Monday, 02 March 2020 10:31

Review: Brother DS-940DW portable scanner

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If you need a portable scanner, take a look at Brother's latest offering.

While many people are happy to capture printed documents by photographing them with their smartphones, there's still a market for portable scanners. Brother's latest offering is the $299 DS-940DW, which can be used standalone (saving images to a microSD memory card), or in conjunction with a computer, tablet or phone.

Measuring 319 x 63.1 x 45.4mm and weighing 699g according to the brochure, the DS-940DW is small enough to slip into a briefcase or a large handbag or satchel, but would benefit from a sleeve to protect it from keys and other sharp objects. Or it could be stashed in a desk drawer, saving space when not in use at home or in an office.

As is increasingly common, the only printed documentation is a quick setup guide. There's a pointer to a web page (support.brother.com/mac (or support.brother.com/windows), and from there you can select the model and be led to the downloads page. The guide mentions a "full driver and software package" which would be useful but doesn't seem to exist for this model. Instead, you have to download everything separately, noticing the 'Show all' button beneath the list of utilities, which reveals one of the most important items: Remote Setup Software.

You also need to notice that a user manual isn't included with any of the downloads, and that you need to click the Manuals link in the left-hand navigation bar, click the View button for the Online User's Guide, click the "Download a printable version of this guide" link, and then save the resulting document for future reference. Oh, you're using Firefox? Sorry, it won't work – the Online User's Guide doesn't render correctly, and the link to the PDF doesn't appear. Fortunately, it's OK in Safari.

Anyway, we downloaded all the software, installed the driver and ran the setup wizard (which gets the SSID and password from the computer, sends over USB, and then the scanner connects to the Wi-Fi network). It's important to use the Remote Setup utility or the scanner's web interface to complete the setup (to specify the default resolution, SNTP server for date and time, etc).

We ran the firmware updater and installed the version offered. It's not obvious whether or not an update was necessary, as the updater happily installed the same version a second time.

The PushScanTool is among the downloads offered but is not mentioned in the manual. Apparently it may be needed to allow scanning to be activated from the DS-940DW's control panel when using the iPrint&Scan application from a computer, but that didn't work in our testing and the only way we could begin a scan was to click the button in the app.

The scanner grabs the sheet when you insert it, so it doesn't matter if the page hangs over the edge of the table or desk. If there's not enough desk space behind the DS-940DW to receive the original after scanning, the top of the device hinges open to direct it back towards the user.

A deskewing function is available in iPrint&Scan, but not in the native driver. Fortunately, the paper feeds quite straight as long as the paper guide is correctly adjusted – but the guide moves very easily so it's worth checking each time. We found it helped to use a right-hand finger to stop the guide moving while feeding sheets with the left hand.

Both sides of the page can be scanned simultaneously. The main difference between single and two-sided scanning is that a single-sided document can be up to 1828.8 mm tall, whereas the limit is 406.48 mm for double-sided. Scanning is a quick process (3-4 sec per page, in line with the 15ppm claim), and there was no obvious difference in speed when connected via USB or Wi-Fi, or when scanning to a microSD card.

Disappointingly, the PDF output option does not perform OCR. Scanned images can be OCRed to text or RTF formats, but in our opinion that's less useful. These days, the most common use of scanning seems to be to get digital copies so the paper originals can be discarded, and for that PDFs containing the text as well as the image is the most convenient option as it allows the content to be indexed.

Normal papers and light cards scanned smoothly and well in our testing, but Brother recommends the use of a carrier sheet (sold separately) for a wide range of tricky originals including documents written in pencil; particularly short, narrow or thin originals; envelopes; damaged, perforated or punched documents; photo papers; non-rectangular originals; and documents with anything attached to them (eg, labels or sticky notes). However, we successfully scanned cash register receipts – some as long as 50cm – providing we selected "Long Paper (Narrow Width)" as the document size.

The scanner handles quite relatively thick business cards. A typical card is about 0.4mm thick, and we had one on hand that was about twice that but still went through the scanner effortlessly. The limit is said to be 1.24 mm (with embossing) or 1 mm (without embossing). There were no mechanical problems with the plastic cards we tried, but the image quality was noticeably poorer with embossed cards.

The software package includes Presto! BizCard 7, which is designed to scan business cards and extract the data. Its OCR engine seemed reasonably good, but some symbols were misrecognised, eg an open bracket (surrounding someone's nickname) was interpreted as a C, and a Q turned into an @.

Other issues were that it didn't always distinguish the postcode within an address, and sometimes when words such as Victoria or Australia appeared in a job title, BizCard created a second but incomplete and bogus address. In one case, "Melbourne Australia" was interpreted as "Melbourne FL Australia"!

The accuracy was generally high, but you still need to check the results carefully.

Brother's iPrint&Scan mobile app works well with the DS-940DW. The bleed-though prevention option did a good job when scanning double-sided originals printed on ordinary office paper, and it's handy to be able to straighten and crop scans as they are made.

The scanner can be used as a standalone device by installing a microSD memory card. This is where most of the control panel buttons and indicators come into play, allowing the selection of colour or monochrome, PDF or JPEG output, and one or two-sided scanning. Once you've set parameters such as resolution and file naming convention via the Remote Setup utility or the scanner's web interface, scanning a stack of originals is a simple task, albeit tiresome as you must feed each sheet separately.

The internal battery is said to be good for 200 Wi-Fi scans, but in our testing it gave up at around 170 pages despite starting with a full charge according to the indicator lights. Such continuous use is atypical for this type of product. Towards the end, the scanner shut down a few times, but each time except for the last we were able to power it on again and scan a few more pages.

All told, the DS-940DW is a convenient device if you need to scan documents on the move or if you want to avoid the bulk of a conventional flatbed scanner in a small or minimalist office. The downside is the restriction on the originals that can be scanned without resorting to the carrier sheet that costs an extra $25-$30 but only has an expected life of 500 scans.

The DS-940DW does what it says on the box, but we feel it is a niche product. Smartphone apps such as Adobe Scan and Microsoft Office Lens do a good job of digitising and OCRing typical documents without requiring additional hardware, and it's becoming increasingly common for accounting software to include the ability to capture receipts and invoices via a phone's camera. For in-office use, you could spend a similar amount on an all-in-one printer that has very similar capabilities plus the convenience of an automatic document feeder, but not long-page scanning.

But if you do need a flexible portable scanner, the DS-940DW is worthy of consideration.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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