The Xcanex: a better book digitizer

The Xcanex: a better book digitizer

Well, I got a chance today to do some experimenting with my new

piQx Xcanex Portable Book and Document Scanner (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I’ve digitized entire public domain books before in my work as the Education Director for a non-profit…and it was a lot of work. It could certainly take many hours to do a single book on a flatbed scanner.

That’s, in part, because I didn’t want to destroy the books. Ripping them apart and feeding them into a scanner would have been simple, but part of what I want to do is preserve the paperbooks.

This new device has a very different technique…and it works!

They’ve done a lot of thinking about it.

It works more like a digital camera. It comes with a solid stand, or you can attach it to a laptop (I did the former).

It has a built-in light, and a scanpad (something on which to put the object being scanned).

I would say the interface could be more clearly labeled: it’s not obvious what icon does what. They do, though, give you a manual and there are videos.

There is a learning curve to it…just getting the book positioned correctly, that sort of thing. It’s not that hard, though: there is a nice preview screen on your computer, and I figured it out in a few tries.

How long does it take to finish a page?

Oh…ten seconds or so.

That’s much faster than a flatbed!

You can save the pictures into a single file.

You can take the pictures by doing all of the pages on one side first (all the left pages) and then all the pictures on the other side (just the right pages). It puts them all in order for you. Alternatively, and I tried this, you can take pictures of two pages at once! That, of course, cuts the scanning time roughly in half.

It comes with the AABBYY FineReader Engine 10 OCR. That’s something that converts the words in the scan into text.

While replica books are nice, I’d really like to be able to work the text…find it, copy it easily, and so on.

Does it work?

I’d say yes, quite well, although there were a few problems. I suspect that is in part due to the way I was placing the book for the scan. I probably should flatten the book a bit more (not enough to break the spine, of course). You can hold it with your fingers: one cool feature is that it can digitally remove your fingers!

Here’s a selection…remember, this is one of my first times trying it, and it is with a book being opened to two pages (I think doing one page at a time will give better results:

Something hidden, go and find it. Go
A nd look behind the ranges …
Something lost behind the ranges,
Lost and waiting for you. Go!
YOUNG EXPLORER—he was all of twenty-
five years old—ended once and for all 2,500
years of argument about whether a mysterious, huge man-
like monster lived in Africa. The young man ended (he
quarreling by proving that the animal was real.. He found
it. He put a stop to two-and-one-half thousand years of
bickering about whether a “wild, hairy man” existed or not
by proving that one did. He walked right up to it.
Someone had to be sent to track down the unknown crea-
ture. A skull, completely unknown and unidentifiable, had
reached Philadelphia and Boston. Its skeleton had readied
— and startled — the Royal College of Surgeons in Lon-
don. When another skeleton reached Philadelphia, it was
decided that a search for the animal should begin without
delay, and Paul du Chaillu was at hand. It was 1854.
Paul du Chaillu, a French boy who had become an Amer-
ican citizen, was sent out to Africa to look for the unknown
monster by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.
Paul’s father had been a trader in Africa, and as a small boy
Paul had spent some time on the continent.


This, by the way, is from a book I believe to be in the public domain (having researched it at the Copyright Office’s webpage). I’ve written about the book (by Gardner Soule) here:

A book that changed my life: The Maybe Monsters

I copied it into an e-mail program to send it, then copied it again and pasted here. The lines break in the book the way they do here, except that a full line of the book may not fit above. In other words, there does appear to be a manual line break in my OCR’d text at the end of each line in the book. That would pretty easy to fix in, say, Microsoft Word.

The place right at the beginning where it has a caret (“^”) was a drop cap in the book…there was a large letter “A” which started a few lines of the paragraph. No surprise to me that it didn’t figure that out.

The “The young man ended (he quarreling…” should have been “The young man ended the quarreling…”

Mostly this is impressive! I added the bolding, by the way, to make it look better in the blog.

Saving it as a replica, it would simply look good and include the images from the book.

This device can do a number of things, including serving as a webcam and a videocamera.

I definitely need to work with it more, but this is as close to a “magic book machine” as I’ve seen so far…by leaps and bounds.

You can have the Xcanex automatically take a picture of the page when you stop moving it.

You can also set it to take a picture every five seconds. That might be a challenge to get things in place at the right time, but I think I could do it.

Overall, I’d recommend it (already) for people who want to digitize books.

