Dropbox for iOS gets barebones scan feature

The Dropbox iOS app recently received an update that lets users scan paper documents into PDFs and then store them in Dropbox folders. The enhancements are useful, but other similar scanning apps have many more features.

dropbox logo sign

An illuminated version of Dropbox's logo hangs in the company's San Francisco office.

Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

The ability to scan documents into PDFs using a smartphone camera is not exactly a dazzling new technological breakthrough. Being able to scan, say, a six-page legal document into a PDF and then store it directly in a specific Dropbox folder is, however, more intriguing. 

Dropbox's latest iOS app update includes a helpful new scan feature which lets you do just that.

Scanning docs in Dropbox for iOS

To initiate a Dropbox scan, you tap the prominent new "+" button in the mobile app, and a menu shows three choices: "Scan Document," "Upload Photos," and "Create or Upload File."

dropbox scanning

If you choose Scan Document and give the app access to your iPhone camera, a blue box appears on screen to frame your document. A tap of the camera button scans one page of the document (or a whiteboard, sketch, receipt or any other piece of paper) in black and white. To scan another page, you just tap the small "+" icon on the bottom left of the app screen. When you're done, you click "Next" to name your file and then choose where in your Dropbox folder to save it.

The process is fairly quick and, as Silicon Valley types like to say, frictionless. Scanning documents directly to Dropbox saves time and effort, the feature should be very useful for Dropbox diehards, and I strongly recommend it  ... with a number of caveats.  Here goes:

  1. For now, the scanning feature is only available on iOS.
  2. Dropbox's scanner isn't quite as fast or as easy to use as Evernote's Scannable app (free; iOS only), which automatically scans and crops pages once the camera fixes on them. Scannable also lets you save scanned documents directly to designated Dropbox folders.
  3. Scannable scans business cards, as well, and it helps you easily turn them into .vcf files that can be shared and added to your contacts. Dropbox's app doesn't have any comparable feature.
  4. Both Dropbox and Scannable are free apps that hook into the Dropbox and Evernote cloud services, respectively. If you want Dropbox to put scanned documents through the optical character recognition (OCR) process, however, you need a Dropbox Business subscription, which costs $12.50 per month, per user. Scannable-captured documents automatically get the OCR treatment. (Evernote's free plan includes the ability to OCR text in images.)
scannable

Scannable iOS app

If you're a dedicated Dropbox user, you may be completely satisfied with the iOS app's new scanning feature, especially if you're already a Dropbox Business subscriber and don't want to add another app to your arsenal. If, however, you need more functionality, consider Scannable — or any of the million other scanning apps.

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