Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - A Terrific Digital Rolodex and Verizon Broadband Wireless Modem

Achieving Business Card Nirvana

Where do you keep your stack of business cards that you've collected from friends, vendors, and potential clients over the years? I suspect they're stuffed somewhere in the back of a desk drawer, or scattered around your office and in one or more briefcases.

Not only can CardScan help you finally organize that mess, but the included software literally functions as an easy-to-use, intuitive contact management system for your practice.

CardScan
It's a Digital "Rolling Index"

I liken CardScan to a digital Rolodex. As much as I advocate a paperless life, I admit that I still enjoy giving and receiving business cards. They're convenient and visually captivating.

On the other hand, I don't want to carry around a Rolodex or leather folder that contains a bunch of business cards. They wouldn't be organized or indexed, and it would take me a long time to find who or what I need.

CardScan appeals to me because it seamlessly bridges the function of a physical business card with the searchable advantages of digitizing them on a computer.

Scan Your Card And More

There are two main pieces to the CardScan wonder – a small, lightweight scanner, and the powerful CardScan software. I decided to use the CardScan Executive product (as opposed to CardScan Personal) which comes bundled with version 8.02 of the software.

The scanner weighs only 7 ounces and measures a mere 5.8" x 3.3" x 1.5" – small enough to fit in your briefcase for the road. No extra power cord is necessary for the scanner since it gets all it needs through the USB cable plugged into your computer.

Once you install the software and plug in the scanner, CardScan automatically scans a card that you place in the scanner's slot. A small window pops up next on your screen asking if you want to "process" the card. When you say yes, the CardScan software examines the whole business card and OCRs the text. It then places the name, address, phone number, and e-mail address in the appropriate boxes in the CardScan software.

It doesn't get the cards correct 100% of the time, but it is surprisingly accurate. The only real problems I had were on what I would consider "non-traditional" business cards – those that use multiple fonts, odd colors, and weird backgrounds. Scanning sure beats having to type everything in by hand.

I thought that "vertical" business cards would pose a problem for CardScan, but I was happy to see that the software immediately recognized the switch, even when I inserted the card horizontally. CardScan flipped the card for me automatically and OCR'd the text perfectly.

The whole process for scanning a card, start to finish, took about 3 seconds. That's wickedly fast.

Scanning, Organizing, and Indexing

I am also impressed with the newer interface that CardScan has put on their software. Once the card is scanned in, you have a nice big picture of the card at the bottom of your screen, with the text boxes up at the top. You make your corrections in those text boxes and when you're satisfied that everything is accurate, you can click the "verified" box to let CardScan know it's been checked by your own eyeballs.

In addition to the front of the card, you have the option of scanning the back too, which is very helpful for those of us who jot notes there. You can also add notes on another tab, which is very helpful for remembering birthdays, names of children, and where you met the person. Lastly, CardScan allows you to associate each contact with Categories. Each contact can be assigned to multiple categories so you can quickly bring up collections of contacts based on the categories you select.

Down the far left side of the software, an alphabet lets you jump quickly to the appropriate contacts – the digital Rolodex part. Next, the Navigation Bar provides quick-click access to Categories and a history of Recent Searches. I also appreciate the QuickSearch feature at the top that has done a very nice job of finding everything I've needed within a second or two. It's definitely much faster than a similar search in Microsoft Outlook.

In a Syncing Mood

But speaking of Outlook, CardScan can easily synchronize contacts back and forth so you don't have to always open CardScan to find a phone number. CardScan also syncs with Outlook Express, ACT!, Lotus Notes, and Goldmine, as well as Palm and Windows Mobile devices and even iPods. You initially set up the synchronization options through a nice wizard, and consequently just click the "Synchronize" button whenever you scan in a new contact to CardScan. I am thrilled with how well this sync function works because I rely on Microsoft Outlook for so much of my work. CardScan even synchronizes my notes and scanned images over to Outlook.

It almost couldn't get any better, but CardScan offers one more feature/service that is incredible. "CardScan At Your Service" is basically a Web version of your local CardScan software and contact database. You can set up your local CardScan software to automatically update your online account, which gives you complete access to your contacts from any computer connected to the Internet – for free!

You can tell that I'm a big fan of CardScan. It's provided a tremendous boost to my ability to organize and keep track of my stacks of business cards – something I know a lot of people struggle with.

CardScan only works with Windows 2000, XP, or Vista (only v.8 runs on Vista) and requires the Microsoft .Net 1.1 Framework (automatically installed for you if not present). I did have a couple of minor errors when I was installing the software, but everything eventually installed just fine. I also called Tech Support at one point concerning a question I had about synchronizing in Outlook, and was treated to some stellar help.

If you have a stack of business cards that keep nagging you for action, or if you're searching for an easy-to-use contact management system, CardScan is almost a no-brainer. The $259.99 cost is justified by the peace of mind you'll obtain by having your contacts accessible without flipping through a teetering stack of business cards on your desk.

Verizon USB720 Modem
Verizon USB720 Modem

One of the technologies that I've been most excited about over the last year or two is high-speed data access over the cellular 3G networks. I won't go into a prolonged explanation of the technology here (you can read "What is EVDO" for some background) but I'll try to summarize this way: imagine if you could connect your laptop wirelessly to the same network that your mobile phone uses – you don't have to worry about finding a Wi-Fi hotspot or plugging into the wall. You could just be online basically anywhere your cell phone gets a good signal.

You've probably seen ads on TV recently from Sprint or Cingular talking about the cards you can slip into your laptop to get on the 3G networks. Some laptops today even have these WWAN cards built-in. And while I've used several of these options, I was happy to pick up the USB720 Modem from Verizon Wireless.

I still believe that Verizon Wireless is the frontrunner in this market, although Sprint is catching up fast. Cingular/AT&T in my opinion is still a little hampered by a slower network. Verizon Wireless now boasts access in 242 "major metropolitan areas" and I've had great luck with their service in many cities across the country.

Just a few months ago, the only option you had for using this service was to purchase a PCMCIA card for your laptop. Nothing wrong with that, but several new computers on the market today are doing away with PC slots in favor of the newer and faster ExpressCard, or nothing at all to save space. On the other hand, every laptop has a USB port, so I wanted to try out this new modem from Verizon to see how it stacked up.

The only real slap I have against the card is that it's too big (I'm apparently not the only one with this complaint). I know that it has to be a certain size to house the proper radio antenna, but it sticks out at least 3 inches from the side of my laptop. First, that's a lot of weight for a lone USB port to support, and second, all I can see is me catching my sleeve or something on the modem and ripping off the side of my computer. I solve both of these issues by using the supplied USB extension cable. The USB modem doesn't have to be next to the laptop to work, so I can set it safely off to the side.

If you're in the market for a 3G modem card for your laptop, you won't go wrong with the USB720 modem from Verizon Wireless. It's still a little more expensive than other cards ($129.99 after the $50 rebate), and the monthly rate for data is still expensive ($60 a month if you already have a Verizon voice plan), but the card will pay for itself after a few days of traveling and declining the $10 or $12 a night charge that the hotels tack on for high-speed Internet access.

cover of CardScan Executive v8 Card ScannerCardScan Executive v8 Card Scanner
Binding: Electronics
List price: $354.19 USD
Amazon price: $247.50 USD

cover of Verizon Wireless USB720 EVDO Rev A USB Modem (Verizon Wireless, Card Only, No Service)Verizon Wireless USB720 EVDO Rev A USB Modem (Verizon Wireless, Card Only, No Service)
Binding: Wireless Phone Accessory
List price: $299.99 USD