HP ScanJet N8460

If you need a scanner which can convert large numbers of documents from single or double-sided pages to electronic media, the ScanJet N8460 does it with skill. Whether in manual or batch mode, the well-chosen software works alongside a carefully-engineered scanner mechanism to deliver high quality scans and OCRed pages.

Price
£1,050

Dedicated scanners are not just multi-function machines without the printing bit, they have a valid use in their own right. Anyone needing to convert printed documents to electronic files - either bitmap images of the pages or, more usually, editable text via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) - a flatbed scanner is the best approach. Although flatbeds start at around 100, to get something with throughput and reliability suited to a office or corporate department, you need to spend rather more.

HP's ScanJet N8460 is near the top of the company's range of dedicated flatbeds and is geared to high throughputs, with a duty cycle of up to 1,500 pages per day. Its friends might call its design utilitarian, while others would say it's pug ugly. The lid of the machine has a deep step in it to accommodate the Auto-Document Feeder (ADF) and the scanner is wider at the top and bottom than it is in the middle.

Along the long edge of the main body are controls for different scan jobs, including scanning directly to selected applications. There are four soft function keys, so you can set up your own specialist jobs. There's also a 16-character LCD display providing status information and instructions. Copy functions are also catered for, though obviously you have to have a suitable printer available, to work in collaboration with the scanner.

Lift the lid with its bulbous ADF and, slightly surprisingly, the whole unit doesn't overbalance. Instead you can get at the flatbed for individual scans or scans of non-sheet originals, such as pages from books. The scanner has a single USB 2.0 port at the rear, which is its only means of connection to a PC. There's little point in have a high-volume document scanner like this networked.

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A number of different file formats are supported as the destination of scans, including BMP, JPG, TIFF, PNG and PDF. PDF documents can be made searchable and may include searchable images. If you're using common document applications, like Word, you can scan directly into an open document, via OCR. Scan drivers are provided for versions of Windows from 2000 on and they include 64-bit as well as 32-bit software for both XP and Vista.

Under test, the scanner completed a 35 page, single-sided, 200dpi job in 1 minute 11 seconds, 11 seconds longer than the claimed speed of 35ppm would suggest. A 10-page duplex document took 46 seconds, but that was at 300dpi, suitable for OCR. If you're scanning longer documents for read back or conversion to PDF file, you should be able to get close to HP's specified speeds. This is an impressive throughput even for a scanner in this high-end market.

Documents scanned in duplex mode, unlike those printed in duplex - where each page has to pass through the print mechanism twice - only pass through the ScanJet N8460 once. In duplex mode it scans both sides of the paper in one pass, so you do get a true doubling of the scan speed, when converting double-sided documents.

If documents need to be OCRed after scanning, of course, overall conversion speeds drop. OCR quality is high, though, because of the excellent bundled software. As well as the highly-regarded Nuance PaperPort document manager and Readiris OCR, there's a full version of Kofax Virtual ReScan, which tidies up each scan prior to recognition. It also does neat tricks, such as inverting pages inadvertently scanned upside down and deleting blank separator pages from documents. There were very few recognition errors in the OCR samples we produced.

A more basic error would be a completely missing page within a scanned document, caused by the scanner misfeeding two or more pages at once. Again, unlike a printer, where the paper used is always clean and uncreased, documents fed into a scanner can be folded and dog-eared, making it easier for misfeeds to occur. Although the ADF on the ScanJet N8460 is pretty good at separating sheets, the machine also has an ultrasonic detector, which can tell when multiple sheets are fed at once. It issues an alert, so the problem document can be fed again.

This is not a scanner for photographs or other high resolution images. If you're concerned with graphic art or photography, you'll need a scanner with a higher overall resolution and you probably won't need a bulky ADF unit on its lid. In a business environment, though, particularly in any department concerned with filing or archiving material, the ScanJet N8460 is a thoroughbred scanner, which can cope with high volume and handle it in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Verdict

If you need a scanner which can convert large numbers of documents from single or double-sided pages to electronic media, the ScanJet N8460 does it with skill. Whether in manual or batch mode, the well-chosen software works alongside a carefully-engineered scanner mechanism to deliver high quality scans and OCRed pages.

Resolution: 600dpi, 35ppm (70spm) A4 scanner Colour: 24-bit colour, 256 greyscale Paper handling: 100 sheet auto-document feeder Duplex: Yes Extras: Ultrasonic double-feed protection Software: Nuance PaperPort 11 document manager, Readiris Pro 11 OCR, Kofax Virtual ReScan 4.1 image enhancer

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