Hands-on: Windows Phone’s business-card scanning fills a need, but needs more skill

microsoft card
Credit: Mark Hachman

Windows Phone users can cross one item off their long list of wished-for features: business card scanning. Specifically, OneNote for Windows Phone now can read your business cards via the Office Lens app.

Yes, it should have been part of Windows Phone long ago, but Windows Phone users in the U.S. are also getting the Denim update later than other geographies are, so they’re hardly new to deprivation. If nothing else it was a perfect time to go hands-on with this new feature, as I’d just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show with a pile of business cards.

Artsy cards puzzle Office Lens as well as humans

Office Lens is the Google Goggles of Windows Phone. The app actually does a surprisingly good job of recognizing objects and taking pictures of documents for collaboration. All you need to do is open up Office Lens and select the “business card” option, then snap a picture of the card. Office Lens will extract the relevant information and save a copy of the card’s image and the extracted information to your OneNote notebook.

onenote business card 2

How your scanned contact will look in OneNote.

That part of the process works fairly well. Office Lens had no problems with conventional text printed on a white background. If my contacts’ business cards were too creatively formatted, however, Office Lens stumbled. Interestingly, Office Lens interpreted a Microsoft business card flawlessly, while a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Android phone flubbed it—but the Android phone also did better on one of the oddly-formatted cards. You can anonymously upload your collection of scanned cards (either to OneDrive, Dropbox, or via email) to help Office Lens do a better job in the future.

Microsoft says the extracted information can be saved in OneNote or exported into Outlook via an associated VCF file. Dragging the icon from one window to another doesn’t seem to work, though. Instead, what you have to do is click the icon, then click the paper-clip menu tool that will pop into existence next to it. Then click “open” and select Outlook. It’s clunky, and a one-stop export to Outlook is what this tool eventually needs—as an option, at least. Try the feature and let us know what you think.

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