The NeatConnect “cloud scanner” from Neat is built for the “post-PC era.” In other words, you don’t even need a PC to use the NeatConnect — though it works just fine if you do have one.
Over the years, we have heaped accolades on Fujitsu’s excellent line of ScanSnap document scanners. And they deserve every bit of it. But none of the ScanSnaps have enabled users to cut the cord and go all-cloud, all the time. That’s the promise, at least, of the NeatConnect.
What is a “Cloud Scanner?”
Neat calls the NeatConnect a “cloud scanner,” and it explains what it means in its slick marketing video for the NeatConnect:
Basically, according to Neat, a cloud scanner is a scanner that sends your documents straight to the cloud-based file storage instead of going through your computer. For a cloud scanner, no computer is necessary — the NeatConnect even encourages you to leave the USB cable in the box. There is a label covering the USB port on the scanner, and “optional” appears everywhere the USB cable is mentioned in the packaging. All the NeatConnect needs is a wireless Internet connection.
A regular document scanner, on the other hand, is meant to scan to your computer or mobile device. The ScanSnaps, for example, need a computer, smartphone, or tablet to scan to. It is easy to get your scanned documents into the cloud from there, but not straight from the scanner itself.
In the end, you can accomplish the same things on both. The NeatConnect works great as a desktop scanner, and the ScanSnap has no trouble uploading documents to the cloud. But the strengths of each are pretty clear when you use them.
Setting Up the NeatConnect
One of the nice things about a cloud scanner is that you do not need to plug it into your computer at all. Just plug in the power cord and use the scanner’s touchscreen to set it up. The screen will walk you through setup, and it’s very straightforward.
In fact, the only difficult part of setting up the NeatConnect is the onscreen keyboard, which you have to use to enter your wi-fi password and either sign into your NeatCloud account or create a new one (I did not see an option to skip this, even if you do not want to use NeatCloud). Typing on the NeatConnect’s keyboard is a bit of a challenge. It may look exactly like an iPhone keyboard, but it does not respond like one. I mis-typed just about every other letter, even after I thought I was getting the hang of it. Fortunately, the keyboard is primarily for setting up the scanner. After you complete setup, you may never use it again, and the rest of the buttons in the interface are nice and big and easy to hit.
Scanning with the NeatConnect
Scanning is simple: put paper in the scanner, select the options you want, and touch the big orange SCAN button on the touchscreen. You can tweak all the scanning settings right from the touchscreen, like whether you want to scan in color or grayscale, and decide where you want to send the document.
The NeatConnect can do all the tricks you would expect a good document scanner to do, like scanning documents of different size, removing blank pages (essential for duplex scanning), and not jamming (granted, it’s a new scanner, but I didn’t experience a single paper jam).
The NeatConnect is not quite as fast as the ScanSnap iX500 (24 pages per minute for the NeatConnect versus 25 ppm for the iX500), but it is close enough, and plenty quick. Once the scan finishes, the scanner will assemble the PDF (or TIFF, if you prefer) and wait for you to confirm the destination. Shortly after the upload completes, you will see the new file in your cloud storage.
There is one problem, unfortunately. While you can combine multiple pages into a single PDF while you scan, you have to scan those pages all at once. There is no option that I can find to keep scanning more pages to the same file after the NeatConnect finishes the scan in its feeder. That means you are effectively limited to scanning 50-page sections of longer documents. The Neat software is no help, either. It does not support merging documents. You can use your own PDF software for that, of course, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to.
If you regularly need to scan documents of more than 50 pages, this may become an annoying hassle. If it does not come up very often, you probably won’t mind at all.
By the way, the NeatConnect supports TWAIN, which you will want if you also want to use the NeatConnect for scanning to your desktop scanner. That’s because NeatCloud and the Neat desktop software (the “digital filing system”) just aren’t very good.
Using NeatCloud, the Neat Desktop Software, and the NeatMobile App
Neat didn’t figure out how to make better scanning software; it just made the software unnecessary.
