The Best Portable Document Scanner
Phone scanning apps are great for one-off instances, but there are moments in life, like applying for a mortgage or navigating major legal situations, where having a small document scanner makes life way easier. We’ve spent more than 160 hours researching and testing portable document scanners since 2013, and after our latest round of testing we’re convinced that the Brother ADS-1250W provides the best balance of usability, performance, and portability you can find. It accurately recognizes text, produces good-looking results, works wirelessly with computers and mobile devices alike, and scans quickly.
Who should get a portable document scanner
If you have a big pile of documents and receipts that you need to digitize, these scanners are the quickest way to get the job done. But you might want one for other reasons too:
- Reduces clutter: This may be the digital age, but a frustrating variety of documents still come exclusively on paper, and many of them need to be kept for years according to state and federal laws. Creating digital copies means you can stay in compliance without drowning in a sea of paper.
- Makes documents easier to find: Since portable document scanners use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to turn printed text into searchable text, you can do word searches to find exactly the document you need in seconds. That’s a lot better than spending an afternoon digging through dusty filing cabinets.
- Scans are harder to misplace than paper: Even if you’re diligent about sorting and filing your receipts and tax forms, there’s always the chance you’ll inadvertently toss something out during a move or spring cleaning. It’s a lot harder to accidentally discard digital copies, especially when you’ve backed them up to a cloud storage account.
- Easy to stow away: You probably won’t scan every day, which is why it’s great that these machines are designed to fold down into an even more compact profile for storage and travel. Stationary desktop scanners are faster, but they take up more space on a desk, and you can’t easily toss them in a drawer until the next time you need them.
If you already own a portable document scanner and like it well enough, you probably have little reason to upgrade. Scanner development moves at a snail’s pace, and models often stay on shelves for as many as four or five years between revisions. That said, if your current scanner doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, can’t scan both sides of a document at once, scans significantly slower than you’d like, or doesn’t reliably recognize text, give our pick a look.
If you have an all-in-one printer with a flatbed scanner and an automatic document feeder, you should think about buying a portable document scanner only if you find that you often need to scan when you’re away from home. Portable document scanners aren’t more accurate than all-in-ones and don’t produce noticeably better OCR results.
Portable document scanners are simple devices: They scan documents and deliver digital files. But there are a few boxes they need to check in order to be worth your time and money, so we prioritized these qualities when surveying the available models.
- Usability: If you hate using your scanner, you’re not going to use it. The hardware interface needs to be easy to navigate, and the desktop and mobile software should be powerful enough to get the job done but not so complex that it gets in your way when you’re working under pressure.
- OCR: A good portable document scanner should be able to accurately recognize printed text via optical character recognition, or OCR, and turn it into a searchable PDF. The best portable document scanners can also export the text as an editable document, either in DOC, RTF, or TXT format. Ideally, a good scanner accurately recognizes every character, but realistically we expect a success rate of above 90%.
- Wi-Fi: Just a few years ago, Wi-Fi was a rarity in portable document scanners. Today it’s commonplace. Being able to run your scanner without a USB cable is a nice perk, especially if the scanning speed isn’t any slower.
- Duplex scanning: Being able to scan both sides of a two-sided document in a single pass drastically reduces the amount of time it takes to scan large documents. The feature also reduces wear and tear on both the original documents and the scanner itself.
- Automatic document feeder: Speaking of large documents, you don’t want to stand there and feed your scanner dozens of pages one by one. With an automatic document feeder (ADF), you can slide the whole stack into a slot and let the machine work its magic.
- Portability: It’s right there in the name. Portable document scanners actually span a broad range of sizes and especially weights—from under 1 pound to well over 3 pounds. Although machines with ADFs tend to be on the heftier side, we think a feeder is important enough to make the extra pounds worth it. Any model around 3 pounds or less is okay in our books.
- Speed: The best portable document scanners operate at around the same speed—about 25 pages per minute—but all else being equal, we prefer a faster one.
- Diverse power options: The fewer accessories you need to carry with your scanner, the more portable it is. Most scanners today can run on either USB or a typical AC adapter, so if you want to travel light, all you need is a USB cable. Some include built-in batteries, so they can operate in a truly wireless fashion: no USB cable, no power brick, not even a laptop. It’s certainly a nice feature to have, but one we think most laptop owners can do without.