Listen up, true believers! Do you (like me) find yourself at the nexus of interests in gadgetry, collecting, and the artistic medium of comic books? Intrigued? If so, the IntelliScanner Comic Edition by Apparent may be your perfect storm.
Inside the Box
The packing was done very securely, with the contents encased in multiple layers of bubble-wrap. And what exactly were the contents? Well…an old-school-style metal lunchbox, of course. Holy retro lunch containers, Batman! Could there be a better presentation and storage container for a comic book inventory system?
Opening the lunch box, I was greeted by a tangle of red, spaghetti-like, funky, wavy, packaging…things. Once I’d removed the crinkly packing material and another layer of bubble wrap, the actual contents of the lunch box were surprisingly simple.
The contents consisted of a small ziplock bag with two sets bar code labels (examples and blank samples), a catalog booklet of Apparent products, a card with software activation codes and instructions on how to use them, an instruction booklet, a cable and of course the scanner itself.
Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s a closer look at the scanner:
Knowing a bit about hand-held product design myself, I found the physical design of the scanner to be acceptable, if not just a tad cumbersome. I suppose the handle itself could have been a bit more contoured to fit my palm and the activation button could be in a bit better position. Perhaps the whole assembly could have more of a “gun” shape, with a pistol-grip and trigger button (rather than having a “flat” cross-sectional shape in my palm), which might make a prolonged scanning session through an entire comic collection a bit more comfortable.
FYI, after I took the two pictures above, I plugged the cable into the bottom of the handle. The cable had an ethernet-type jack at one end (which plugged into the scanner handle) and standard USB on the other end (which plugged into my computer). Once installed, the ethernet-type jack stayed put securely and could not be removed.
The Software – Setup
While not particularly straightforward to get set up and running, I actually consider the software to be the true value of this product. I began by skimming the instruction booklet, which directed me to first plug the scanner into the computer. The instruction booklet also noted that for Mac users (which I am), “If your computer prompts you to set up a new keyboard, just close the window. This unnecessary dialog shouldn’t return.“ I did indeed see such a prompt, and was able to cancel past it, but I was left wondering why this would happen with a Mac, rather than with a PC. In all the peripherals I have installed on my iMac, I’ve never even been prompted about drivers, much less seen a message of this sort. Next I set about installing the software, which turned out to be a multi-step process. Per the instruction booklet, I directed my browser to the specified URL, which brought me to a page on the IntelliScanner web site to find the Mac OS X-compatible software, which I downloaded to my desktop. Launching the file opened a folder which contained a “Read Me First!” file and another folder called “IntelliScanner Software.” The ‘Read Me’ file instructed me to copy the entire ‘Intelliscanner Software’ folder to my Applications folder. I then launched a file called “IntelliScanner Dashboard,” which is the actual starting point for the IntelliScanner software. [FYI sidenote: Launching the Intelliscanner Desktop after upgrading to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard required me to install 'Rosetta' first.] I selected the Comics application and launched it.
Launching the Comics application for the first time brought up a dialog box that prompted me to enter the software activation code found on the small orange card mentioned above, which I did with no issues.
The Software – Use
With all of the above completed, it was time to start actually using the software. Once the activation code had been accepted, up popped the Comics application itself. It consisted of a toolbar with icons at the top and a spreadsheet-like workspace below.
I then clicked on the Add Series icon on the toolbar, which brought up a dialog box in which I could search for the title of a particular comic series. I entered “star wars legacy” into the Series Title Search field and clicked on the Search button and viola! It brought up the entire series of Star Wars: Legacy comics published to date, including the publisher, title, year the series originate, number of issues currently in the series and a thumbnail of the cover of the first issue! Impressive. The IntelliScanner website claims to use a database of more than 250,000 comics to pull this info in just a few seconds, and access to the database is free, with no renewal fees. Most impressive.
