Imagine a highlighter pen that not only underscores critical information, but also captures important text and digitally transmits it to your computer instantaneously, sort of like an advanced “cut and paste” function. That tool actually exists! It’s called a digital scanner pen, and uses a technology called optical character recognition (OCR) to digitize printed text and transfer it to a computer or device.
Pen scanners can be a great boon to students who are required to read volumes of text and take copious notes. The scanner pen will scan, store and transfer selected passages as well as hand-written script, numbers, and even small images. Some can even translate text into different languages, which can be priceless when traveling abroad or learning a new tongue.
Some pen scanners can actually read text back to you, which is an invaluable tool for people with learning challenges, developing readers, or those who are visually impaired. Experts have found that pen scanners can actually aid in reading comprehension and improve vocabulary range and pronunciation.
When choosing a pen scanner, it’s important to consider a few factors.
- Fine motor skills. Children and the elderly or physically challenged may not have the dexterity required to operate a pen scanner. However, pen scanners have a learning curve and get easier to operate with practice.
- Functionality. Are you learning a new language, using the scanner to record barcodes and numbers, or wanting a tool to help with reading skills? Make sure you select a product meets your primary needs.
- Compatibility is important. Be certain that the pen scanner you buy is compatible with your computer or device, that you can download the necessary software and that if you need a portable option, that your pen scanner is battery-charged.
We did an analysis of the top six pen scanners on the market today, and list them below. These are the best products available based on reading features, accuracy, ease of use and cost.
Although more pricy than any of the other products on this list at about $250, the C-Pen Reader gets the highest rating for its accessibility, pronunciation, and high level of accuracy. It also has a built in microphone, allowing you to record audio and voice memos that can be saved in the device or uploaded to your computer. It’s compatible with PC or Mac, with no additional software required. The C-Pen can read a range of font sizes with accuracy, including highlighted text, making it appropriate for ages 6 and older.
The C-Pen has an integrated OLED screen that instantly displays definitions and reads aloud. It has 1G of storage, and includes a microphone for audio recording and earbuds.
The Scanmarker Air is a wireless OCR digital highlighter and reading pen that is compatible with Mac, Windows, Android and iOS devices. It’s portable and lightweight, and easily connectable via Bluetooth. It also has a built-in battery, rechargeable with USB. This pen has a read-aloud feature, and also scans text directly into any computer application. It can also recognize barcodes, number sequences and small images, and can translate text into over 50 languages.
The Scanmarker Air is surprisingly affordable for such a highly-rated device at around $99, and comes with a Bluetooth dongle, USB cable, soft case, guide and a one-year warrantee.
This pen is a handheld scanner that is compatible with Windows XP and later Mac operating systems. It gets high scores for efficiency and ease of use, and the fact that it doesn’t leave any marks on the page when scanning. It recognizes over 180 languages (but only with Latin, Greek and Cyrillic character sets).
The Ectacto C-Pen does not have a battery, so it must be connected to your computer via USB for operation. It’s also pretty affordable (about $139) and has both left to right and right to left capabilities.
This Bluetooth wireless pen connects to your computer, tablet or phone automatically when turned on. You can look up word definitions with one click, or scan ISBN codes to see book reviews. It recognizes several foreign languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Arabic. With the PenPower, users can easily manually adjust the input by adding or removing a letter.
This device gets high praise for its lightweight construction, hand feel and ease of use. It does get dinged for only offering translations and not full definitions when working in multiple languages, and appears to have less accuracy scanning numbers as opposed to words. It also needs to be downloaded from the internet, so it can only be used with one device. Otherwise, it is reasonably priced at about $100, and could be a vital accessory when studying another language.
The IRISPen is a USB-powered digital pen scanner that has text, number and barcode recognition as well as table separator mode functionality. It also has integrated translation capability for over 40 languages. It does read aloud as well. Signatures and small graphics can also be digitally highlighted with this pen; right-click any image and convert it into a searchable PDF file.
The IRISPen loses points for difficulty installing, but seems to be a great buy once you get the hang of it. It is compatible with Microsoft® Windows® 8, 7, Vista®, XP or 2000 (so, not for Mac users). It’s slightly more expensive than the other pen scanners on this list at about $149, but not by much.
This model is purely a reading pen; it was created with the intention of helping readers improve reading skills and to assist students with dyslexia or aphasia and English-language learners to overcome reading challenges and increase fluency, reading flow and comprehension. The Wizcom is easy to use and recommended for ages 10 and up. It is not a digital scanner, but rather a self-contained reading aid. It has a digital screen right on the pen that shows letter-by-letter spelling, synonyms, syllabication and definitions of scanned words and phrases.
Like all things, mastery takes some practice, and the pronunciation of the Wizcom can be hard to understand for some. It does include earbuds and a headphone jack, and is portable and mobile. The cost is about $189 on Amazon.
All of these products do better with a steady hand, a flat surface and lots of practice, but even the least perfect of them can be a huge advantage when trying to disseminate information, learn a new dialect, or simply to aid in filling the gaps where learning disabilities have challenged us.