IRIScan Book 3: pretty much useless

Image I just got an IRIScan Book 3, a portable scanner that looks promising when you check it out online. And I’m sending it back. The problem is that you can never rely on it actually scanning the whole page that you intend to scan. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a video of this but I hope I will manage to do one before the 30 days trial period is over.

The device is a nice idea, but it simply doesn’t work. If you get one, you can expect to have problems with it all the time. No, my device is not defect. The product is simply badly designed. There are two main problems:

  1. As far as I can see, the scanner measures its movement through the rolling thingy on  the bottom, i.e. it does not use the actual optical sensor to register movement. As a result, it will stop scanning once the rolling thingy has rolled over the edge of the book so that it is suspended in the air. In other words: while the scanning sensor is still gliding over your text, the “wheels” tell the device that it is no longer moving and it will therefore stop recording the signal coming from the sensor. This may not be a problem if your book has a margin of at least 1.5 cm, but if your margin is narrower (or if you want to scan the notes scribbled on the margin) then the Iriscan Book 3 just wont work for you.
  2. The frame of the device is too thick so that it wont scan what is towards both ends of the sensor, i.e. the width of the scanned image is smaller than the sensor window on the bottom of the device suggests. Again, you could work around that making a mark where the sensor really starts and use the device accordingly, but the problem is that you may not always be able to do so because the fold of the book is preventing you from shifting the device far enough. Similar to point 1 mentioned above, this will not be a problem if your book has large margins, but I have one here that has just under 1.5 cm margin at the centre fold and the leads to the first letter or so of each row to be cut off.

I could also complain about the wifi functionality (on the Irisscan book 3 executive), but that has become a minor quibble compared to these problems. The problem with the wifi functionality is that the Iriscan Book 3 does not conntect to your existing wifi but it sets up its own wifi hotspot and if you want to connect your computer or ipad with it, you need to disconnect from your wifi (and hence the internet), connect to the Irisbook wifi, scan, connect back to your original wifi and only then can you upload the scanned documents.

Honestly: this could have been solved better. Why did they call it IRIScan Book, when it can scan single pieces of paper just fine, but not books? Anyway: I’m sending it back. Luckily they I.R.I.S. is giving a 30 day money back guarantee, so that should not be a problem. Despite this, I recommend anyone to think twice before ordering this. If you think you might want to use it for scanning pages out of books, don’t buy it.

Instead, I will try a fascinating software called booksorber. I had considered it before I bought the Iriscan Book, but I thought it would be nice to have a dedicated device for scanning, rather than setting up my camera everytime I want to scan a couple of pages, but now I’ll give booksober a chance. I’ll post my exoerience here as soon as I had time to test it.

UPDATE [31-10-2013]: If you are looking for an alternative portable scanner, you might want to have a look at the Xcanex document scanner by piQx which I reviewed in another post.

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ASUS Transformer Book and Windows 8: a big disappointment

ASUS Transformer Book OK, this is a bit off topic, but I have to briefly air my frustration about the ASUS Transformer Book (TX300CA – C4005P), which I’ve been waiting for so long for. After a few days of good willed fiddling with it, I’m sending it back cause I know that this will just continue to frustrate me, even if I am starting to get used to some of the annoyances of Windows 8, that drove me crazy at the beginning, such as the layout of the on-screen keyboard or the fact that it does not always show up automatically when you are in a text field (it does work with genuine Touch Apps, but only sometimes when you’re in desktop mode), or that you have to aim for the little X in the corner in order to close it, rather than a bigger key or a swipe gesture.

I guess I needed to use a Win8 tablet in order to understand what a good job Apple did with the iPad. I was similarly annoyed with my iPad 2 when I first got it and I still think it has major faults (not to speak about the closed systems approach of Apple in general), but I have to admit that they at least got the basic essentials of the user interface working. Things like browsing a webpage and doing a quick pinch to zoom in to read small print or smooth scrolling or simply making it easy to tap on a link or button or whatever without having to be dead on centre, those are the things that I now appreciate on the iPad. Because they don’t work.

