ECTACO Shop | Multilingual Handheld OCR Scanner ECTACO/Pen 3.0

by T. Bryan

An Essential Tool for Students and Researchers

As a scholar who works with books and other printed sources a lot, I have long been on the lookout for an easy way to scan text into my laptop. I've tried using both flatbed scanners and digital cameras for this purpose, but I've found both to be awkward and time-consuming. That's why I was pleased to discover the C-Pen 2.0 - it's not perfect, but it does the job quicker and more easily than any of the alternatives.

ECTACO/C-Pen 3.0

- It's easy to use; you just press the pointer to the page and a light comes on to let you know that the sensor is active. You then sweep the C-Pen from left to right at moderate speed as if it were a highlighter, and it converts the text on the page into electronic characters on your computer.
- The text instantly appears wherever the cursor on your screen is located, so you can use this device with just about any Windows program (e.g., Word, Access, etc.).
- The recognition rate is higher than I thought it would be; it's better than 99% on book-sized text. In practical terms, this means that you'll get one or two errors on average per paragraph, but these flaws are easily corrected (particularly if your spell checker highlights them for you automatically).
- It's small and easily portable, so you can take it with you to libraries and archives with a laptop.

- The character recognition is sometimes thrown off by underlining and other marks on the page.
- You must use it with a PC or laptop that has a USB port (it doesn't run on batteries like some scanning pens).
- Even though it recognizes just about every major language written in Latin, Cyrillic, or Greek letters, it can't handle older typefaces (like German Fraktur). It also has trouble recognizing some symbols (such as footnotes).
- You have to scan each line of text one at a time, so it's not necessarily the best solution if you need to copy many pages of text.

The bottom line is that the C-Pen 20 has been an excellent investment for me, and I recommend it to anyone who's looking for an easy way to transfer printed text into an electronic medium.

UPDATE (2011):

I wrote this review almost five years ago. I continue to think highly of this product - despite the occasional error, I'm still amazed at how accurately it reads text most of the time. I only have two caveats to add:
ECTACO/C-Pen 3.5

Only: $179.95

1) The original grey and beige C-Pen 2.0 doesn't work with newer 64-bit versions of Windows, only 32-bit ones. This is tricky - if you bought your PC or laptop in the past two years or so, you may be running a 64-bit version of Windows without realizing it (they both look the same to a non-technical user). You can check which version you have by going to Control Panel and selecting "System" - it should say "32-bit" or "64-bit" under "System Type." If you have a 64-bit copy of Windows, you'll need to buy the newer C-Pen 3.0 or 3.5, or else see if you can find a black C-Pen 20 (which is also 64-bit compatible).

2) Digital cameras and OCR (optical character recognition) technology have improved dramatically over the past few years. If you need to scan multiple pages of text into electronic form, a digital camera and a good software program (Finereader or Omnipage) might be a better alternative. For saving snippets of text, however, the C-Pen continues to be the best solution.

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