The IRISPen II is
a pen sized scanner that allows you to enter data (text, numbers, bar codes and handwritten
numbers) into any Mac application. What you get is real editable text, right at the
Retail: $190 (Executive), $143 (Standard)
- G4/867mHz, 640 MB
- Mac OS 9.2.2
- MacAlley USB Hub
I reviewed the IRISPen II Executive. The reasons IRIS provides for using the IRISPen
are that it's faster than manual retyping, provides direct and instant data entry
into a Mac application, and that it's easy to use. In the end, I would agree with
all three points.
The IRISPen system is actually a package containing hardware (the scanning pen) and
software (IRISPen v4.0). Setup and installation was surprisingly simple. I ran the
IRISPen software installer off of the CD, did a reboot, and plugged the IRISPen scanner
into one of the available USB ports on my MacAlly USB hub. That was it!
The Executive version of the pen uses the exact same hardware as the Standard version.
The software, however, provides more functionality with the Executive upgrade. For
starters, the reading capability is extended with bar code reading, hand printed
number recognition and recognition of dot matrix documents. Image adjustment allows
the owner of an IRISPen Executive to adapt the scanning to the color tones of his
documents. Finally, speech synthesis is added and so is the multiline reading mode.
Because both products are based on the same pen scanner, you can buy a software-only
upgrade to turn your IRISPen into an IRISPen Executive.
- Recognises up to
- Recognises up to
1.000 characters per second
- Reads wavy and distorted
- Read text, numbers,
handwritten numbers and bar codes
- Read text and bar
- Reads 6 to 22 points
character size fonts
- Programmable button
on the pen
The actual scanning pen is about as long as a pencil and about half the width of
an average cell phone. The thickness was about the same thickness as a thin cell
phone. Ergonomically, the pen had an excellent feel to it. It has a soft rubbery
feel to it providing an excellent grip, and is very light making navigating a breeze.
The end of the pen
is divided with the actual scanning light on one side and the pen roller on the other.
Over the scanning light are three hash marks, two short ones on the side and one
longer one in the middle. The pen roller serves as the "on" switch which
activates the scanning light. To use the pen, you tilt the pen and press the tip
down on the page you are scanning from. To properly set your starting mark, angle
the pen towards the pen light side (away from the roller side) so that you don't
yet activate it. Line up the center hash mark with the center of the line of text
you are scanning. Then press the pen down so that the roller is depressed and begin
sliding the pen across the text. The red light indicates when the pen is scanning.
The pen also has a button on the side which can be programmed for both single-button
clicks and double-clicks.
In order for the pen to work, the IRISPen software must be running. After starting
up the IRISPen application, a toolbar palette and a short wide window opens up. Without
consulting any documentation, I eagerly just began rolling the pen over whatever
text I could find near the computer. With the IRISPen software in the foreground,
the text that you rolled the image over is displayed in the IRISPen window as an
image. At this point, you cannot really do much with it except for saving the image.
The real magic of this software is what it does for you when you have other Mac applications
open. The image which is being scanned is being translated into text and ready for
output into whatever application you want.
Before discussing other applications, it's important to note for the group of left-handers
out there (of which I am a proud member) that using the scanner left-handed style
(holding in left hand and scanning from right to left) does not work by default (the
scans are backwards and upside down). For awhile I stumbled around trying to use
my right hand, or turning the paper I was scanning upside down. Then I discovered
under the Options menu a setting for "Left-handed scanning". Once I activated
that setting, I was able to scan properly the way a left-handed person would, and
everything worked great.
Running Microsoft Word, with the IRISPen software running in the background, I scanned
some text with the pen. What popped up in the Word document was the actual text,
not the text image, and it was almost immediate. I was quite impressed with how fast
the image was translated into text and inserted directly into the Word document.
The accuracy of the translations was impressive as well. The pen was not too picky
about me having to scan in a perfectly straight line. I did find that the slower
I moved the pen, the better the accuracy. In places where the text was on colored
backgrounds, the darker the color of the background, the harder the pen had of picking
up the text. There is a setting for adjusting for colored backgrounds, but if the
background is not consistent (e.g., the back of the IRIS Pen manual where it is partially
white background with a gradient towards a dark blue), your results will not be as
good as on a single colored or white background.
The IRISPen toolbar palette has options for closing the scan window (which I found
I didn't really need open), changing languages, setting the pen-button function,
defining the output character subset, enabling speech, changing the reading mode,
changing the output target, adjusting text alignment, show supported barcodes, and
adjusting the image. These functions are also available under the IRISPen menu, as
well as settings for the text type (normal, dot matrix, handprinted), multiline mode,
symbol for unknown characters, left-handed scanning, and a few others.
