Avision 260C Plus flatbed scannerReview date: 25 November 1998.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
You can’t expect too much from a flatbed scanner that sells for about $180 (Australian dollars). So it’s rather nice when you find a genuinely good unit for this entry-level price.
UPDATE - $AU180 was the price when I originally wrote this review a year ago. Now they're only $AU109!
The Avision 260C Plus is a small flatbed scanner with A4 capacity - 8.5 by 11.96 inches maximum scan size, to be exact. Its maximum optical resolution is 300dpi, its mechanical resolution 600dpi - the box, as usual, proudly trumpets the ludicrously high interpolated resolution. The 260C scans 30 bit colour, too, which is quite impressive for such a cheap unit. It weighs less than three kilograms.
The scanner’s entry level status shows in a few areas. It has no power switch, or indeed any controls other than the sliding scan head lock on the underside. If you want to turn it off, you have to unplug its power pack. It also connects to your computer via the parallel port, which makes it a PC-only product (Macintoshes have no parallel port). If you’ve got an antique computer without a modern high-speed bidirectional parallel port (we’re talking 486 or worse, here), you’ll have to buy a parallel interface card, or put up with very slow scanning. This matters, because the parallel interface paralyses your computer while the scanner’s doing its thing.
Avision quote a ten second time for a full-bed scan at 100dpi, which is slightly optimistic; by my measure it’s more like 13 seconds of PC paralysis from the time you click the scan button. A preview scan takes 12 seconds.
You’ll have to wait rather longer if you want to use higher resolutions. A 300dpi full-bed greyscale scan, producing an 8.5Mb image, took 56.5 seconds. The scan speed is clearly limited by the 150 kilobyte per second transfer rate of the Avision scanner's parallel interface; a 300dpi colour full-bed scan, which is three times as much data, took exactly three times as long. Pushing the scanner to its highest useful output resolution, 600 by 600dpi, would therefore give you more than 11 minutes of sitting about – probably rather more, as the more than 100 megabytes of data generated will cause many PCs to do a fair amount of drive thrashing. Modern EPP and ECP parallel ports can move a lot more than 150 kilobytes per second, but it would appear this scanner can't.
Fortunately, you don’t often have to scan a whole A4 page at high resolution in colour. The smaller, simpler jobs most scanners are usually called on to perform will leave you sitting around for a lot less time.
The Avision's results on the old shiny-coin test are good, for
a low end scanner.
(Note for non-Australian readers - the animal on the coin's an echidna.)
The Avision’s output quality is excellent, considering its price. On the dreaded scan-a-shiny-coin test, it produced a recognisable image – many cheap and cheerful scanners balk badly at reflective subjects and produce a white circle. I’ve seen much better results on this test – expensive scanners produce a perfect image – but, again, for the money the Avision’s brilliant.
The Avision also delivers quite even scans, but it's hard to tell how even. All desktop scanners have colour casts and slight lines on their scans, which can be emphasised by doing a full-bed scan and using a paint program’s level adjust feature (canonically, Photoshop’s Equalize command) to stretch out the middle range of pixel values and exaggerate the flaws. In a decent scanner, the flaws are invisible to the naked eye, and only come out when you start using image adjustment tools in the scanner software or a paint program later on.
The Avision 260C has no noticeable flaws of this type. None. And there's a reason for that - it artificially pulls near-white values in its output to pure white. It didn’t matter how much I stretched and tweaked; the only faults visible on a plain white scan were dust particles on the scan bed. Hardware white-clipping like this is not as good as having a truly clean scanner, but in a low-end model like this, which is likely to be used by people who don't know much about cleaning up scanned images, it's an acceptable design decision. But don't be fooled into thinking that the apparently perfect white scan means this scanner's the equal of far more expensive professional models.
The 260C's colour scan quality is, overall, quite good. Not fabulous, even with careful adjustment of gamma values, but perfectly adequate.
Docs and software
The 260C’s manual is very, VERY slim, because most of the documentation is in Adobe Acrobat files on the included CD-ROM. This online manual is perfectly adequate, and explains the operation of all of the included software.
Avision’s driver software is as cheerfully non-standard as drivers for most other cheap Tiawanese hardware (the scanner's driver’s called "Mr Scan"…). Fortunately, the funny looking interface actually works tolerably well.
Besides the TWAIN driver (which includes Windows 3.x and Windows 95/98/NT versions), you also get MGI Photosuite SE, an undistinguished image editing application in the great tradition of undistinguished image editors included in software bundles. For OCR (optical character recognition) there’s TextBridge Classic. "Classic", in this case, means "made in 1996", but despite its age this is an OK OCR package, and gives good results on clean text in various fonts and, often, useably accurate output from lower quality documents (coloured backgrounds, dirty pages and so on), although you may need to tweak the brightness slider one way or the other.
The software bundle also contains PaperCom, one of those document filing systems with thumbnail viewing and various categorisation options, which could be quite useful if you have the energy to scan in all of your clutter-paper, but is otherwise just your basic image sorter.
The Avision CD-ROM also features near-useless non-interactive rolling demos of the bundled software. This bundle pack would be lousy if it came with a $500 scanner, but at this price point it’s a darn good deal.
I've said it before, I'll say it again - for the money, this is a very good scanner indeed.