FACTS Magazine Product Review

FACTS Chooses the Alaris S2050 Scanner as Winner in Head to Head Competition Against Fujitsu, Epson and Avision

Alaris s2050

Experts in Media Disruption

The whole purpose of scanners is to transform information on paper into digital data. FACTS explains what scanners can do and sends four document-specific scanners into the arena for a comparison test.

The fact that so many paper documents are still produced is actually an anachronism. Of course, there's content that makes a more valuable impression on paper. For a brochure or catalog, the experience of touch plays a role; a high-quality corporate brochure is a lot more effective than a link to the website or a PDF as an e-mail attachment, and work documents on the table often also have a better footing than the digital equivalent. But when it comes to business correspondence, paper constitutes a hurdle. In most cases, it’s generated on a PC, sometimes even highly automated, then printed out, put in envelopes and sent by post. The recipients either run parallel archives of e-mail and paper files, or see to it that they transfer their incoming mail to digital status so that they have all the documents together. They scan them and return them to the initial digital state: the second media disruption for the document. As long as letters are written and other analog documents are generated, the scanner plays an important role: It forms the gateway through which fixed information on paper enters digital document management. Scanners are also becoming more and more intelligent, as they no longer simply scan a paper and create a copy of it, but are equipped with software that straightens a page, optically removes folded edges and holes, and in particular makes the characters electronically readable and even provides an index, in which additional information can be entered. The digital provision of documents in particular facilitates searching. Clerks are able to answer customer requests immediately by phone if they can retrieve internally stored information and correspondence directly from their workstation.

What is the Purpose for the Scanner?

When more than half a dozen pages are scanned per day, a professional document scanner should be available. In the arena, FACTS has compared precisely these scanners. Unlike flatbed scanners, they have an automatic feeder, and in contrast to multifunction systems, the feeder specializes in “used paper”: In general, such scanners cope well with a variety of formats, from business cards to unfolded A4 letter paper, as well as different properties, from thin sales receipts to stacked index cards. Many of these scanners can read the front and back sides in a single pass, and the smarter ones recognize and ignore blank pages.

Kodak Alaris S2050

The market includes many different scanners for different applications. Large-format technical drawings require different scanners than passports. There are special book scanners, which illuminate from above, so that the book is left undamaged and can be paged through easily – and some scanners can even turn the pages independently without human intervention. In turn, an MFP that can scan as well as print and copy is something of a top expert in media disruption, as it can first put the file on paper and also return information from paper back to file format.

Avision AD260

SPACE SAVING: Scanners that are not being used all the time should take up as little space as possible on your desk. The Avision AD260 can be transformed into a small black box in two easy steps. Its moving parts also feel very solid.

Differing Requirements

Epson Workforce DS860

In some areas, scanners have already been replaced, for example, affordable apps are available for smartphones that capture the content of business cards, thus rendering superfluous the small business card scanners that used to be almost indispensable at trade fairs. However, handy mobile scanners still have their fans, such as sales representatives who want to scan and upload contract documents directly when visiting customers to speed up the transaction.

Fujitsu FI-7160

Even in “completely normal” offices, the requirements are different. In some places, a throughput of 20 pages per minute is sufficient, but elsewhere 200 pages isn't fast enough. It also plays a role whether the scanning is performed centrally in the mail room or in a decentralized way at the individual workstation or at a counter. Simpler scanners are connected via a USB interface locally to the PC and save the documents there. Standalone scanners are able to work autonomously. For central archiving, it's important for the scanner to be network-ready. It's also possible to transfer documents to a destination via a Wi-Fi hotspot.

When multipage forms or multipage correspondence have to be processed, batch processing makes sense. For these applications, a duplex scanner is generally recommended. This can scan all documents at the front and back, nothing is lost and what belongs together is kept together. Production scanners for very large volumes of documents also process batches whose documents must be stored in different files. To separate many multipage documents from each other, barcodes are applied before scanning. For normal correspondence, a low resolution of 150 dpi is sufficient. Things are rather different for photos – for example, in relation to damage claims in an insurance policy. Big challenges are posed by forms with hatched areas. For these, there is specialized software that only reads out the relevant fields or hides certain colors; with normal scanning, they can easily become poorly readable documents.

