Wednesday, April 29, 2015

First impressions of HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow 7500

Update 2016-08-27:  Scanner is still going strong.  I have had zero issues with it aside from it losing USB communications every so often, which requires it to be unplugged to fix it.  I dive under my desk about once a month to do this.  Keep this in mind and if you see this issue, report it immediately to HP to try and get it fixed. 

As a workaround, I plan to eventually get another Kankun Smart Plug to allow me to reset it   remotely.  But I'm lazy and haven't bothered yet.


I'm just coming off a very disappointing experience with two Canon imageFormula DR-F120 scanners, so bear that in mind, as it's bound to color my opinion.

Also, I didn't read the manual until after I'd figured it all out.  More fun that way.... ;-)  No, actually, it was more a test of how intuitive it all is.

If the Canon is a butler, the HP is a draft horse.  It's big, slightly imposing, somewhat handsome but not pretty, and works like all get out.  It also sits there and nickers every few minutes, so you'd better remember to put it away when your done with it.  (I'll explain that below.)

The HP machine is bigger than the Canon, but that's to be expected since it is a legal-size flatbed.  It is fairly tall, and therefore fairly noticeable sitting on the desk; I expect I will learn to ignore it in time.

It's unfortunately not as cool and sleek looking, partially because the case is about 40% gray, while the Canon is all black.  (Not a biggie, but style matters when you spend this much money.)  I suppose it's aimed at offices more than anything and they wanted it to look like a fax or copier - blend in with the business-grey crowd, as it were.  Home users are unlikely to want to afford this thing.

The shiny black front is a fingerprint magnet.  Even the shiny silver buttons collect prints.  Prepare to clean often.

Software installation is fine, although I still laugh at the reviewer who complained that the Canon software installation was "clunky".  The HP installation is no different, dude - in fact, I don't think ANY of the scanners are going to be any different in this respect. It's a silly comment to make.

Beware when first installing, though - at some point, the HP installer decided my computer had to reboot right now.  Maybe I hit something accidentally (I was typing) but it force-closed all my applications and I lost work, even though I hit "Cancel" on multiple applications once the reboot started.  You may want to tidy up your stuff before running the install, in case my experience was not unique.

The power and USB plugs are nicely hidden under the unit, but this makes it pretty difficult to plug them in.  Be prepared to plug them in to the scanner first with the scanner on a large workbench or the floor.  There are warnings on the back about tilting the scanner the wrong way, so you can't even stand it on end or flip it over to plug the cables in.

It sort of looks neat, but honestly HP - does it matter so much that you have to make plugging in the cables such an awkward hassle?  I was super lucky to get them correctly oriented on the first try, but working blind like this is a recipe for frustration.

On the other hand, the software apparently forgives you if you plug in the scanner before installing the CD.  (Note:  Don't do this. Ever.)

The installation program closed with nary a word as to what to do, and it took me a second to notice the new icons on my extremely cluttered desktop.  There is a "Tools" program, which  configures the scanner; a "Document Scan" program, which scans (I guess) and there is a "Document Copy" which apparently makes it work like a copier.

The setup workflow is that you create your profiles in the "Document Scan" utility, then load them into the scanner with the "Tools" program.  "Tools" deals with everything hardware, while "Scan" deals with everything software.   So it's not quite so weird as it might initially seem.

Unlike the Canon, the lid of the HP stays open when you raise it (yay!).  Another thing that you'd think Canon would get right, but didn't.

However, the black button on the right of the scanner isn't the power button, as you think it is - the power button is way over on the opposite side of the machine (boo!).  To be fair, it was just hidden on my particular desk space due to a small pen box, and it is clearly marked with the power symbol.  I can sort of see why they put a sleep button on but it it still seems slightly redundant.

 The "1" and "2" buttons also took a bit of puzzling since they're not programmable.  After a second, I realized that you pressed the "1" to do single-sided scanning, and "2" for double-sided scanning.  Either one initiates the profile currently selected on the LCD.  (This is in the manual, so RTFM!)

The LCD is nice, but only shows about 13 characters.  Most profile names will be cut off.  It auto-scrolls after sec, but you may still have to wait to see if you've got the right profile.  Knowing this, you can alter the names to make them shorter; I suppose numbering them would help.

