NeatReceipts for Mac (NeatWorks) Review
February 24, 2009
Last year, in an attempt to throw some technology at the problem, I picked up a Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M. It’s a nifty auto-feed double sided scanner with a decent package of included applications. It helped tremendously, scanning in papers, OCRing them, and converting them to searchable .pdf files. It worked, but the task was still just sheer drudgery.
Enter NeatReceipts. I’d read several reviews, and it sounded nifty, but it comes packaged with a scanner, and I already had a scanner. However, they’ve recently introduced a “software only” version (NeatWorks) for people who already have a scanner like the Fujitsu. I had my doubts, but I ordered a copy.
This thing rocks!
Getting it working with the Fujitsu was fairly straightforward, although I did have to update the Fujitsu Scan Manager software to the current version. Once I did that, NeatWorks recognized the scanner immediately, and scanned documents dropped right into the NeatWorks inbox.
Inbox? Yep. The NeatWorks application is laid out much like iPhoto, iTunes, and Mail.app. Documents added go to the inbox, where you can sort and classify them into folders. It even has a smart folder feature that works much like smart playlists. Documents are either (um) documents, receipts, or contacts.
That’s where the magic lies, in fact.
With the ScanSnap, my workflow was “scan a document, wait, name the document, save the document, wait, lather, rinse repeat”.
With NeatWorks, I just scan, scan, scan. Everything ends up in the inbox, ready to be processed.
When a document hits the inbox, NeatWorks OCRs it, and takes its best shot at guessing info off the document for metadata. At first, this isn’t terribly accurate, but it improves as you go along.
Once you’re ready to start working with your scanned data, you can override the initial guess of “document” “receipt” or “contact” (business card), and click “Inspector” to get a close-up look of the scanned data. If you’ve changed document types, you can also click “re-analize” to have it run quickly back through the recognition pass.
At this point, for most of my receipts, NeatWorks had already done a fair job of identifying the Vendor, the Date, and the Amount. If it misses any, you can click and drag the appropriate field right off the scanned document into the proper metadata field. You can also drag (or type) in items like Sales Tax, Due Date, Sent Date, etc. You have full control over what fields are used, and they can include things like Payment Type, Category, Paid, Client, Project, etc.
Once I got the hang of it, it was amazingly fast — I processed 60 days worth of paper that had been accumulating on my desk in less than an hour, and that included time spent learning the application.
As a bonus, I dragged a year’s worth of scanned documents from ScanSnap into the inbox, and it processed them just fine. Within another 90 minutes, I had those documents all properly metadata’d and in the correct folders.
This thing is magic. I don’t know that it’ll actually get me organized, but it’s certainly the best $80 I’ve spent towards that goal ever. I’m sure there are a lot more features and tricks to learn, but just this much is a godsend.
I haven’t yet tried the “Contacts” feature, which promises to scan in business cards, grab all of the relevant information, and sync it to Address Book, but I’m guessing it’s brilliant as well. There are also provisions for exporting data to Quickbooks.
NeatWorks comes packaged with a little mobile scanner (about 10″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″) that’ll scan 3 – 4 receipts a minute for just under $200, as NeatReceipts for Mac. This looks like a great bargain if you don’t already have a suitable scanner. Alternatively, if you do, you can buy NeatWorks for just under $80.
They also offer a version with a desktop scanner (much like the Fujitsu), a version that has Microsoft Office integration built in, and Windows versions of all of the above as well as Mac.
Offhand, I wish I’d purchased the NeatReceipts package now, and I may go back and do it yet. The Fujitsu does well at processing piles of paper, but the small NeatReceipts scanner would be a lot handier for handling business cards and small receipts.