The NeatDesk document scanner is an attractive, consumer-grade document scanner that is up against stiff competition, including the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, which has become incredibly popular with lawyers and includes a copy of Acrobat for a tough-to-beat value proposition. But the NeatDesk has its own software package and at least one feature the ScanSnap lacks: TWAIN.

Update: Neat now offers a much more compelling NeatConnect cloud-based scanner which is one of our favorite scanners for lawyers.

So can the NeatDesk measure up to the ScanSnap? Read on to find out!

I can’t help comparing the NeatDesk to the ScanSnap, mainly because a ScanSnap has been sitting on my desk for many years. ScanSnaps are easy to set up, easy to use, come with simple scanning software, and include Adobe Acrobat, a ~$250 value.

But I have always wanted to try the NeatDesk, so I was thrilled when Neat gave me a test unit to try out. It feels like the NeatDesk has been around forever, in part because I see it in the SkyMall catalog whenever I travel. The hardware is attractive, and the NeatDesk promises to help users get organized, not just convert paper to bits.

That turns out to be more or less true—if you have a fair amount of patience. It’s a very good scanner for the typical consumer, but a poor choice for a law office.

NeatDesk form factor

Closed up, the NeatDesk is pretty. With all the paper supports extended, however, it strikes a pretty awkward pose. Still, it looks better sitting on my desk than the ScanSnap. The ScanSnap is more compact when closed up (which means you could toss it in a duffel bag if you don’t have a S1100), but that’s not really important, since both scanners will sit on your desk 99% of the time.

One of the NeatDesk’s distinguishing features is its document feeder, which has specially-sized slots for business cards, receipts, and regular-width paper. The idea is that it helps prevent paper from moving around. In practice, it means you can’t fit very much paper into the automatic document feeder without removing the guide. If you do try removing the feeder insert, though, you can fit plenty of pages.

The NeatDesk document scanner has just two buttons on its face: Scan and PDF. The Scan button is for scanning into the NeatWorks software, while the PDF button, more intuitively, is for scanning directly to a PDF. Since I don’t particularly like NeatWorks (more on why below), I found that button useless, and would have preferred one configurable button, like the ScanSnap uses, instead of two that I cannot customize.

Since you can generally use the NeatDesk without pulling out the extensions, I’m giving it the edge over the ScanSnap in the looks department. Of course, if you are buying on looks alone, you don’t need this review.

Scanning with the NeatDesk

The NeatDesk is both fast and slow. It pulls documents through the ADF really quickly. I’m not sure what the default resolution is, but if it’s scanning documents at the same resolution as my ScanSnap, it’s way faster at running through a stack of paper.

Once the the ADF is empty, however, you can take a nap while the NeatDesk Quick Scan utility processes the data. Need to make a quick copy for a client? Not happening, because you cannot change this process; there is no option to turn off OCR. In fact, there are few options at all. Basically, you can decide whether to scan in black-and-white or color, single-sided or double-sided, and whether to scan each page as a separate file or many pages as a single file.

Contrast this with the ScanSnap, which has a highly-customizable scanning utility. Don’t want to use OCR every time? Easy. Want to ratchet up the quality for scanning photos? Easy. Want to scan each page as a separate file, automatically named, and automatically saved in a folder you choose? Easy. None of these are possible with the NeatDesk. Which is fine, I guess, if you love the default settings.

I don’t love the default settings. Let’s say, for example, you want to scan a thick pile of documents produced by opposing counsel. With the NeatDesk, the best you can do is create a separate file for each ADF load, then combine them using the NeatWorks software. It doesn’t have an option to just scan multiple sets of pages to a single file. With the ScanSnap, however, you can keep adding to the file easily, and create a single PDF out of many ADF loads.

You do have one option with the NeatDesk that you don’t have with the ScanSnap, though: TWAIN. TWAIN is a scanning protocol that lets other software talk to your scanner. For example, you can scan from Acrobat, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Photoshop, and pretty much anything else that has anything to do with images. Whether this matters to you depends on how you like to scan things. I don’t think it is very important, and if you don’t know whether you want TWAIN, you probably won’t miss it.

The scanning experience with the NeatDesk is decent, but the ScanSnap wins on scanning, in my book.

Bundled software: NeatWorks

The NeatDesk document scanner comes bundled with Neat’s NeatWorks document scanner software, which you have to install in order to use the scanner (along with 6 or 7 drivers, for some reason). This is annoying. Scanning companies have this idea that you will want to keep all your documents tied up in one piece of software, instead of organizing them into your client folders. For example, NeatWorks will help you scan business cards—which is nice—but who wants to try browsing contacts in their scanning software instead of say, Outlook or Google Contacts?

Or client files. Do you want them locked into NeatWorks’s proprietary database, or do you want to be able to easily navigate files on your computer, sync them across computers, access them on your phone, and so on? (I’ll take the latter.)

Further, NeatWorks is slooow. When you scan something like a business card or a receipt, it ends up in your inbox. You can categorize it and add other information, and then you are supposed to “file” it. Which means you watch a progress bar for a few seconds before you can move on to the next one. It’s easy enough if you only scan a few pages a day, but if you have a paperless office, it feels like walking in mud.

Neat may think NeatWorks is somehow worth $99.95, but I think that is just to make buyers feel like they are getting a great value with their scanners. I wouldn’t pay zero for it.

Once again, let’s try to compare with the ScanSnap. The ScanSnap Organizer is similarly useless bloatware, but at least you have the option not to install it. Plus, the ScanSnap comes bundled with the hugely useful and valuable Adobe Acrobat, which actually is worth a couple hundred dollars, and substantially increases the value of what’s in the box.

On software, then, the ScanSnap is the clear winner.

Conclusion: get the ScanSnap

I think the NeatDesk would be a nice document scanner for the family computer at home. It is simple, gets the job done, and has a fairly flat learning curve.

For business, however, the ScanSnap ix500 is the clear choice. It isn’t as pretty as the NeatDesk, but that hardly matters. Plus, you could tote it to a document review if you wanted to. Scanning with the ScanSnap is better in nearly every way, and I didn’t even get into all the integrations (Evernote, Google Docs, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) you get with the ScanSnap. On software, the ScanSnap is also way ahead of the NeatDesk; a better value by far.

About the only advantage the NeatDesk has for business users is TWAIN support. Although if that is a requirement for you, get the Fujitsu fi-6110 Sheet-Fed Desktop Scanner (PA03607-B005)Fujitsu fi-6110, instead. It has TWAIN, is built for heavy-duty business use, and since it includes Adobe Acrobat, the fi-6110 makes more sense than getting the NeatDesk and spending another $250 on Acrobat.

Summary

NeatDesk Document Scanner
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .

Summary: The NeatDesk is a very good scanner for the typical consumer, but a poor choice for a law office.

The NeatDesk document scanner is an attractive, consumer-grade document scanner that is up against stiff competition, including the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500, which has become incredibly popular with lawyers and includes a copy of Acrobat for a tough-to-beat value proposition. But the NeatDesk has its own software package and at least one feature the ScanSnap lacks: TWAIN.

Rating: 2 (out of 5)