Plustek was kind enough to send me what is arguably the largest box I've ever received from a vendor. Inside it was their new OpticPro A360, an A3-sized flatbed scanner.
For those of you unfamiliar with European-spec paper sizes, A3 is equal to 12" x 17", or what North Americans refer to as "tabloid" size paper. For a flatbed scanner, that's pretty big. In fact, the unit weighs 17 lbs, so this is anything but a scanner you'll want to move around much; it's pretty much the antithesis of "portable."
There's rarely anything particularly sexy about a flatbed scanner, so this review concentrates on two aspects that tend to separate the wheat from the chaff: bundled software (the user experience) and scanning performance.
Setting up the A360 was fairly straightforward. After plugging in the unit and inserting the included CD-ROM, Windows XP found the TWAIN driver (and other necessary support files) and installed them straight away.
Then, I was prompted to install the additional applications that Plustek bundles with the A360. Unfortunately, this didn't go very smoothly. The installer locked up twice and I had to go about installing the last couple of apps manually. Not terrible, but definitely not what you'd hope for. After that hiccup, all went pretty well. Even the "copy" button on the scanner was correctly set to send a letter-sized page to my default printer.
The bundled applications are all adequate for the task, but nothing to get excited about. DI Capture is a rather modestly-featured image capture app that helps tweak some of the settings and parameters one can apply to incoming images. NewSoft Presto! PageManager is a workmanlike document management utilities; I'm not sure who is going to rely on this, but it's there if you want it. ImageFolio 4 is a lightweight photo manipulation tool; suffice to say, you're likely much better off with Adobe PhotoShop Elements. Finally, the A360 comes with ReadIris Pro 10 Corporate Edition, a very decent OCR application.
It irks me that, in 2009, we're still having to deal with 4+ different applications to handle output from a scanner. You'd think that we'd have some unified interface from which the user can easily and quickly scan, manipulate, and manage images. But I guess that's too much to hope for. :-/
The proof of any scanner is in the quality of images it generates. The A360 is modestly equipped, maxing out at 600 dpi optical resolution. For a scanner this size, I guess that makes sense, but it surprised me given that you can easily find a legal-sized flatbed scanner that will do double that for a couple hundred bucks.
Here are some demo scans of a newspaper front page (Note: all scans are with no software sharpening and JPG quality set on 100%):
View full-sized scans:
3578 x 5078
7154 x 10154
To give you an idea of the quality of these scans without having to open up those full-size images, below are two crops at 300 dpi and 600 dpi:
Pretty good; edges are clean without being oversharpened and there doesn't seem to be any significant distortion, blooming, or other artifacting as far as I can tell.
To assess the A360's color performance, I enlisted my aging HP Officejet 6110 all-in-one as a comparison with a run-of-the-mill scanner. Below are the two samples, cropped from a photo I pulled out of a drawer, both at 300 dpi with no image manipulation.
|OpticPro A360||HP 6110|
With zero sharpening during and after either scan, the A360's output looks softer than the 6110. The tonality differences aren't too troubling; I put neither scanner through a full color calibration, so they're both probably off. To my eyes, however, there's no marked quality difference between these two. In fact, if I had to pick, I'd say the OfficeJet does a little better job picking up detail at 300 dpi.
Other hardware bits do help the scanner's ability to do its job. The hardware buttons to the right of the scanbed cover are programmable with lots of flexibility via the configuration utility. Also, the cover has a tricky hinge that easily accommodates thicker materials like books, frames, and so forth while keeping flat for uniform lighting. The A360 does not scan film slides or negatives and has no ability to accommodate an adapter to do so. While the scanner can be configured to keep its CCFL ready at all times, setting it into a more environmentally friendly sleep mode will require a 30-second-or-so warmup before your first scan of the day. Not bad...certainly better than a lot of copier/scanners.
In short, while the A360 has size on its side, it doesn't do a lot to impress me in many other ways. If I had a bunch of large documents (e.g., newspapers) that had to be scanned, or did it regularly, I'd probably do well by the A360. My online shopping bot tells me that it can be had from around $960 up to its MSRP of $1199. So, for under a grand, you get a reasonably quick, A3-sized flatbed scanner that is immediately recognizable as a larger version of every other flatbed scanner out there. And that is both reassuring and disappointing at the same time.
Convenient, programmable hardware buttons
Hinged lid for thicker materials (e.g., books)
Speedy data transfer to PC
~30-second lamp warmup
Mediocre software / sketchy initial setup
Unimpressive resolution (600 dpi optical)
Width: 24.5 in
Depth: 15.7 in
Height: 5.2 in
Weight: 17 lbs
Maximum Media Size: 12 in x 17 in
Grayscale Depth: 16-bit input, 8-bit output
Color Depth: 48-bit color input, 24-bit output
Optical Resolution: 600 dpi x 1200 dpi
Lamp / Light Source: Cold cathode fluorescent (CCF) lamp
Scanning Speed (300 dpi, A3 size)
- Color: 2.5 secs
- Grayscale: 1.6 secs
- Black&white: 1.6 secs
Interface: 1 x Hi-Speed USB 2.0
TWAIN Compliant: Yes
Included: 1 x 4' USB 2.0 cable
- Operational: 36W
- Standby: 8W
- NewSoft Presto! PageManager 7.10
- Plustek DocAction
- NewSoft Presto! ImageFolio 4.5
- Plustek DI Capture
- Drivers & Utilities
- Readiris Pro 10 Corporate Edition
- Adobe Acrobat Reader
Supported Operating Systems: Microsoft Windows Vista / 2000 / XP