It seems that no matter how hard we work towards digitizing our lives, we all wind up with at least a few drawers or shoeboxes full of bits of paper. You know what we mean—those grocery-store receipts, teller slips, and business cards that we toss off to the side with a promise to ourselves thatthis will be the month we’ll deal with them. The months pass, and you never quite find the time to type the business-card info into Outlook, or get those receipts entered into Quicken. Meanwhile, more months go by, the stack gets bigger, and the task gets ever more daunting.
Alas, wouldn’t life be so much easier if we all had a personal assistant to take care of mundane tasks like these for us, entering and organizing all these pieces of paper? Well, a Philadelphia-based firm, The Neat Company, has for some years now advertised a product that it says will do just that. (If you’ve spent any time watching cable TV in recent years, you’ve likely seen Neat’s infomercials.) The $399.95-list NeatDesk Desktop Scanner + Digital Filing System is designed to take all those business cards, receipts, and other miscellaneous scraps of paper and catalog them in a searchable database.
The full name of the NeatDesk system is definitely a mouthful, but it describes the product’s base functionality—a scanner and a digital filing software suite—reasonably well. If anything, it actually undersells it a bit. The NeatDesk software, now NeatDesk version 5, is far more than a mere document-cataloging system. In fact, depending on what you scan and how you organize it, NeatDesk splinters off into several different directions. From your business cards, for example, it creates a contacts database and functions as an address book. From your scanned receipts, you can flag tax deductions or generate expense reports.
Those two possibilities just scratch the surface. You can, for instance, sync NeatDesk with Outlook (or Address Book on a Mac), Quicken, or QuickBooks, and when you use the software with The Neat Company’s NeatCloud and NeatVerify online services, it takes on yet another level of functionality. Our point? What might look like a simple solution for scanning and organizing receipts, business cards, and paper detritus turned out to be one of the most ambitious…well, we’re not sure whatexactly to call it.
What we can say, though, is that the NeatDesk does a lot of different things, and some of them reasonably well. We suspect, though, that most folks will buy NeatDesk for the main function Neat advertises: to scan and organize receipts and business cards. And as you’ll see in the “Setup & Performance” section a little later in this review, the product struggles a bit in providing this base functionality.
What the NeatDesk software does do well, though, is sync the contact information gleaned from scanning business cards with Outlook and Address Book. And it does a good job of exporting receipt data for use in other programs, such as Excel, Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax. That said, the question then becomes, is the process of scanning, reviewing, and exporting the data more efficient, in terms of accuracy and time management, than simply typing in the data manually?
Then, too, there’s the price. The NeatDesk kit comes at a hefty $399.99 price tag, which hasn’t budged in the years we’ve seen the NeatDesk ads on TV. Considering that many basic all-in-one printers for under $200 have decent sheetfed scanners built in, $400 seems like a lot for a simple scanner and cataloging software. (Neat also offers a sister product, NeatReceipts, a $179.99-direct version that’s a sheetfed “bar”-type scanner.)
We’re somewhat conflicted about the viability of NeatDesk. While the scanning didn’t work as smoothly and consistently as we thought it should considering the price, we can envision scenarios with stacks of receipts and business cards where it would certainly be a huge timesaver. Is it worth $400, and will it work for you? As we see it, the answer depends mostly on the amount of data—how many receipts and business cards—you need to enter, and what you plan to do with the data afterwards.
See full review at Computer Shopper.