TurboScan – Or Why Your Next Scanner Will Cost $1.99 [iPhone]

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I had a scanner once. It took up an enormous amount of my childhood desk space circa 1998, connected via parallel port and the quality-to-speed ratio was poor to say the least. It was the last scanner I have ever owned, and now I’m pleased to say I’ll never be buying one again.

Scanning a document using your iPhone is a liberating experience. Not only can you capture multiple pages to a PDF document in seconds, but you can then email it straight to your boss, health insurer or personal inbox in the time it would take an old flatbed to warm up.

Out of all the scanning apps I’ve found in the App Store, TurboScan stands out the most.

iPhone As A Scanner

I’ve noticed a few people initially quite surprised at the iPhone’s ability as a scanner. There are a few obstacles to overcome, but with the right app you’ll be left wondering why you’d ever bother using a PC and peripheral for a quick scan ever again.

There are limitations, and if you’re after a detailed colour scan then these apps will not serve you particularly well. On the other hand for text, receipts, invoices, handwritten notes and even whiteboard captures, your iPhone is more than up to the job.

Unlike a flatbed, which pins the document you wish to scan flat against the scanner itself, your iPhone will have to adjust for perspective. This is done in an almost identical method regardless of the app, using an overlay which highlights the document in the image you have captured to “scan” and correct the distorted perspective. This then provides you with a straight and readable digital copy.

Scan This

TurboScan will set you back $1.99 (or local equivalent) in the App Store and at 1MB it has to be one of the smallest apps installed on my iPhone. For the price you pay, the UI is at first a little bit disappointing and it’s true that other scanner apps on the App Store do look better in terms of colour scheme and design.

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There are three options to choose from when making a scan – a single camera exposure, a mode called SureScan 3x which allows you to take three photos for a sharper scan and the ability to import a picture you have already taken from your iPhone’s album. If you’ve got the time to snap three quick photos then SureScan 3x will provide impressive results, especially in low light situations.

When scanning with SureScan, you’ll be asked to take three separate pictures by hand. By default, the flash will engage in order to get a good exposure but you can disable it in the bottom right hand corner if you think you’ve got enough light or you need to make a discreet copy.

The next step involves adjusting the frame to cover the document you would like to scan. TurboScan is pretty good at detecting a document from an image, and will often set a frame for you. You can always adjust this with a tap of Adjust Frame if you think the app has gotten it wrong.

By default your image will appear in black and white, which works best for text and notes. You can change between monochrome, full colour and the original image using the bottom right portion of the screen.

Below the preview are five shades – from deep black to light grey, and these tell TurboScan how black the blacks should be, essentially ramping up the contrast on the darkest settings. For standard documents the default setting does the job just fine, and be aware that the blacker you go the more grain will appear on the image. The scan can be rotated using the arrows beneath this setting and if you decide your scan is a dud, you can quickly discard it with the bin in the lower left corner.

Once you’re happy with your scan, tap Next. Your scan will at this point be added to a document, and using the plus “+” button you can add more scans as pages, edit document properties (name, paper size) using the central pen icon and quickly export your scan using the share menu in the lower left, pictured below.

As you can see pretty much every option you could ever need is there, including the ability to email as PDF or JPG, open or save in a viewer such as iBooks, Print using AirPrint or save the image straight to your camera roll. It is also possible to open the PDF in a cloud sharing app such as Dropbox or Evernote, which makes up for the lack of native integration nicely.

Quality & Settings

Below you can see the quality of the scan produced by TurboScan using its SureScan 3x method:

Below is a portion of the same scan at 100% zoom:

TurboScan has one particularly useful feature called “Email to myself”. You can change the behaviour and labelling of this button in the app’s settings, accessed by tapping the cog on the main TurboScan home screen.

Here you can change the email address TurboScan uses (cloud-based storage services like Box.net and Evernote email addresses can be used) and the label – so instead of “Email to myself” the label can read “Email to Box.net”.

And that’s pretty much it, give or take a few extra options which for the most part I have left on their default settings.


As you can see from the scan above, the quality produced by TurboScan is nothing short of excellent. Of all the scanning apps I have used, none produce a better image than TurboScan – especially in poor lighting conditions. Add this to the simple (if a little ugly) UI, rock solid stability and the wealth of options for export and email and it’s easy to see why TurboScan is worth $2.

Integration with Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.net would be nice, but many of these apps support the opening (and subsequent uploading) of PDFs natively so even cloud sharing is pretty easy with the right apps installed.

Download: TurboScan @ App Store ($1.99)

Have you tried TurboScan? Do you think there are better scanners? Have your say in the comments below.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Comments (14)
  • Wendy

    Tim, nice post! And what about competitors for TurboScan? FineScanner from Abyy, for instance..

  • Liam

    Does TurboScan have any OCR capability? i.e. would you be able to search for text within the PDF?

    • Tim Brookes

      Not from my experiments, no. You should have no problems running the final PDF through an OCR suite though if that’s your kind of thing. The easiest way to do this these days is by uploading the finished PDF to Google Drive (Docs) which will do its best to identify text for free.

      TurboScan is more of a quick, fuss-free digital copy maker that’s relatively cheap and works well.

  • Bob Sweeney

    Very good article Tim!

  • Dan

    iPhone app: ‘ScanPages’ is FREE and it has a lighter but capable set of ‘document cleanup’ features and pushes the final .jpg OR pdf single or multipage file to my camera gallery or dropbox or evernote or email or google docs…
    did I mention it was free! works great for me.

    • Tim Brookes

      Thanks for the recommendation. TurboScan isn’t free, but to be honest I’m happy with what the performance, functions and price.

      Always nice to see some good free alternatives too though!

  • Michael White

    JotNot Scanner Pro was one of the first and is still the one I use to this day. It has the sharing built in too.

    • Tim Brookes

      Cool, thanks for the recommendation.

      I’ve seen and used loads and I bought TurboScan based on a friend’s recommendation. It’s definitely the best I’ve used in terms of quality, while some are pretty evenly matched TurboScan really seems to prove its worth at 100% zoom.

    • Michael White

      Well, uh, uh, oh yeah?! JotNot… JotNot can FAX! How about that!? Only $0.99 for 5 pages, so nyah! (Sorry. A 6-year-old snuck into my brain for a moment there. It won’t happen again until next time.)

    • Tim Brookes

      Haha! :)

      Faxing sounds pretty cool, though to be honest I can’t think of anyone I can’t email instead in this day and age.

      In the UK fax machines have largely been retired, I barely remember seeing any fax numbers on printed materials or adverts for a while. I’m currently living in Australia and noticed that fax is still quite widely used here, but again so is email. Thanks for the heads up about JotNot, I’ll have another look at some point.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.