These days, there isn't much that sets one scanner apart from another, aside from ease of use and software. They all perform more or less the same functions and feature similar specs.
"Unfortunately, consumers are using specifications as a key factor in buying scanners," says Kristy Holch, an analyst with InfoTrends Research Group Inc. "But the resolution and bit depth are the same in most models. Claims of higher resolution and bit depth don't necessarily translate into a better scanner for the user. Even comparing speeds can be difficult. It's very subjective because it depends on what is being scanned--its density, details and colors. Brand names, [bundled] software and support services are the most important criteria [when purchasing a scanner]."
Many of the scanners sold in retail stores cost less than $150, and some, with rebates, sell for as little as $50. But many stores report a pretty high return rate for these models--not because of faulty hardware but because the lowest-priced scanners often use third-party software incompatible with other applications. If you buy such a scanner, be prepared to buy extra software, which can cost anywhere from $49 to $199.
Connection requirements could well decide your choice and the price you pay for a scanner. Some scanners require Windows 98 and a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port (which hikes the price as much as $50 above scanners that hook up to a standard parallel port). Other models work with Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0 through both a USB and a parallel port. Some older PCs aren't equipped with USBs, so check your outlets before shopping for a scanner--or be prepared to pay extra to have a new port or card installed. Also consider your electrical outlets; transparency adaptors require a separate power outlet in addition to your PC.
Speed is another issue to consider. Several scanners come with free, high-speed SCSI connector cards. Mustek's fastest scanner is the Paragon 1200 FS. It has a fast SCSI-II connector and a sensor in its lid that, when raised, automatically activates the scanning software. After 20 minutes of nonuse, the scanner will automatically shut itself off.
Think you're ready to shop for a scanner? Don't do anything until you review these tips:
- Analyze your most frequently used applications, then compare models in the same price range that meet those needs.
- Know which ports your computer already has, and decide whether you're willing to spend more money to make room for extra ports.
- Determine how important ease of use is to you. If your new scanner is too complicated, you and your staff probably won't take advantage of all its functions.
- Don't be drawn in by price alone; you may have to add expensive software later.
- Check out the lid. Some are height-adjustable but not removable.
- Always ask for a demonstration. Take along a sample image that the salesperson can scan.
- Opt for a recognized brand name to ensure reliable service and support.