For a number of years, a Neat scanner was a decent option, including the NeatDesk and the NeatConnect. Neat seems to have discontinued its hardware business to focus on cloud-based scanning and document management software, so we definitely can no longer recommend Neat scanners and suggest you get a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 instead.
That said, if you’re still shopping Neat scanners for some reason, here are our NeatDesk and NeatConnect scanner reviews.
NeatDesk Neat Scanner Review
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 ix100), 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.
NeatConnect Neat Scanner Review
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 .