Is it a laser? Is it an inkjet? Well, no. It’s actually the latest scanner from Kodak, although you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a printer, judging from the multiple paper feeds and chunky chassis. This scanner takes a rather more industrial path than the nimble little page-fed models we’ve mainly been looking at up to now, and caters for larger offices with mountains of paperwork to scan and convert to electronic format. The duty cycle – the manufacturer’s recommended maximum daily volume – is a massive 10,000 pages per day using the sheetfeed.
The printer-style design is there partly to accommodate the multiple scanning methods. You can place your source material in the sizeable input tray at the bottom of the scanner. This allows multiple sheets (up to 250) to zip through in fast time.
The mechanism is extremely robust, and the tray even rises and descends automatically so that the paper is fed in at exactly the right place. This may not sound like much, but it makes for immaculate scanning, and also proves quite fascinating to watch – if the Batcave was to have a computer scanner installed, we rather suspect it would be one just like this.
More to the point, the sheetfeeding component works perfectly, and we didn’t have a single problem with even mildly skewed pages, let alone paper jams.
A rear exit paper path is also included, for those situations where your source material is a little longer than the norm.
The interface is compatible with USB 2.0, although you'll probably want to use the unit’s USB 3.0 capability. Surprising for a printer, a USB 3.0 cable is even included in the box.
The sheetfed option is great for large bundles of material. But what if you have a book or leaflet to work with instead? Or perhaps precious material that you don’t wish to see being tugged through the workings of a hungry (and potentially destructive) scanner?
Well, it just happens that the i2900 has another method up its sleeve – a flatbed scanner. Admittedly, Kodak claims that Intelligent Document Protection will keep material safe, halting the scanning process upon the hint of any crumpled paper. And we weren’t able to force the i2900 to chew up any of our test documents, even when we made some of the pages deliberately crooked.
A couple of times we heard the paper rustling, but it always ended up going through without any problems.
Regardless of this, the flatbed will undoubtedly prove the solution for anyone needing to scan thicker material, and Kodak even offers an optional accessory for larger A3 documents.
The flatbed itself has a rather clever design. Scanning books in flatbeds can be a nightmare, as it’s almost impossible to keep the book flat. This means that the pages seem to curl as you get closer to the spine, and so the scanner finds it hard to capture those characters closest to the middle.
Kodak’s ‘book edge’ feature means that the glass runs right to the edge. Books can be placed so that one half hangs down at a 90 degree angle, allowing the other half to be kept perfectly flat on the glass.
We last saw this type of design on the Plustek OpticBook 3800, and were impressed with the results there. It works even better here, as the Kodak’s top lid brings a fair amount of weight to bear on the source material, holding it more firmly in place than the Plustek’s rather flimsy alternative. As with the sheetfed component, the results were perfect every time.
When it comes to speed tests, the flatbed component is always going to be slower than the sheetfed option. You scan one sheet at a time, and it takes around 8 seconds to scan A4 at 200 dpi, 10 sec for 300 dpi, and 21 sec for 600 dpi.
The results are very fine, with strong attention to detail and accurate colours. In truth, though, whether you use the sheetfed or the flatbed is likely to come down to your choice of material rather than any preference for quality or speed.
For books and other thick material, the flatbed will undoubtedly be the first option. Where you have bundles of sheets, though, the sheetfed is almost certainly going to beckon. What's nice is that you have two (in their own way equally effective) methods of performing the same task, and can make your choice according to the situation.
The sheetfed itself is very easy to use. That's partly down to the straightforward user interface. Indeed, the control panel has some of the largest buttons we’ve ever seen on any device. Arrow buttons let you scroll through the presets. Whether you’re working with PDFs, JPEGs, or TIFFs, or intending to use black-and-white, or colour, or single or multiple pages, there may well be a suitable preset. If not, option nine lets you tweak the dizzying array of settings. With the dots per inch ranging from 100 to 1200dpi, alongside a host of other useful options (colour balance, foreground boldness, blank image detection, automatic post-scan rotation for output which has to be fed in the wrong way round), there’s almost certainly a suitable mode for any job you care to name. Once you’ve got the right settings, simply push the massive Go button, and the Kodak roars into life.
120ppm (60ppm with single-sided sheets) is promised. The i2900 doesn’t get close to such speed, but it is still a very fast model. Whatever type of file we were trying to create, it took around 16 seconds for the machine to feed in a 30-page (comprising 15 double-sided sheets) bundle of documents.
What makes the real difference is how much time it takes to process the files once they’ve been scanned. In the case of mono double-sided TIFF files, the i2900 was able to produce 300dpi output in around 32 seconds (including the 16 second feed), giving it a very impressive speed of 56.3ppm. Dropping to 100dpi didn’t seem to really affect the speed, although the fall in quality is significant. At 300dpi, though, pictures and text are clearly rendered.
The i2900’s colour scanning is of a good quality, with a relatively accurate palette, and convincingly realized pictures. There isn’t much of a hit on speed, with the Kodak completing our 30-page bundle in just 35 seconds – this speed of 51.5ppm is only marginally slower than the 56.3ppm in black and white. Creating colour PDFs does add to the time, with the i2900 now needing 1 minute and 39 seconds – a much slower rate of 18.2ppm. The searchable PDFs are very effective though, and this still isn’t bad speed given how accurate the PDFs are. A really fast computer will also see the performance rise.
You can use the Kodak for OCR work, and one of the presets lets you create .rtf text files. It took us a minute and four seconds to create an .rtf file from our 30-page bundle. The accuracy was, for the most part, quite adequate. However, there were a number of errors we had to correct, and the software didn’t always make a good job of handling tricky features like columns and headers.
However, despite experimenting with the OCR facilities, we couldn't get the quality of conversion that we'd expect from a top-line professional OCR package. If you'll need powerful and accurate non-PDF OCR, you should probably be looking at investing a hundred pounds or so on a third-party program to go with your scanner.
Other bundled software files and titles include Isis and Twain drivers, and Kodak’s Capture Desktop, a useful little program that makes it easy to perform batch scanning and sorting of documents.
It may lack the advanced indexing and barcode functions of Capture Pro, but it’s still a very easy introduction to the i2900's flair for organisation.
It’s also nice to see that the Kodak comes with proper printed documentation – you aren’t simply landed with a disk of PDF files.
Overall, this is a very impressive piece of kit. It's great to have two different methods of scanning, and the 'book edge' feature works better than on any model we've seen so far. Performance is strong, and the i2900 is incredibly reliable. Our only complaints are the mediocre OCR software, disappointing at the high price . Nonetheless, for large businesses with mounds of paper to convert, the i2900 is a very big advance over anything else on the market.