8 business card apps for smartphones: Scan 'em and store 'em

8 business card apps for smartphones: Scan 'em and store 'em

If you're like me, here's what happens after a business event: You collect a pocket full of business cards, but never have a chance to enter the pile of cards into your contacts. A week later, you need to get back to one of the contacts and have to start searching through the piles. Isn't there a better way?

Turns out that yes, there is. Rather than muddle through the manual labor of typing in each card's contact info, let your smartphone do the heavy lifting for you. Business card scanning apps take your cell phone's rear-facing camera and put it to work as a scanner. These apps typically take a photograph of the card and perform optical character recognition (OCR) on the image to translate the contents to editable text. They then add that info to the app's own database, to your smartphone's contacts listing or both. Most of these apps will also retain the original image for reference.

We tested seven apps that are available on both Android and iOS, and looked at both the free and paid versions where available.  (An eighth app, FoxCard, is a popular newer addition, but it hasn't been tested like the other seven.) I used a set of 12 business cards chosen specifically to "torture test" the capabilities of the apps, including cards with high visual design or glossy finishes; one with white text on a dark background; and several international cards (from Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan and Portugal).

I performed most of the tests using a Samsung Galaxy S4 Android smartphone. However, because the interfaces of Android and iOS apps often aren't similar, I tried some with an Apple iPhone 4 and an iPad as well.

Another caveat: Not only can Android and iOS versions of the apps differ, but there are dedicated tablet versions of some apps. In some cases you might get extras -- for example, ScanBizCard's HD Business Card Reader costs $9.99 on iOS and also includes a year of the company's WebSync service, which normally costs $10; as of this writing, WebSync was not included with the version for Android devices.

As always, the trick lies in picking the right app to do the job.

ABBYY Business Card Reader

Android: Free version; $14.99 full version

iOS: $39.99 full version

ABBYY has been being doing optical character recognition software for years on the Windows side. So it comes as no surprise that the company's Business Card Reader software is among the best options available for iOS or Android -- especially if you want a robust app with support for Salesforce exports.

ABBYY Business Card Reader
ABBYY Business Card Reader Click to view larger image

The free version is severely limited: It will save only the name and one phone number for a given contact. That makes the free version good only for vetting -- if you like the app, then skip right to the paid version. For iOS users, a Professional version is also available, which allows unlimited data export to the Salesforce CRM (users of the regular versions need to buy a separate subscription for that feature).

From the start, I found ABBYY had one of more pleasing and colorful interfaces among the apps tested here; for example, it is the only one that can rotate to landscape, should you prefer. Your options are clearly delineated with clean graphics and text is quite readable. You can have up to three of the app's 21 languages enabled at any given time, which is convenient.

To capture a card, simply line up its edges using the on-screen guides and snap your photo. The software controls your camera's autofocus and captures the card, puts it through an OCR process, then gives you a chance to edit the resulting text. You can see a small window of the relevant scan area for a given field, which makes edits simpler.

Test results

My experience with the OCR results was mixed. The app missed many things on each card in my test suite: The app assigned MD as a doctor's last name and it couldn't handle the text on a card with a dark background and white letters. On the other hand, when I added the Portuguese language to the app's capabilities, it worked well with a card in the Portuguese language, with the correct accent marks appearing on the "c" and "a."

ABBYY also correctly identified a cell phone as mobile, and properly recognized the tricky stylized "&." The software highlights problematic areas in red, although this doesn't stand out as much as you'd expect on the inverse black background of the app. The interface is convenient to move through, at least, and editing a scanned card doesn't require a multitude of extra taps or swipes.

However, the menus beneath the editing screen are as old-school Android as you can get, a boring pre-packaged list that lacks custom fields or modern communication niceties like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The paid version has an option to search the Web for a person on any of those services, but this option is useless since you can't add that person's social-media info into the context of the contact. Plus, the omission of social media ignores the fact that so many cards now include that information.

Once done, you can save the contact information to the ABBYY Cardholder (an internal card database), to your contacts or both. You can search the app's cardholder by name, organization, job or city, and you can organize contacts into groups (although this is awkwardly implemented). And you can export to a .VCF file, although the app's design makes it hard to do quickly for a multitude of contacts.

Bottom line

Even with the limitations mentioned, ABBYY's Business Card Reader is one of the best options out there. Especially if you have multilingual needs.