While I appreciate the amount of pixels on the Transformer Book screen, this leads to buttons, menus, and text being incredibly small on your screen so that they are not only almost illegible but, most of all, un-tapable with your fingers. Only when I increased the screen display to 150 percent did the device become somewhat usable via touch screen. In the default mode, it you just keep tapping and tapping until you finally hit something and get a response (though it might be the wrong one, cause you tapped slightly too far right or left or so). Why can a convertible in this upper price range not be configured so that it is usable from the start?

And let me say, that even with 150 percent screen display, I often have to tap multiple times to, for example close a tab in Chrome. I guess you have to be dead on centre on whatever you are trying to tap and there is no tolerance or smart algorithm that makes Win8 realize that when you tap 5 pixels next to a link, maybe you were trying to tap that link. Oh, and speaking of browser. I installed Firefox first and it seem like they havent managed to produce a touch screen compatible version yet, cause what happens, at least on some pages (most importantly: google search results), when you try to scroll by swiping up: you are selecting the text on the page. WFT? – Anyway, this is not ASUS’s fault and probably not that of Win8 either, but it’s part of the experience.

Similarly, with the Evernote App: I wrote a note on the Transformer Book up to today but it did not sync until today. And it did not do so until I went back and tapped sync and waited in the App until it had synched 100%. Apparently it does not synch automatically in the background. WTF?

Another very basic problem was that when I first started the Transformer Book, the PC clock was apparently set to a date several weeks ago. OK, you cant expect the time and date to be right when you get the device, but did Win8 bother to check time and date with one of the many NTP servers out there? No. I had to manually trigger that my going to time and date settings and clicking on “Sync with NTP server” or something like that. And when did I do that? After I spent about half an hour trying to figure out why I was getting security certificate issues from Chrome all the time. It would not let me visit the most basic websites, claiming that there was a problem with that site’s security certificate. – The reason was that my PC time was weeks in the past and the website was claiming to be way in the future, and that is of course suspicious. So that was another wasted 45 minutes, just because Windows 8 was unable to automatically correct the date. What year was this operating system produced again?? Oh, and another consequence of the wrong date during installation was that when I corrected the date, the 30 day trial version of McAffee expired and Windows started bugging me that my computer was not safe. Not that I am in any way interested in McAffee bloatware, but what if I had installed other trial versions that I actually did want to try for 30 days?

It’s about time for me to mention one of the major failures: at some point the TouchPad stopped working! And no, it was not because I deactivated it with Fn + F9, it truly did not work. When I went to the Device Manager, the Touch Pad was listed as a “hidden item” because it was apparently not recognized by the system. (NB: the TouchPad is built into the Keyboard dock of the ASUS Transformer). I tried updating the driver, but it said that it was up to date. The way I eventually solved it was to boot Windows 8 in Safe Mode (Took me another 30 minutes or so to figure out how that works in Win8, since the F8 button that used to bring up the Boot menu in previous versions of Windows no longer works with Win8. It was so complicated (multiple clicks into some menu) that I don’t even remember how I did it. But when I eventually booted into safe mode, the Touch Pad started working again and continued to do so when I booted normally again. (Yes, I did try to reboot normally before, but to no avail.) I mean how can a Touch Pad just stop working on a new device??

But it fits with another annoying problem: the left swipe, which shuffles you through open apps, does not  works when the device is turned upside down and it also sometimes just stops working in other situations was well (i.e. nothing happens upon left swipe) and you have to use other ways to move around and then at some point it works again. And I think the same has happened with the right swipe, which is supposed to give you the charms menu, but even when the charms menu works, it seems to give you different options depending on whether you’re in desktop mode or metro mode (or whatever it’s called). But in both modes you will still give you some similar options, like the Control Panel, only in metro mode it’s called PC settings, and it only gives you very basic settings. Once you realize that, you still need to figure out which settings you can change via PC settings and for which ones you need to go to to the control panel. This is just an example of a broader problem: even when you decide to ignore those metro tiles and work mainly in desktop mode (which is not easy with a touch screen), it still feels like there are two worlds on your device: the touch metro world, with its apps and settings and what not. And the familiar windows 7 desktop. And the problem is that you don’t really understand how they interrelate.