There are a number of options you can set for the single button clicks and the double-clicks,
including having static text inserted. I found that having the single click set to
RETURN and the double-click set to CHANGE INPUT MODE were the most useful settings
for me. This way I could scan a line of text, click once, and scan another line of
text, and the text is being entered into my document with the desired returns.
With speech enabled, the text (or numbers) is actually spoken as it is translated.
If you were doing a lot of scanning, and did not want to keep looking back and forth
between the computer screen and the pages you were scanning, the speech feedback
would be perfect for you. For just a quick scan or two, however, the speech output
There are three reading modes provided: Text, Barcode and Image. For the most part,
text mode is what you'll want, as it translates your scans directly into text and
inserts them into the application you are working in just as if you typed them in
yourself. This output behavior is called "Keyboard Events". As alternatives,
you could also send the output to the clipboard or as an Apple Event. The barcode
reading mode is really handy for reading all kinds of barcode formats (UPC, 3 of
9, etc.), and the accuracy of the barcode translations was excellent. The only problem
with this mode is that some of the barcodes formats will not read with Left-Handed
Scanning turned on (such as 3 of 9). I had to turn off Left-Handed Scanning and use
the pen as a right-hander to read these barcodes. The UPC format did read in either
setting. Finally, with the Image reading mode, you could scan in small images, such
as a logo off of a business card, and paste them into any Mac application that accepts
pictures. Note that you must switch the Output Target to clipboard and use a paste
command when working with images. The software really should automatically switch
to Clipboard when you select Image mode, as Keyboard Events will not work with images.
One thing I was very curious about is how well it would do in recognizing handprinted
characters. I found that this is extremely relative to the "cleanness"
of the prints (some of us just don't print as well as others). As an example, I handprinted
the following, making every attempt to keep it clean and readable:
After several attempts
of scanning this text, I finally gave up, as it just would not translate correctly
no matter how slow I moved the pen. The closest translation I got was:
e -t- ; t r-y th /5 jct-1 \I")
I later learned that
handprinted text is not really supported, as the technology apparently has not progressed
that far yet. The handprinted option in IRISPen refers to handprinted digits only.
Readiris Pro 6
Another IRIS software product which can be used with this scanner or any other scanner,
including flatbed scanners, is Readiris Pro. I mention it here because it is an associated
product, but you do not need it for an effective IRISPen solution. What Readiris
Pro does provide is a full fledged OCR solution for full page scans. For full page
scans, the IRISPen would be a tedious solution, having to scan line by line. With
Readiris Pro and a flatbed scanner, you could scan the whole page and have the image
translated to text all at once.
Unfortunately, I found that Readiris Pro did not provide the accuracy nor the ease-of-use
to warrant the price of the product. I ended up training the software a lot, and
there were still quite a few problems with the translations. As I increased the resolution
of the scan, however, the accuracy did improve greatly, but never to the 99% level
that the IRISPen was yielding. The biggest downside of the Readiris Pro software
was the klunky interface. It did not have an intuitive "Mac-like" look
and feel. To make matters worse, I found that I had to quit the application every
time I wanted to do a new scan. When I entered the application fresh, I could click
on the scan button, and it would load my scanners plug-in and perform the scan. After
doing the OCR processing on the scan, I tried clicking on the scan button again,
and all it did was clear the window. It would not retrieve the scanner plug-in again
until I quit the application and came back in.
II is a wonderful handheld scanner which provides excellent accuracy on translating
scanned text and scanned barcodes. It is a highly versatile tool as it is integrated
with the Mac OS keyboard events such that you can be running in any Mac application
which accepts text input and use the IRISPen to collect text. For scanning labels,
business cards, text out of books for a report, and much more, this is the ideal
tool for moving that information quickly and efficiently into your computer for database
storage or further manipulation. If you have barcode scanning needs, if you have
a high frequency of scans where speech feedback could save you effort, or if you
need accuracy with colored backgrounds, then I highly recommend the IRISPen Executive.
If your text scanning needs are not as ambitious, the standard version should work
fine for you (and if you ever need the Executive version, you can upgrade the software
without having to change the hardware).
- Impressive Text Translation
- Stylish and Ergonomic
- Variety of Barcode
- Left-Handed Scanning
- Not suited for full
page text scans
- Handprinted translations
require near-perfect writing
- Left-Handed Scanning
mode does not work with all barcode modes
- 36 MB free disk space
- Mac OS 8.6, 9.x (soon available
for MacOS x)
- CD-ROM drive
- Free USB port
4 out of 5 Mice