards up to 2GB). This screen is also flanked by metal navigation buttons.

Although it’s convenient having the battery life displayed on the OLED, navigating its two-line display usign the two flanking buttons is a crude experience. First, you have to scroll through the four categories (Battery life, Memory, Mode, Resolution) one by one, then press the unmarked button to the right of the display to adjust that setting. Next, you press the right button again to scroll through the options (say, black-and-white TIFF versus color in the Mode category) and the left button to select.

Sound confusing? It certainly can be. It would be helpful, for one, if those categories didn’t scroll on their own, and if users could peruse them at their leisure. On the flip side, we like that activating Bluetooth is as simple as pressing a button.

Compatibility and Bluetooth
We had no problem installing the DocuDesk software on our PC. In addition to Windows ME, 2000, XP, Vista, and Windows 7, it’s also compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 and up.

Thanks to the X05’s built-in Bluetooth connection, you can send your scanned images wirelessly to Windows Mobile (versions 5.0 and 6.0) and BlackBerry OS devices (versions 4.0 and up). The scanner is also compatible with Bluetooth-enabled printers, such as PlanOn’s own PrintStik. Although our BlackBerry easily recognized the DocuPen, keep in mind that you’ll have to go to PlanOn’s support site (www.planon.com/support/drivers) on your mobile browser and download the right drivers for your phone’s OS. Then you have to extract that file to your PC by connecting your BlackBerry to your computer using a USB cable. Finally, you must open BlackBerry Desktop Manager (you’ll have to download this if you don’t have it already) so that you can load the appropriate DocuPen app onto the BlackBerry.

The problem, however, is that at press time PlanOn’s site hadn’t been fully updated to reflect the X05. When we went to the support site using a BlackBerry (v. 5.0), we selected that OS from a drop-down menu and found that the menu of products next to it was empty.

Since you can already store documents using either the internal memory or a microSD Card, you’d have to want to view the images right away for Bluetooth to be a useful feature. Moreover, you’d have to be the kind of traveler who leaves his laptop at home, and only brings a smart phone—otherwise, uploading to a laptop would be simpler and would provide more screen real estate than beaming it to a phone. All in all, the act of sending it straight to a Bluetooth printer seems the most likely scenario.

Performance
The X05 can scan in color and black and white with a resolution as high as 600 dpi. The trade-off to having a scanner this portable is that there’s no autofeeder, meaning it can’t scan multiple pages or business cards in batches. Instead, you have to roll the scanner over a document (a flat surface is a must). Once you lift the scanner from the document, the DocuPen automatically saves the image. That’s why multiple pages belonging to the same document won’t be classified as one.

This limitation presents a few problems. First, it can be tough to master the scanning speed. If you move your hand too fast, a message will appear on the OLED saying, “To Fast! [sic]” But if you move too deliberately, the scanner will assume you’re done, and you’ll see a message that says, “Saving.” So, if you happen to move your hand at uneven speeds, the results can be frustrating. In one test, we attempted to scan a full page of a legal pad, but instead ended up with a narrow strip of text.

Secondly, even when you master the movement of the device, it will take longer than other mobile scanners, precisely because you’re moving so slowly. For instance, scanning and processing a business card took 42.3 seconds, whereas it took the Plustek MobileOffice D428 and the Visioneer Strobe 500 6.0 seconds each. Likewise, the DocuPen took 51.6 seconds to scan a receipt, whereas the D428 took 4.3 seconds and the Strobe 500 took 14.1.

We encountered a few more issues. Even if you’ve already connected the X505 to your PC via USB after saving a document, the X05 doesn’t automatically send that data to your computer. We had to open the DocuDesk software and click Download, which only made the process slower when compared to other scanners. Finally, because the X05 runs the length of the pen, it’ll scan things beyond the borders of whatever document you’ve scanned.

Battery Life and Warranty
Conveniently, the X05 charges via USB. The scanner takes an aggressive approach to power management, automatically turning off after 20 seconds of idle time. This can be irritating, particularly since it takes 2 seconds to start up again, but it does result in decent battery life. After scanning several dozen business cards and another dozen black-and-white and color pages, we didn’t see the battery life fall below 75 percent. In part, that’s because we fell into a rhythm of scanning short documents and then transferring them; every time we plugged the scanner into out notebook using the USB cable, it had a chance to partially rejuice.

The X05 has a 90-day warranty. PlanOn includes toll-free phone support, but with limited hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST). Annoyingly, if you call and the technicians are busy, you’ll be prompted to leave a voicemail instead of remaining on hold for the next available agent.

Verdict
The stylus-shaped design of the $369 DocuPen X05 is ingenious. It’s far lighter than other mobile scanners, and frees road warriors from superfluous cables and AC adapters. We especially like the ability to send scans to BlackBerry devices over Bluetooth. For power users, this device is not the best option; you give up speedy scans and the ability to process multiple pages or cards at once (or to save them in a batch). But for those who need to pack as lightly as possible, the X05 is a solid choice.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.
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