For example, I installed Sugarsync from the App store, as well as the desktop version of sugarsync, and I still havent understood how they relate to each other. Admitedly, I have not spend much time trying to figure that one out, but that’s the point: I don’t want to spend weeks figuring basic things out all the time. I’m spending enough time doing this anyway cause I’m a gadget and tech guy. So I expect that basic stuff just works intuitively, and that’s simply not the case with Win 8. I can understand now, why PC sales dropped so dramatically: I will avoid win8 on my PC as long as I can too. Problem is: I won’t be able to avoid it on a Windows tablet…

Want some more failures and disappointments? – I really did not install a lot of Apps (afterall, there are really not that many in the App store!), but when I tried to do so. Microsoft app store was unreachable several times. (And no: my internet connection was fine, I tested that). But not only was it not reachable, but what annoyed me even more was that Windows 8 blamed my internet connection and suggested I should fix it when it was clearly a problem on the side of the App Store thatfailing to reply on time or whatever. I know, those kind of error messages have a long tradition in Microsoft Products, but I was under the impression that in Win7, things had improved somewhat and even functions like “Try to solve this problem for me” sometimes actually solve the problem.

And there is more: I calibrated the touch screen because my impression was that it was not reacting properly, i.e. not targeting the item I was trying to tap. The result was (and it again took me a while to find that out!) that the right swipe for the charms menu no longer worked. Its an official bug. Here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2795584. So although there is a possibility to calibrate the touch screen, this will result in Windows 8 becoming more or less dysfuctional, so that you are advised to reset the calibration.
Last, but not least, one of the bigger reasons for me to return the ASUS Transformer Book is that it is quite loud for my taste. Now, admittedly, I am not the typical user when it comes to fan noise. I cannot bear fan or hard drive noise and I don’t understand how people are willing and able to work on computers that not only have a clearly audible fan but one that is really loud. I probably could live with the of the fan of the ASUS Transformer book when it is running in its slowest mode (as it is during surfing and basic activity) but once the CPU gets just a bit busier (for example while installing an app), it accellerates so much that it becomes clearly audible and that is just a deal breaker for me, at least when so many other things are just not right.
It looks like I’m now going to be a bit more patient and wait for convertibles with the new Haswell processor to come out and I hope to find one with a Wacom Digitizer, so that I can highlight and scribble into pdfs while reading them. The Toshiba WT310 looks promising, for example, but if you have any other suggestions that come close to the following criteria, please leave a comment:
  • at least a i3 core cpu (i5 preferred, or even i7, but that might lead to problems with the next point)
  • low noise
  • at least 11 inch screen, preferably 13 inch
  • digitizer pen (i.e. non capacitive)
  • weight well below 1.9 kg for keyboard and screen combined.
  • touch screen
  • touch pad in front of the keys

Is Live Inbox an alternative to Xobni?

[Note: This post has been updated multiple times since it was first published (see below)]
I was thrilled this morning when I discovered live inbox. It’s brand new – launched this month (June 2011) and claims to be an alternative to “evil xobni” (live inbox with each word spelled backwards). I had just started trying out Xobni but – as the live inbox people rightly point out – it came with lots of problems, including nearly no customization options and initial problems with drag-and-drop in Outlook. So I was searching the web for an alternative and I thought I had found it in live inbox.

