January App Review: Tiny Scanner

App: Tiny Scanner
Developer: Appxy
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

After switching from Evernote to the new iOS Notes app (more on that in a future post), I lost the excellent Evernote document scanner.  Because of that, I needed a new app.  Enter Tiny Scanner.

Tiny Scanner is a simple app that pretty much does what it says.  You point the phone at a document and take a picture.  After that, it automatically selects what it thinks the region of the photo that contains the page, and you adjust that as needed.

Then the magic happens.  Have you ever taken a picture of a document with the camera app?  I’m guessing the photo didn’t come out very well.  I mean, I’m sure it was usable, but it’s certainly not pretty.  The paper is an off-white, the page probably isn’t completely straight, and there’s a big shadow of your hand on half the page.  Tiny Scanner processes the photo into black and white, with a truly white background and nice, crisp, dark text.

And that’s honestly about it.  You can choose between a black and white document, a color document, or just the unprocessed photo.  You can also choose how dark the text is, sort of like a photocopier.  Then you just save it as a PDF, and share it to any app.

One more cool thing – what happens if you already took that awful, discolored, crooked photo?  You could go dig up the original document again, or you can simply import the photo in Tiny Scanner, and it’ll do it’s regular processing.  Neat!

There’s lots of share options that Tiny Scanner gives you, but most of them require the $5 Pro version.  However, if you click “Open In,” you’ll get the default iOS share sheet (which I prefer to almost any app-generated share sheet), you can share to Notes, Evernote, Dropbox, and many other apps.  Since I’m using the Notes app, that means I don’t need the Pro version.  One more limitation with the free version: you can only have two scans saved in the app at one time.  Again, since I’m exporting everything to Notes, this isn’t really an issue, but it’s sort of a pain to have to delete old documents every time.

A document scanner was basically the only thing I lost when I jumped ship from Evernote, and Tiny Scanner filled that gap nicely.  It looks nice, it’s simple to use, and it works great.  What more could I ask for?  ••


Dropbox vs. Microsoft OneDrive

I’ve been a Dropbox user for 3 years now.  I think most people have heard of Dropbox; it’s the most well known cloud storage service available.  Up until a couple of months ago, Dropbox was the only cloud storage I used.  In July, however, I got a Microsoft Office365 subscription (I got a really good deal as a college student), and as part of that I get 1tb (not a typo) of space in Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive).  At the time, I mostly used Dropbox for photos and documents, and I had worked my way up to almost 6gb of space.  Upon getting 1tb, my first thought was “I’ll never have to clear out my cloud storage ever again!”  Six weeks later, however, I’ve moved my photos back to Dropbox, leaving the documents in OneDrive.  As I found out, each service has its pros and cons.

Desktop Client
As the leader of the cloud storage industry, Dropbox really knows its stuff.  It has a certain “it just works” feel to it; a polish that’s come simply from being around for so long.  I used to think that this was a given, but after using the (slightly less polished) OneDrive, I’ve really come to appreciate it.  For instance, there are times when I need to get a file from my iPad to my computer.  Sitting in front of both devices, I watch the iPad until it says the upload is complete, then I look up at the computer, and the Dropbox client is already downloading the file.  I took speed like this for granted.  However, when doing the same thing using OneDrive, I look up from my iPad and… OneDrive isn’t doing anything.  I click the little icon, and OneDrive proudly tells me that it “Last updated 8 minutes ago.”  What has it been doing for the last 8 minutes?  OneDrive just sits there, waiting patiently for what is apparently a timed update cycle.  There’s no manual refresh button; the only thing you can do is reboot the client.  This is really frustrating.  The OneDrive client seems slower and less efficient in general, too.  Other than that, though, it is a serviceable client, and it works well enough.

iOS Apps
I can’t speak to Android apps here, but I did use both Dropbox and OneDrive on my iPad and iPod Touch.  Both apps have features to automatically upload photos, and the OneDrive app seems better at keeping up with this in the background.  However, the Dropbox upload algorithm has one or two clever touches.  For example, the most recent photos upload first.  This way, if you take a photo and want to share it via Dropbox, then find there’s 30 photos that didn’t upload yesterday, you don’t have to wait.  Videos upload last for the same reason.  The OneDrive app is also missing a way to save files for offline use (as someone who doesn’t have an iPhone, this is a feature I missed).  Again, though, both apps work well.  One other important point is that Office Mobile apps can connect directly to OneDrive.  Sure, there are plenty of productivity apps that link with Dropbox, but when you use a third-party productivity app alongside Word you usually get little formatting bugs in your document (not that I care too much about these, but if you’re doing something important for work or school, they’re not good).

Browser Client
I actually think I’m going to give this category to OneDrive.  The interfaces are very similar, but I like OneDrive’s better, especially for photos.  Also, OneDrive has Office Online integration, so clicking a Word document opens it up right there in a new tab for editing.  The one leg up Dropbox has is that newly uploaded files automatically appear, without you having to refresh the page.  On OneDrive, you’re going to have to reach for your browser’s refresh button.

Storage Space
Dropbox starts you off with 2gb of storage space.  This might have been a lot five or six years ago, but these days, it’s pretty small.  OneDrive starts with 15gb, so does Google Drive, and Box gives you 10gb.  As you can see, 2gb is really small.  Granted, there’s lot of things you can do to earn more space (use their photo uploader, refer friends, connect with Twitter and Facebook, etc.), but OneDrive offers many of these bonuses as well.  I’m really hoping that, sometime soon, Dropbox will increase their starting space to something more competitive.  Hopefully, this will also apply retroactively to old accounts.  I know that sounds unlikely, but when Dropbox upped their referral bonus from 250mb to 500mb, they applied the extra space to retroactive referrals as well.

Both services allow you to send file links to other people (even if they don’t use the service), as well as created shared folders (with those who do use the service) for collaboration.  When you get a shared link from either service, you have an option to download the files as a .zip.  However, when you get a Dropbox link, you also have the option to “Add to My Dropbox.”  This is easy and quick, and can also be done from a smartphone.  Even if OneDrive were to add this feature, it would be less useful, because less people use OneDrive.

So what is each service good for?  Well, as I said, I decided to move my photos back to Dropbox, because it just works better (even though I wish I had more space).  I did decide to keep my documents in OneDrive though, mostly because of the aforementioned Office Mobile integration.  Finally, I’m going to continue to use Dropbox to share files.

So that’s my future plan, but what are your thoughts? How (and why) do you use different services? Feel free to leave a comment about your preferences. Thanks for reading!  ••

Update 11/6/14: Microsoft Word for iOS now has native Dropbox support!  This is fantastic, and it works really well.  Dropbox also announced that they will continue to work with Microsoft to incorporate Office Online into Dropbox.com.  That being said, I have now moved my documents back to Dropbox, and plan to keep them there.