There are no longer any document scanners sold without software. Formerly, this always had to be bought separately, and the manufacturers were mostly different. Today, the “intelligence” that is required in addition to the mechanics and the exposure technique is shifting more and more into the scanner. At least one “small” software program is included with each scanner so that you can adjust the scan settings and then view and save the image. In addition, further processing software is available, which the manufacturer offers directly: text recognition (OCR), software for improving image quality or a complete archiving solution.

COMPARABLE CONDITIONS: The four test candidates are all designed for a maximum of A4, have an automatic feeder, are capable of duplex scanning and rely on a PC on which the processing software is installed and the images are stored.  

MADE A GOOD IMPRESSION: The Fujitsu scanner was delivered in a sturdy reusable shipping box, while the others were packaged in cardboard boxes packed with styrofoam and plastic as usual.

Manufacturer Avision Epson Fujitsu Kodak Alaris
Model
AD260 Workforce DS860 fi-7160 Alaris S2050
Price (net) €750 (manufacturer shop), approx. €650 (online) €659 (manufacturer shop), from €400 (online) approx. €570 (online) approx. €500 (online)
Format sizes 50 x 50 mm up to Legal A6 to Legal, excess lengths up to 3,048 mm A8 to Legal, excess lengths up to 5,588 mm 52 x 52 mm to Legal, excess lengths up to 3,000 mm
Paper weight 27 to 400 g/m2, plastic cards 40 to 210 g/m2, plastic cards 27 to 413 g/m2, plastic cards 27 to 433 g/m2, plastic cards
Paper feed 100 pages 80 pages 80 pages 80 pages
Output resolution 75 to 600 dpi 75 to 1,200 dpi 50 to 600 dpi 75 to 1,200 dpi
Speed 60 pages/min. 65 pages/min. 60 pages/min. 50 pages/min.
Ultrasonic sensor Yes Yes Yes Yes
Supported operating systems Windows Windows Windows Windows, Linux
Supplied software Avision Capture Tool (batch processing and scan settings)
Avision Button Manager (job storage)
 
Document Pro (batch processing, scan settings and job storage)
 
PaperStream Capture (batch processing, scan settings and job storage)
PaperStream IP (image optimization)
Alaris Capture Pro (batch processing and scan settings)
Alaris Smart Touch (job storage)
Perfect Page (image optimization)
Extras Counter-rotating transport rollers Standalone operation, joining together A3 Barcode reading 
Active feeder (shaker)
Holddown device
Options Network interface Post-Imprinter A4 and A3 flatbed
Passport unit

Arena

In the FACTS arena, four scanners were compared: The AD260 from Avision, the Workforce DS860 from Epson, the fi-7160 from Fujitsu and the Alaris S2050 from Kodak Alaris. These are simple desktop scanners with USB 3.0 ports that require a PC for processing and storage. They have compact dimensions and take up little space on the desk. In the spirit of business mail, they specialize in A4 documents, but can also process smaller formats down to the business card or credit card. They feed the documents via an automatic feeder and scan the front and back in one operation without sacrificing speed compared to the simplex scan. In terms of price, the test candidates vary between 500 and 750 euros. The price information in the overview table below does not come from the manufacturers themselves, who often have a hard time, because they don't want to put any obstacles in the way of their retail partners. The “street prices” from the Internet listed in the table are generally well below the manufacturer's recommended price and fluctuate greatly from portal to portal.

ANNOYING: Instead of creating an image for further processing and archiving, the Epson WorkForce DS860 mostly just crumpled up sales receipts.

BIG PLUS: For mixed documents, with the Alaris S2050 you can set the active feeder, which shakes the paper into the right position.

Productivity, feed and image quality were put to the test – and the results are shown in the table on page 27. All candidates have a straight paper flow, as a result of which documents are rarely damaged even when the paper jams. A jam is therefore easy to remove for all scanners: All you need to do is open the “bonnet” and remove the paper. For particularly sensitive documents, the manufacturers still offer carrier foils to protect them. The scanners also come with software that helps you select scan settings, configure recurring tasks, improve image quality, and save documents. This “offering” can't do much, and only controls the basic scan settings. Better software must be bought as an add-on, as well as the OCR, which transforms the image of a letter into a machine-readable and therefore searchable document. The Kodak Alaris is a bit clever in this respect: The included, thoroughly stripped-down version of “Capture Pro” shows what you could theoretically do: All features of the full version are displayed grayed out and can’t be accessed.

