Siemens Pocket Reader

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Portable: You sCAN take it with you.

Siemens Pocket Reader $99

Batteries: 2 AAA size, included

Battery Life: about 20 hours of continual use

Text Size and Type: 8 to 16 point, serif and sans serif fonts

Text Limit: About 20 pages

Provided Connectors: DB9 PC serial port and Mac connector; a separate USB adapter is needed for use with an iMac

System Requirements for LinuxSoftware: X environment, less than 100 KB of HD space

Warranty: 12 months

The Pocket Reader is Siemens’ entry into the still-new OCR-ing pen product category, and it’s one of the most impressive and useful tools available for Linux users. The idea behind the Pocket Reader is delightfully simple: A high-tech pen is used to “highlight” printed text, but instead of coloring the page, it reads and OCRs it on the fly.

About two dozen characters of the scanned text are visible at a time on the LCD panel on the side of the device, where you can perform some limited editing of the text. This is restricted to making minor deletions and inserting paragraph breaks, so most people will likely defer editing until the text is downloaded to a PC or Mac using Siemens’ custom software.

Born to Scan

So ends theory. The obvious question is: What’s the catch? Well, apparently nothing. We scanned numerous paragraphs from printed sources, including Linux Magazine, books, press releases, and laser-printed samples, and found that the Pocket Reader does a remarkably good job. The cleaner the original copy, the better your results will be, of course, but it worked quite well even when scanning text from grungy newspaper. The color of the font and its background are other factors in the Pocket Reader’s success — blue text on a background of yellow worked fine, but black on bright green produced absolute gibberish. Siemens claims that the Pocket Reader will handle fonts from 8 point to 16 point, although we were able to push the envelope and use the scanner to read fonts a bit below 8 point without problems.

Luckily, this isn’t yet another product that requires user training to work well. Just turn on the reader, place the tip flush against the page, and scan. The reader isn’t very sensitive to variations in scanning speed. It certainly scans well at a fairly decent clip; we got the most consistent results at a rate of about three seconds per line of book text. Even with clean text and good technique you’ll still get the occasional typo in the OCR’d text, so expect to exercise your spell checker. The Pocket Reader’s handling of italics was uneven, sometimes reading the text perfectly and at others translating the English into Klingon.

The software Siemens provides with the Pocket Reader runs on Mac or Windows, but there are freely available versions from the company’s Web site for the X Window System under Linux and the Psion palmtop, as well as Windows and Mac updates. This cross-platform support makes the Pocket Reader all the more useful for anyone working with more than one operating system.

The Linux version of the program is quite plain, but for the intended application, it does the job. The pocketreader program installs quite easily with a provided script. About all you really need to tell it is which serial port you will use for the reader. The program’s options include down-loading or erasing the reader’s contents, setting the language for the reader’s menus or scanned text (choices are English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish), and saving the downloaded text to a file in ASCII, LaTeX, or RTF format.

Because of its limited viewing and editing capabilities, the Pocket Reader really isn’t that useful for grabbing much more than a few stray paragraphs. Although Siemens claims it has a storage limit of 20 pages of text, it is difficult to imagine anyone getting close to this except under extreme circumstances.

The Pocket Reader is one of those rare products that combines performance, utility, and a George Jetson factor. For students, journalists, or just about anyone who needs to grab text on the fly, it’s a solid product that’s even fun to use.

In a Nutshell

Rating:5 Penguins


* Works well

* Cross-platform support for transfer program


* Trips over italics, some color combinations

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