In our never-ending world of gizmos, the Flip-Pal portable scanner is one that actually can make your life easier
By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder
First off, Happy Halloween everyone!
So, today we are talking Flip-Pal because we have been considering joining the Flip-Pal affiliate program.
In the off-chance you haven’t heard of it, the Flip-Pal is a compact, purely portable (no computer or extra cords required) scanner that has essentially taken the genealogy community by storm. “Simple” is the description that seems to come up most often in reviews of the product, and – from the buzz it has generated – it clearly fills a need.
But before we jumped on the rapidly growing Flip-Pal affiliate bandwagon and recommended it to our customers, we felt it important to test drive one ourselves. Flip-Pal agreed to send us a test model.
Part One: Love at first sight — almost
It arrived a few days ago, and I had a quick project for which I thought it might be perfect, so I opened the box.
My first impression: I wish they had used more environmentally friendly packaging. It’s shipped in that PET plastic covering, which I can’t stand. I know it’s cheap and effective, but it’s often not very user-friendly and it’s not great for the environment. I’m not alone in this. Fortunately, it was a higher-grade plastic which is, at least, recyclable. (That’s not always the case with PET plastic.) That made me feel better.
Interestingly, in discussing this with my brother Dan he mentioned that Gordon Nuttall, CEO of Couragent, Inc. (the maker of Flip-Pal) was recently interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems podcast. Dan highly recommends you listen to it if you are considering purchasing the product yourself as they go into more detail about Flip-Pal’s various bells and whistles.
During their conversation, my brother said Nuttall addressed the packaging issue and pointed out how it is essentially re-usable (and very “shippable,” in his words) if you send the scanner between multiple people because of its durability and the ease with which it can be opened and closed.
I still wish there was an alternative to PET plastic, but “re-usable” is certainly a step in the right direction. (We admit to perhaps being pickier than many when it comes to sustainability issues.)
And definitely no Styrofoam peanuts! (SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW)
Part Two: Ready to go
So not having seen it up close before, I was a bit surprised by how small it was. I know its big appeal is that it is small and portable. I’ve worked with lots of scanners and this one, which was about the size of the brand new Apple iPads, really was small.
My curiosity was piqued.
It was, for all intents and purposes, “ready to go out of the box,” as they say. The only thing I had to do was remove a couple pieces of protective shipping tape and then gently tug a plastic tab in the direction indicated by its arrow, which “activated” the four AA batteries, which were thoughtfully included and pre-installed.
Wait a minute: The directions say something about applying some Optional Protector Sheet (OPS). Apparently the OPS came with its own “installation sheet” and I was supposed to read it “for detailed instructions.” Even worse, I didn’t see the aforementioned sheet anywhere. Suddenly the sweet pleasure of this “ready-to-go-out-of-the-box” experience felt like it might be in jeopardy.
But then I remembered– the OPS is optional.
Part Three: Getting to work
So the unit powered up quickly and easily by sliding a single power switch.
Then – a surprise – it asked me to put in the current time and date. You only have to do it the first time you start the unit and then each time you change the batteries. It’s a quick and easy process. Once set up, the cool thing is that scanned information can now be date/time stamped, helping you remember when – which helps greatly with the “where” – you obtained your research information.
So today, in putting together a Halloween-themed post, I simply want to scan in an older photo that came before digital cameras and therefore doesn’t yet exist in digital format. Looking at the Flip-Pal Web site, it appears the scanner can be a part of much more advanced scanning projects (specifically, digitally “stitching” together a large document or flat object, such as a quilt, from multiple scans). I’ll test drive those features during future uses. Today, I just need the photo.
To scan my photo I have a couple options. First, if the photo (or document) is 4 x 6 inches or less — and loose — the easiest thing is to simply scan the material as you do on more traditional, larger scanners by putting the photo on the Flip-Pal scanner bed, closing the top and hitting a big green button. Easy as pie.
In fact, I pretty much unpacked the scanner, looked at the instructions and e-mailed the photo off to my brother – using a cleverly designed USB stick, which came with my Flip-Pal and acted as the bridge between my scanner and my computer – in less than 5 minutes. The actual scanning took about five seconds and the quality of the scanned photo was good – it scanned in at about 650KB using the 300 DPI setting. The colors were very close to the original.
However, if your photo is in a book, glued in a photo album or if your document’s location makes it difficult to scan, you can detach the unit’s top, flip the unit over and scan items by simply hovering over them and pushing that same big green button. (See photo). To me, this is what sets the Flip-Pal apart from your father’s scanner (or mine, purchased a couple years ago). It’s more difficult to explain in words than it is to do. Trust me, it was a piece of cake — and very handy and clever. And the quality of the scan was pretty much the same as the first image.
However you position the unit, once the green button is hit, the material is scanned to a removable memory card (a 2GB SD-formatted card ships with the unit), where it is converted into a full-color JPEG-formatted file and can be viewed as a large thumbnail-sized image on the Flip-Pal’s built-in display screen. You can scan hundreds of images before having to empty your memory card using either an SD-card reader or the Flip-Pal’s cool USB stick. You can then treat the scanned file the way you treat any other photo or image, including playing with it in Photoshop or photo restoration software. As a Macintosh user, I simply put it in my iPhoto folder.
That’s pretty much it. I wish I’d had it sooner. This summer I completed a basic house history of my sister-in-law’s summer cottage in Lake Elmo, Minn. I was in a number of libraries, the courthouse and the local historical society. In most places, I was left to take handwritten notes and, if available, pay for photocopies of photos in books. The Flip-Pal would have nicely avoided that. Instead of putting a bunch of photos, books and documents in a pile to copy or process – and then later taking them back to be filed —I could have simply seen something I wanted to make a record of, flip my scanner on top of it and hit the green button.
The Flip-Pal is not going to replace traditional scanners. If you have a big scanning job, with lots of full-sized pages, you’ll probably want to keep using the bigger flatbed. But for genealogists, family historians and house history researchers – who are often researching on-the-go and have perhaps more modest scanning needs – the Flip-Pal is an impressive tool. I am happy to recommend it to the Houstory Publishing community.
 You know, most things being fairly equal, I have intentionally passed on doing repeat business with vendors that ship using those expanded polystyrene “peanuts,” or “Styrofoam” as the product is officially known. I can only conclude that a company isn’t thinking of me, their customer, when it ships me a carton full of non-biodegradable, toxic carcinogenic, petroleum-based packing material that — no matter how painfully careful I am in opening the box — tumble forth into my office and home where — thanks to the static charge they often come with — they evade capture. Such companies also clearly aren’t thinking of how their decision to go “cheapo” with the peanuts also means it is now my responsibility to reuse (trust me, I’ve got bags of peanuts now cluttering my basement), recycle (according to the search engine on the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s Web site mine have to go to a special recycling facility that requires a half-hour trip from my house) or somehow dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. Thanks!