Scanning on the go

QuickLink Pen puts a mobile text scanner in the palm of your hand

As every business traveler knows, technology has revolutionized the way people work on the road. Notebook computers, wireless phones, handheld computers and other devices enable you to perform office tasks virtually anywhere and anytime.

Until recently though, scanning text and saving it electronically was still something most people had to do in an office. And with traditional flatbed scanners, it's the entire page or nothing—you can't just choose a few lines or paragraphs to scan. The same is true for copiers, so a day of research might result in a stack of paper containing a lot of unnecessary text.

WizCom Technologies Ltd. hopes to change all that with its QuickLink Pen, a small, portable scanner that can store up to 1,000 pages of text. The QuickLink Pen is about 6 inches long and measures slightly more than an inch at its widest point. It has a proprietary optical character recognition system on a chip at the tip, and users run the pen over lines of text as they would a highlighter.

The text is stored in the QuickLink Pen itself and can be transferred to a PC using the included serial cable or beamed to any OBEX-compliant handheld computer via infrared. Compatible handhelds include Palm Inc.'s Palm III or higher, the Handspring Visor and Microsoft Corp. Windows CE-based handheld computers.

The transfer process is called "QuickLink" and is similar to Palm's HotSync function. You can set the data to synchronize between the PC and the QuickLink Pen or simply transfer from one to the other. Data is saved as ASCII text to the QuickLink Desktop application. Although the text files cannot be edited within the QuickLink Desktop, they can be saved as a different file type, such as a Microsoft Word document, and edited from there.

The QuickLink Pen can scan text ranging in size from 6 points to 22 points (up to 8 millimeters tall) and works with most colors on contrasting backgrounds, excluding red on white, white on red, black on blue and blue on black. The device can capture bold, underlined, italicized and inverted text as well as small caps, but because the text is saved in ASCII format, the styles are not maintained.

In addition to text and addresses, the QuickLink Pen scans tables and Web links. For tables, the pen automatically labels the rows and columns as you scan one cell at a time. When you QuickLink the data, it appears as a table in the QuickLink Desktop application.

Web links stored in the QuickLink Pen can be transferred directly to the Favorites folder in Microsoft Internet Explorer on a PC during QuickLink, a feature we liked a lot.

If you're near your PC when scanning information into the QuickLink Pen, you can connect it to the serial cable and set it to scan directly to the computer.

What's more, you can set the QuickLink Pen to automatically transfer data to applications other than the QuickLink Desktop. If you have Microsoft Outlook on your PC, the pen will transfer text files and address book entries there. Or you can set the pen to transfer data to Word, and the files will be saved in a QuickLink directory in the My Documents folder.

We were impressed by the host of helpful functions included with the QuickLink Pen. For example, the pen can be set for left-handed use, and it has an adjustable automatic shut-off feature. An information feature provides easy access to battery status, memory status and the QuickLink Pen's serial number.

In case there's a bit of text the QuickLink Pen cannot recognize, such as a title in a large font or portions of type with low contrast, an Opticard is affixed to the bottom of the pen's case. The Opticard is a series of bar codes, one for each letter of the alphabet—both capital and lowercase — as well as numerals and all other standard keyboard symbols that can be scanned as needed. It even includes some foreign characters.

Additionally, there is an on-screen character set you can access for correcting errors, but this method is somewhat cumbersome and is practical for correcting or adding only a few characters at a time.

The QuickLink Pen comes with 4M of flash memory that can be upgraded for adding applications and components, such as dictionaries. It runs on two AAA batteries, which are included, and weighs 3 ounces.

Setting up the QuickLink Pen is not difficult, but the process is somewhat quirky. For example, when installing the desktop software, the PC cannot be connected to a network. You must also access Windows Device Manager and adjust the serial port settings to 115,200 bits/sec and make sure Flow Control is set to Hardware. Older computers may require slower transfer rates, in which case you must make sure the rates on the QuickLink Pen, QuickLink Desktop and Windows Device Manager are the same.

The QuickLink Pen has two rollers at the tip so it glides easily over the paper. The process of scanning is easy but somewhat slow. It only scans one line at a time, so at the end of each line, you must wait a second or two for the pen to "read" the information before you can continue with the next line.

We also found that if a line is scanned too quickly, errors will appear. In general, the "fancier" the font, the slower you must scan to achieve a high level of accuracy. For example, when scanned at similar speeds, sans serif fonts such as Arial and Helvetica produced better results than Times New Roman. Stylized fonts are not a problem most of the time, but they require slightly slower scanning than simpler text.

Another factor that adds time to the process is checking each scanned line on the QuickLink Pen's screen and correcting mistakes right away. With material that you cannot access later, such as a reference book in a library, you would not want to return to the office and transfer the information only to discover errors that render some parts incomprehensible.

As WizCom states in its documentation, accurate, efficient scanning takes practice. The QuickLink Pen must be held at a certain angle, and different documents require different scanning speeds.

Overall, the QuickLink Pen's accuracy and ease of use are good enough to make it practical to use most of the time. Just keep in mind that certain conditions, such as clear text and slow scanning, must be met. Some scans of italicized, small-font photocopies, which tend to blur text slightly, resulted in many errors.

But we salute WizCom for including so many practical features that make the QuickLink Pen more than just a scanner—and for making it affordable. For an estimated street price of $179, it fits just about any budget.

We hope that as optical character recognition technology improves, WizCom will release new versions of the QuickLink Pen that are more accurate and can process at even faster speeds. If that happens, you may find this device indispensable.

REPORT CARD

QuickLink Pen

Score: B+WizCom Technologies Ltd.
(888) 777-0552
www.wizcomtech.com

The QuickLink Pen is available for an estimated price of $179 via retailchannels such as electronics and office superstores, major computer retailers,mail-order catalog houses and leading online retailers.

The QuickLink Pen is accurate and practical to use when text is clearand users don't scan too quickly. Some stylized text and symbols can beproblematic, especially when the text is not clear or uniform. However,it's obvious the designers put a lot of thought into the product.

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