“Overall, we feel the Scanmarker Air is an affordable and pretty accurate reader pen. If you don’t mind working alongside your computer or mobile device, and don’t mind needing a bit of practice, given the price we think it can represent a good value as an assistive device to students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.“
What We Like
What We Don’t Like
If you have or are a parent of a student who has reading difficulties, such as dyslexia, chances are you might be looking for ways to help make reading easier. These days, there are a few companies that make reading pens for people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, scanners that fit into highlighter-sized devices and that can read scanned text out loud.
Over the last few years, the Scanmarker Air has seen increasing popularity. It’s small size, attractive style and sub-$150 price tag seem to make it an attractive option for people with dyslexia looking to improve their reading independence.
But does that low price tag translate into good value? We decided to find out by reviewing it and investigating what past users had to say about the device.
What is the Scanmarker Air?
The Scanmarker Air is a scanning pen made by Topscan Ltd. It attaches to a computer (either Windows or Mac) or connects to your mobile device (iOS/Android) and then, once set up with its app, can scan text and read it out loud to help dyslexic students and those with other reading difficulties.
The Scanmarker Air can also read and translate text in a variety of languages, supporting about 50 languages as of writing: English, Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Russian and more. From Austrian Standard German to Zulu, basically.
It is also supported by a number of third party software and services that you might use for work or leisure, such as Word, Excel, Gmail and even Facebook, should you want to quote something to your friends.
Finally, the Scanmarker Air comes in a number of fun colors, such as red, pink, green, aqua, blue and black.
One thing that you should be aware of is that, unlike some other reader pens, the Scanmarker Air is not really a stand alone device. It doesn’t have its own built in screen or storage capability. Essentially it’s a tiny scanner, so It works alongside a computer or your mobile device through its app. So you’ll have to have one of those with you while you use it, unlike the rival C-Pen for example.
That said, because it doesn’t store or display information on its own, it may be more likely to be approved by schools as assistive technology for exams. It can be hooked up fairly quickly to school exam-room computers without much worry.
Scanmarker Air: Price
The Scanmarker Air generally sells for $129.00. The company frequently bundles it together with free cases, a stand and/or bluetooth earphones as accessories.
You can usually find the Scanmarker Air on sale as well on the company website, so it’s best to check their price from time to time.
How does this reading pen work?
Like other reading pens, the Scanmarker Air is really built around OCR (optical character recognition) technology. As you scan a sentence, the device sort of takes a picture of the text and then software works to convert that picture into digital text that can, for instance, be translated or read out loud.
The device attaches to your computer or mobile device by USB (included, and a nice long length at 5 feet) or bluetooth (includes a little USB bluetooth adapter for computers). You then download and activate the Scanmarker Air app.
One thing to note that took some past users by surprise is that your device activation requires an internet connection, as does any time you pair it to a new device.
What device do I need to use Scanmarker Air?
Scanmarker Air doesn’t need much to run properly, essentially just needing the ability to support bluetooth.
At a minimum, for desktops and laptop computers, it needs a system running Windows 7 (or higher) and Mac OSX 10 (or higher), so it will run on many older systems.
For mobile devices, it requires Android 4.3 or higher, and iOS 7 and higher (obviously you need to turn on bluetooth connectivity in settings). Essentially, if you have a phone or tablet made after 2013, it will likely pick up the device.
One issue we had, that relates to the Scanmarker Air not being a stand alone device, is that you’ll need an internet connection to use some features. For example, you’ll need to be connected to the net anytime you connect for the first time to a device, to activate the Scanmarker, and even for its translation ability.
While these days it’s not all that common to not be around a wifi connection or be in range of 4/5g (especially as a student) this is something to be aware of that has caught some users off guard.
Font Size Range
The Scanmarker Air will read font sizes between 6 and 24 point. This is a pretty wide range of fonts and fairly useful since almost all adult (that usually use size 8-12 fonts) and children’s books (that typically use size 14-16 fonts) will fit inside the scanning area.
We did have occasional errors on the very tiny 6 pt and large 24 pt fonts, largely due to trying to keep it centered, but with a little finagling the Scanmarker Air did usually pick it up in the end.
As a rule of thumb, the device can scan text that is less than 0.4” wide (the effective scanning width of the device).
How easy is it to hold?
The Scanmarker Air is pretty easy to hold. It’s smooth and built in a highlighter shape, so it’s pretty comfortable and familiar. It’s also pretty lightweight at around 2.1 ounces (60 g) – around the weight of 3 AA batteries if you want to easily check for yourself.
All in all, it was very easy to hold and even when we had to hold it for long periods it really was pretty comfortable to hold.
Scanmarker Air: Ease of Use
Setting Up the ScanMarker Air
The Scanmarker Air connects to your home computer by USB or bluetooth (it even comes with a little bluetooth adapter that you plug into your USB port), and connects to a mobile device by bluetooth.
Once you download and install the app, it should pick up the device pretty quickly. If you are using bluetooth, you press the tip gently for about 3 seconds and the app should find the device and synchronize automatically.
One thing to be aware of that flustered some past users is that the Scanmarker Air can’t connect to two bluetooth devices at the same time. If you decide to move away from your computer to a mobile device, for example, you have to disconnect from your computer before trying to pair it to your mobile device as your mobile device won’t “see” it.