Business Card Reader

Android: No longer available

iOS: $6.99 full version

BlackBerry: $9.99 full version

Business Card Reader has an intuitive, purposeful interface -- this clearly named app has a skeuomorphic interface that riffs off of a physical business card case, with its cards in place. (The iOS version does look cleaner than the prosaic field-based Android version.) Plus, it has capable scanning and OCR skills.

business card reader Shape AG

Scanning and processing a card were reasonably quick. The app automatically snaps the picture, which took some getting used to. This also meant that, for a few cards, the autofocus didn't kick in properly.

Oddly, when you're done scanning, your choices are less clear. They include Done, Merge Contact (for merging that info with an already-existing contact in the database), LinkedIn (to download information about that contact from LinkedIn), or View as Text. You can later view and search the card and your fields from the Card Holder, but I couldn't get the edit card feature to work on Android (when I tried it on iOS, it worked fine).

There are no fields for social media info, and in fact most social media entries were ignored during the scan. Multilingual support is comparatively weak in the Android app: The app recognizes English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, with the extended paid version adding Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

The iOS version of the app is more visual and more functional, with a wider array of features, and adds Danish, Dutch, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Turkish. The iOS app also exports to Salesforce and Evernote, though it requires a complicated export with its own PDF documentation.

Test results

Perhaps because of the occasional problems with the autofocus, results were inconsistent. The app successfully converted the verbose layout of a doctor's card, the inverse text card and a high-design glossy card from a gaming company. But on another card, one that was plainer than most, the text was incorrectly OCR'd and in the wrong places.

Bottom line

This app looks better on iOS than Android, and is good for those who prefer a visual prompt and handholding during scans. But other apps offer greater flexibility and accuracy.

CamCard

[No longer available]

Android: Free trial version; $0.99 full version

iOS: Free version; $0.99 full version; $7.99 iPad version

BlackBerry: $9.99 full version

CamCard was the first of these apps I tested, and it immediately set a very high bar for the rest of the competition, one that only ABBYY Business Card Reader approached. This app stands out for its excellent interface, reasonable accuracy and cross-platform and cloud accessibility.

CamCard
CamCard Click to view larger image.

With versions for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and even Windows Phone 8, CamCard is available in some form for whatever mobile device you have now (or you choose to move to). Only the iOS and Android versions offer the premium version, which unlocks a handful of non-essential features and removes the advertising banner that's in the free version. All versions of the app will sync to a cloud account that's accessible via the Web, too.

CamCard offers a clean and intuitive interface, providing a logical flow to the capture and edit process without introducing extra flicks or taps. The app optimizes the card's image by brightening the exposure and improving the card's alignment. These steps helped CamCard return some of the better results I saw in my tests.

Test results

The optical character recognition processing was fast, and did a great job. Still, not everything was flawless: The OCR engine tripped up on some fancy characters (a stylized "&" became an "8") and not-so-fancy characters ("College" became "Col/ege"). On a card that had the phone and fax on the same line, the software put both into the same field. It failed to translate a doctor's card (complete with hospital department info), stumbled on a high-design card with non-standard formatting and had issues with inverse text, struggling to recognize the letters. The app also struggled with a line of Portuguese, which listed one person's title.

But for all those OCR issues, enough was right with the scans that editing wasn't too much of a chore, especially as compared with some of the other apps. And CamCard is easy to edit, thanks to a visual excerpt of the original card that shows the area that the particular field was translated from. You can also add fields for instant messaging services and social media accounts -- but when someone had a Twitter handle, the app didn't detect the @name or automatically add it to a different field.

Cards are automatically saved to the app's Card Holder view and to your contact listing (you can save simultaneously to multiple contact lists). In the Card Holder view, you can search for cards, open a contact's card and initiate calls and messages to a contact.

Bottom line

The overall flexibility of CamCard, coupled with the Web component, make this app a compelling choice for your business card library.

Presto BizCard

[This software is no longer available for mobile devices.]

NewSoft America has a long history of providing scanning software for Windows, but its mobile app efforts with Presto BizCard appear to have stalled at the gate.

Presto BizCard
Presto BizCard Click to view larger image.

Neither version has been updated in over a year, which might explain why I had several crashes while trying to capture a business card. I had better luck importing cards from an already existing picture of a business card -- in those cases, the OCR was adequate. But even then, I wasn't pleased with the interface: There is no way to organize contacts or use BizCard for viewing contacts and initiating communication. Instead, you get a search field, and that's it.