But after half a day of trying it out – or rather: trying to try it out – I must say that I wish that these guys hadn’t gone public with this product yet. Apart from that it would have saved me from wasting my time, I think that going public at this point of development is going to give them a lot of bad press and that might in the end kill the whole enterprise of developing a good alternative to Xobni. Does

I briefly describe my odyssey with Live Inbox:

– Installation: the automatic download of Microsoft Virtual Studio runtime x86 failed (tried several times) so I located it manually on the web, downloaded and installed it.

– After that, Live Inbox still wouldn’t install, even though my win7 user account has admin privileges (error message complaining that I did not have permission to write in some directory). Only when I started the setup by right-clicking and selecting “run as administrator” did the installation go all the way through.

– But the annoyances were not over at that point: starting outlook took ages even before the live-inbox pane even appeared on the screen and when it did it said “live inbox loading” for I-don’t-know-how-many minutes. Obviously, the add-on was indexing my inbox with several thousand emails. But it was not telling me so and it was not letting me use outlook while it was doing it. In contrast to Xobni, which was almost exaggerating its efforts to keep me entertained during the process.

– Once it had loaded in my Outlook calendar (which is my default view when starting outlook) I found no way to get it to show in a second outlook window which I opened with my emails (right click the mail-icon in the navigation bar). So I am forced to use the *first* outlook window to read my mail.

– I also found no way to close the Live Inbox pane completely. Xobni, in contrast, placed a useful button in the Home-ribbon for that.

– But at least it was operating now. – Or was it? – Well, I would say it wasn’t because it was so slow to react to any click on a mail or wherever, that it was just unbearable. I thought, hmm, maybe I should just restart outlook. After all, Xobni also messed up some part of outlook (I was no longer able to drag and drop a file into an email I was composing), so maybe they mistakenly copied that behaviour too…

– Unfortunately, that made it only worse. The starting procedure seemed even slower now, and, in fact, the Live Inbox pane did not materialize at all (well, it came up as an empty pane and stayed that way for at least 10 minutes). (See the following screenshot.)

Even a system restart did get Live Inbox going.

– Meanwhile, Outlook was using 45% of my CPU and constantly complaining that it was “trying to retrieve data from the Microsoft Exchange server…” which did not seem to work (see screenshot below).

Live Inbox is causing problems with MS Outlook 2010

– I tried rebooting windows, as a last chance but nothing changed (see screenshot below). So off you go: “uninstall live box” was the end of that adventure. Unfortunately. I would have liked to see if these guys can keep the promises the are making on the webpage, but well – I’ll probably come back in half a year or so, hoping that you still exist. But at this point, I can only recommend to anyone: don’t even try to install live inbox. It’s really not worth it. Yet (I hope).

P.S. I should also like to mention that I do not recommend using Outlook as an email client in the first place. I am only using it because my employer (or Microsoft – I don’t know whose fault it is that our Exchange server just won’t cooperate with Thunderbird through IMAP) is basically forcing me to use it. So I’m trying to make the best of it (and would be grateful for any hints or comments of how to make life with outlook more userfriendly, transparent, and customizable).

Note:
The above review is based on Version 1.1.7 (compliled 6 June 2011) of Live Inbox on a Win7 Pro machine (32-bit) with Office 2010. Please do leave a comment below if you have experience with a newer version that works!

Update:
In case you’re wondering: After having agreed to serve as a beta-tester (see Sumanth’s comment below) I did not hear anything for three months but then I received an updated version of live inbox in which all the above mentioned problems were supposed to be cleared out. However, I had huge problems getting the program running. First, it took 27 minutes to index my inbox and then it kept crashing due to some license issues. Sumanth told me that this was only due to the fact that I had previously installed a version of live inbox and that the issue will be resolved in the next release. So in brief: I am not giving up hope for this to become a true alternative to xobni, but at the moment it still looks like a long way to go.

Update 2 (10 Dec 2011): I thought I should mention that I have received a new version of Live Inbox already in October but I have been so busy those last months that I did not have time to install and test it. I am looking forward to do this sometime soon, hopefully and I’ll let you now the results in a new post. Thanks for your patience.

