Even though many phone numbers and e-mail addresses are just a Google search away, low-tech, paper business cards remain popular. So what's the best way to get contact information from the business card into your computer or phone?
One option is to buy a business-card scanner, a device that has been around for years. But I've always viewed them as an unnecessary expense not worth the trouble of setting up and using.
Last week, I tested two of these devices to see how they have evolved: the CardScan Executive ($260, CardScan.com), which has long been the market leader, and a newer competitor called NeatReceipts ($200 for PC, $180 for Mac, neatco.com). Besides the pricing, the key difference between the two is that the CardScan will only scan business cards while the NeatReceipts will scan business cards, receipts and documents.
For the first time, both companies have recently released Mac-compatible products. The scanner for the Mac versions of both devices is exactly the same as the PC version, so you only need one scanner if you have both a Mac and PC.
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CardScan and NeatReceipts owners who use a PC can download the Mac software for free (and vice versa), though a NeatReceipts spokesman said that may change in the future. Also, the NeatReceipts Mac software is an “advance release” version, meaning it doesn't have many of the key features of the PC version, such as the ability to scan business cards or export reports to other programs.
A company spokesman said those features will be available early next year as a free software upgrade. Although there are differences between the PC and Mac versions of the CardScan software, the two programs have the same key features.
Both units are relatively small and draw their power from your computer's USB port so you can take them with you on a business trip and scan cards while you are on the plane. Both also let you import your scanned contacts into your Microsoft Outlook address book. Neither was completely accurate in placing information from the cards in the correct fields (name, title, company, phone, etc), but they were accurate enough that I only occasionally had to manually edit the information.
Setting each device up and learning how to use it takes at least 15 minutes and some trial and error. You can scan only one card at a time, though Neat Co., the maker of NeatReceipts, does have a more expensive product that lets you scan multiple cards at the same time.
CardScan is the best device if all you are looking to do is scan business cards. It scans cards more quickly, does a better job syncing with Microsoft Outlook and other programs and comes with a free online backup service that allows you to access your contacts via the Web (not yet available with the Mac version). Although NeatReceipts doesn't do as good a job with business cards, it's much more versatile, which might help justify the purchase. For instance, if you travel a lot for work, when you scan your receipts into NeatReceipts the software organizes them into a detailed report that can be exported to PDF or programs such as Microsoft Excel, Access, Quicken or MS Money. This would also be helpful for filing your taxes.
Or, if you are interested in living a paper-free lifestyle, scanning documents and paper files into NeatReceipts will allow you to search them by text and even edit them if you convert them to PDF.
Both devices should speed up your processing of business cards, but you'll still have to do some work by clicking a few buttons, and, when necessary, editing the information the scanner got wrong (though both programs do store the image of the card).
Unless you are a serious road warrior who gets hundreds of business cards a year, the NeatReceipts probably makes more sense because it's cheaper and more versatile, though Mac users might want to wait for the software update. CardScan does sell a cheaper business-card scanner, the CardScan Personal, which costs $160, has fewer features and works only on Windows PCs.