Managing Receipts on the Road

Receipts: The very word likely sets your teeth grinding. Yet you accumulate a fistful on any business trip--and you must hold onto those tedious slips of paper to file an expense report when you return to the office, or to file taxes at the end of the year.

Recently, I tested a portable scanner, the NeatReceipts Scanalizer, to see if it makes organizing receipts easier. The scanner lists for $200 but was recently selling for $170 online. Overall, I found the scanner to be a worthwhile traveling companion.

PC World Associate Editor Eric Butterfield also liked the scanner, awarding it a PCW rating of 84, for "Very Good."

The Concept

The Scanalizer is designed to scan receipts, business cards, and color and black-and-white documents. It comes with software that performs OCR on your receipts and business cards, and lets you organize scanned documents.

For example, you can create a folder for all receipts related to a particular business trip. The software will total the amounts in scanned receipts related to a category--such as meals/restaurants--for a given trip.

You can export documents to .pdf, .doc, .xls, and other formats; sync scanned business cards with your Microsoft Outlook contacts; and more.

What I Liked

In a world of multifunction devices, the Scanalizer does one thing and does it well. Installation is easy. I was scanning within 15 minutes after removing the device from its box. The scanning/organizing software is intuitive, yet offers enough features to be useful. You can add notes to scanned documents and perform searches on those notes, which will help you find all the business cards you collected at a particular trade show, for example.

The scanner is compact and fits nicely into a laptop bag. By itself, the Scanalizer weighs 11.5 ounces. It's 12.1 ounces when in its protective sleeve (included), and 15.3 ounces with the sleeve and the supplied USB cable. There's no need for a power adapter, as the Scanalizer is powered by a USB connection to your computer.

What I Didn't Like

OCR accuracy on receipts and business cards was pretty good, but I had to make minor corrections to most everything I scanned. For example, when I scanned a McDonald's receipt (I'm addicted to the Southwestern Grilled Chicken salad), the Scanalizer software automatically categorized the receipt as Meals/Restaurants and correctly read the tax, total amount paid, and payment method. But it didn't recognize McDonald's as the vendor and it misread the receipt's date. Fortunately, it's easy to make corrections.

The software does not perform OCR on documents, such as typed pages or forms, which is a shame. (A NeatReceipts spokesperson said the product will offer OCR on documents within the next four to six months.) Also, as of this writing, the Windows Vista version of the Scanalizer software was still in beta, which I didn't test. No timeline for a final Vista version had been set.

Who's It For?

If you frequently travel on business and need help keeping receipts organized, NeatReceipts Scanalizer is well worth packing. The scanner can help you file expense reports from the road, too, complete with digital copies of receipts--a big advantage to business travelers on extended, multi-stop trips.

Even if you don't travel often, the scanner is worth considering. It will help you quickly input contact information from business cards or organize your receipts for tax purposes, without taking up much space on your desk.

Either way, the NeatReceipts Scanalizer takes some of the pain out of handing receipts, as well as paper documents and business cards. That's all it does--and for me, that's plenty.

Further Reading

While there aren't lots of portable scanners on the market, Scanalizer isn't your only choice. For example, read Richard Jantz's review of the Visioneer RoadWarrior ($200).

Though my "Scan, Copy on the Road" column is over three years old, it's still worth reading for information on portable scanning options--including what happened when I tried to use a digital camera for the task.

The PC World guide, "How to Buy a Scanner," is also helpful, as is the "Top Document Scanners" ranked chart.

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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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