IRISPen II Executive, by I.R.I.S.
Posted: 15-Feb-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: I.R.I.S. Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

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 cursor position.

Retail: $190 (Executive), $143 (Standard)

Test Environment:

  • G4/867mHz, 640 MB of memory
  • 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.

Features

  • Recognises up to 56 languages
  • Recognises up to 1.000 characters per second
  • Reads wavy and distorted characters
  • Read text, numbers, handwritten numbers and bar codes
  • Read text and bar codes simultaneously
  • Reads 6 to 22 points character size fonts
  • Programmable button on the pen

IRISPen Hardware
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.

IRISPen Software
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 is unneeded.

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:

L 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.

Summary
The IRISPen 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).

Pros

  • Impressive Text Translation and Accuracy
  • Stylish and Ergonomic Design
  • Variety of Barcode Formats Recognized
  • Left-Handed Scanning


Cons

  • Not suited for full page text scans
  • Handprinted translations require near-perfect writing
  • Left-Handed Scanning mode does not work with all barcode modes

System Requirements

  • 36 MB free disk space
  • Mac OS 8.6, 9.x (soon available for MacOS x)
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Free USB port

Rating

4 out of 5 Mice