After successfully finding the series, I then clicked on the “Add” button and it reverted back to the Comics application, but with the Star Wars: Legacy series now added to my list. At this point, I could click either the Get Info or Edit Series icons on the toolbar and edit any of the series information that I choose from a separate window.
The next step was to click on the Add Issues icon to add the issue numbers of the comics in my collection from the Star Wars: Legacy series. For this example, I only own two issues, so entry was quick. Here was the result:
Similar to editing the series, I was able to click on the Edit icon and edit the issue information.
Next, on to the scanner, which is used to read the bar code on the front cover of a comic book. The software can then associate that bar code with the record of that issue in your list. Some comic books do not have a bar code printed on the front, and for those situations, the software can still assign a unique bar code to identify that issue (more on this later). I began by clicking on the Associate Bar Codes icon and then began scanning each issue. The scanner worked well, illuminating the target scanning area with a red light for a moment before emitting an audible beep to indicate that the bar code had been read. The bar code for each comic book was then associated with each respective record.
Next I clicked on the Comic Tags icon on the toolbar. This feature allows you to print a sheet that contains information such as the title, issue number and date the and the bar code.
The Comic Tag sheet is printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper and then folded in half and placed in the front of the issue’s storage bag, so that the bar code can be scanned through the bag whenever desired. For issues which do not have a bar code printed on the front (and some comic books do not, depending on where they are intended to be sold, etc), the software can still issue a unique bar code identifier.
Clicking on the Publish button brings up a window that allows you to publish your collection to a your own specific web page provided by IntelliScanner. You create an account and are assigned your own URL, which allows you to access your collection from any computer’s browser. It is also searchable, and of course you can give this URL to other collectors or anyone else.
Is there an app for that? you may ask. Of course there is. A related feature to the your own web page is the iPhone app. You simply punch in your unique collection URL into your iPhone’s Safari browser and it pulls up the page below, formatted for the iPhone. You can then bookmark it for quick access.
The next button on the toolbar–Statistics–gives you an overall summary of your entire collection by the numbers, which can be saved into various formats. This could be useful for dumping into a spreadsheet, if you were that kind of collector. And you know who you are. (Yes, this includes me).
Next up on the toolbar are the closely related Inventory and Location icons, which allow you to check your comic books in and out of your collection and keep track of their physical location by scanning them in and out. This is useful if you loan out, trade or sell issues. Finally is the Search icon, which is fairly self-explanatory.
There are several more features that I haven’t even touched on, like the ComicSaver, which saves cover art to your hard drive to use as the image source for a screen saver. Also, I’ve been focusing on physical comic books, because they make up my entire collection. However, another area that I didn’t even touch on is web comics, with another full suite of features to allow you to regularly pull in, track and read your favorite web comic subscriptions.
As I mentioned above, I think the real value in this product not in the scanner itself, but in the usefulness and number of features of the software. For me, the only negative worth mentioning was with respect to the scanner. I had expected that by just scanning the bar code of a comic book it would simply pull in all the relevant info for that issue, but as can be seen from above, the user must actually add the series first, then the issues and then associate the barcode to the issue. I suppose that it had to be set up this way due to comics that do not have a bar code printed on the front, but I still found it a bit disappointing. Still and all, I think this is a great product. One other notable: As can be seen from the initial IntelliScanner dashboard, there are several other applications besides Comics that allow you to keep track of many other types of items–movies, wine, inventory and so forth (some with their own types of scanners)–and the Comic Edition also includes the access code to IntelliScanner’s Media application. IntelliScanner Comic Edition fights a never-ending battle for fun, collecting and organization!
Features list (per the Intelliscanner website):
- ‘Smart’ barcode reader
- Comic management software (with access to database of 250,000+ comic books)
- Web comic reader
- Post collection online to free web service
- iPhone app
- Metal retro-style lunchbox storage container
- Comic cover art screen saver
- Bonus free Media management software
- PC or Mac compatible