At first glance, Visioneer's Strobe 500 portable scanner ($349) seems rough around the edges. Its design is a bit bland, and its software is complicated. But beneath those imperfections is a compelling product: a portable device that can scan both sides of a page or business card. It also comes with a optional detachable docking station that allows you to feed it lots of pages at once. The Strobe 500 is a handy accessory that doesn't take up a lot of space.
The Strobe 500 has a convenient convertible design that offers more functionality as you make it less mobile. The scanner itself measures 11.7 x 2.8 x 3.3 inches and weighs 2.2 pounds, which is on a par with the Plustek MobileOffice D428 (but not the pen-shaped PlanOn DocuPen X05). For an extra $50, it also comes with an optional docking station, which adds 1.7 pounds to the weight but also turns it into a desktop-class product, offering a vertical paper feed not unlike an all-in-one printer. Like the Plustek D428, the Strobe 500 needs a wall outlet for power when used in conjunction with the docking station.
The overall design of the Strobe 500 is somewhat dull. It's mostly black with the exception of the front facade, which is an off-white color. The device has two buttons: Simplex and Duplex, so you can scan one or both sides of a document, a very handy--and unique--feature for a product in this class. There's also a dial with a power symbol, as well as the numbers one through six. It's not obvious by looking at them, but these numbers represent six different programmable settings. For instance, one number might include the settings for business cards scanned in color and at the resolution of your choice. Another setting might send your document directly to e-mail as an attachment.
Setup and Ease of Use
We set up the Strobe 500 without a hitch. Just install the drivers, plug the scanner into the AC adapter and your USB port, and you're good to go; no restarts necessary. You will need to register online, though, as this is necessary for receiving technical support and free driver updates. It's easy to get started scanning, too. Flip open the lid on the top, insert a document using the labeled markers as guides (for example, you're instructed where to place a business card), and the scanner will automatically recognize it. Then, press Simplex or Duplex and--voila!--you'll see the image on your laptop's screen in seconds (more on speed later).
A little bit on the numbered dial on the front. Using Visioneer OneTouch, a bundled program, users can easily configure the settings for each number on the dial when they scan with it for the first time. Using Visioneer OneTouch Scan Settings, you can decide the default file format (BMP, JPG, PDF, sPDF, or TIFF), the destination (say, Windows Mail), and the size of the document.
While the hardware is simple to use, the corresponding Nuance PaperPort software can be a bit intimidating. The top toolbar is strewn with icons (you can see labels when you move the cursor over them), and there's a series of settings file folders running down the left side. Most of the screen is taken up by a library of scanned images. Fortunately, you can easily use the scanner without having to poke around much in the software.
Although Nuance PaperPort is PC-only, the Strobe 500 comes with software for Macs, too (the competing PlusTek Mobile Office D428 lacks this capability). ExactScan Capture Application and NewSoft Presto! Page Manager allow users to edit, organize, send, and view scanned documents. However, only the PC software allows users to search content in PDFs.
The Strobe 500 scans in black-and-white and color at a resolution of up to 600 dpi. The scanner itself can only cradle one piece of paper at a time, making it difficult to process multiple pages as one document. However, the auto document feeder, which is part of the docking station, can hold up to 20 pages.
In scanning business cards, letter-sized paper, and receipts, the Strobe 500 was quick to recognize documents, and never jammed. It also had no problem scanning business cards with colorful backgrounds, or fine-colored lettering. However, we noticed that the scanner rarely pulled documents in straight. We often found ourselves tugging pieces of paper to re-insert them at a straighter angle.
The Strobe 500 was just as fast--and sometimes faster than--the Plustek D428. Both took 6.0 seconds to scan a single business card. And while the D428 took 34.8 seconds to scan a three-page black-and-white document, the Strobe 500 took 20.2. However, the Strobe 500 took 14.1 seconds to scan and process a receipt, whereas the D428 scanned the same receipt in just 4.3 seconds. As a duplexer, the Strobe 500 is still fast: it scanned both sides of a business card in 8.0 seconds. Anecdotally, we noticed that the scanner often took the most time to begin scanning than it did running a document through the scanner and processing it.
Warranty and Configurations
The Strobe 500 comes with a one-year warranty, including phone and Web support. Unfortunately, the phone support is not toll-free, and is available only Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EST).
The Strobe 500 costs $349 by itself, but $399 if you purchase it with the docking station. On its own, the docking station costs $99.99.
Although its 2.2-pound weight (3.9 pounds with the docking station) might turn off frequent fliers, we recommend the $349 Visioneer Strobe 500 as a portable scanner that's fast and functional. It can scan multiple sides of a document or business card, feed multiple pages at once, and, thanks to the included software, search inside PDFs. Its software could be more intuitive to use, but we like that this scanner is compatible with both Macs and PCs. Overall, the Strobe 500 is a winner.