Many PCs today come bundled with a printer and a scanner. Usually these are low quality products and they do the job asked of them, but just not very well. When high quality scans or scans of transparencies are needed, your scanner needs to be able to comply. Visioneer hasn't had much of a presence in the UK in the last few years, but now they're back with a range of scanners to suit every need and budget.
The 8600 is the company's flagship model and boasts an optical resolution of 600 x 1200 dpi, and although this isn't as high as the 'true' 1200dpi of some scanners, it is enough for most home and small business uses.
Dual USB and parallel interfaces enable connection to practically any PC, but don't forget that USB is only supported under Windows 98. One neat feature here is the cover over the USB port. When it is closed, and a parallel cable is connected, you can't open it to connect a USB cable. When it is open, and a USB cable is connected, you can't connect a parallel cable as the cover blocks the connector. This prevents anyone trying to use both interfaces at the same time. Both parallel and USB cables are included in the box, so you can use either interface without spending any more money.
One of the 8600's main strengths is overall ease of use, and we certainly found it a pleasure to install and use. Right out of the box, installation was one of the simplest processes we have encountered on a USB scanner. Using the Quick Start guide, we simply installed the software from the CD. Towards the end of this process, we had to connect the scanner to the PC, and after this, USB drivers were automatically installed and we could start scanning without so much as a reboot.
The seven buttons on the front allow one-touch scanning, copying/printing, faxing, emailing, OCRing (optical character reading) and cancelling of scans. This last one is a configurable button, letting you send scans to the application of your choice.
The Twain driver itelf is a fairly basic affair. Most of the preset scanning modes should be sufficient for most scans, but 'power' users may want to delve into the more advanced options. There are a couple of limitations, though. First, you can't zoom in on the preview, so locating a particularly small area to scan is practically impossible. Second, there are very few advanced settings for image correction. We scanned in a newspaper image, and found that the de-screen function didn't work at all.
Testing the 8600 using our usual stringent tests, we saw some interesting results. First of all, this is a quick scanner. In standard mode, it doesn't quite beat the fastest USB models we've seen, but it has a neat trick up its sleeve. The on-board JET (JPEG Enhancement Technology) compression engine lets the 8600 perform some lightning-quick scans, even at high resolutions. Scanning a 5"x7" photo at 600dpi took just 36 seconds. On other USB scanners the usual time is around 1 minute.
For OCR purposes, this is a great product. Not only is Textbridge Pro 8.0 included, but the quality of scanned letters - even tiny 6-point fonts - is excellent.
Other bundled software includes Paper Port Deluxe for scanning and managing documents, MGI Photosuite II SE for touching up, transforming and organising photographs, WebPublisher Link and PictureWorks PhotoEnhancer.