This is part 2 of a 3-part series on technologies that help with taking notes

  1. Notetaking apps and software
  2. Audio Notetaking
  3. Scanner pens

In this part, we will have a look at hardware and software for getting text from the printed page into your phone or computer.

Next week, I will do an in-depth review of the C-Pen Reader pen. This week, we will have an overview of:

  • Standalone scanner pens
  • Scanner pens connected to a computer or phone
  • Scanner apps for phone or tablet

Why use a scanner pen or a scanner app

Not all text is digital. Often people need to read text that is only available on paper:

  • Books in the library
  • Leaflets
  • Labels
  • Instruction brochures

You may struggle because of dyslexia or simply because the text is too small for your eyes.

The best solution is to scan the text into your computer, phone or tablet. With digital text, you can:

  • Save a note for later
  • Listen to the text
  • Change the size of the font

But most people don’t have a scanner. And scanning is time consuming and cumbersome. Enter scanner pens and scanner apps.

  • Scanner pens (sometimes called reader pens) are dedicated devices that have the shape of a pen. You just highlight a line of text and they will scan it in.
  • Scanner apps can be installed on your smartphone or a tablet with a camera. They will convert any printed text you can take a picture of into digital text.

What to look for in a scanner pen or app?

You want three things from your handheld scanner solution.

  1. Speed: You should not have to wait too long for the text you choose to become scanned and converted.
  2. Accuracy: Scanning itself is easy. What is hard is the OCR (Optical Character Recognition). OCR makes a picture of text into text you can edit or listen to. You want the OCR to make as few errors as possible. Ideally, only a few per page. Most lines you scan should contain no errors.
  3. Tolerance: To convert pictures of text into editable text, you need as sharp pictures as possible. But no one has a perfectly steady hand. A good scanner pen should make it possible to scan text quickly and without too much fine hand control.

Standalone scanner/reader pens

These are scanner pens that can work on their own. They don’t need to be connected to a computer or a mobile device. This means that they have to have their own processor inside and a battery. But good OCR requires a lot of computing power which is why in the past, these pens were not very accurate. But things are changing. There are two products on the market.

  • C-Pen Reader is a new device that hits all the criteria. Next week, I will do a detailed review. I have been very impressed with the quality and speed. But it is not cheap at £200.
  • Wizcom ReadingPen has been around for a long time. I have only tried it in short tests and did not find it to be very accurate without very fine hand control. This is also what many people I’ve spoken to describe. See a review here. But it is cheaper than the C-Pen.

Connected reader/scanner pen

If you can connect a scanner to a computer, it only has to send a picture of the text to the computer. The computer will do all the hard work of converting the picture into text you can edit. There are several devices to consider:

  • IRIS Scan Mouse works as a regular mouse but if you run it over text, it will scan it in. The IRIS software will then quickly convert it into digital text. I have tried it briefly and it works really well.
  • IRIS Pen Scanner works and looks just like the stand alone reader pens but is connected to a computer via a cable. This means that it is slimmer and does not require its own batteries.
  • C-Pen TS1 is a very good scanner pen that connects to a computer form C-Pen that I tested and have recommended for a long time. It is currently out of stock but I am told that it will be soon available again.
  • Penpower WorldPenScan X is a scanner pen that connects to a phone or a tablet via Bluetooth. It came out of a Kickstarter campaign two years ago. I have not tested it but it has decent reviews on Amazon. 

Scanner apps on phones or tablets

Most phones and tablets now have very high quality cameras. This means that they can take pictures of text and convert them into digital text. There are two apps I recommend:

Claro ScanPen (iPad/iPhone only)

Claro ScanPen (£5) takes a picture of a page. You can then drag your finger along the parts you want read out. It will simply read them out to you.

It is quick and accurate. But it requires a fairly steady hand to make the picture sharp enough. This is why it may be easier to use on the phone.

It does not let you save the text it converted, it only reads it out.

I know of one school who are trialling it with their students in exams.

Text Fairy (Android Only)

Text Fairy is completely free. It also takes a picture of the whole page. But unlike the Claro ScanPen, it then converts the whole page into digital text.

You can then have the text read out or save it into a document.

Text Fairy is very fast but because it has to convert the whole page first, there is more of a delay between taking the picture and hearing the text.

It also requires a fairly steady hand to take the picture but is relatively tolerant of a bit of imperfection.

Looking forward

At a recent conference, I tried out a demo of OrCam. It is a camera attached to your glasses. You then look at a piece of text in front of you, point a finger at it and it reads it out. It seemed to be fairly accurate but required a bit of training. It is not yet available for sale but hopefully, I will have a chance to review it more thoroughly later.

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist

Next time

Next week, we will do a detailed review of the C-Pen.