Menu and Function Selection
We found the Scanmarker’s app to be pretty straightforward and well laid out. It wasn’t confusing or hard to use at all, you simply scroll down to find things to adjust and tweak. You can, for example, adjust:
- The language you’re scanning or translating to
- Text to Speech speed (how quickly or slowly the device “reads” things back to you)
- Connect to the cloud
The Scanmarker app also gives you two options, scan to the Scanmarker application and scan to external applications. If you choose the latter, you can then scan to a wide variety of supported tools, like Word, Excel, Gmail and Facebook, or send things to the Cloud (Google Drive and iCloud, for example) which is cool and pretty useful if you need to save something for later use.
Ease of Scanning Text
Scanning is easy enough on the Scanmarker Air. You click the pen down in the white space before the words you want scanned begin and pull across smoothly.
We recommend holding the pen at a steady 60 degrees or so because it is a bit more fidgety than some other, more expensive, brands.
The device seems sensitive to jitters and users report having to spend time learning to scan with it properly (lining up text in the center of the tip, holding the pen and such), although like us once they learned how they saw fairly good accuracy in scanning.
One thing that did seem to annoy people is that by default the device and application treats all scanned text as a single sentence, meaning after scanning it just automatically puts a space and continues the line. If you want to set a new paragraph, you have to click down on the device again at the end of the scan.
The reason we considered the Scanmarker Air as a useful assistive technology for students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, and the reason it’s not just a scanning gadget, is because of its read aloud feature. The device can be set to read back text it scans, and does so in a clear manner.
That said, the integrated text to speech voice it uses lacks the more natural sounding voice that some other options with more built-in advanced text to speech software have. So while it’s better than the robotic sounding voices or the olden days, it’s still a little bit robot-like.
That said, for a device you can sometimes get on sale for under $100, you can’t really expect the most cutting edge TTS technology on the market.
However, one thing we think is quite useful as an assistive device is the ability to speed up or slow down the reading speed. If a student is having a hard time catching everything or is simply annoyed by the voice, they can do something about it to improve their experience and learning.
Left and Right Hand Modes
We liked the fact that the Scanmarker Air does let you switch between right and left handed modes. Basically, if selected, it reverses the scanning direction from left-to-right to right-to-left.
Doing so is really easy. You simply tap the relevant button in the app, which is quite easy to find in the device settings.
Once we got a handle on things, we found scanning to be pretty quick. Within a second or so after finishing scanning the words appear on the screen and the device can start reading aloud.
The company claims that it can scan up to 3000 characters a minute, but we didn’t quite have the hand speed ourselves to put that claim to the test by scanning about a full page of text in under 60 seconds, our experiences lead us to believe that some reader pen quickdraw could probably do something like that.
One thing we liked is that you can adjust scanning speed through the app if you find that you like to scan quickly or if you need to go slower in order to move the device smoothly.
Unfortunately, the Scanmarker air is not a stand alone device in that It does require a computer or mobile device and app to use.
Certain features require internet connection to be available, so you have to be in range of WiFi or 4/5g for:
- Connecting to new devices
- Activation of the device
This hampers its ease of use since you can’t just pick it up and start working, you have to pair it to a device first and then use them simultaneously.
Accuracy: How well does it work?
The Scanmarker Air does take some practice to get working accurately. Compared to more expensive devices it seems a little more sensitive to jittering, which can cause it to not read text properly.
After spending some time working with it, we got the hang of it and it seemed to work quickly and pretty accurately, scanning and reading texts aloud with few errors.
The company recommends quick and decisive scanning saying it can improve accuracy, but we found it really depends less on speed than how well you can move the pen smoothly and consistently across text. We recommend getting some practice and using the built-in scanning speed controls to figure out what’s best for you.
As far as reading and translations go, English, Spanish, German and French didn’t seem to give us any issues, but users do report having some problems in languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet, such as Japanese Kanji.
It should be noted that, as with many other OCR scanners, handwriting and some non-Latin characters can give it problems when scanning, giving errors or gibberish back to you. The Scanmarker Air tries to overcome this by giving users the option of scanning handwriting and other difficult text as an image. While good for taking notes, these images can’t be read out loud since it’s not digitized text that the device can work with, so this is of limited use for dyslexic students.
While the voice reading was somewhat old school and not as natural as other options, the device’s voice was clear and read out the text pretty well.
The device has been designed to be able to scan off e-readers, like Kindles, which is pretty cool in theory. However, our experiences and other users seem to indicate it’s more hit or miss in this regard. Sometimes it would pick up the text and other times not. For now we’d stick with old fashioned, high contrast black text on white paper for best results.
On the whole, for the price we would say it does a pretty good job as a read aloud scanning pen.
What ages is the Scanmarker Air appropriate for?
Because we found it to be a little more sensitive to non-smooth hand movements and because it took some practice before we started seeing really good accuracy, we would probably only recommend this product to students 10 and up.
Students younger than that may not have the dexterity yet or might just get too frustrated and give up.
How do I know if my student is ready for this scanning pen?
To reliably use the Scanmarker Air accurately, we feel your child should be able to do the following:
- Hold a pen independently
- Be willing to practice a bit to get familiar with how to scan
- Hold it at a 60 degree angle and run it across text
- Hit the little blank spot before a word begins and then scan a text from side to side without jittering too much
If they can do those things, they should be able to use a Scanmaker Air without much issue.
Overall, we feel the Scanmarker Air is an affordable and pretty accurate reader pen. If you don’t mind working alongside your computer or mobile device, and don’t mind needing a bit of practice, given the price we think it can represent a good value as an assistive device to students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.