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Full-time nomads have a great lifestyle, but they also have some unique challenges. One of those is a minuscule amount of storage space compared to their sticks and bricks brethren. Paper is one of the items that can take up lots of space (and weight), but nomad or not there is some info on paper that we must (or want to) keep on hand. Important documents, product manuals, travel literature, receipts, taxes, photos, etc.
Fortunately today’s technology offers some really slick options for dealing with the paper clutter problem. What works for us is to digitize as much paper as we can and store it as bits & bytes. Literally tens of thousands of pages can fit on a thumb drive, hard drive or in a modestly sized “cloud” account. That represents hundreds of pounds and an enormous amount of cubic feet of paper that can be reduced to fractions of an ounce and virtually no physical space at all. Best of all, that information is readily available anywhere there is internet access, no need to physically dig thru boxes back in your storage bay.
But how to conveniently convert all that paper into data bits? One option is a compact scanner that connects to your PC or Mac. These scanners are the size of a small box of plastic wrap and generally work well, however, they require hauling out the equipment, booting up your PC/Mac and hooking up the cables before you can proceed with scanning. In practice what usually happens (at least with us) is that a substantial pile of paper gets generated before we get around to scanning it all in – and then it becomes a chore. In addition, extra steps are required to backup all that data you just stored on your PC or Mac. But if you have a Smartphone there are some easy alternatives. Below we discuss one that we like and use often.
Google Drive “Scan”
If you use Google Drive, you probably have the Drive App installed on your Smartphone. Recently we discovered a feature in the App that we did not previously notice – Scan. Simply use your phones camera and it will take a photo of the document you want to save, automatically tweak the borders and perspective, convert it to a PDF and store it on your Google Drive (cloud) account.
So what’s different about that than just taking a photo? Firstly, the automatic conversion to Adobe Acrobat standardized PDF format. Secondly, the transformation of the trapezoidal image common with a plain photo of a document to a rectangular nearly distortion free image. If the program doesn’t automatically detect the borders, a multifaceted crop function is available to fine tune it. Thirdly, the ability to easily combine multiple pages into a single document – try doing that with jpeg’s.
The only capability we have found missing (at least for now) is the ability to automatically OCR (Optical Character Recognition) the text in the documents you scan – this would make them editable and searchable. But that is usually an extra step no matter what scanning device you use. And third party apps are available that will do that. If you want a similar app with OCR capabilities try CamScanner, but note there is a $4.99/mo upcharge to get the OCR function.
Here are the basics of using the Google Drive Scan feature
(click on the photos to expand them):
Next click the red circle with the plus sign in the lower right corner, that will bring up a screen like the one shown in the image to the right.
Now click the Scan icon which is shown circled in the image to the right.
As shown in the image left, take a photo of the page you want to scan. Ideally use a contrasting background and try to minimize glare. Press the lightning bolt icon to turn on the camera flash light. Press the blue button to snap the picture.
After you press the blue button you will get something like the image shown to the right. If the photo is out of focus or otherwise not ideal, retry using the middle circle/arrow icon. Press the “+” icon to add additional pictures to the same file.
TIP: Normally you will want portrait orientation (page is taller than it is wide) for documents, but if the orientation comes out wrong (sideways, upside down, etc.) you can tap the 3 dots icon in the upper right hand corner and select “rotate page”, OR you can rotate the image directly (much faster) by using two fingers touching the screen at the same time and twisting – at least that works on our Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
Once you have captured the page images, don’t worry if the edges are not quite right for each page, you can go back and tweak them. To do that press the crop icon as shown circled in the image to the left. You will see an image something like the one shown right. Drag the blue edges and corners to adjust them as needed. They will try and snap to the perceived edges of your document if there is good contrast. When done with the crop press the Checkmark icon. If you have more than one page, flick the screen left or right to check and adjust other pages.
At this point you may want to click the Palette icon (to the right of the Crop icon) to make further adjustments. The choices are as shown in the photo left: None, Black & White, Color, Color Drawing. Choose whichever one looks best and captures the necessary detail. Black and White and Color Drawing choices probably result in smaller file sizes. If you have more than one page, check them all for consistency.
Finally, if you wish to change the file name from the default shown at the top of the screen, simply tap it and type in a descriptive title.
When you are done with all your changes, press the Checkmark icon and the file will be saved and uploaded to Google Drive.
Written down like this it may seem like a lot of steps, but its really quite simple and before you know it you’ll zooming thru your scanning tasks like never before!