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Review of Bluetooth-connected Laser Scanners

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.

Images of the Scanfob 2002 and KDC300 bluetooth-connected laser scanners and iPhone. A chocolate bar is shown for scale

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 pocket clip.

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 done.”



Realistically, there is no way to pair this device if you are not sighted.

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 announced it.

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 scan area.

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.

Our conclusions?

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.

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