REVIEW: IRISCard Anywhere 4

Any business person who regularly attends meetings with colleagues, clients or others probably acquires pockets full of business cards. These can be at their most prolific just after large conferences at which networking is a key activity. The last thing many of us want to do after attending tiring conferences is spend an age typing details from business cards into our computer. And with the IRISCard Anywhere 4 business card scanner at hand, you don’t have to.

What is it and who is it for?

The IRISCard Anywhere 4 business card scanner is a hardware and software combination that can automate the process of gathering data from business cards, and then organise that data into a contacts database.

The software can be used on its own or as a staging post between the scanner and your preferred contact manager. It supports a wide range of third party applications including Outlook, Outlook Express, GroupWise, GoldMine and Lotus notes. And it will export data to more generic formats too such as HTML, XML, CSV and vCard.

There are a number of potential markets for the IRISCard Anywhere 4 business card scanner. The frequent traveller who gathers a lot of business cards is the obvious one. But any organisation which itself runs conferences and wants to gather contact information about attendants might also find the IRISCard Anywhere 4 business card scanner useful.

Pricing and setup

At £115 (ex. VAT) this is not a pocket money price piece of kit. But nor is it excessively expensive. The hardware is well made and the software, Cardiris, which runs on both Mac and PC, is well thought through.

The scanner is small. We measured it at 160x43x56mm. It is powered by an internal 700 mAh Lithium ion polymer battery so you could just pop it in a bag and carry it to meetings if that suits your needs. The battery is good for 150 scans, and can be recharged via a miniUSB slot on the back of the scanner unit.

The back of the unit also houses an SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port. You can save scanned business cards to either of these or to 512KB of internal storage. You also get a 1GB SD card in the package. Software installation is a breeze and took us just a few minutes to be up and running.

Does it do it well?

The scanner is fast and efficient. You press its one button to turn power on and off and again to prepare it to scan. A light near this button tells you a scan is in progress—sometimes you have to wait a couple of seconds while a particularly complex business card is processed.

If you save to the scanner’s internal memory you need to connect it to a PC or Mac to transfer files across. The internal memory is recognised as if it were an external drive, and scans are named sequentially. You can delete any duplicates manually or wait and delete them from the Cardiris software once they’ve been transferred there. And of course wiping the scanner’s storage is easy.

The scanner saves its scans as JPEG files and it can cope with documents up to A6 in size. These two facts add in a useful secondary function. It can also be used to scan receipts ready for incorporating into other software or simply presenting as part of expenses claims at a later date. That could relieve you of pockets full of bits of paper.

The Cardiris software has plenty of fields into which it can transport data once it has worked its OCR (Optical Character Recognition) magic. You can add more fields if you need them, add text based notes, group contacts into categories, label the fronts and backs of business cards appropriately and even attach photos to them. All of which means you could user Cardiris as your only contact database if your requirements are relatively straightforward.

Where does it disappoint?

The OCR engine is not perfect. While recognition was very good, our test of a dozen business cards needed to be checked fairly carefully for OCR errors and some alterations and additions made. This took less time than typing all the details in from scratch, but it did take time.

You need to be careful how you position business cards in the scanner. If they are slightly off centre the Cardiris software can have difficulty recognising text. There is a manual guide on the scanner which you can move into position to help with this, but we found careful positioning was easy enough without using that.

The Cardiris software’s look and feel won’t please everyone. It has the distinct feel of a piece of shareware rather than a high-class professional product. The look and feel doesn’t negatively affect performance, though. Cardiris is a standalone application which is not networkable, so small workgroups will have to share a single workstation.

Would we recommend it?

The IRISCard Anywhere 4 is definitely a product with a niche and it won’t appeal to everyone. But if you are in a position where you need to capture data from multiple business cards, it is a good performer. It Optical Character Recognition isn’t perfect, but what OCR is? We found it easy to get to grips with without a lot of reference to the manual, and its compatibility with a wide range of external applications for data transfer both in proprietary and generic formats is impressive. [8.5]