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Plustek OpticBook 4600 scanner

The Plustek OpticBook 4600 is a 48-bit USB color flatbed scanner that is easy to install and can digitize documents, books, and photos. This US$900 scanner weighs roughly 8.5 pounds and comes bundled with scanning, document management, and optical character recognition (OCR) software. Quick-start buttons make performing common scanning tasks, such as creating searchable PDFs or editable text files, even faster.

The Plustek OpticBook 4600 does not come with an automatic document feeder, but that's not surprising considering that its primary claim to fame is its special design for receiving and scanning bound books without splitting their binding. The Plustek took a scant 9.3 seconds to scan a one-page color document at 300 dpi. But because it lacks an ADF, the Plustek can't automatically scan multipage documents, which reduces its versatility.

Initially I found that the Plustek's test images were often slightly darker than the original color and monochrome pages, but after some minor tinkering with the default image settings I was able to improve the output image.

When it comes to scanning books, the Plustek has a clear advantage over most flatbed models. The scanning glass on one side of the Plustek's length is right next to the scanner's edge, so you can place one side of an open book completely flat on the glass while the opposite side hangs down over the edge. This unusual design permits the Plustek to scan book pages without picking up any shadows or text distortion in the area of the book spine.

In testing the Plustek, I found that its OCR capabilities (using ReadIris Pro 10 Corporate) consistently produced outstanding results--about 99 percent accuracy--in both word processing and spreadsheet formats. But when used to create searchable PDFs, the Plustek achieved clean results only when I manually (and laboriously) used the scanning software to preview, crop, and rotate (when necessary) each page scan. Though it has a single button for automating this process, the OpticBook 4600 was unable to produce consistently 100 percent clean pages. In each of my trial runs, the edges of some PDF pages contained unwanted dark streaks. Considering the Plustek's premium price, I expected better results when using the unit's automated scanning capability.

The Plustek handled OCR work very nicely, but for PDFs and other image scans you may have to invest a fair amount of time and manual labor to obtain pristine copies. That drawback, coupled with the Plustek's high price, makes the OptiBook 4600 a somewhat dubious choice. Its value will be greatest for people who plan to use its book-scanning capabilities extensively.