Flatbed scanners and multifunction printers are convenient as long as you’re at your desk. But when you’re on the move, you want something that can easily fit into your handbag or laptop bag. This is where portable scanners fit in.
There are two types of portable scanners you can go in for – handheld and sheet-fed. With the former, you have to slide the scanner over the surface you wish to scan. On the other hand, sheet-fed scanners require the user to feed one sheet of paper or a photo at a time, and then the motorised mechanism takes over. Both types of scanners have their share of pros and cons. Hand-held scanners are more compact and allow scanning almost any surface. So, you can quickly scan articles in newspapers and magazines, or even tattoos and t-shirt prints. But for best results, you have to move the scanner at a consistent slow pace. Sheet-fed scanners are bulkier because they incorporate a motorised mechanism. Here, you don’t have to bother about moving the scanner, but then the scan targets have to be in the form of sheets that can pass through the sheet feed. So, if you want to scan an article in a newspaper or a magazine, you’ll have to cut it out and then feed it to the scanner.
A compact sheet-fed scanner that's easy to use
Umax is one of the renowned brands for professional and consumer grade scanners. It was quite popular back in the day when multifunction printers didn’t exist and one had no choice but to go in for a flatbed scanner. The latest from Umax is the Astra 8600, which is a portable sheet-fed scanner.
The Astra 8600 is about a foot in length and weighs 700g – it can easily be said that it’s about as large as a foot-long loaf of bread. Although it’s a tad heavy, it’s quite portable thanks to its compact form. The shell is all black with a matte finish, except for the glossy grey strip on the top that bears a tiny control panel on the right side and the bold Umax logo and model number on the left. The control panel roughly explains what this scanner is capable of. The mode button allows selecting from three scanning modes – photo, black and white, and PDF. The selected mode is highlighted by corresponding LED indicators. Note that the black and white mode doesn’t scan to an image file. Instead, the result is a black and white PDF file.
Tiny control panel with just the scan modes
The scanned photos and PDF files are directly stored on the inserted memory card or USB flash drive. For this, the rear panel sports a USB port and an SD card slot. There’s also a mini USB port, which is meant for charging the li-ion battery pack as well as connecting the scanner to the PC (as mass storage device) for viewing and transferring data on the memory card. The package includes a mini USB cable that has two connectors – one for data and the other for aux power. The aux power connector has to be plugged in to charge the battery pack.
Scans directly to memory cards and USB flash drives
Keeping the power button pressed for two seconds initialises the scanner. There has to be a memory card or a USB flash drive connected for the scanner to work, else all the three LEDs flash simultaneously, indicating error. The source sheet has to be fed with the printed surface on top. The edge of the sheet feed has logos that indicate paper sizes – visiting card, A6, 4x6 photo and A4.
No matter what mode you choose, it takes the same amount of time to scan. It takes around 4 seconds to scan a 4x6 photo (inserted landscape), and around 10 seconds to scan an entire A4 sheet. The scan resolution is 300 dpi and on an average, scanned images of 4x6 photos and A4 documents are about 420 KB and 1.1 MB in size respectively.
4x6 photo: Noisy results with excessive black levels. Click for 100 percent view
The quality of scan is just about average. Scanned documents with text and small images look quite good. And then, you get an OCR application (NewSoft PageManager 9) to convert text in images to editable text. Colour photos didn’t look quite pleasing. The reproduction of details weren’t up to the mark and there were fine horizontal lines that were more prominent in grey and dark areas. Scanned photos look good after reducing the contrast and applying noise removal.
Verdict and Price in India
The Umax Astra 8600 is priced at Rs 11,000, which we feel is too steep for the limited functionality and the kind of quality it delivers. It’s good for scanning documents, but archiving photos with this wouldn’t be a good idea. Had it featured DPI selection and some more scanning modes such as text and black & white photo, the scanner would have been better value for money. But its below average scanning quality deters us from recommending it.
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