- Full functionality requires Adobe Document Cloud subscription, starting at $9.99 per month.
Automatically detects and captures scans. OCR creates editable PDFs.
Requires paid Adobe Document Cloud account for some functions. Getting DOC files requires multiple apps and steps.
- Bottom Line
Adobe Scan is an impressive app that automatically detects, captures, and converts printed text to digital form, but you need a paid subscription to get all its features.
Sometimes you have a piece of paper that you need to get into digital form. Maybe you don't have a scanner handy. Never fear! That's where Adobe Scan, a newly released mobile scanning app, comes in. The app can not only produce a PDF using your smartphone camera, but it can also apply optical-character recognition (OCR) to the scanned image so that you can edit its text. I found Adobe Scan to be generally impressive, though there are alternatives that match or surpass it in some ways.
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Adobe Scan is a free iPad and iPhone app, though an in-app purchase raises its ugly head later, as I'll explain. There's also an Android equivalent. On iOS it's a reasonably small, 39MB download that runs on iOS 10.0 or later, so the oldest phone it works on is the less-than-four-year-old iPhone 5s. I tested the app on my iPhone 6s.
When you first open Adobe Scan, a simple three-page welcome slideshow appears. After this, you have to sign in to an Adobe account, otherwise you can't do anything with the app. I always prefer apps that can do at least something without requiring an account setup and sign-in; failing that, a simple sign up with Facebook procedure is a second best. At least the type of Adobe account required here is free, however. Next, as only makes sense for a scanning app, you have to give it privacy permission to use your iPhone camera.
Using the Adobe Scan App
The first thing Adobe Scan does is to show you a camera view, with a message suggesting you point the camera at a document. When you do this, the app reads "Looking for a document." On my first try, the app couldn't make out the text on a small magazine, because there were too many columns with very small text. My second try was with white text on a black background, which also confused the app. Those two tricky situations aside, the app was very good at recognizing text in my testing, however. When printed text is detected, blue-tinted rectangles appear, to indicate the detection. When the app recognizes text for certain, it snaps the shot automatically—neat!
The app saves the image, which then shows up as a thumbnail in the lower-right corner of the screen with a counter number. Tap on this, and you can save it as a PDF to Adobe Document Cloud online storage associated with your account. Back up for a moment though, because the app does another cool thing: It straightens out the document you shot, and auto-crops it to the area containing text. You can change either of these edits to taste when viewing the capture, though.
Microsoft Office Lens, another document-scanning app that also cleans up photos, does similar straightening, and it even clears up muddy backgrounds. Office Lens, as you might expect, is more about getting the text into Office apps like Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint, though it also can create PDFs from your scans. As with Adobe Scan, the documents are editable, thanks to OCR. Evernote Scannable is a competing app that feels nearly identical to Adobe Scan, but its main goal is saving your scans to Evernote. Furthermore, it doesn't do full document OCR to let you edit text, as Adobe Scan and Office Lens do.
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Adobe Scan lets you snap multiple printed documents in multiple modes, including Original Photo, Auto Color, Grayscale, or Whiteboard. After you have a few scans, you can reorder them, rename them, crop them, and rotate them.
You can create a PDF from any scan the app performs. When you do this (by hitting Save PDF), you see a spinner and the message "Recognizing Text." To do anything besides viewing your PDF and performing the basic fixes mentioned above, you need to open it in another app, which in most cases means Adobe Reader. The scan view includes a share icon and a link to open it in Reader. From that app, you can search on text and mark up the scan with highlighter and text annotations. You can even select text for copying, formatting, highlighting, and dictionary lookup.
Convert your scan (via the cloud) to a DOC file is possible—but doing this requires a paid Adobe Document Cloud subscription. For free DOC creation, you're better off with Office Lens. I found getting to editable Word docs simpler and faster in Office Lens, but the Adobe result was nevertheless excellent. It includes both the plain editable document text along with an image of the scan that's also editable, with the original fonts preserved. One thing the app doesn't let you do is to fax your scanned document; for that capability, check out our roundup of the best online fax services.
The Best Scanning App?
Adobe Scan for iPhone is definitely an impressive app, with automatic text recognition and cleanup. It also lets you mark up—as well as copy text from—the created PDFs. But I did find getting documents into editable text was easier and took fewer steps with Microsoft Office Lens, and doing so with Adobe Scan requires a paid Adobe Document Cloud subscription. If you already have a Creative Cloud subscription, that's not a problem. If you don't need to edit text, PCMag Editors' Choice Evernote Scannable is a good option that offers some appealing extras. Fellow Editors' Choices Abbyy FineScanner and Dropbox Business add features of interest to corporate users. But for easier sharing and editing of scanned documents, look to Office Lens.
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services (pretty much the progenitor of Web 2.0) for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which in those days covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered Web… More »
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