Truly portable scanners aren't plentiful in number. Even the Fujitsu ScanSnap models tend to be rather chunky, while the true lightweight models are often hampered by below-par specifications lists. See: Group test: what's the best scanner?
Canon's new P-208, though, is very different. A mere 600g, and light enough to be thrown into a bag, it still feels reasonably robust when folded up. See also Kodak i2900 review.
It gets all of its power from the USB connection, so it doesn't require an external power adaptor. Perhaps most conveniently of all, a cut-down version of the software and drivers are contained on the device itself, so you can plug the P-208 into a new computer and be scanning within seconds. See also: Multifunctional scanner review.
You will, inevitably, miss out on a few features by using the cut-down version of the software though. Most particularly, you won't be able to save your settings as personal profiles. However, for general scanning on the go, it's very nice to have the P-208 within such easy and quick reach. And when you get a bit more time, you can load the full software from the supplied disc.
The Canon is rather basic in its mechanism. In an attempt to keep size and bulk down, the P-208 comes without a proper paper feed. Instead, you have two slender guides which swing out and provide basic support at either side. The paper is then pulled slowly through the scanner, before dropping out on the other side.
The system does work better than you might think. The trick is to carefully feed in the paper while resting it against one of the guides, and wait for the satisfying thunk as the Canon takes hold of the paper.
The P-208 did generally manage to find its target, even when we felt the paper wasn't properly fed in. However, skewed scans weren't infrequent, and we'd be a little reluctant to put in more than two or three pieces of paper at a time.
We can't help but feel that there should have been a cleverer design to make the feeding process more robust and reliable.
You have to be prepared to make a leap of faith with this scanner, and if you're working with important documents that you can't afford to have damaged, we'd advise caution with the P-208.
While the design itself may seem somewhat primitive, the Canon has some nice features on board. Those flimsy guides do allow you to load up to 10 sheets of paper at a time, which places the Canon ahead of many of its single-sheet-only rivals.
Duplex is supported, to scan both sides of each sheet without having to manually turn over. The resolution goes up to 600dpi, and the P-208 can work with trickier source material, such as photos or business cards.
There's an option of adding Wi-Fi, and this attachment also lets you use a CaptureOnTouch app to scan directly to iPhone and Android. However, the WU-10 attachment will set you back almost as much as the cost of the scanner itself, so we suspect few users will take advantage of this bolt-on. Nonetheless, the P-208's features list is impressive for such a portable device, and places it ahead of the competition in most areas.
Canon's CaptureOnTouch software is tried and tested, and manages to be both friendly for beginners, and reasonably powerful. The Full Auto Mode lets the scanner pick many of the settings for you. Should you want rather more control, you can turn this off and start going through the software's numerous settings.
Once you've scanned the files, it takes only a couple of seconds more to convert scans to, for example, searchable PDFs.
The range of files you can output isn't enormous, with PDFs, picture files, and PPTX PowerPoint being the main choices. Raw text, in particular, is neglected, making the P-208 a poor choice if OCR work is likely to be your dominant activity.
You also get Presto BizCard, a very decent little program for scanning business cards. The results here weren't perfect, but may be better to have this feature than not - card scanning tends to cause problems for a lot of these portables, and the Canon is one of the better models in this area.
In terms of speed, the Canon is fast for a portable scanner, requiring just 25 seconds at 150dpi to scan five sheets of double-sided paper. That works out at 24 sides per minute. If you're scanning only one side, this figure will be closer to 14 pages per minute.
The quality was actually very decent, given the limited 150dpi resolution. Our searchable PDF was created successfully, and all of our search words made the transition.
Where the Canon does fall short, though, is on top quality. At 300dpi, the same bundle of documents took 41 seconds, delivering a slower, but still very reasonable, speed of 14.6 sides per second.
At 600dpi it required 216 seconds, producing a speed of just 2.8 sides per second. Even at 600dpi, the quality of reproduction isn't outstanding, with lettering that was slightly fuzzy (if still recognizable, and easily picked up by search enquiries).
The software wasn't very good at eliminating defects in the source material. So, quality is surprisingly good at lower levels, but never really hits the heights at higher resolutions.
This is to be expected – if you're looking for the best in image quality, you'll be better picking a model which isn't designed with extreme portability the priority.