Scanning Text with Your Smartphone

The future is here, but not all information has gone digital. There are plenty of situations where you need an easy way to capture print text and convert it to an electronic file:

  • At a meeting, you want to record notes from the whiteboard.
  • You want to save important points from a conference poster session without lugging around a ton of paper handouts.
  • Browsing a magazine, you come across an article you’d love to refer to later.
  • A friend asks you for your legendary brownie recipe.

Here are a few suggestions for scanning text using your mobile device:


Genius Scan iPhone appGenius Scan is a highly rated, free app that scans documents and lets you save or share them as PDF.

It features cropping, color correction, conversion to clean black and white, and a perspective correction tool that straightens your image. However, it does not convert your text via OCR (optical character recognition). That is, it saves your scan as an image, and the text is not searchable.

A version of Genius Scan is also available for Windows phones.


If you have Google Docs installed on your phone, a quick way to OCR text is simply to take a picture, hit the Share option, and share it with Docs. Choose “Convert file to Google Docs document.”

Choose Convert file to Google Docs document

OCR functionality in Google Docs
Converting a photo to a Doc: the raw results (click to enlarge)

This is actually the solution I’ve used most often, probably only because it presented itself to me (since I had already installed Google Docs). Beware: OCR results may vary.

Document Scanner is a highly rated Android app with functionality very similar to Genius Scan’s. In addition, Document Scanner can OCR your text using Google Docs or Evernote. While the full app is $3.98, there is a free trial.

A quick search of the Google Play store reveals many similar apps. How they work for you may depend on your phone model and Android OS. Two free apps you may want to check out are Scan to PDF Free and Handy Scanner Free PDF Creator.

Evernote (multi-platform)

If you’re already using Evernote to organize notes and bookmarks, it makes an excellent tool for capturing text on the go. Take a snapshot from within the app or import from your photo gallery — the text in your photo is then searchable within Evernote! You can even get decent results with handwriting:

searching for text in Evernote
Searching for the word "screenshots" within Evernote

This feature works so well that it alone may be a good reason to check out Evernote, especially if you’re not wedded to another note-taking app.

Evernote is available for most platforms, and the basic version is free. Read more about it in Marc Lowe’s post, Syncing Files and Mobile Note-Taking.

What are your favorite scanning apps?

Are you scanning and converting text with your mobile device? Let us know what tools and tricks have worked for you in the comments below.

Published by

Leslie Kleinberg

Leslie is the User Services Projects Coordinator at the UCSF Library.

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