Introduction and design
There was a time when scanners were one of the most sought-after peripherals when you bought a new computer. Back then, flatbed and handheld models from the likes of Logitech or Microtek vied for your custom.
That was before someone in an engineering team had the bright idea to merge a scanner and a printer to launch the first all-in-one printer, which triggered the slow death of standalone scanners.
So much so, the sad truth is that you can end up paying more than twice the amount for the latter compared to the former.
However, if there is a market where printer-less scanners thrive, it is the B2B market where dreams of a paperless environment have all but vanished.
With reams of archived documents, magazines and books still taking precious space on physical shelves and in danger of slowly disintegrating (or being eaten by termites and bookworms), there’s potentially hundreds of terabytes of data waiting to be digitised.
That is the market that Brother’s ImageCenter ADS-3600W, priced around the £600 mark (it retails for $800 in the US, which is about AU$1140), is trying to capture. Billed as a high-speed wireless document scanner for mid to large size workgroups, it is a compact peripheral that embodies the military concept of fire-and-forget: just press the start button and it should work fine.
You could easily mistake the ADS-3600W for an old school, gravity-fed inkjet printer. Even if it is made of plastic, it feels solid and durable – the sheet-feeder easily comes off and extends to a decent length, allowing it to cater for a wide range of print media. Ditto for the non-detachable paper tray that stretches out by about 600mm (around two feet).
Brother suggests that the maximum paper capacity of the ADF (automatic document feeder) is 50 sheets but we’ve tried with double that amount and can confirm that it works fine. Your mileage may vary though.
The front of the device plays host to the power button, three touch sensitive icons, an NFC receiver and a 3.7-inch resistive touchscreen display.
Located at the back of the ADS-3600W are a GbE Ethernet port, a USB 3.0 connector, a Kensington lock and the power connector. On the right-hand side is another port that accepts USB storage peripherals.
Overall the device is pretty compact measuring around 310 x 260 x 250mm with a weight of 4.6Kg, making it fairly portable, something you can easily store in a drawer for future use.
Specifications and performance
Under its fairly conservative cover lies a powerhouse. The ADS-3600W is capable of churning up to 50 pages per minute (monochrome or colour), that’s with all advanced features turned off and using a 300dpi resolution on letter media.
As expected, your mileage will vary a lot. We scanned 42 colour sheets (84 pages for both sides) in 120 seconds, thanks to a dual CIS (contact image sensor) that has a maximum optical resolution and colour depth of 600 x 600dpi and 24-bit respectively.
As such, the scanner processes sheets in duplex mode and excludes empty sheets by default.
The selected format was multipage PDF at 300dpi, storing the file to a USB key. Selecting JPEG as our default file increased the processing time by nearly 50 times! It took the ADS-3600W a whopping 95 minutes to go through the same 42 sheets.
Clearly, users will need to choose their file format very carefully and possibly the image resolution in order to fine-tune the scanning speed. Otherwise, they might end up twiddling their thumbs for some considerable time should they have to scan thousands of pages in one go.
As expected, the ADS-3600W supports a number of scanning destinations: USB being the most obvious (and straightforward) but you can also scan to a mobile device, cloud-based apps (Evernote, Dropbox, Box, OneNote, Google Drive), email, FTP, printer, and the network.
That’s achieved using Wi-Fi (Direct) but there’s no Bluetooth connectivity; that’s not a big loss though.
Using the touchscreen display to navigate through the scanner’s features proved to be very intuitive and we didn’t need to check the accompanying manuals or user guide. You can also use the NFC card reader to activate the scanner – the former supports most of the NFC formats on the market.
We scanned about 2,000 pages during our test period which was hardly pushing this device to its limits – the ADS-3600W has a daily duty cycle of 5,000 scans per day – and for 99% of scans we performed, things went perfectly well.
For the remaining 1%, the scanner did have issues with slightly dog-eared sheets, randomly laid out ones (like receipts) or glossy magazine sheets that stuck together.
And that’s where the trouble starts: the scanner asks you to pull out the culprit page(s) and then you have to restart the scanning process again as the scans are usually stored to memory before being moved to the USB drive.
Brother bundled an interesting array of applications with the scanner that includes ABBYY FineReader Pro 11, Nuance PaperPort 14 SE and ABBYY PDF Transformer Plus. On close inspection, all of them are either old or limited editions.
Fortunately, also part of the bundle is Brother’s proprietary “Connect Print Share” bundle with a free suite of touch-enabled, cloud-based apps at its core. We didn’t test its OCR capabilities since this depends on a third-party and can even be done through the cloud (via OneDrive for example).
The ADS-3600W is Brother’s top of the range model for SMBs and therefore commands a rather steep price (Ebuyer, who provided us with the sample, sells it for £580). But then it operates in a niche market where competitors are few and far between.
This standalone scanner is easy to operate thanks to an intuitive user interface, plus it’s reasonably well-rounded on the connectivity front, and is quite compact.
The ADS-3600W is fairly expensive on the face of it, but that said, most other networked scanners with an automatic document feeder capable of this sort of speed cost just as much, if not more. The scanner did suffer from misfeeds but that’s something likely to happen across ADF-equipped scanners.
Brother’s latest scanner does a decent job of ploughing through and digitising all those random pieces of paper, big and small. It is a great addition to Brother’s portfolio and has a good feature set that matches many of its more expensive competitors.