You can also (obviously) scan from the PC software.  You would probably only need to do this for something unusual.

The Tools utility lets you set all of the scanner settings, like sleep, power-off, etc.  The unit can e-mail or notify you when maintenance is due and can keep a maintenance log, plus there is a field for an "asset number".  All useful office-y type things.

The system is obviously intended to be scanner-centric, and seems set up such that you can make the scanner itself more or less idiot proof.

There are options for copying settings from an existing profile to a new one, and for exporting profiles - the latter for transferring settings between team members and/or from one PC to another.  Makes setting up several similar profiles very fast, even for a larger group.

The scanning/profiles software, however, is more complex, and lacks the big-button nice-picture friendliness of the Canon software.  So you're not going to be able to teach Grandma the PC side.

 On the plus side, you can control everything you'd ever want to control and then some.  So doubleplusgood for the power user, once you learn your way around.

It's not hard, but some experimentation regarding file naming options, destinations and such is in order.  Some options may not be fully straightforward.

I realized fairly late that the color dropout feature will be useful for things like school newsletters, which are often printed on various colors of paper.  But I haven't tried it yet.

After you've fooled with the settings and such, it is possible to turn off the annoyances such as thumbnail previews, automatic file naming, and so forth, and just get the thing to ask you for a file name each time.  That seems to be what the majority of people want, myself included (though I could be wrong and maybe people really do scan to Evernote?).

The software as installed does have quirks, though:

-   The "blank edges" setting is pretty aggressive, and is set to 1" by default! You might easily end up with fat white borders running into your text.  You will think the scanner isn't scanning the whole page!  Easy fix once you realize what happened.  Better to think of it as masking (like a picture frame) rather than "edge".

-  Blank page detection is not on by default; neither is auto-straighten.

-  It won't let you select a save-to folder on the fly - it always has to go to the destination that is pre-defined in the profile.  Not unusual, but still, it would have been better to have the option to redefine it job by job.

-  You can send the document to multiple destinations at once.  So if you have two directories listed in the profile, it will ask (or try) to put the scan in both places.

This is handy if you need to, say, email and store the same document, but can be confusing if the scanner keeps asking you for a destination you thought you already specified.

To fix, remove all folder destinations from the directory list except the one you want.

-  If you type in anything that doesn't include an automatically generated timestamp or number counter, you get this stupid "Your filename may not be unique" warning.  This is annoying and unnecessary, since it already prompts you if a file already exists with that name.

Yes, OK, you can also set it to auto-overwrite instead.  But the point is that a dialog after every scan saying your file name doesn't pass muster is silly.

Again, maybe a sop to the not-tech-savvy office crowd, but anyone bright enough to set this thing up is going to realize the probability of non-unique file names and deal with it accordingly.  You don't need to be told EVERY time, but it can't be turned off (that I can see).

-  It's easy for the "Save As" dialog to get lost behind other windows.  Click the system tray icon to find it again.

After a few cautious test pages, the unit didn't seem to have any problems with scanning.  So for yucks I stuffed a 97-page document in it that I'd just printed out and scanned it single-sided, color, 300 dpi, to searchable PDF.  It ate it all in like sixty seconds.  Sweeet.

It did take a little longer to process the PDF, to be fair, but that happens in the background and is by no means slow, even on color.  The software does not monopolize the machine, and you can write emails, reports and blog entries like this one both while it scans and while it does OCR magic.

The result was near perfect, or at least as close as you could expect.  No obviously skewed pages, artifacts or whatnot.  (Very small black text was ever-so-slightly fuzzy, which is what you might expect when you scan B&W in color, but that's operator error, not scanner.)

A test scan in 600 dpi color was slower - but not what I call slow - and pretty damn good, IMHO.  B&W was faster but still (obviously) slower than 300 dpi.
I did see it really, really slowed down after about 60 pages - I expect it ran out of memory or something.  (Either that or it decided it was in for the long haul anyway, might as well take it easy.)

It also stops every once in a while, presumably to offload pages to the PC.  But it will keep going reliably nonetheless, meaning you don't have to worry about it - just keep writing your blog, it will get there.

The same slowdown happened at about page 60 when doing the PDF OCR step, too, probably meaning the scanner holds about 100 pages in memory and has to offload the rest.