NeatCloud is sort of like Dropbox, but clunkier. The Neat desktop software is basically the same. If you don’t decide to use another web service like Dropbox, your files will end up going to NeatCloud by default, to one of the five (pointless) subfolders in the inbox:
- From Email
- From NeatConnect®
- From NeatMobile®
- From NeatScan®
- From Web Import
All those folders are silly, and feel like they are just an excuse to push the brands in front of the user. I can’t think of a single reason why segmenting an inbox by which kind of scanner, app, or input method you used would be relevant.
The software does try to help you organize your receipts and business cards, and it does a decent job if that’s what you want it for. The desktop software is essentially identical to the cloud software. Everything syncs up quickly and easily. But it doesn’t add any of the functionality you would want from desktop software.
There is also a NeaMobile app for iOS and Android that lets you browse your documents and “scan” documents using your smartphone’s camera. Using your smartphone as a scanner is a neat trick, but there are other apps, like Scanner Pro, that do a much better job of it.
If you want it, though, NeatCloud starts at $59.88/year, which is especially reasonable considering there don’t seem to be any limits on how much data you can store. Although you will have to bump up to $119.88/year if you want the mobile app, too.
If you want to use the Neat to scan to your computer, you should probably look at third-party scanning software like PaperPort. Neat didn’t figure out how to make better scanning software; it just made the software unnecessary. But if you want to scan to the cloud — just not NeatCloud — the NeatConnect gives you options. Fortunately, it does not see to care whether you use NeatCloud or not.
Using Other Web Services with the NeatConnect
The cool thing about the NeatConnect, and the part that transforms it from a neat toy for SkyMall shoppers into a neat scanner for anyone, is that you can connect it to other cloud services, including OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, OneNote, email, and FTP. You can even remove NeatCloud as a destination, if you don’t want to use it at all (I did).
I could not connect the NeatConnect to my Dropbox account. I suspect that’s because I have two-factor authentication turned on for Dropbox, because I didn’t have any trouble adding my Box account (I don’t really use it except for testing, so I don’t have two-factor authentication turned on for Box).
The only downside I noticed if you want to use a different file storage service is that the NeatConnect does not perform OCR on your documents before uploading them. I’m guessing NeatCloud handles the OCR processing, so that if you don’t use NeatCloud, you don’t get OCR. I can think of some ways around this, but none as convenient as built-in OCR would be.
OCR aside, there is just one option I think is missing from the NeatConnect’s support of third-party web services: the ability to select a folder for my scans to be uploaded to. The NeatConnect just drops them in a From NeatConnect directory in each cloud service, which is a little bit clunky. I can live with that, but I would prefer to be able to choose the destination folder.
Who Should Buy the NeatConnect.
I was not a fan of the NeatDesk, so I’m a little surprised to say that I really like the NeatConnect. I actually wish I could keep the review unit. I don’t love NeatCloud or the Neat software, but I am impressed that Neat does not lock the user into its own ecosystem. If you don’t want to use NeatCloud, you don’t have to, and it won’t even bug you about it.
Most will want to know if I would recommend the NeatConnect over the ScanSnap iX500. And actually, the answer is maybe, for some.
First, if you are a Windows user and you do not already have an up-to-date copy of Acrobat, I think the ScanSnap has the advantage. The included copy of Acrobat Standard means the ScanSnap is just a better deal. But if you already have a newer copy of Acrobat, or if you use a Mac, it’s a closer call.
If you are not a heavy cloud user, I would get the ScanSnap. That means you are primarily using your scanner while sitting at your desk, plugged in, to scan straight to your computer. For that, the ScanSnap is slightly better. The ScanSnap Manager software is just way better than the Neat desktop software.
If you are a heavy cloud user, though, I would favor the NeatConnect. That means most or all of the things you scan will end up in the cloud, anyway, and you like to work from a smartphone and tablet as well as a laptop or desktop PC. Users like this would be perfectly happy with the ScanSnap iX500, but I think they would also be delighted with the NeatConnect.
The NeatConnect is an excellent document scanner for heavy cloud users, and a pretty good scanner for everyone else, too.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
NeatConnect, reviewed by Sam Glover on .
2014-04-28 Neat added OneNote as a cloud destination, and scans are now saved in a From NeatConnect folder in each cloud service instead of just dropped in the root directory.