Talking tech since 2003

A new cross-platform scanning app called Office Lens from Microsoft hit Android and iOS devices on Thursday. It’s the latest move in the company’s ongoing initiative to bring users on different platforms into the Microsoft ecosystem.

Office Lens, which was originally released last year exclusively for Windows Phone is essentially a handheld scanner that relies on your smartphone or tablet’s built-in camera. With it, you can take photos of documents, screens, whiteboards—basically anything with text on it—and save it to OneNote, Word, and other Microsoft apps. Office Lens also utilizes optical character recognition, or OCR, to “read” what’s written to give users an easier time searching for keywords or topics. It’s a neat trick—and it does it all for free, which is a nice bonus. Comparable apps, like Scanbot, charge a couple of bucks for OCR functionality in the Pro edition.

2015-04-02 22.16.05That said, you get what you pay for. I’m not completely convinced that Office Lens—which is currently in preview on Android and iOS—is going to be the scanning app for me. I did a very quick test, so it’s likely that I could have more success if I keep at it. But simply scanning this very article in-progress—written in Microsoft Word on a Microsoft Surface, mind you—delivered pretty mediocre results (at right).

Moreover, I can’t escape the irony that this app exists at all, given how completely useless the Surface Pro 3’s rear camera turned out to be when it came to scanning documents. I appreciate that Office Lens is here, and I think I’ll keep trying.

But for now, I’ll probably stick with my usual method of scanning documents: taking a photo with the built-in camera app and calling it a day. My phone is set to sync any photos I snap with Dropbox, so I can sort out what I capture later. As for OCR, it’s a nice trick, and I hope it becomes standard in camera apps. It would definitely make research projects a bit more bearable. But based on the above results, I think Microsoft might have a few more tweaks to make before officially releasing it on the Google Play Store.

[Office Lens Comes to iPhone and Android]

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