Having a digital scanning app on your phone makes it easy to get an instant copy of a receipt, drawing, or important file, and with these handy apps you can forget ever using a bulky copy machine again.
Update, 12/22/21: Verified links and content up to date.
There are plenty of mobile scanner apps out there claiming to be excellent, but really only a few are worth consideration. Even fewer come with the added tools that really make them powerful. Here are the most useful features to look for in these apps:
- High-Quality Scans: If a scanner app can’t produce a great image, what’s the point? Mobile scanning apps should be able to capture high-resolution images on the majority of tablets and smartphones. And, no matter what you scan (be it a book, whiteboard, receipt, or drawing), you should expect a bright and clear digital version of it. The best scanning apps should also offer light image editing tools to remove unwanted shadows and marks, and even offer to “straighten out” an image if it was taken at an angle. Bonus points if an app optimizes your file automatically.
- Text Recognition Support: Scanning a doodle is one thing, but if you’re trying to digitize an important text document or form, the scanning app you use needs to have support for optical character recognition (OCR) technology to accurately identify every last bit of text, ensure that it shows up properly in the scanned file, and even convert it into an editable searchable document.
- Editing Options: Sometimes, you might need to mark up a document once it’s been scanned. Whether you need to edit text, highlight an important passage, mark where a recipient should sign, or draw on a document before you save it or send it off, these apps should let you at least lightly mark up scanned PDF documents. Otherwise, you’ll need to use a separate program to edit or annotate PDFs.
- Plentiful Export Choices: Sharing something you scanned with friends or coworkers should be easy with a good scanning app. It should offer a variety of ways for you to share a file, sync it with a cloud service, or send it to a printer or fax.
- Easy to Use: A scanning app is meant to be helpful, not a hindrance. As such, it should have an intuitive layout with clearly labeled options. It should be a cinch to find editing and export options and start scanning as well.
Adobe Scan (Free) is the best scanning app not just because it’s free, but because it makes scanning, editing, and sharing files easy. The app isn’t picky about which formats you try to scan—it has no problem with magazines, forms, business cards, whiteboards, handwritten notes, or anything else you throw at it. It scans documents into PDFs and offers multiple capture modes to help ensure everything you scan looks clean and professional.
Adobe Scan uses Adobe Sensei AI technology to identify and sharpen handwritten text and remove unsightly blemishes, shadows, and other elements. You can also open scanned PDFs in Adobe Reader to annotate them or work on them collaboratively with a team. The app also makes it easy to convert a scanned document into one you can fill out and sign.
Scanning an important document or receipt should only take a moment, and Genius Scan (Free) understands that. Though the free version of the app offers unlimited high-resolution scans and basic document security, upgrading to Genius Scan+ ($4.99/Android, $7.99/iOS because it unlocks optical character recognition, additional exporting options, and more security and organization options.
Genius Scan+ lets you sync your scanned documents with Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, OneDrive, and other options. The app’s text recognition technology allows you to search within your scanned documents for a specific keyword or phrase and create searchable PDFs. Scan+ can also secure important documents with Face/Touch ID, encryption, and a password, and it lets you customize document names with date, time, location and tags for better organization and easier searching. And if you happened to scan a document at a weird angle—Genius Scan’s perspective correction technology can fix that. The app also lets you easily scan a ton of documents at once, in batch mode, and you can easily enhance the look of your documents once they scan.
You can also add on a Genius Cloud subscription for $2.99 per month (or $29.99 per year). This service lets you view your documents on the web, and automatically synchronizes them (and any edits you’ve made to them) across all of your devices, though with the caveat that this only applies to a single platform—meaning just Android, or just iOS—not cross-platform. Genius Cloud also keeps your scanned documents secure even if you lose your device, and offers you unlimited storage so you can scan to your heart’s content. Overall, Genius Scan+ is a powerful mobile document scanner for those who rely heavily on cloud storage, and its security features are terrific for protecting important documents.
Unless you’re only saving scanned files to your hard drive, choosing an app based around cloud storage is a great idea, as it allows you to access your files from any computer. You probably already have one of these apps on your phone. How easy is that?
If you’re a big Microsoft Office Suite user, don’t ignore Microsoft Office Lens (Free). The app works on everything from whiteboards to handwritten notes, and makes it easy to trim, crop, and enhance a scanned file so it is readable and professional looking. It uses OCR to identify printed and handwritten text and to make it searchable, which is handy if you’ll be scanning lots of text-heavy documents. Lens can also convert scanned images to PDF, Word, and PowerPoint files, and it lets you save files to OneNote or OneDrive.
Because it’s primarily a cloud storage service app, Dropbox (Free) makes for a great medium for document scanning. As such, it lets you easily scan a variety of surfaces to capture your notes, doodles, and ideas, then uploads and organizes them in your Dropbox account. The scanner app also lets you adjust an image’s contrast, apply filters, crop and rotate it, reorder scanned pages, and choose between saving as a PDF or a PNG. For Dropbox Professional and Business users, you can even search for text within a scan using OCR technology.
Google Drive (Free) isn’t just a powerful suite of office productivity software—it can also scan documents for Android users (sorry iOS users). Scanning in Google Drive is as simple as tapping “Add New” then “Scan.” It supports OCR, so it can convert any text you scan into an editable document, which you can then edit and store in the app.