We’ve been evaluating two small laser scanners that can be
connected to the iPhone (or iPad or iPod) with Bluetooth, the KDC300 and Scanfob® 2002 laser scanners from SerialIO.
The KDC300 is priced between $549 and $599 on different sites;
the Scanfob retails for $299.
Scanfob 2002 and KDC300 bluetooth-connected
laser scanners and the iPhone. The Scanfob is on the left of
the picture and the KDC300 on the right. A chocolate bar is
included for scale.
Both scanners can use Bluetooth and can connect either as a
keyboard or as a serial device.
- The manufacturer notes that as a serial device, the
scanners can “talk” to the Android, the iPad or the
iPod, devices running the Symbian O/S, Windows Mobile and
the Mac OS/X.
- As a keyboard device, they can “talk” to the iPhone,
iPad and iPod.
Our testing was mostly done on an iPhone using the version of
Digit-Eyes that runs in the Safari mobile browser. We also
tested with the iPod and iPad and the results were
identical. In this configuration, the scanner performs as
a keyboard device.
Both devices have an internal battery and, like the iPhone,
need to be hooked up to a powered USB connection and charged
prior to use. They also need to be recharged
periodically, much like the phone. We found that the
battery life was fairly good with the scanner lasting about a
day of normal use before needing to be recharged.
The Scanfob 2002 is a very small and light; the KDC300 is
much larger. We were interested in exploring the
differences and finding which would work better.
The Scanfob comes with a charging cable, a tether of 3/8 inch
braid and a page of printed instructions. The KDC300 comes
with a cute little rubber boot, a charging cable, a tether of
1/2 inch braid that has a nifty retractable cable attached to it
and a page of printed instructions. Neither of the
tethers has a breakaway link, so for safety reasons, we’d
recommend replacing the tether if you were planning on hanging
the scanner around your neck. The retractable cable could be
removed and easily attached to the safer cable; it also has a
Pairing the Scanfob 2002 to the iPhone was not a trivial
exercise. It was great that the instructions were
available as an online video as well as in printed format, but
in our opinion, a step titled “Find an obliging sighted person”
needs to be added to the instructions for setting up the
device. The instructions say “Start Bluetooth
discovery from the Phone/PC … the phone/PC will display some
numbers.” They then cheerfully continue “Scan
the number bar codes to the right [of the instruction sheet] in
the order presented by the phone, then Scan the END barcode when
Realistically, there is no way to pair this device if you are
Having surmounted this problem and successfully paired the
Scanfob, we started scanning. The major thing that
distinguishes the Scanfob from the KDC300 — other than price
— is that the laser is oriented horizontally in the Scanfob
whereas the KDC300 laser is omnidirectional. This means
that the Scanfob can read bar codes that are on a horizontal
plane (plus some tolerance for skew that appears to be less than
45 degrees) but in no other direction.
The problem is that manufacturers do not necessarily locate
their codes horizontally. In our sample of 20
common products, 5 (25%) had vertically-oriented bar
codes. These items included sour cream, a canned soft
drink, tomato paste, soup and our perennial favorite, the can of
Spam. The practical effect was that without using vision,
we found we had to put the item on a flat surface (the kitchen
counter), scan all surfaces and rotate each surface 90 degrees
while the object was in front of the scanner. This was
easier with boxes than with cylindrical objects, which proved to
be surprisingly difficult.
The process of using the Scanfob 2002 with the iPhone turned
out, to be slower on the whole than using Digit-Eyes without the
scanner in its normal “app” mode on the iPhone.
The KDC300 was another story.
First, the setup and pairing was simple and required no
vision. We simply charged the device, used the
Bluetooth pairing option on the iPhone and selected the
device. Secondly, scanning was simple. We
activated Digit-Eyes in the browser and rotated the item we
wanted to identify in front of the scanner. No
matter what the orientation was, the code was recognized.
When the bar code was found, a beep was emitted, Digit-Eyes
contacted the host to look up the product and then VoiceOver
The scanning with the KDC300 was generally faster that the
Digit-Eyes iPhone app and the range of the KDC300 seems to be
about twice that of the iPhone using visible light: the iPhone 4
and4s needed to be within about 12 inches of the item being
scanned whereas the KDC300 could be as much as 24 inches
away. However, when tested in a crowded environment
(the pantry shelf), the Digit-Eyes app outperformed the KDC300,
which got confused when presented with multiple bar codes in the
In both cases, a nice feature is that after a successful
laser scan, the browser-based version of Digit-Eyes displays the
extended information about the product. Using the “more
information” feature, we were able to find that the Spam is
supposed to be cut into six slices. Each slice has 180
calories, 140 of which are from fat. The instructions from
the folks at Hormel, however, seem a little
incomplete. Their preparation instructions recommend
frying the Spam, but don’t say at what point in the process
you should contact your cardiologist. At any rate, it is
nice that you can now find all this out with a single click
after scanning with Digit-Eyes.
If you decide you do
want a laser scanner, we think that the Scanfob is usable only
if you have some vision. It is undeniable that the lower
price is attractive and, at half the price of the KDC300, it
might even be worth the trouble of having to move the scanned
object around a lot to capture the bar code.
However, if you have no vision or if you do a lot of scanning,
we believe that the KDC300 is a much better choice because of
its greater ease of use and speed of capture.
Bottom line: We’re still a fan of scanning with visible
light and using the Digit-Eyes app on the iPhone. In most
cases, the optics on the iPhone and the new iPad are good enough
that the visible-light scanner performed very well. It is
nice to just have the one multipurpose device and not have to
carry a bunch of extra little bits and pieces of hardware.
Furthermore, the cost of the scanner is daunting: at $599, the
KDC300 costs more than our iPhone 4s, while the Digit-Eyes
software is priced at less than $20.
However, if you are scanning a lot of things, can afford to
make a fairly hefty investment and don’t mind carrying around
some extra hardware, we can see that a little laser scanner can
be a nice thing to have.
In this case, the extra $300 for the KDC300 buys enough that,
in our opinion, its worth the investment and, of the two
scanners, would be the one to buy.