I have recently spent a lot of hours using a really neat scanner. I know it is neat, as that word is embossed on the top of the scanner: Neat. It is sold by The Neat Company of Philadelphia. The model I have been using is called the Neat Receipts for Macintosh Mobile Scanner. The company also produces an identical unit, except for the included software, called the Neat Receipts for Windows Mobile Scanner. After using it for about ten hours, I must say that I am very impressed with this tiny scanner that slides into an overcoat pocket.
Admittedly, I did not purchase this scanner to scan genealogy documents (although it can do that) or to scan old family photographs (although it can do that also but with some reservations). Instead, I purchased this scanner to prepare my income taxes.
For years, I have used the "shoe box method of accounting." All year long, I throw my paper receipts into a box. It may have been a shoe box years ago, but nowadays I use a much larger office storage box. In the past, I have simply placed all my receipts in the box for twelve months. Then, in mid-winter, I spent an evening or two pulling each receipt out, one at a time, and manually entering the pertinent information into a spreadsheet. This became the basis of my deductible expenses on my income tax.
Years ago this was not a big effort; I could record all the receipts in an hour or two. However, last year's effort required more than two evenings. As I looked at the box this winter, I realized that I was facing at least four evenings' work, perhaps more. The storage box was nearly overflowing with pieces of paper of all sizes. I decided it was time to automate. I wanted to scan every receipt, process each receipt with OCR (optical character recognition) software, and let the scanner software build the spreadsheet for me automatically. Or so I thought.
I looked at the available scanners on the market and decided to use the Neat Receipts scanner. This tiny device scans one piece of paper at a time. Unlike the flatbed desktop scanners, this one can scan the entire narrow cash register receipts, regardless of length. These slim pieces of paper typically are two or three inches wide and are as long as is required. In the case of a lot of items listed and possible rebates, some of these receipts can be two or three feet long. For comparison, think of your grocery store receipts. I knew that I would never be able to scan those receipts on a desktop scanner without cutting many receipts into pieces. I didn't want to do that.
The Neat receipts scanner handles these long narrow receipts.... well, neatly. No other word seems to fit.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. I'd suggest you click on "Play Video" in the image below to see a promotional video of the scanner in operation.
Note the size of the Neat Receipts scanner: roughly 1" x 1" x 14." It slides easily into a purse or an overcoat pocket. It weighs 10.6 ounces, so you will hardly know that it is there.
The Neat Receipts scanner will also scan business cards and most any other piece of paper that is 8 1/2 inches wide or less. Data is extracted from the item being scanned and is added to a database. The data could include date, vendor name, price, taxes, and more. The scanning process also saves all images in PDF format. In fact, at the end of the year, you can simply e-mail the PDF images to your accountant instead of sending the normal overflowing shoe box full of paper.
Of course, you are not limited to scanning cash register receipts and business cards. You can scan any piece of paper that will fit into the scanner's front load slot. Photocopies of documents found in your genealogy work can be easily scanned and stored in PDF format. You can even insert such documents as images into your favorite genealogy program or send them to friends by e-mail. I suspect any genealogist can think of many uses for this scanner.
In fact, the Neat Receipts scanner can also be used to scan photographs. However, I would discourage such use. First, I don't like to scan photographs with any scanner that feeds the picture through the mechanism by rollers. Although the rollers in the Neat Receipts scanner appear to be gentle when used on very thin paper, I would be reluctant to insert thicker photography stock into this scanner. I am afraid that it might induce just a bit of damage to the edges of the photograph.
Next, the included software only stores images in PDF format, not the best format to choose for storing pictures. For photos I'd rather use a scanner that stores in TIFF, JPEG, and other common formats.
The Neat Receipts scanner will scan in color, but it is not designed to create perfect reproductions of the original colors. After all, it is designed to scan cash register receipts where color is not an issue. It does a commendable job on black-and-white photos, but I would never use it for color. An inexpensive flatbed scanner that sits on your desk will do a better job of reproducing color information.
The included Neat Receipts software creates an electronic filing cabinet that can be carried with you, assuming that you use it on a laptop or store the data on a jump drive, CD-ROM disk, or other portable storage media. Keep in mind that the IRS now accepts scanned images of all receipts, so this can be very handy in case of an audit.
