Office Lens is a free phone app that can scan photos for text and copy the text to Word


By Stephen Pate –  Office Lens, a free app from Microsoft, scans photos for words and numbers and makes it easy to copy the text to Word.  I use Office Lens regularly because it’s so easy to use and the text extraction is automatic and simple.

Office lensThe Office Lens app is free for the iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone.

The images can be stored on OneDrive, the Microsoft cloud storage file system, or OneNote. Text in the image is scanned automatically and stored with the photo.

The scanning is not perfect: Office Lens makes the odd mistake which is normal for OCR programs.  It is much easier to correct them than typing pages of documents.

This is one of the post-PC ideas planned by Microsoft’s new CEO  Satya Nadella. Microsoft will work on technology that ties hardware,  software and online services encompasses from mobile to desktop according to the WSJ.

Office Lens is a very cool app that can capture whiteboards at meetings, receipts, books or any kind of printed document.

office-lens-screens-43

From a whiteboard to a picture, from a receipt to an OCR copy

Microsoft calls Office Lens a scanner for your pocket, if you have a compatible phone. The Android version is expected to ship with Office Touch for Android later this year.

How to scan text with Office Lens

OK, so scanning is old news and so is optical character recognition or OCR. What is slick about Office Lens is how smooth the integration works from photo to Word document.

There are six simple automated steps in the process:

1. Install Office Lens on your iPhone, iPad or Windows Phone 8.

In Settings, decide where you want to save the pictures. The most logical place is OneDrive. Sign into your OneDrive account and syncing will be automatic.

You can also choose how big the save picture will be from 2048 x 1536 (3Mb) to 3264 by 2448 (8Mb). The default is 2592 x 1456 which works fine for me.

Flash & Mode icons

Flash & Mode icons

2. Open Office Lens and chose the photograph mode: photo, whiteboard or document.  Office Lens will adjust the photo for the different sources.  You can also turn the auto flash on or off here.  Flash is helpful taking photographs of pages when the camera is close to the page.

3. Take a picture using the Camera icon of the document, white board, sign or anything that has letters and numbers. Office Lens will show a box around what it thinks you want.  Take your time to include the right part of the document and click the camera icon.  The program will show that it is “working” on your photo.

office_lens camera icon 57 44The Camera icon now has a + sign on the upper right, indicating you can take more pictures of the same page, whiteboard etc. which is handy when the page is too big for one photo.

4. To Save the photo, touch the Save icon. The default page title is the date, time and program.  I name the document something I can find later, like the name of the meeting or book title and page.

Office Lens will show you the “Recent Documents”, which are automatically included in OneNote and synced to OneDrive if your phone is set to sync automatically.  If your phone is manually syncing to OneDrive, sync the photos now.

5.  Open the photo in OneDrive at OneDrive/live.com on your computer Desktop.  The photos will be stored in either Recent or Pictures/Camera Roll.  If you see the photo but no extracted text, give it a minute to process. The text extraction takes a few minutes.

The text from the photo (right) is shown as "Extracted text" (left), click on the pen icon to save or copy the extracted text. Office Lens

The text from the photo (right) is shown as “Extracted text” (left), click on the pen icon to save or copy the extracted text. Office Lens

Office-Lens-text save copy6. Click on the pen icon to the right of the Extracted Text to either save or copy the text from your photo.

You can also extract the text in OneNoteOpen the picture in OneNote, right click on the image, “Copy Text From Picture” and past the text into Word or other document.  You can also make the text in the picture searchable from the right click screen.

In OneNote, right click on the picture to copy or create searchable text

In OneNote, right click on the picture to copy or create searchable text

Using Office Lens

I can think of hundreds of places to use Office Lens, for students,  researchers, teachers, lawyers, accountants – any one who needs the text from a printed document, sign or whiteboard.

It makes getting copies of documents so much easier.  If you use it often, you may create sub-directory under Camera Roll to keep  photographs separate.

Available free from iTunes Store or Microsoft Store.

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