Back in January at Macworld Expo we saw the first demo of Neat Cloud and Neat Mobile. Neat have been around for years providing hardware and software that allows archiving and then searching of scanned documents of various kinds. They produce two different scanners and desktop software to help you get documents into your database. The Neat Cloud update brings that database into the cloud and allows scanning and searching from the iPhone and iPad.
Not only can you use your iPhone and iPad to search your Neat data in the cloud while on the go, you can also use these devices to get items into the system. Utilizing the camera on the iPhone is a great way to get business cards, receipts, and other items onto your Neat Cloud while away from home. Take a look at the video from Neat below for more on the Neat system.
We got a few days to try out Neat Cloud, Neat Mobile, and one of the Neat Desk scanners. Here are some initial thoughts.
The Neat scanner is easy to set up. Just install the software and then plug in the power and the USB cable. Throw in a bunch go papers into one of the three custom guides in the scanner -- one for documents, one for receipts, and one for business cards -- and away you go. The scanning happens just about as fast as you can throw documents at it. Once documents are in they will be recognized and OCR'ed to get the data from them. From there they reside in your inbox in Neat for you to give them a check and file them in a folder that works for you.
You can also use the Neat mobile app to scan documents into your Neat database. In that case the document is sent to the cloud to be recognized and OCR applied. It is then send back down to your mobile device and to your Neat desktop inbox for sorting.
While the Neat Scanner works well if you have stacks of documents to scan in, in quick testing we found the iPhone camera to be produce quicker and higher resolution scans of most one and two page items. Both seem to have their place -- the scanner for stacks of documents and the camera for single items and when you are on the go.
Both the scanner and your iPhone captures will not only keep the original images of your document, business cards, receipts, etc., the system will also apply Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on them. The OCR will, if the document type is set right, also grab relevent data from your scans. For example the purchase total and credit card used for a receipt or contact details from a business card. You can then use that data to updated your contacts or use the receipt data at tax time.
All visible text in the document is converted to text for the database too. Because of this you will also be able to search not only metadata about the documents scanned, but also the full content as well. Great for instances where you are looking for documents about a particular subject, but can't remember more.
In quick testing of the OCR capabilities, everything seemed to work well with just a few recognition mistakes. In most cases the mistake was minor -- but some of the more difficult business cards I threw at it did cause it to return oddly converted text. Unfortunately no OCR system is complete scan and forget, they all need to be fine tuned.
Neat Cloud comes at an additional cost over the Neat scanner and software. A personal account costs $5.99/month but you'll need the Home & Office account at $14.99/month to use the mobile app. The Home & Office account does have the additional bonus of supporting two users, great for a household. In addition there is a higher level, the Business account that allows access by up to 5 users for $24.99/month.
Neat Mobile and Neat Cloud are available immediately. The link to the mobile app is below. To sign up for a Neat Cloud account, head to the Neat Cloud site.