Who this is for
The reason for buying a portable document scanner is fairly straightforward. If you have stacks of documents and receipts filling up filing cabinets or cluttering your desk, converting them to digital documents not only frees up physical space, it makes your information much easier to find. On both Windows computers and Macs you can do word searches that include the contents of searchable PDF files, instead of having to recall a PDF's obscure filename.
Search capability aside, another benefit of digitizing your documents is simply that they won't get lost or inadvertently thrown away in a flurry of spring cleaning. Warranties and receipts for appliances can be crucial if they ever need to be repaired. And remember that the IRS requires you to keep tax records for a full seven years after the filing date.
Even if you start out with a big backlog of documents to scan, chances are you won't always need to scan on a daily basis. What makes portable scanners attractive is that they're designed to fold down into an even more compact form when not in use.
How we picked and tested
Our latest round of scanner testing included the Epson ES-300W, ES-200, FastFoto FF-640, and Fujitsu S1300i. Photo: Amadou Diallo
The must-have feature of any document scanner is the ability to save scans as searchable PDFs. To do this, scanners rely on OCR software to "read" the document and convert its text so you can search and copy/paste just as you would with any other PDF file. Whether the scanner maker uses its own OCR engine or licenses one from a third party, a high accuracy rate is crucial. Speed is also important so you can quickly process your documents. And unless you'll use a scanner every day, it's nice to have a unit that folds down into a more compact form when not in use.
After searching sites of major retailers, we found over 100 scanners. We winnowed this list by eliminating bulky desktop models, simplex scanners, those without an automatic document feeder, and models that work only on Windows machines. You can read more about what we tested and what didn't make the cut in our full guide.
For our in-house comparisons we focused on text accuracy, speed, and software usability. We ran dozens of test pages, business documents, tax forms, receipts, business cards, and photographs through the scanners to see how they measured up. For our full testing procedures, see our full guide.
Photo: Michael Hession
The Epson ES-300W offers just about everything we could want in a portable document scanner, making it an easy recommendation as the best choice for digitizing your analog paper trail. In our tests it (along with its sister model, the ES-200) delivered the fastest scans we've seen from a portable unit, with flawless text recognition with fonts as small as 6 points when using the bundled ABBYY software. Scan speeds were virtually identical under both USB and AC power, making the included power brick largely unnecessary unless you have an older laptop fitted with USB 2 ports (USB 3 is required for supplying power). Even more impressively, there was no speed penalty when scanning over Wi-Fi versus a USB connection on computers, phones, and tablets (paired with a free iOS or Android app). This makes it more future-proof as mobile-only workflows gain popularity, and as computer makers transition from USB 3 to USB-C while reducing the overall quantity and variety of ports in general. The Wi-Fi connection worked without any issues, save an installation snafu we talk about in our full guide. The ES-300W isn't the lightest portable unit we tested (due to its battery) but is still small enough to easily fit in a shoulder bag or carry-on.
Photo: Michael Hession
If you're always able to connect to a computer via USB, Wi-Fi and battery power will be of little use. If that's the case, you can save yourself about $50 (at the time of this writing) and buy the Epson ES-200. It lacks a battery and Wi-Fi, but is otherwise identical in both features and performance to our top pick. The units are so similar that they even share the same user manual. The ES-200's lack of a battery does make it lighter by half a pound and shorter by half an inch than our top pick, a consideration if packable size is your number-one priority.
For photo scanning
Photo: Michael Hession
If you're looking for a document scanner that can also accept photos without bending and crumpling them while scanning, we recommend the Epson FastFoto FF-640. In addition to being a competent document scanner, it can accurately scan photos without damaging them thanks to a reconfigured scan head and roller design that doesn't bend documents as they pass through the scanner. With a maximum resolution of 600 dpi, it can convert a 4-by-6 photograph into a roughly 8.5-megapixel JPEG in 3 to 4 seconds. It's a welcome alternative if you have shoeboxes of family photos taking up space in your closet or collecting dust under your bed and you don't want to send them out to be scanned professionally. However, it costs more and is significantly larger than any document-only portable scanner.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.