Update 3 (6 Jan 2012): Just before christmas I finally took the time to check out the latest version (compiled 22 Nov 2011). And I was once again harshly disappointed. It was just a waste of time. Any normal user would have been left with a non-functional outlook after trying to install that version.

First outlook crashed completely while live inbox was supposedly trying to scan my inbox. And when I say “completely” I mean that I had to kill the oulook.exe process on the Windows Task Manager; nothing else worked. After a forced restart, I was asked for a license but clicking on “retrieve license” (as I was told to do in an email from the developers) just led to the license being sent to my inbox again and again (where it had been lying all the time anyway). The software refused to do anything except for telling me that I need a license. As you can see in the screenshot below, there was not even a possibility for me to somehow enter the license manually and it was not possible to activate any part of the plugin without getting this error message.

Live-inbox kept asking for a license inspite of several mails containing the license being in my inbox

The only way to get around this was by saving the license file from the email to my desktop, reinstalling liveinbox and directing it to that file as soon as it asked for the license (rather than clicking on “retrive license”). For a moment it then seemed to work but when I restarted Outlook, the whole Live-Inbox plugin had disappeared again.

The only result of all this was that now Outlooks social networking pane below the reading pane which I had deactivated in the Plug-In options has magically been reactivated. I don’t like it if another program deems it appropriate to reactivate another plugin without even asking me. One of the developers responded to this issue as follows:

LiveInbox really does not care about it [the networking pane]. We do not modify The Addins section in the registry… NO we just don’t play around with other plugins. There is no code in LiveInbox that does that. What social networking pane was this ?

It’s funny that they don’t even know about this! It’s part of Outlook and the official name is “Microsoft Outlook Connector for social networks” (socialconnector.dll).

Despite my frustration with Live-Inbox, I have installed it on my home PC today where I have not been using Outlook before so that it is in its original condition (at work I have several other plugins installed). My home system is Win7 Pro 64 bit with Office 2010 connected to the Exchange Server at work. Here the installation process went a bit better but far from smooth:

  1. During the installation I was told that the .NET Framework version 4 needs to be installed and a browser window was opened with the download page. So I downloaded and installed it but even after that, the Live-Inbox installation was still stuck at the same point and did not pick up the changes I had made. I had to click “Cancel” and restart the installation. This is not how an installation procedure should run. It should at least tell you to restart the process after installing .NET rather than pretending to be still up and running.
  2. After installation, I agreed to “start Live inbox for outlook 2.0” but what was launched was the setup procedure for Outlook, not Outlook with my existing account. Hello?
  3. When I started Outlook the normal way, it suddenly opens two instances of Outlook. Dont ask me why.
  4. After indexing my Inbox, I am again asked for the license key (although there are still several copies in my inbox). Again, I had to save the license file on my desktop and direct live-inbox to it.

Now it is up and running. However, it is not working. I don’t know what these guys are doing, but I thought the point of live inbox was to make it really easy to quickly find any email. So as I was writing this update, I searched for the emails I had exchanged with the live-inbox team. I searched for “live-inbox” which is contained in all of their email adresses but only a single email was found (see screenshot).

Live Inbox only found one out of many emails from it's makers

I did get all live-inbox email adresses that I corresponded with, but not the emails themselves.

So I went back to the native outlook search and here is what I got:

The native Outlook search does find the mails

So without even extending the search to other folders of my inbox, Outlook already found more mails than Live-Inbox. — Hello?

I really don’t understand what’s going on here. As I said earlier: It’s a real pity that the live-inbox people are not getting this to work at all. The only thing that changes is the version number: The current version is already called “Live-Inbox for Outlook 2.0” Ha ha. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the exact version number of the build that I have been testing in this update because the “About” button in the Live-Inbox ribbon is not working. But, as mentioned above, its the build of 22 Nov 2011.