I then did a 150 page document.  The input tray doesn't hold that much, but the unit doesn't seem to mind if you jam new pages underneath the existing stack in the ADF.  The output tray seems to hold more than 150 pages no problem.

There is a lag when you push a scanning button, as it takes a few seconds to load the driver on the PC.  Just enough to make you wonder if the scanner "missed" the button press.  You get used to it.

I haven't tried duplex color much yet for lack of a fat document to test it on.  Early indications with a few sheets are the scanning/feeding speed is the same for simplex and duplex.  A few sheets are done so fast you wonder what the hell happened, as the slowest part of the process is you typing in the destination file name.

Action shots:  300 dpi B&W simplex and 600 dpi B&W simplex.  (No color, sorry).

For 417 pages of regular, relatively pristine paper (there's a counter), I didn't have any misfeeds, double-feeds or jams.  Not even a hint.  Seems HP has managed what Canon couldn't.

However, the challenge is not regular pages.  On the first try with a mixed batch of receipts and paper, it did "not-feed" a receipt, but that was because the receipt had curled and was jammed up against the edge of the ADF, preventing it from entering.  The scanner handled this pretty gracefully - there was no buzzing, grinding or other nasty noises.

When I did get the receipts to feed (second try, after flattening), I was almost shocked to see the scanner had not only straightened the receipts perfectly - an impressive feat in and of itself - but it had adjusted the PDF pages down to the size of the receipt itself.  It wasn't like a photocopy of the receipt on 8.5x11 paper - it was properly sized and proportioned for the >actual< receipt, but in the PDF.  These are both pretty impressive tricks.

A challenge packet made up of letters, receipts, previously folded invoices and such fed through with little trouble.  One partially crumpled page was crumpled slightly differently, and one page holding a diagram didn't straighten.  But no bad feeds or other issues.

I don't have any really dog-eared pages, so I haven't tried them yet.

The unit does make noticeable noise.  The Canon and my old Fujitsu were pretty quiet while feeding, but not this puppy.  Fortunately, it's not obtrusive, but it ain't silent either.  Workhorse, not butler, but a well-behaved workhorse.  You will not at all mind it when you're using it, but if somebody close to you is using it a lot, the noise may become distracting.

Some things that seemed odd until I figured them out:

 -  The scanner feels the need to move the internal flatbed scanning head around every few minutes while active - hence the "nickers" comment above.  It moves about a few mm and the scanning lamp flickers - you can open the lid and see it happening.  You have to sleep it to get it to fully shut up, which is probably one reason why sleep mode is there.

It's strange and not always consistent.  For the first day, it would nicker constantly.  After I realized I could open the lid and see it, I tried to film the unit doing this, but then it got camera-shy.  Opening and re-closing the lid seems to stop it from nickering for a short while.  I've never seen anything like this and can only guess (in an educated way) as to what this behavior is for.

-  You can set it to automatically sleep after 15 min, or never, but nothing else. 

-  You can set it to automatically power off between 16 minutes (yes, 16, not a typo) and 5 hours.  There is, however, no way to automatically power on.  I suppose keeping it in sleep mode permanently is the solution for both the power-on time and the 'nickering'.

-  It does take about 15 seconds to power on / get ready, and makes a bit of noise doing so. Most scanners do not take quite so much time, nor do they whir and grumble while doing it.  Sleep mode wake is nearly instant.

-  If powered off, it does not wake up when a document is placed into the feeder.  It will, however, awaken from sleep mode upon document loading. 

-  Pressing anything but the power button does not cause the unit to power on.  When it's off, it's off.  I'm not sure exactly why this exists - maybe to save maximum electricity?

So the moral here is: If you work anytime, never fully turn it off.  Just use the sleep mode.  If you work 9-to-5, turn it on in the morning, sleep it all day, and turn it off in the evening (or let it auto-off after a while).

Overall this unit seems great.  Takes a bit of setup, but that's not a bad thing.

Once set up, it's easy to operate with little to no PC-side intervention.  Just tell it what to do and it does it, quickly and efficiently.

Unlike the butler, you'll need to tell it to get going, but once it does, it'll make short work out of nearly anything you can throw at it.

Plus, it won't eat the paper.  And that's a good thing.

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