Review: Camcard for iPhone

camcard-iconI'd been looking for an app that would allow me to scan and dispose of my array of business cards and digitally inject information directly into the Contacts app. There are several in the Apple App store, most of which are priced between £3 and £5 with mixed reviews. A couple of them have free trial versions, so I selected Camcard.

camcard-main-screenAll of these apps work the same in that you take a photo, the app scans it and then uses OCR to read the data.

The initial screen is clean and straightforward. You can place your name in the top 'stitched' rectangle. Touching this allows you to add your own card(s). Underneath this are the main options of take photo, select photo and card holder. Underneath this you can access settings and help. Camcard also provide (after free registration) the ability to backup all of your cards to their servers and also provide a web-based control panel giving you similar control of your cards through a web browser - useful if you don't have your phone with you. A last icon brings up a showcase of the company's other apps.

Adding a card

The process of adding a card is straightforward. Using one of the first two main options you can either take a photo using the phone's camera or from the camera roll. When taking a photo of the card it provides you with guides and the ability to enable/disable the flash. You can also put it into batch mode to process multiple cards. Simply line up the card within the guides and take the snap. Camcard will then process the card in about 5 seconds. It uses OCR and logic to intelligently work out which each field should be, however this proved to be a little hit and miss. I'd say that it got the field placement right only about 50% of the time, requiring manual editing of the card. However, the OCR itself was pretty accurate, even with small text - I'd put that at around 90%.

camcard-edit

The manual editing screen is pretty straightforward, not dissimilar to editing a contact within the standard iPhone contacts app. You can also snap the back of the card, but there's no ability for the app to process this information as well - it just stores a static image alongside the front.

I found that most cards needed some element of editing - whether it was correcting an OCR issue or, most often, reallocating data from an incorrectly assigned field to the correct one. This editing can generally be identified and completely quickly, but just bear in mind that for every card you will have to check that the data is correct, and that for many further editing will be required. From scanning around 60 cards I got this down to anywhere between 10 seconds for checking to up to around a minute depending on how much editing was required. You'll get to know pretty quickly what cards it considers as non standard and may have issues with. One other piece of advice - photograph the cards in a well-lit area - that will make a lot of difference to the OCR.

Once you've finished editing your card you can save it to Camcard's database, your iPhone Contacts address book or both. The fact that you can configure a standard action or get the app to prompt you each time is a welcome inclusion - I have a lot of cards that I want to keep but don't necessarily want to clutter up my Outlook contacts database! Once saved you're returned to the front screen.

camcard-view-cardsCard directory

Once you've built your database of cards they are displayed in a pretty standard scrollable list. You can password protect access to this area, which is a sensible precaution to take.You can create a series of groups, such as 'business' and 'personal', with each group name being shown on the left. As the buttons are very small you can only have 5 letters per line across two lines shown, so choose your group names carefully!Scrolling your finger down the right of the list allows quick A-Z scrolling. Touching a card image will bring up an image of the front of the card, with a series of action icons underneath. You can instigate a call, SMS or email, find them on a map, view their website and their linkedin profile, assuming that all relevant fields are completed. A further menu bar at the bottom of the page allows editing, rotation or deletion. Cards can be shared by email, SMS or QR code. When you click on email, for example, it'll open the mail client, populate the email with all of the stored electronic data and insert an image of the card (front and back if available) underneath. Touching the rotate icon top right of the page will either display the rear of the card or allow you to take a picture for inclusion. It'd be nice to see the inclusion of a vCard attachment as well as the ability to export all of your data to Excel or in CSV format.

Camcard currently supports 12 European languages e.g. it'll recognise local language characters such as those found in Germany, Sweden etc, which makes it a really useful tool for the international traveller.

Users can also register for a free account at camcard.com. Once registration is complete they can sync all of their card information with Camcard's servers (and therefore sync data back to other devices), which is very useful. Camcard.com also offers many of the editing facilities available within the app itself, which is a nice touch although you can't add new cards.

Summary.

Over the course of the last few weeks I found myself showing this app to friends and colleagues as one of the more impressive business tools in my iPhone arsenal. It is by no means cheap in comparison to many apps (I know, I know, it's under a fiver - that's a prawn sandwich and a latté) but it is certainly fit for purpose, and there is at least a trial version available so that you can check that it'll work for you. I tested this on an iPhone 4 - perhaps the higher res camera and more processing grunt of a newer model could accelerate the scanning process and improve the accuracy, but for those willing to compromise a little time in favour of being able to consign their business cards to the recycling I think it's a price many will be willing to pay. Abilities such as syncing cards across devices and emailing images of the card are useful, but a few extra features such as vCard and bulk data export would really finish this app off.

Camcard is available for both iPhone and Android and is priced at £4.99

myb_4star