Free Document Scanning Apps Are Dirty and Ugly, Don’t Download Them

Mobile document scanners are arguably the most boring apps imaginable, so it’s bewildering that they are also some of the ugliest, grubby, and confusing apps you can download. It should be simple: scan receipts, digitize notes, sync to the cloud, that’s all. Helpful but not fun. But there are dozens of them, all almost the same. Some of them are free. The rest is a couple of bucks. Most have in-app purchases. They are all fucking confusing.

Document scanners have been present in app stores since their launch. I remember loading a random scanner onto my iPhone 3G when I needed to scan a document for school. Like faxing apps, document scanning apps were a necessary evil that most of us rarely need. Perhaps this rarity has made it nearly impossible to find one that would just work out of the box without some weird payment scheme.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and free document scanning apps: FineScanner (iOS), Scanbot (Android / iOS), and CamScanner (Android / iPhone). Each is free to download, but they are all limited unless you unlock them piece by piece with increasingly annoying in-app purchases.

In-app purchases are out of control

Let’s start with Scanbot. It’s free and has multiple in-app purchases. It is also one of the most recommended iPhone scanning apps . By default, you can scan documents and save them locally. With an in-app purchase of $ 5.99, you get optical character recognition (OCR) and search, as well as the ability to digitally sign documents. For $ 7.99, you get auto-download, Touch ID protection, folder support, color filter, smart naming, and themes. For $ 9.99, you get everything above, plus an extra copy of the app for a friend. These are four versions of the application, locked for three paid access. Most of us may not need any of these paid features, but it’s confusing anyway. At first glance, if you don’t dig into everything, most people will not know what features they need and will most likely just overpay just in case. This is the same scheme that Microsoft uses with Office .

FineScanner and CamScanner are even more confusing. The free version of CamScanner supports ads and adds watermarks to all saved PDFs. You can get 200MB of free cloud storage by registering for an account with CamScanner. For $ 5 / month or $ 50 / year, you get more cloud storage, automatic uploads, batch uploads, and a few other random features. Apart from in-app purchases, CamScanner is confusing because there are four versions of the app available. Besides CamScanner Free, there is CamScanner + for 99 cents, which is similar to the free app but does not contain ads or watermarks. There’s also CamScanner Pro for $ 4.99. I have no idea what is the difference between this and CamScanner +. A copy of the iTunes App Store advertisements for each app, CamScanner Free, CamScanner + and CamScanner Pro are identical, so good luck figuring out which one you want. Oh, there’s also CamScanner + from Symantec built for enterprises using Symantec technology. It’s $ 1.99.

FineScanner is even worse. A premium account costs $ 6 per month or $ 30 per year (no, that’s not a typo). With a premium account, you get OCR, book scanning mode, no ads, and password protection for PDFs. You can also pay a one-time fee of $ 60 to unlock the same premium features permanently. Or you can pay $ 24.99 to unlock OCR mode, $ 5.99 to unlock BookScan mode, $ 5.99 to remove ads, or $ 5.99 for password protection for PDFs. This gives seven possible in-app purchases (the App Store actually lists 10 options, but I can’t figure out what the hell the other three are doing at all). If I was joking about this.

FineScanner is the worst offender here, but many other popular apps block extremely simple features for no apparent reason. iScanner Free not only has ads in the free version, but also requires a Pro account to use the “Email me” button. It’s crazy because you can use the regular Email button for free and then just enter your own email address and it works. TinyScanner does the same and also requires a professional account to connect to cloud services like Dropbox. This is nonsense because TinyScanner has an “Open In” feature where you can simply open and save your PDF in another installed application … like Dropbox or Google Drive. They ask you to pay for the features you already have on your phone .

Sometimes it’s better to just buy a good, honest app than tinker with the free ones.

Trying to pick a decent app for an absurdly simple paper scanning task is a pain. Scanbot is probably the least scam free app, but the way in-app purchases work turns me off. However, this problem is not limited to document scanners. Many productivity apps block obscure features , but document scanners take it to a whole new, messy and creepy level.

After exploring all of these apps and a host of other options, I settled on an app that I had to pay four dollars for, Scanner Pro 7 (iOS only, Android users can just use Google Drive , which is free. Update: Readers also note that Scannable is from Evernote and Microsoft Office Lens are solid free options, but both require accounts from their parent companies to get the most out of them, including saving as PDF with Scannable) Why? Because this is a one-time fee. The only in-app purchases are sending faxes. All features are included including OCR, password protection and editing. For $ 4, I never have to think about this stupid app again.


Leave a Reply