The Practical Mac

Portable Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M Hits a Home Run

- 2010.01.07 - Tip Jar

Rating: 4 out of 4

Follow Low End Mac's blogs: LEMblog and Low End Mac Services.

Good things come in small packages, and never has that been more true than with the US$295 Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M.

Small and Bus Powered

Fujitsu bills it as "the world's smallest duplex ADF scanner". The ScanSnap is designed as a portable scanner, and to this end can be run via USB power only, though doing so requires connections to two USB ports simultaneously, the extra connection being for power purposes.

Also included is a separate power adapter for a more conventional setup. An advantage of hooking up to AC power when you can is that it results in faster scan speeds (more on that later). In a move that other peripheral manufacturers would do well to emulate, the ScanSnap includes all necessary cable for either power configuration.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M
Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M

The first thing you notice when you take the ScanSnap out of the box is that it really is small - and relatively light at just over 3 pounds.

Everything You Need

The ScanSnap includes its own robust proprietary scanning software, ScanSnap Manager, which is both full-featured and easy to use. Also included is Cardiris business card OCR software, which allows you to scan and store business cards into the Mac. Information taken from the card can be edited and then exported to Address Book, Entourage, AppleWorks, vCard, and other contact management systems.

When setting up the ScanSnap, you must install the software first. Install Cardiris, then reboot, then ScanSnap Manager for Mac. Both of these programs put icons in the Dock; the ScanSnap manager icon is always "active", due to the fact it is a background app loaded at login.

warning messageIt is very important to install the software before hooking up the ScanSnap. Tape over the USB, power, and security ports with the message "install software before plugging in the scanner" printed on it ensures that the only way anyone would hook up the scanner before installing the software is if they intentionally do so.

Also, the scanner won't power up unless both power and USB are connected. Make sure the USB cable is securely connected; the first time I connected the ScanSnap, I did not get the USB cable fully seated, and the unit would not power up.

Easy to Use

As a consequence of its small size, you need to fully extend the paper support to keep the documents from falling out of the feeder when you are scanning anything larger than a postcard.

The setup instructions are straightforward and easy to follow; however, the actual user's manual is available only as a PDF on the setup CD. The in-app help is very comprehensive, making the need to use the full-fledged manual rare.

the pop-up scanning menuScanning could hardly be easier. Most options are available via a right-click (control-click if you have a single button mouse) on the ScanSnap Manager icon in the dock. To easily and quickly scan with a predefined set of preferences, just load your paper and press the button on the ScanSnap, for true "one-button" scanning.

Fujitsu's published scan speeds are 8 letter-size, color, double-sided sheets per minute when powered by external AC adapter and 4 per minute when USB powered. These speeds are based on the ScanSnap being attached to a Mac with a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo and scan mode set to "Normal." On my 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo test system, I was able to scan 6 letter-size, color, double-sided sheets in just over a minute when USB powered and 10 letter-size, color, double-sided sheets (the maximum capacity of the sheet feeder) in an amazing 55 seconds when AC powered.

ScanSnap Quick MenuIf you have a mixture of pages, only some of which are printed both front and back, choosing "Duplex Scan" from the menu will capture the print on the back of the pages where it is present, and the software can automatically discard the blank pages from your final scan. After scanning, the Quick Menu pops up, allowing you to save the scan as a PDF, email it, print it, or send it to iPhoto.

4 Quality Options

ScanSnap Manager can be configured with any of four quality settings: Normal, Better, Best, and Excellent. The default "Normal" scan mode produced perfectly acceptable results. It is unlikely you would need to increase the resolution of your scans under typical household usage, unless scanning photos. At "Excellent," the scanner highlighted flaws in a 5x7 color photograph that I had not noticed previously and which I was only able to then see on the original by placing the photo under direct light and using a magnifying glass.

Image quality using each of the four quality settings.

File sizes at each of four quality settings
File sizes at each of the four quality settings.

Impressed with what I was seeing from the ScanSnap, I decided to put it head-to-head with my existing scanner, a Brother MFC8870DW, which is a behemoth of a multi-function machine including a scanner, printer, fax, and copier. The ScanSnap was both faster (markedly) and produced superior images at comparable resolution. The ScanSnap is now my primary scanner at home as well as on the road.

A Few Minor Drawbacks

While the ScanSnap is, overall, easily the most impressive scanner I have used to date, it is not without a few disadvantages. It is strictly sheet-fed. If you need a flatbed scanner, the ScanSnap is not for you.

The document feeder on the ScanSnap has a strict capacity of 10 sheets. I tried pushing the limits and did manage to get up to 16 sheets through once. However, the normally error-free ScanSnap began having occasional misfeeds with as few as 12 sheets in the feeder. The guide rails on the feeder are not very tall (so as to allow them to fold back flat onto the scanner when it is being carried around). The purposes of the guide rails are to hold the pages upright as they are being fed into the scanner so that they are straight when they are scanned. Loading too many pages into the feeder will cause them to spill over the sides of the guide rails and be pulled in askew. The scanner and software will, however, automatically de-skew all but the most severe misfeeds.

MacBook Air users may be out of luck because of that Mac's lone USB port. I had no success when I tried to plug both USB connections into my powered USB hub. My MacBook Pro would not recognize the ScanSnap until I moved the actual USB connection (as opposed to the power connection) directly to the Mac. Your only option appears to be using the AC power adapter - not a deal-breaker, but less convenient to be sure. It would be nice to be able to run the ScanSnap with only a single USB connection, but the fact that you can't is a shortcoming of USB, not the ScanSnap.

The only real gripe I had with the scanner is the fact that the pages are fed by two wheels that are spaced closely together in the middle of the paper path. It would be nice to have more wheels and have them spaced further across the paper path. This would help ensure fewer misfeeds and crooked pages.

If your scan volume is high, the ScanSnap is probably not for you either.

Designed for Macs

The ScanSnap and its bundled software are built for the Mac (that's what the "M" in the model number stands for). Unlike almost all other scanners, neither the hardware nor software are afterthoughts cobbled onto Windows software/hardware.

If your scanning volume is higher and you can get away without flatbed scanning and with a little less portability, Fujitsu also makes a Mac-specific desktop scanner, the ScanSnap S1500M. It boasts 20 pages per minute color scanning, a 50-page automatic document feeder, and comes with Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional. I hope to be able to review this unit in a future column.

The ScanSnap is low-end friendly, being fully compatible with OS X 10.3.9 and newer - and everything except for the Cardiris software is supported back to OS X 10.2.8. Specs call for a minimum 800 MHz G4 processor and 512 MB of RAM, with a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo and 1 GB of RAM recommended. I tested and got acceptable performance on a 450 MHz G4 Cube system with 512 MB of RAM and USB 1.1,* though it was noticeably slower than the 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo iMac with 1.5 GB of RAM that served as my primary test system.

Nearly Perfect

I don't often give a perfect 4 out of 4 rating on reviews, but the ScanSnap has earned it. I almost marked it down to 3.5 out of 4 because of the closely-spaced feed wheels. However, they only cause problems if you are feeding small pages and you either don't have the guide rails placed snugly against the sides of the pages or you overload the document feeder. In other words, it only breaks if you misuse it. That's hardly Fujitsu's fault.

You can find portable scanners cheaper than the ScanSnap, but then you have a cheap scanner. WIth power, quality, and portability, the ScanSnap S300M is a home run by Fujitsu. LEM

* USB 1.1 is supported, but you should expect scan speeds to be significantly diminished.

Purchase Links

  • The Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M is currently available from for $250.54 with free ground shipping.
  • The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M is currently available from for $424.99 with free ground shipping.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

Today's Links

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Open Link