The 10 Best Portable Scanners

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This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Never leave home without one of these mobile scanners to ensure you'll be able to keep up with all your document digitization needs anywhere in the world. These devices are light, compact in size for convenient carrying, and perfect for importing typed pages when on the go. They are also good for photos, receipts, business cards, and more, and most can output a variety of file formats. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Brother DS-940DW

2. Doxie Go SE

3. Epson WorkForce ES-300W

Editor's Notes

January 08, 2021:

During this update, we decided to remove the Raven Pro due its large size and weight that really makes it questionable of whether it should be considered portable or not. Also, we felt if you were willing to carry something of its heft, then you might as well opt for the HP Tango X instead. While the Tango X might be longer, it is a couple of pounds lighter and offers printing capabilities. We also removed the iCodis X7 in favor of it newer iteration, the iCodis X9, which has a higher megapixel camera. The Brother DS-940DW makes its debut this year and is one of our favorites due to its balance of price, performance, and overall features.

November 13, 2019:

We had to update this list considerably, seeing as many of the models like the Fujitsu ScanSnap and Flip-Pal Wireless were outdated for a category like this with ‘fast-moving’ technology. Additionally, we replaced the Doxie Q with the slightly newer and less feature-rich -but more portable - Doxie Go SE.

We’ve replaced the 1st and 2nd options with a couple of the latest portable camera scanners (the iOChow S1 and iCodis X7) that seem to have cropped up in the last few years and lack the ‘bulkiness’ of traditional sheet-fed portable models. These camera scanners tend to have some sophisticated features like OCR (Optical Character Recognition), TWAIN and SDK, as well as the smart ability to fill in broken edges. Additionally, the cameras can take photos and videos for documentation, and these models have built-in LED’s and are made to double in function as reading/table lamps, although they are a little more expensive than sheet-fed options.

While we've removed more 'dated' models and those that are relatively less efficient compared to the latest standards, we've left models that we still think are good options from before this update; albeit, in most cases, these models have been demoted or moved to a different position within the list.

4. iCodis X9

5. Epson DS-80W

6. Brother ADS-1250W

7. iOChow S1

8. Canon ImageFormula R10

9. HP Tango X

10. IrisCan Book 5

A Brief History Of The Scanner

The first functional computer linked scanner was drum scanner, a device that uses an acrylic cylinder to which the document or photograph to be scanned is fixed.

As amazing as it may be to conceive of this today, the forerunner to the now ubiquitous scanner has roots dating back to the middle of the 19th Century. In the mid 1850s, Italian physicist and inventor Giovanni Caselli invented the Pantelegraph, an ingenious device that could reproduce simple ink drawings by "scanning" them with an electrically charged stylus which transmitted pulses of electricity to a remote unit via telegraph wire. The second unit received the pulses of electricity and used the charge to release blue ink, faithfully recreating the original pattern.

The image scanner as we know it today, that is, a unit that records images digitally that can be stored and reproduced an indefinite number of times, can be dated back to the middle of the 20th Century. The first functional computer linked scanner was drum scanner, a device that uses an acrylic cylinder to which the document or photograph to be scanned is fixed. The cylinder rotates before a series of optics called photomultipliers which capture the contrasts and colors of the images whirled before them, faithfully recreating the image scanned in detail.

While drum scanners still see occasional use, especially when dealing with photographic negatives or other specialty applications, they have been largely superseded by flatbed scanners, which use a flat sheet of glass or another clear material and shined light to capture an image of a document, photo, or object. The flatbed scanner detects the reflection of the light it produces to recreate the color, contrast, and shapes or patterns of that which it scans.

Today, often a digital camera plays the role a scanner occupied a few short years ago, and many smartphones can now use their built-in cameras to create a verisimilitude of a scan virtually indistinguishable from that created by a dedicated unit. That said, to create truly high quality, crisp and clear scans, an actual image scanner is still the ideal choice. And no longer are these units large and unwieldy, nor are the complicated to use. The portable scanner comes in two basic designs: the roller-fed option, through flat documents like photos or receipts may be passed, and the glide-over (AKA handheld) scanner, which is passed over the surface of the object go be scanned by hand.

Who Needs A Portable Scanner?

A portable scanner may seem like a luxury to some people, and like an absolute necessity to others. The chances are good, however, that almost anyone actively participating in the modern world can find at least a few fine uses for a portable scanner.

Imagine the benefits offered to a detective who can copy files found at a crime scene while being able to leave them as they were when located.

For anyone involved in law enforcement, forensics work, or field research of almost any kind, a portable scanner can greatly simplify investigative work and data collection. Imagine the benefits offered to a detective who can copy files found at a crime scene while being able to leave them as they were when located. Or picture the archeologist capturing high resolution images of a wall of hieroglyphics or a cuneiform tablet using a handheld scanner without so much as disturbing the ancient dust laying atop his or her find.

Of course most people adopt the use of a portable scanner for much more quotidian purposes, though that renders them no less useful. The portable scanner is a great asset to anyone in human resources or recruiting who wishes to make quick copies of the business cards and/or resumes of potential hires or new clients they meet. A portable scanner is a great asset to those manning a booth at a job fair, for example, when the full complement of hardware usually at one's disposal in an office must be left behind.

So too can portable scanners be helpful for the business person away from his or her desk who wants to scan receipts for an expense report, copy a document to be reviewed and edited later, or even for the sly operator who wants to surreptitiously copy a file or photo that a competitor would not want recreated.

Choosing The Right Portable Scanner For You

The price range varies widely from one portable scanner to the next, so consider your specific needs before you start to consider specific units, thus to avoid any reticence to buy caused by sticker shock. Not all portable scanners are created equal, and not all are capable of accomplishing the same tasks, so choose wisely and spend as needed.

But the also create the lowest quality images, being subject to use by unsteady hands and often with smaller scan coverage areas.

If your primary desire for a portable scanner stems from copying photographs, it's imperative that you choose a unit capable of stable, high resolution scans that minimize blurring. There are compact flatbed style scanners that will best suit this purpose, and there are roller-fed units that will prove adequate if not ideal.

For scanning simple documents like receipts or business cards where the information is of importance but the perfect recreation of the document's appearance is not, you can opt for either a handheld scanner or a roller-fed unit. Roller-fed units are ideal when scanning full-sized eight-inch by eleven-inch (or legal sized) paper documents that do indeed need to be faithfully recreated for later reprinting and/or review.

The handheld scanner is arguably the most handy, as it were, and can create quick scans with minimal disturbance to a document or object. But the also create the lowest quality images, being subject to use by unsteady hands and often with smaller scan coverage areas. These devices are great for obtaining information quickly, however, and can serve people in many walks of life.

Brett Dvoretz
Last updated by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as in front of a laptop screen, Brett can either be found hacking away furiously at the keyboard or, perhaps, enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He has been a professional chef, a dog trainer, and a travel correspondent for a well-known Southeast Asian guidebook. He also holds a business degree and has spent more time than he cares to admit in boring office jobs. He has an odd obsession for playing with the latest gadgets and working on motorcycles and old Jeeps. His expertise, honed over years of experience, is in the areas of computers, electronics, travel gear, pet products, and kitchen, office and automotive equipment.

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