Scanning documents and OCRing them once meant slowly feeding them through a desktop scanner before running slow, clunky OCR software. With the advent of powerful smartphones, you can now quickly scan and OCR documents with your phone’s camera.
This is perfect for receipts or any other physical documents you run across that you might want to read later. No need to save all those business cards, pamphlets and other pieces of paper — just scan them with your smartphone’s camera.
Android’s integrated camera app doesn’t have any OCR capabilities. You could snap a photo of your document with the camera app and call it a day, but if you want to store that document as a PDF and perform OCR on it so you can search and understand its content, you’ll want to use a specialized app.
Google Drive is one such app that’s made by Google. It has integrated document-scanning and OCR capabilities. Snap a photo of a document and a PDF copy of the document will be saved to Google Drive. It will also use the power of Google’s servers to perform OCR on the documents, making it searchable in your Drive.
To do this, open the Drive app on your phone, open its menu, and tap Add New. Tap the Scan option in the list to scan and upload a document. Note that you could also add the Drive widget to your home screen and tap the camera icon on it to quickly open the Scan interface — this is useful if you frequently want to scan documents.
You’ll now see the scanner interface. Point your camera at a document and tap the button to scan it into Google Drive.
The great thing about this sort of app is that it’s not just a photo — Drive will extract the document part from the rest of the photo so it can be saved separately as a PDF file. You’re free to rotate and crop the document before saving it to your Drive.
If you already depend on Evernote to organize your brain, you’ll be happy to hear that Evernote has this feature integrated. It can snap a scan of a document with your phone and save it as a PDF to your Evernote account, where you can access it from anywhere. Evernote’s OCR features will allow you to search through such scanned documents.
From within a note, tap the plus-sign button and select Page Camera.
Just center a page in the frame and tap the button to scan it. The nice thing about Evernote’s interface is that it makes it easy to scan multiple documents and attach them to a single note without ever leaving the scanner interface, while Drive is focused on saving each document as a PDF file with a separate save process.
Other services also have integrated document-scanning and OCR capabilities, but you may not want to rely on any one service. There are a wide variety of apps in Google Play that will scan a document to a PDF and save that PDF to your phone’s internal storage, where you can do what you want with it — but most of these apps probably won’t perform any OCR on the document.
Many of these apps are paid apps, but if you want a free one, we recommend Scan to PDF Free. This app has no advertisements, watermarks, or other limited features. It will allow you to quickly take a snap of a document and, like the other services above, it will strip out the document part of the image and save it as a PDF. Unfortunately, you’ll have to adjust the cropping part yourself — but it’s a fast, free way to turn a document from a piece of paper into a PDF file stored on your phone’s storage.
For an app that’s more focused on the OCR part of the equation, try Mobile OCR Free. It won’t save a PDF copy of your original document, it will only extract text from a document — either one in an existing photo or one you take a snapshot of with the app. This is convenient if you just want the text from a document, but bear in mind that OCR isn’t perfect and you may have to do some tweaking by hand.
Sure, this solution won’t provide all the quality of a high-end desktop scanner, but it’s much faster and more convenient. It makes scanning and OCRing documents something the average person might actually want to do over the course of their day.
Let us know if there’s another app or service you prefer for scanning physical documents with your phone!
Image Credit: Susan Hunsberger on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 07/3/13