The scanner is self-powered via a single USB cable. In other words, there is no power supply, and you do not need to plug the unit into a wall outlet for power. There is but one connector on the scanner. The included USB cable fits that connector, and the other end is plugged into a USB connector on your Windows or Macintosh computer. All power is fed from the computer to the scanner by the USB cable. The scanner is available in two different versions: Windows and Macintosh. The hardware appears to be identical on the two different versions. The only difference appears to be the included software.
I installed the software and scanned all receipts onto my Macintosh laptop, then made backup copies to a desktop computer. Backup software is not included with this scanner; you will have to devise your own backup methods. In case of a hardware failure, I would not want to sit down and re-scan hundreds of documents! In fact, I keep multiple backup copies on multiple computers, including one that is located “off site.”
So how did The Neat Receipts scanner work on cash register receipts and other documents? I was pleased with the operation although it was not perfect. The OCR software did work better than I expected, but it could not read everything. On faded receipts or items that were crumpled from being carried in my pocket, the conversion was certainly not perfect. In fact, one time the OCR software did not see a decimal point in the proper place. The $239.95 item I had purchased was listed as a $23,995.00 tax deduction. I bet that would trigger an audit! Even so, the scanning did work well enough to save me a lot of keystrokes, just not all of them. When a scanning error was made, the correction only required a few seconds. However, I learned to keep a close eye on all information being added.
Receipts printed with blue ink seem to fade quickly. Some of the one-year-old receipts in my "shoe box" were so badly faded that I had difficulty reading them by eye. I was amazed that the scanner did a rather good job of scanning and interpreting the faded text. Quite often I couldn't read the piece of paper, and yet I could easily read the information by looking at the screen image of the same piece of paper.
The included software did a good job of storing images and accompanying text information in a database. Once I finished scanning all the receipts, I was able to export the text data as a .QIF file or a .CSV file that could be imported into Quicken as well as into most any spreadsheet program or database program. I was able to import the information into a spreadsheet although the prices did not appear properly the first time I tried the import. I then opened the .CSV file with a text editor, made a few changes, saved the file, and then imported it again into the spreadsheet. The second attempt worked like a charm.
This sure looks like a bug, and I reported it as such on The Neat Company's web site. Keep in mind that I was using the Macintosh software. I have no idea if the same bug appears in the Windows version or not.
See the footnote at the end of this article for an explanation of my changes to the .CSV file.
The software also allows you to import other documents, as long as they are in PDF format. For instance, if you order something online, you often receive a receipt in e-mail. You can simply save that e-mail message as a PDF file (easy to do on any Macintosh, and also possible on Windows if you obtain third-party software to create PDF files) and then later import that PDF into the Neat Receipts software. There is no need to print it and then scan it, wasting paper in the process.
The scanner includes a small carrying bag to keep it from being scratched when transported. I store my scanner, the carrying bag, and the USB cable in my "receipts shoe box."
All in all, I can recommend the Neat receipts scanner for some purposes, but not all. If you need to prepare your income taxes, I think you will be pleased with this unit and its accompanying software. If you have a lot of information that you wrote on pieces of paper, or if you photocopied a lot of old documents, the Neat Receipts scanner can preserve your work before it fades and can save you a lot of labor in the process. If you want to scan photographs, I'd suggest that you look elsewhere. Of course, the sheet-feed slot can only accept one piece of paper at a time; it will not work with bound books.
The Neat Receipts scanner has a rather high list price but you can find it selling for much cheaper prices at the various online discount stores. I found the NeatReceipts Professional Mobile Receipt and Document Scanner and Software Combination Version 3.0 for Windows for $126.46 and the NeatReceipts Mobile Scanner and Digital Filing System for Mac for $197.54 on Amazon.com. Those prices jump up and down all the time. I'd suggest that you look around to see which merchant has the best prices today.
For more information about the Neat Receipts scanners and to watch videos of the scanners in operation, look at http://www.neatco.com/products/scanners/mobile-scanner.
Note that the amount is shown with the description, not as a separate field. I simply did a global-search-and replace in the text editor. I searched for every occurrence of a space followed by a dollar sign. I replaced each occurrence with: double quote followed by a comma followed by a double quote followed by a dollar sign. The result looked like this:
You can see the changes immediately after the numbers “2008.” The modified .CSV file then imported correctly into my spreadsheet. It really is harder to describe than it is to perform the global search-and-replace.
Use a text editor, not a word processor. I use Text Wrangler on the Macintosh, an excellent free text editor. On Windows systems, the Notepad accessory should also work well. If you attempt to use a word processor, the file you save will have “extra characters” in it that are saved by the word processor. In this case, simpler is better.