It is not everyday that a company takes an old, tried and true, technology and turns it into something potentially exciting and fun. That is exactly what Plustek is attempting with one of their scanners. No longer are scanners only good for turning paper documents into images and text on your computer. With the Plustek BookReader V100 scanner those paper documents can be turned into audio files that you can listen to at your leisure.
- High-speed scanning
- Natural voice synthesis
- Accuracy optical character recognition
- Friendly and easy to operate
- USB 2.0
The BookReader V100 scanner is capable of scanning really fast, it is locked into a fairly low resolution and set up to only scan text. This is important so you can scan your documents and books very quickly.
The natural voice synthesis tries it best to reproduce what a human voice would sound like.
In order for the BookReader V100 software to read the words it first has to pass through an optical character recognition routine. It has to be accurate or else the words the voice tries to read will not be correct.
One button operation is about as easy as it gets. If there is any way to make it easier I don’t know what it would be.
The BookReader V100 makes use of the OpticBook 3600 scanner. I reviewed the OpticBook 3600 scanner several years ago, so if you would like to know what the scanner is capable of you can read that review. However, the software that comes with the BookReader V100 disables all the normal scanning functionality and reprograms the buttons to work directly with the voice software. I tried to open up a different scanning program to see if I could use the OpticBook 3600 scanner with third party software, but it looks like even the TWAIN drivers have been disabled. This is very unfortunate because the scanner is capable of so much more and having access to this additional functionality could help make the price more worth it.
The top of the scanner has three buttons and each one serves a different function. The top button activates the scanner in PDF text mode. In this mode the scanner will create a PDF but will only show the text from the document. If there are any images they will be removed. The next button down also scans in PDF mode, but in this mode both images and text will be displayed. The last button scans only the text and it can be saved in a TXT file. Depending on which button you press the document may be read differently. For example, with the text below, the first and third option which only scans text read the same, but the middle option read the top line first and then the numbers (without the text next to them), and finally it read the numbers again, this time with the text next to them.
The scanner its self works good as long as the text is clear and there is enough of a margin for the scanner to see everything. I did have problems with small paperback books that had little to no margin. Printed pages and hard cover books did not seem to have any trouble. However, you can only scan one page at a time, so if you have a lot of pages to scan it is going to take a long time. This scanner could really use an automatic document feeder. This would not help with books, but it could help with multi-paged documents.
The voice reader software gave me the most trouble. There are two ways to start the software. First, it starts automatically when the scanner button is pressed, and second you can start it manually by clicking on the icon. Once the software is started it does one particularly strange thing, it behaves like a program for the sight impaired. What I mean is that any time I moused over a menu item it reads off the name. Any time I tried to save or open a document it read off the file names and directories. This gets annoying really fast, because I do things quickly and the voice cannot always keep up, often I get two or three voices going at the same time. I could not find a way to turn this off, very annoying.
Also the software loads a scan-pilot at start up so that it is ready to start as soon as the scanner needs it, this has side effects. The most annoying side effect is a popup that appears every time I open a browser. The popup tells me I don’t have the HTML language set up. I would assume this means there is an HTML reader built into the book reader, but I could not find a way to assign a language to the HTML reader and I could not find a way to turn it off.
The lack of an Automatic document feeder is a big issue. One of the big selling points is that you can listen to document while on the go, but if it takes forever to scan them in, it may not be worth it. Having to hand place dozens of pages can be very time consuming.
There is one bright light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, you can save the audio to a WAV or MP3. The save dialog is not in a very obvious place, but if you are diligent and you look around you will find it under the speech menu.
The speech that the BookReader V100 produces is acceptable. It is much better than other programs that I have heard, but it is not very close to natural speech. I actually have a hard time listening to it for a very long time because of how ridged it sounds. I suppose this would be good for things like discourses or scientific papers where it can be read with a monotone voice, but it is horrible for novels and other books that have a story line, different characters, and emotion. Here is the audio from one page of one of my books that I turned into speech.
The warranty for this device is simply 1 year for defects in manufacturing. For the price that Plustek is charging this should be at least 3 years.
Well here is what it all comes down to. I love the concept of turning documents and books into audio and listening to them on the go. However, either the technology is not advanced enough or Plustek just didn’t implement it correctly because the BookReader V100 runs into some big stumbling blocks. The first and most obvious is going to be the price. The expensive price of $699 is going to place this out of most peoples budgets, especially with economic times as tough as they are.
The second is the limited functionality of the scanner. For half the price you can buy a fully functional version of the OpticBook 3600. Then you could spend the remaining $400 on some other text to speech software and you would be much better off. Windows also has some built in text-to-speech capabilities, I did not full test it but I was able to get it started and have it read text from my screen.
If you don’t want a bulky scanner, you already have one, or you don’t want one that is limited to a single purpose, you can buy a Kindle with text-to-speech built-in and about 30 books to go with it for the same price. The kindle also allows users to upload their own documents, I have heard that it is not very convenient but it is possible.
One major way this can be improved is to sell the software separately. This would allow people to purchase the cheaper and fully functional OpticBook 3600 and then add on the software if they want.
At this point I cannot recommend the BookReader V100. The price needs to be cut in half and the scanner needs to have all its functionality turned back on before I could be happy about it. It would also be nice if there was an easier way to scan pages.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|