TUAW Review: NEAT Receipts for Mac Advance ReleaseA few weeks ago, the NEAT Receipts team announced an Advance Release of their receipt scanning and text recognition package for Mac. A few days later, FedEx delivered a small box containing the shipping product, and I’ve been feeding NEAT Receipts a steady diet of receipts and any other paper I can get my hands on ever since.
While the $179 Advance Release doesn’t have the full functionality of the Windows version, such as a business card module or the ability to export receipt information to financial software, it is a very good first attempt at a Mac product. The scanner is a tiny piece of sculpture that can be easily carried along on business trips to capture expense information - it’s that small and light.
As you have probably surmised, NEAT Receipts for Mac Advance Release is more than just a slim little scanner; it’s also a powerful and adaptive piece of Mac software that performs intelligent optical character recognition and automates the process of moving receipt information from paper to digital format. Read on for the full review and be sure to check out the gallery below for photos and screenshots.
Installing and launching
The NEAT Receipts software must be installed prior to attaching the scanner for the first time, and it comes in a standard Mac .dmg file. Installed, the application takes up 237 MB of hard drive real estate. As soon as the software installation is complete, your Mac reboots.
Immediately after launching the software for the first time, I was notified that a newer version was available. Instead of entering the license key, I shut down the installation and let Firefox download the 122.2 MB updater. The update required yet another restart, which was a bit annoying - what do they think this is, a Windows application?
Upon launching the updated application, I was greeted with a very neat and clean Welcome screen (see gallery for a screenshot). According to the Getting Started pamphlet, it was time to connect the scanner and calibrate it. The scanner is a tiny device, only 10.8″ x 1.6″ x 1.3″ (27.4 cm x 4.1 cm x 3.3 cm) in size, with its own carrying bag — a very nice touch. It’s also very lightweight, weighing in at a svelte 10.6 ounces (300 grams). NEAT Receipts requests that you calibrate the scanner before using it, and they include a calibration card to get everything aligned properly.
The first couple of receipts I scanned were from OfficeMax and had fairly high contrast, so I expected them to scan well and was not disappointed. The receipts were scanned in about 10 seconds each, followed by a 20-30 second recognition sequence. When that was done, I had not only a fairly decent scan of the receipts, but NEAT Receipts had filled in information about the vendor, date of purchase, amount, and payment type (i.e., Visa, cash, check, etc…) in a small form on the right side of the screen. The receipts didn’t have a field called “Sales Tax”, so that field wasn’t filled in. However, when I double-clicked the image, I found that I could drag the Tax line of the receipt image to the Sales Tax field to populate it. In fact, every line of text that had been recognized was highlighted on the image in a light yellowish-orange tint, and each one could be individually dragged to the form if I needed the information. Very cool.
I went to my completely unorganized receipt drawer and grabbed a handful of receipts to scan. Many of these receipts were crumpled from living in my wallet, some had faded, some were in color (movie ticket receipts), and they were from a variety of vendors. NEAT Receipts surprised me in many cases with its accuracy and uncanny ability to “know” what category of vendor a receipt belonged to. For instance, when I scanned in a receipt from Red Robin (a burger chain), the category was automatically set to Meals/Restaurant.
Next, I started feeding in receipts that were hard for me to read. For instance, one was about two months old and quite faded, but the results were still fairly good. While it didn’t bring in the name of the restaurant automatically, it was able to let me drag what it thought was LiV Ricci’s (actually Lil’ Ricci’s) into the Vendor slot of the data page and correct it. Not bad!
Did it recognize 100% of the receipts? No. The receipts that weren’t recognized were usually so badly crumpled, ripped, and faded that I could barely read them, so it’s unlikely that any optical character recognition (OCR) software would do any better.
I tend to like products that are well-designed and simple to use, and NEAT Receipts for Mac Advance Release scores high on both counts. I’ll be curious to see the updated software that will arrive with the “full release” to see what new features and capabilities this device gains.
Would I buy one? Yep. I currently have a flatbed scanner that I use for assorted purposes, but it doesn’t provide the same utility or ease of use that I’ve seen with NEAT Receipts for Mac. It’s also not something that I can throw into my computer bag when I’m off on one of my business trips. I’ve already told my spouse that this is something we could use to finally control the tsunami of paperwork that we’re constantly battling