Phantom 336CX full review

USB scanners all have one thing in common: they’re so cheap, cheerful and downright plasticy that, if you do get one, don’t be surprised to find a line of movie stars queuing to get surgical inspiration. High-tech, they ain’t. So the Microtek Phantom 336CX wasn’t too much of a surprise. On the plus side, it has a decent range of all-terrain software, and plugging the whole shebang together took all of ten seconds. It’s more slimline than most flatbeds too, with a depth that’s little more than that of a horizontal fag packet. It is also on par with most budget scanners, with a 36-bit colour depth, although it sports an extremely poor resolution of 300-x-600dpi. Most of its competitors offer twice that. Our tests proved that affordable consumer scanners are really beginning to offer a decent performance. The Phantom 336CX can do a full scan of a standard-sized photo in around 30 seconds using the TWAIN plug-in for Adobe Photoshop or the bundled ColorIT image software. The plug-in calls up Microtek ScanWizard, ( above) where you can exercise reasonable control over the preview before final scan. Colour-levels, curves, contrast and the like can all be manually tweaked, or you can simply let the software automatically attempt the best scan it can. And this where it delivers. We scanned a test reflective without auto-correction, and it appeared quite washed out, with muted colours. With the auto-correction option on, however, colours where vastly improved, with more vibrant hues and sharper definition, although the limited resolution does hurt image quality. Even better, everything is controllable through one or two windows – a preview window of the scan, and a floating palette of tools. You can even apply filters, such as blur, emboss and sharpen, before the final scan, and get a live, updated preview. Previewing is quite fast, with a full A4 pagetaking around 20 seconds. The rest of the software bundle is firmly aimed at the home office or family user. It comes with Caere OmniPage Limited Edition for optical character recognition, which proved quite effective in the review tests. We scanned a full A4 printed letter, and the text was ready for editing in just seconds. Although the ScanSuite software bundle that comes with the Phantom 336CX offers more than other scanner in this price range, it still smacks of ‘Happy Shopper’ scanning. Operating like a Kai’s PowerScanTools Lite, the software has a funky-esque console that links to other applications, such as email, image-editing, printer and fax software to add a further dimension to bundle. A row of chunky buttons provides user-friendly scanning, and the entire process is automated. You can, say, select a destination application (email, say), hit the ‘72-dpi scan’ button, and the scanner will dash off, scan the photo, crop off any trace of the scanner lid, fire up the application and do everything bar send it. It’s a fantastic idea and worked for most things, but the cropped image looked like a kid armed with scissors had been at it without adult supervision. Macworld’s buying advice If you need a budget scanner and don’t mind a slightly weak build quality then the Phantom 336CX is a good choice. The auto-correction software is great for novices, while more seasoned scan fans will enjoy its ‘tweakability’. Despite its better-than-average software bundle, the scanner is badly let down by its low resolution.

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