NewSoft says it is still developing this app, and it's working on the bug fixes for the paid version; it had no comment on the issues I had with the free version, which is the same as the paid but only recognizes a total of 10 cards.

Test results

The app behaves similarly in function and design to CamCard; it even shows the original's scanned area in a close-up image as you edit a specific field. But OCR accuracy was hit and miss: The app messed up part of an address import, but did fine with elements other apps missed. On the Portuguese card, the app ignored the person's title, in Portuguese, but correctly entered the English translation of that title in the Title field.

Once scanned, you can search in contacts, or export to your phone's contacts or to Salesforce.

Bottom line

Presto BizCard offers compatibility with Salesforce, but until the app's bugs are fixed there are better options out there.

ScanBizCards

Android: Free version; $0.99 full version

iOS: Free version; $0.99 full version

ScanBizCards Business Card Reader starts out with a clear, easy-to-understand opening screen, but unfortunately the rest of the app doesn't carry out that promise.

ScanBizCards
ScanBizCards Click to view larger image.

Aside from the app's opening screen's prompts, I found the interface to be convoluted, requiring extra steps to get anything done. In fact, the old-school interface feels like a throwback to Android 1.6 Donut; for example, a bunch of confusing options are buried under a single button labeled Card Actions.

Want to edit a field? First tap on the arrow to open the field, then you can edit the text. The full view of the card appears, so if you're trying to finesse something, you're out of luck -- you can't zoom into the area scanned for that field. The app ignores fields it doesn't recognize, and lets you choose to edit them, assign a field name from a lengthy existing list or add a field if you need to. There are no pre-existing fields for social media.

After you edit the card, you can save the edits to the app and then, if you want, to Google Contacts. Alternatively, ScanBizCards has an unusual transcribe option where the company's staff will manually edit entries for you. However, to use this you must first sign up for WebSync ($10 for the year, $0.99 for a month) -- a cloud storage service -- and then you need to buy "credits" for the various transcriptions.

Incidentally, there is a free version, but that has an advertising banner, lacks some features and only lets you save three scans a week to your contacts. That means all but casual users will want the paid version, which gets rid of the advertising and opens it up to unlimited scans.

One benefit of ScanBizCards is that you can export to Salesforce, SugarCRM, LinkedIn, Jigsaw (now Data.com Connect), and Zoho CRM. The services will prompt you for the log-in, then add the contact. These exports are the most compelling reason to consider this app.

Another reason: If you're an existing user of Dymo's venerable CardScan software, this app and its WebSync service let you use your existing CardScan database in sync with the Web database of ScanBizCards.

Test results

You will need to edit. Of all the apps I tested, this app struggled most with my test suite of cards, showing major OCR errors in all scans. Among the errors: The scan engine ignored a company name, and it couldn't auto-detect text orientation on a landscape card.

Bottom line

If you use a sales-based CRM or are a long-term user of CardScan, you might want to try this app. Beyond that, there are better options out there.

WorldCard Mobile

Android: Free version; $6.99 full version

iOS: $6.99 full version

WorldCard Mobile truly tries to be a global app, if the evidence in the Google Play store is any indication. The app has nine versions, several of which are localized versions in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Indeed, the app did well with scanning my international cards, not surprising given the local language support. For English speakers, however, there are two versions to be aware of: The free WorldCard Mobile Lite and the for-pay WorldCard Mobile. The paid version lets you save more than 50 cards and export your data, among other features.

WorldCard Mobile
WorldCard Mobile Click to view larger image.

As with most of these card-scanning apps, you tap to take a photo, the app scans it and then pops the info into the appropriate fields. I found the app reasonably friendly to use, but didn't like that if a field wasn't recognized, you had to first tap the plus sign to reveal the line to add data to. The free version is limited: You can save only five scans in the first week, and one per week thereafter.

I liked how this app could import an email signature file into a record. (The iOS version also supports importing via QR code.) Once scanned, I could view cards alphabetically by all, by favorites, unfiled, or unverified; or I could create a custom group.

Test results

The app missed some things in the scans. On one card, it entirely missed the company name and address, for example. It struggled on cards with more design elements, though it accurately translated the fancy "&" character that other apps translated as a "6" or "8." And it did well on the inverse card and on a glossy, high-design card.

