Despite the ascendance of digital technology, the old-fashioned paper business card still reigns when it comes to "real time" introductions. Like all printed information, however, business cards have a drawback—they pile up. After a while it can seem saner to staple them all into a Rolodex rather than retype everything into your Palm VII. But when you're traveling, a Rolodex never makes it into the carry-on. The solution? CardScan Executive card scanner, recently updated to make life that much easier.
What it is: A mini-scanner (CardScan 500) designed solely for scanning business cards, plus software (CardScan Version 5) that transcribes the information into your computer.
How it works: You insert a business card into CardScan 500's front slot, where it is automatically scanned. The card's information is displayed by category—for instance, name, company name, address—on your computer screen, at the center of what looks like an oversized Rolodex card. The scanned image of the card is shown at the bottom of the screen. If there are transcription mistakes, you type in corrections on your keyboard. You can assign categories, such as "customer" or "competition," to cards or batches of cards, and also make notes. You can search for cards by keyword and print them in a variety of formats, from address book and envelopes to rotary cards. You can also scan the back of a card and save it, as an image only, at the bottom of the screen.
Installation and set-up: Very simple. It took about ten minutes using the set-up guide.
What it can scan: Any standard-sized business card. But it's only formatted to process cards from the United States, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Belgium, and Australia. However, even when I scanned in an Italian business card, it made just one mistake, transcribing the letters "rn" as "m." It also did a good job of scanning cards with maps, handwriting, and photographs.
What it cannot scan: Oversized business cards. It also has problems with cards with tabs at the top and/or Rolodex holes at the bottom.
Accuracy: Nearly perfect for cards with dark type on a light background—only one or two mistakes per card. CardScan isn't confused by bullet points or symbols, such as "@," and it has an amazing ability to discriminate between types of information. For instance, I scanned one hotel card with four phone numbers. CardScan correctly identified the number labeled "Main Telephone" (it was the third one listed) and inserted it into the primary "Phone" category. CardScan also placed the first two numbers, which were labeled "Reservations Only," into a separate "Reservations" category. It even recognized the hotel's e-mail and Web site addresses and placed them in their appropriate categories.
The Problem: CardScan had serious difficulty with light-colored writing on a dark background. I tried scanning a card with white type on blue and it took longer to correct the mistakes than it would have taken to type the information from scratch.
Portability: Not great. CardScan has no battery and no infrared port.
Compatibility with other programs: Extensive. CardScan will synchronize with such PC-based contact managers as Lotus Notes, ACT!, Microsoft Outlook, and Day-Timer. It can also synchronize with most personal digital assistants, digital phones, and e-mail programs. Another plus: CardScan will work in the background, so you can scan in cards while doing other work, then edit the scanned inputs later.
Perks: CardScan comes with Area Code Fix, a software program that automatically updates area-code changes via the Internet, and Quicken ExpensAble, which organizes expense reports. And it has both a universal serial bus (USB) and a parallel port, which means you don't need to unplug your printer from your PC while using CardScan.
What you need to run it: An IBM-compatible PC with a 486, Pentium, or higher processor; 16 megabytes of RAM; 40 megabytes of hard-disk space; Windows 95, 98, NT version 4.0, or Windows 2000; a CD-ROM drive to install the software; and a Hayes-compatible modem if you use the auto-dialing feature.
What I would improve: The look. CardScan 500 is a bit bulky, and its black plastic shell isn't very sleek.
Information: Corex Technologies, 800-942-6739. www.cardscan.com