The scanners from Avision, Epson, Fujitsu and Kodak Alaris are recommended for quantities of up to 5,000, 6,000 or even 10,000 sheets per day. If this is the rule, however, FACTS recommends that you buy more powerful models with a larger intake tray, which all of the manufacturers also offer. In some cases, the scanners actually handle such large amounts well, but for the operator this becomes very tedious in the long term.

The compact scanners occupy little more space on the desk than a telephone, but they are almost as big as a flatbed scanner when the paper tray is folded out. The Avision AD260 should be mentioned positively here: On this device, paper feed and storage are noticeably more solid than with its colleagues, and you can also fold them away completely so that the scanner remains nothing more than a closed box that protects its interior against dust. With the other devices, the long paper output can also be folded away (Fujitsu) or at least inserted a little more cumbersomely (Epson and Kodak Alaris), but the input holder sticks out at the top. On the other hand, the Avision has one negative factor: It's the only one that has a fan that produces noise that drowns out the PC fan, and not even in idle mode does it become quieter.

NOTHING STICKS: The straight paper path in all of the scanners ensures careful processing. If any paper jam occurs, it can be easily fixed.

To test the speed, FACTS loaded 50, 60 and 65 sheets respectively – the amount that the scanners are supposed to process per minute according to the manufacturer – and recorded the time, in simplex and duplex mode as well as in color and black and white. All scanners fulfilled their manufacturers' promises: The actual throughput speed was higher rather than below the rated speed, especially in the case of the Avision AD260. For the Epson WorkForce DS860 and Fujitsu fi-7160, it was found that while the throughput time is very fast and the same in both modes, duplexing causes delays until the document is displayed on the screen. The Alaris S2050, on the other hand, does not take a few seconds in advance, but rather from the time the scan is triggered until the actual start. The deviation of the “gross” scan time from the start button to the display of the pure “net” pass time for each candidate is shown in the test table on the following page.

SAME CONDITIONS: In the comparison test, the four scanners were “fed” the same documents.

They also went through the processing of different types of documents: normal A4 pages with folded edges, a thin sales receipt, credit cards and business cards, envelopes, kinked and slightly frayed templates, and a round glossy document. Except for the fact that the Epson Workforce DS860 crumpled many receipts, there were no problems. The situation was different with stacks in which mixed documents were fed. Here, the Avision AD260 proved itself to be unsuitable: It did not manage a pass without a paper jam, which occurred at the latest with the round document, although it processed the template without stacks effortlessly. All the others didn’t master the task without some problems either, with the Alaris S2050 jamming only once, and the WorkForce DS860 and the fi-7160 jamming several times, but for the most part they completed their work as desired. With no jams at all, the Alaris S2050 completed the difficult task when the test editors used the active feeder: With two strength settings, you can specify how the feeder shakes the paper so that the rollers can hold each sheet reliably. Since the other scanners don’t have this feature, FACTS has given a big plus for it.  

Big differences showed up in the quality test. Interestingly, every scanner has its own different strengths; the FACTS editors were unable to determine which one is the outright best. For a color-highlighted document, the Epson made the text most readable, closely followed by the Kodak Alaris, while Fujitsu and Avision produced quite coarse dots that severely affected readability. On the other hand, in the case of small print in red, the Avision was ahead, the Kodak Alaris and Fujitsu achieved quite good results, while Epson created text that was largely illegible. Photos looked most like the original on the Kodak Alaris, even on the Fujitsu they were authentic, whereas on the Avision they were too saturated and on the Epson too pale. Standard business mail, in which the colorfastness of the logo doesn't matter, was brought onto the screen equally well by all four candidates, so that they were clearly readable and well prepared for text recognition: The four scanners are best suited for this. Anja Knies