One word of caution on that. No question, this could be used for illegal purposes, infringing on someone else’s copyright. If you used it to scan an in-copyright book and sold it on the internet, you’d be a pirate.

It’s a little fuzzier to me if you copy an in-copyright book for your own use. I fully expect that to be found to be legal at some point (similar to using a DVR…Digital Video Recorder…to watch a program later). To my knowledge, though, that case law does not exist at this point.

I have mentioned the price yet. Right now, in the USA, it’s $269.11. It’s Prime eligible, so I didn’t pay anything additional for two-day shipping.

Is that worth it?

That’s going to depend on your use case. 🙂

If you used it to copy books, and then sold them or even just got them out of your house, that could make up for it.

I say “get them out of your house”, because you are paying to keep books there. We have a floor-to-ceiling library, so it’s more obvious for us. You are likely either

  • paying rent for the space the bookshelves/boxes are taking up
  • paying property tax for the space the bookshelves/boxes are taking up

Another possibility (which I may do) is to scan public domain books, add additional material which both creates a new copyright and makes them acceptable to Amazon, and then you could sell them there.

That would be entirely legal…if they are in the public domain (not under copyright protection.

Oh, and the Xcanex can also be used for magazines, pictures, newspaper clippings, business cards…all sorts of things.

I may suggest to the non-profit for which I volunteered that they try to get one: Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaigns might work well.

There may be better devices in the future…but there are books dying now. Xcanex may help save them.

Do you have other questions about the Xcanex? Have you used one yourself? Do you know of an alternative scanner you like? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.


* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


6 Responses to “The Xcanex: a better book digitizer”

  1. jasonecox Says:

    This looks like an interesting device, once they get Mac support. Since it was announced, I’ve considered getting the ScanSnap SV-600
    Amazon link:

    But it costs twice what yours does. It looks a bit more sophisticated, though, and my experience with ScanSnaps (I have an S1500M) is fantastic. They are super easy to integrate with Evernote or the other paperless office options. Also, the page distortion correction feature and automatic page-turn detection could make a huge difference in speed and quality of the book scanning and text recognition accuracy.

    I love that you’re looking at book preservation. That’s definitely a huge benefit.

    My main applications for use for the SV-600 are/would be:
    1. Archiving my rather huge collection of magazines/journals, many of which are too big to fit on standard flatbed scanners and all of which would take too long to try to do it anyway. Also, the ScanSnap 1500M will only go up to 8.5″ wide.
    2. This would allow 2 major advantages over other options:
    a. You don’t have to destroy the original so it can be kept for reference.
    b. The resulting PDF version is SEARCHABLE!!!! So if I’m looking for an article in Photoshop User or Fine Woodworking, I can search for specific terms in Evernote or Spotlight and not have to spend hours searching tables of content.
    3. I have a number of old books that I wouldn’t mind having access to digitally, but would never share. Lately I’ve noticed I rarely consider any of my p-books for reading because of the convenience of the Kindle

    A couple of questions for you:
    1. Have you tried other text recognition (OCR) software like that built into Evernote or Acrobat pro?
    2. How is the sharpness in the output?
    3. What is the legality of digitally archiving for personal use?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, jasonecox!

      Those are good reasons. 🙂

      As to your questions:

      1. Actually, the best I’ve used so far is built into my Galaxy S4. Unfortunately, you can’t do a lot with it at once, but for a single page, it works very well. I’ve used OmniPage…at this point, I’d say that the Xcanex is better than OmniPage.

      2. Looks great! There are sample scans here:

      Of course, how those look will depend partly on the device on which you view them.

      3. Aye, there’s the rub. 🙂 Unless it’s been stated otherwise, I always feel the safest thing is to assume that you should contact the copyright holder first for something not in the public domain. There are some Fair Use rules which are pretty consistent…for example, the ability to quote a small portion of a much larger work when reviewing. However, copyright law is notoriously fuzzy: they don’t give you a percentage or a number of words, or anything like that. I assume you are in the USA, by the way. Here’s a Copyright Office document on Fair Use:

      Here’s the key part:


      Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

      * The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
      * The nature of the copyrighted work
      * The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
      * The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work


      Personal use fits nicely into rule 1 and rule 4. However, all four rules have to be met. If you copied an entire book, you would fall afoul of rule 3.

      That said, it was decided that using a VCR (videorecorder) to “timeshift” a program was Fair Use. We need that kind of decision to be sure it’s okay, although many people will assure you it is.

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