It also handled my other international cards well; the scans weren't flawless, but they were better than most. I could easily switch to a Portuguese dictionary -- one of seven languages on-board -- which yielded my most accurate scans of that card.

The text OCR was inconsistent, at best. Some of the transcriptions were accurate, others not so much. Cards can be saved to your phone contact list, or to a VCF or CSV file.

Bottom line

Reasonably attractive design and decent OCR handling make WorldMobile a good choice -- particularly if you need international language support.

Yolu Card Reader

[Note: This company no longer has a website and so is assumed to be out of business.]

Yolu Card Reader is perhaps the most perplexing app of all those I tested -- and it's the only one I tried for this roundup that is completely free. The successful scans were among the best conversions I'd seen. But it just never worked as advertised.

Yolu Card Reader
Yolu Card Reader Click to view larger image.

The app, which hails from a Chinese developer, purports to let you use your mobile number to sign in, but my mobile never got the necessary text message in order to sign in with the number. I then used LinkedIn's sign-in, although I saw no information in the app indicating what the connection would be between my Yolu scans and LinkedIn.

Yolu uses cloud-based recognition. It was the fastest of the tested apps at actually scanning the cards: I was able to whip through my stack of cards fairly quickly, since you don't get prompted to verify and edit each scan immediately after capture.

However, scanning is only half the battle -- getting the info back took some time. I started out slowly, scanning just two cards, and immediately both were stuck in a purgatory queue of "Being recognized in the cloud." It took until the next day for the cards to be added to the app's list of scanned cards.

Thinking the server might be having an issue, I waited another day before trying more cards. The next day, I performed additional scans, beyond my usual dozen scans, just to make sure it was indeed scanning the cards. I whipped through the stack with ease since I wasn't doing any corrections after each scan. But three hours later, all still had that same message I saw the night before: "Being recognized in the cloud."

Nine hours after the initial scan, only three cards showed as "Newly Recognized" and one showed as "Now Being Corrected." That last moniker -- coupled with the incredibly high accuracy of the records that had so far been recognized -- made me wonder if Yolu is using manually applied human corrections in addition to OCR technology, but the app itself offers no clues. (The developer didn't respond to a request for information about the delay or how the OCR worked.)

Eventually, all of the cards were recognized, though after those first nine hours, I stopped tracking exactly how long the process took.

The app has a daily limit of 30 scans, though you can boost that up to 50 scans by handing over more sign-in personal information (you get 10 scans for signing in via Facebook, five for your mobile number and five more for signing in via Sina Weibo, a Chinese social network). The app exports to your phone's contact list, or to Excel as a comma delimited file, but I never got this to work: When I tried to export, it needed to reauthenticate and then it couldn't find the LinkedIn authorization. My only prompt from there was to join LinkedIn, not to sign in again.

Bottom line

Ultimately, Yolu is an intriguing idea, but there are less frustrating, and less invasive, apps to do the job.

FoxCard Pro-Professional Business card scanner

FoxCard’s Pro-Professional Business card scanner requires iOS 8 or later and is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

foxcard Foxcard

The app, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times, can identify cards instantly, save them to contacts and add photos, image-texts and remarks for each one. The scanner function automatically snaps a photo of a card and has a batch-mode option that allows for image capture of  multiple cards.

FoxCard also offers an in-app management tool to categorize email and text, and to share or delete contacts. A cloud-based database is provided to sync contacts across multiple devices.

The app can also translate text from English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

One drawback: the app does not work as a social networking tool with other FoxCard users. You cannot add digital features to your current business card or share your business card digitally with other users of the app.

FoxCard also notes that once a user buys the app, the annual $9.99 price auto-renews each year unless the user turns that option off.

Conclusions

Of the apps I tested, all had occasional bloopers when translating the text on the card to workable digital text. But only a few really got the job done.

CamCard was the only app that had a truly useful free version. The other apps either had usability issues, or limited the free version to a degree where it was useful only if you wanted to vet the interface before paying for the full app. And virtually none of the apps was prepared to recognize social media sites listed on a business card: an "@name" was missed by all seven apps, and only CamCard had a field you could even add manually for Twitter.

After using these apps extensively, I'd point to CamCard as the best choice overall. It generally did well on scans, and made it easy to edit out the bloopers. And its Web component makes it a compelling and versatile option.

ABBYY's Business Card Reader offers easy-to-navigate design and quality scans, two points that put it towards the head of the pack as well.

IDG Insider

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