TEST RESULTS
Manufacturer Avision Epson Fujitsu Kodak Alaris
Model
AD260 Workforce DS860 fi-7160 Alaris S2050
PRODUCTIVITY
A4, 200 dpi, black and white, simplex 60 pages scanned and processed in 51 seconds 65 pages scanned in 56 seconds, processed in 60
seconds
60 pages scanned and processed in 58 seconds After a short delay, 50 pages scanned and
processed in 51 seconds
A4, 200 dpi, color, simplex 60 pages scanned and processed in 51 seconds 65 pages scanned in 56 seconds, processed in 60
seconds
60 pages scanned in 58 seconds, processed in 69
seconds
After a short delay, 50 pages scanned and
processed in 51 seconds
A4, 200 dpi, black and white, duplex 60 pages scanned and processed in 51 seconds 65 pages scanned in 56 seconds, processed in 60
seconds
60 pages scanned and processed in 58 seconds After a short delay, 50 pages scanned and
processed in 51 seconds
A4, 200 dpi, color, duplex 60 pages scanned and processed in 51 seconds 65 pages scanned in 56 seconds, processed in 60
seconds
60 pages scanned in 58 seconds, processed in 89
seconds
After a short delay, 50 pages scanned and
processed in 51 seconds
FEED QUALITY
Thin sales receipt No problems Creased several times No problems No problems
Business card stack No problems No problems No problems No problems
Photo No problems No problems No problems No problems
Envelope Not suitable No problems No problems No problems
Colorful mixed documents (over-saturated) Several paper jams (too pale) Several paper jams Almost no paper jams
IMAGE QUALITY
Text in colored background 4.5 / 6 6 / 6 5 / 6 5.5 / 6
Small print in red 6 / 6 4.5 / 6 5 / 6 5.5 / 6
Color photo 5 / 6 4.5 / 6 5.5 / 6 6 / 6
CONCLUSION
Pros Considerably faster than indicated, suitable for normal daily mail

Moving parts are noticeably solid; the scanner
can be folded to a closed “black box” and is thus protected from dust.
Good scanner with no outstanding features,
faster than specified, suitable for daily mail and special documents.
Good scanner with no outstanding features, a
little faster than specified, suitable for daily mail and special documents.

Best packaging (sturdy box with carrying
handle)
Showed the least problems
in the test with mixed stacks and proved to be reliable when feeding, even
without activating the shaker, faster than indicated and suitable for daily
mail and special documents

Offers more options than the others, such as
retrofitting a flatbed or passport unit. You can also upgrade the software for
a fee without having to reinstall it.
Cons The most expensive candidate could not complete
a single mixed pile without a paper jam, and stopped at the latest on the round
template, which it passed through easily alone.

It is the only test
candidate that has a fan, which is even louder than the PC.
The processing takes longer than the paper
feed.

It proved to be unreliable when feeding in
sales receipts.
The processing takes longer than the paper
feed.
2-second delay
from triggering the scan to the actual start.
Overall score Satisfactory Good Good Very Good

Conclusion

All four test candidates proved to be solid and completed most of the test tasks. The Avision AD260, for example, has the advantage in sporadic use that it can be stowed away wonderfully well, but in continuous operation its loud fan noise is disturbing. It also proved unreliable with mixed documents: It did not manage the admittedly difficult FACTS test stack, while its adversaries could almost always cope with it. The Epson WorkForce DS860 should not be bought, for example, if you have to scan a lot of sales receipts for travel expenses. Otherwise, it's an equally reliable scanner without significant defects like the Fujitsu fi-7160. The Alaris S2050 stood out in the tests mainly because it didn't draw attention: The scanning process was virtually trouble-free and the image quality was above average. Positive highlights include the switchable “shaker” in the feeder, which improves the processing of mixed documents still further, as well as the fact that it can be retrofitted with a flatbed and/or passport unit. That feature is not available with the competitors. FACTS chooses the Alaris S2050 as the test winner due to most of its characteristics.

In general, FACTS advises: The best thing to do before buying a scanner is to assemble the typical documents that you want to process in your everyday routine, and thus test several devices yourself at the specialist retailer by comparing them in terms of processing and image results.

 

Article originally published by Facts Verlag: https://www.factsverlag.de/aktuelles-dialog/aktuelles-dialog-sub/aktuelle-ausgabe/item/facts-arena-scanner-5-2020/1070