Color scanner not flawless, but close

Personal Computers

April 29, 1996|By PETER H. LEWIS

Even without opening the box, one can guess that the new Apple color scanner is not flawless. If it were, someone at Apple Computer Inc. might have used it to scan in a bunch of $20s and $50s (the new $100 bills are harder to counterfeit) and then send them to a color laser printer to help offset the company's financial losses.

Wait! Only kidding. It is illegal for anyone but the government and certain Internet start-up companies to manufacture money.

But the new scanner, formally named the Apple Color One Scanner 600/27, is good enough to inspire such thoughts. At a retail price of $599, it delivers an impressive array of features for Apple Macintosh owners in the home or in the office.

Flat-bed scanners have been around for years, but this one has the best combination of performance, ease of use and low cost of any I have tried.

Part of its appeal is that it is based on Macintosh technology, which means that installing the Apple scanner itself is less likely to cause a nervous breakdown than installing comparable Windows-based products. I did, however, develop a nervous tic until I figured out that on my model at least, the "lock" and "unlock" features were reversed.

The software is impressive, too. The Apple Color One Scanner 600/27 comes with a program called Dispatcher that enables the user to scan, edit, copy, convert, print, store, retrieve and fax images from the computer screen.

(The printing and faxing features require a separate printer and fax modem.)

There are many uses for a color scanner, most of them legal.

The most common application, as far as I can tell, is converting color photographs into computer files that can in turn be used in sundry ways. By the time I am through with this stack of family photos, I will be able to insert their smiling faces into letters, desktop-published calendars and E-mail messages, among other things.

The Internet's World Wide Web also creates new opportunities for scanners as people create their own "home pages" on the Web. By the time I finish plugging these images into my family's prototype Web site (a couple of years from now, at the rate I am learning the HTMLhypertext markup language) perhaps even Aunt Tootie will be surfing the Internet.

Another common use for scanners is to convert printed text into computer text files, using a software application called optical character recognition (OCR). Instead of typing or retyping an article into the computer, one can let the computer do most of the work.

The Apple scanner comes with an OCR program called Xerox Textbridge 3.0, which is pretty good at analyzing pictures of text and guessing which letters are which.

The problem with OCR software in general is that even the best programs correctly recognize the characters only 95 percent of the time, which results in at least one typo in every paragraph.

Come to think of it, compared with my typing, that is very impressive. So impressive, in fact, that I will probably use Textbridge often, creating lots of text files that I would not have bothered to create before, and ultimately my hard disk will be clogged with files I will never read again.

Another application for a color scanner is art.

The Macintosh is a powerful tool for graphic artists, and programs like Adobe Photoshop offer many creative options to professional and amateur artists alike. The new Apple Scanner allows images to be scanned directly into Photoshop or any Photoshop-compatible program.

For technically minded artists, the Apple Color One Scanner 600/27 is a one-pass scanner, hence the name, one supposes. Some other color scanners go back and forth over an image several times to capture color information accurately.

In its one pass, the Apple recognizes millions of variations of color. It is referred to as a 27-bit scanner, which means, in a jargon where more bits translate into richer colors, that it is more sensitive than any other color scanner in its price range.

Once the images are captured, they are displayed and printed at a computer resolution of 300 dots per inch by 600 dots per inch, also an impressive figure compared with those for its rivals. (Let's see: One scanning pass, 27 bits, 600 dots per inch -- now the awkward name is making sense.)

Apple is also proud of the fact that this scanner uses a xenon bulb, which gives off less heat and thus is less likely to harm sensitive paper documents.

Drawbacks of the system include a relatively small scanning area, 8.5 inches by 11.5 inches, large enough for a standard business letter or a $50 bill (never mind that last one) but too short for legal documents and many newspaper articles.

The scanner software requires Mac OS System 7.5 and at least eight megabytes of system memory.

To use the Dispatcher software and Textbridge OCR software at the same time, plan on a minimum of 16 megabytes of system memory.

For those who need to scan lots of documents, Apple offers an optional automatic document feeder for about $350. An added benefit is that the feeder allows the scanning of legal-size documents.

More information about the scanner is available from Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., telephone (408) 996-1010, or from Apple's World Wide Web site at http: //www.apple.com/.

Peter H. Lewis is a columnist for the New York Times.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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