Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner Review

First off, let me say that I never intended this to happen. What I intended was a thoughtful, clear review of the Flip-Pal mobile scanner, complete with what I liked and didn’t like about the device. The last thing I wanted it to be was an all-out love fest! But right off there was a bit of a problem. See, I couldn’t find anything I really didn’t like but quite a few things I really loved! So I ask you all to indulge my gushing and try to read on to the end without developing a cavity.

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When I say I was impressed from the first, I mean from the moment I opened the box! In this day of “batteries not included” and everything being extra, the folks at the Rocky Mountain Ventures Company, the makers of Flip-Pal, have included a 2GB SD memory card, a USB to SD adapter, in case you don’t have an SD card reader handy, photo-stitching and color correction software, a window protector sheet so your Flip-Pal window doesn’t get scratched, and, yes, batteries! But, really, the first thing I thought when I saw the Flip-Pal? “Oh, My Gosh! Is this thing cute, or what?!?”

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For more of the fundamentals, such as instructions, buttons, as well as more gushing about the batteries being included (< that’s me being way easy to impress!) I invite you to have a look at my friend Lorine Massey’s review on her Olive Tree Genealogy blog. It’s a really nice “Out Of The Box” review that covers the basics nicely.

As for me, I’m going right past the box and straight into what this little puppy can do! I’m not going to compare it to other scanners, because that’s not the point. The point is this is, in my opinion, the first of it’s kind; a truly mobile scanner that really works! Could I do the same things with a wand scanner? I suppose I could if I could keep my hands steady long enough to get a great scan. Could I do the same things with my camera? Definitely, if I took my monopod or tripod with me everywhere (or could keep my hands steady long enough…). Oh, and if I didn’t have a little point and if I had a nice Macro Lens. So could I do it with a camera for $150? Nope. So I’m going to forgo the comparisons and test the Flip-Pal on it’s own merits.

When I got it up and running (about 2 minutes after it arrived, and that’s not much of an exaggeration!), I set about scanning everything in site. Sure I tried a photo, because that’s the obvious choice, but I was ultimately thinking “field work”, the out of the ordinary. I scanned photos, newspapers, books (new and old/crumbly). I scanned live leaves and flowers, I scanned piles of buttons, I scanned material…going a little overboard, am I? I don’t think so, considering there’s a use for this scanner not only in the research/genealogy field, but for scrapbooking and composite art as well, and those are just a couple that popped into my head right away. The scanner would also be an excellent way to quickly and easily scan paper receipts and documents onto your hard drive making it really handy in any business as well as in our everyday, non-work lives.

So how did it do? Click the images below for a larger look at some of my experiments. I kept the resolution at 600ppi for everything and the detail of the scans was, for the most part, very good. Starting with something fairly ordinary, I scanned a picture in a newspaper (used with permission of the Handley Herald). Newspapers, by their nature, don’t scan particularly well, but the Flip-Pal did a more than adequate job!

paper_1

Next, I went on to some non-photographic items. In these examples, one of crochet work done by my Great-Grandma Anna and the other some tatting done by my mom when she was a young girl show a great level of detail.

crochet_2

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I often scan things like cloth textures for my compositing library. In my work, I sometimes need to recreate or enhance things like articles of clothing and more than once a textures like linen, or wool or patterns like pinstripe or herringbone have helped me make the restoration that much better. I was pretty much tied down to finding things laying around my home to get these textures and have also had to settle for less than what I really wanted because I didn’t have the right camera set-up and my scanners are anything but portable. With the Filp-Pal, I can go into a store and explain to someone what I’m doing (unless you want someone following you around or calling in the law), and scan all sorts of patterns and textures! Before you ask, yes, I did.

texture_2

texture_1

Next I went for some nature. Hey, you never know when you’ll want to add a fern to your scrapbook, right? Right! So off to the garden I went. Keep in mind I was going for level of detail, not the prettiest, most pristine specimens, though the lavender came out very nice, if I do say so myself!

Lavendar

fern_1

So that’s a good cross section of the ordinary non-ordinary stuff I scanned. Now we’ll move on to the stitching and color correction!

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Inside the Flip-Pal Toolbox located on the (included!) SD memory card, which, by the way, you can easily load onto your hard drive, or on an external drive for that matter, or download from Flip-Pal.com if need be, are the Stitch Scans and Restore Color options. We’ll begin with Restore Color. most of you know I don’t care for color correction (or any corrections) in the scanner. It’s bias on my part due to the fact that I can’t (and don’t) use any in scanner corrections because my world is about pristine “before” photos to show with my “after” restorations. Plus, if you really want to learn to restore photos and know your software, such as Photoshop, having the scanner do all your work for you is pretty weak. Besides, a lot of the in scanner corrections I’ve seen are, well, bad. So I put a photo with a fairly heavy color cast through Flip-Pal Restore Color and waited for not much to happen. Oh, but it did! Actually, I was fairly impressed! Another plus was the ability to tweak the levels of color cast removal and gamma correction, which, of course, I did a little. The results were not bad, to say the least! I still won’t use it, personally, but it’s a really nice feature for those of you with photos with color problems who aren’t interested in learning to restore!

color-cast

Now we move on to the Stitch Scan feature. Again, I wasn’t expecting much and again I was pleasantly surprised. In this case, I actually did compare Flip-Pal to the Photomerge feature in Photoshop (also in Elements) and it did very well, on the whole. I began with scanning a portion on an old, 18th century document. Age, creases and not great handwriting with excessively cramped letters (fairly normal 16th – 18th century document characteristics) seemed a good test case. I scanned the document in two pieces over a handwritten paragraph, then put it through Flip-Pal Stitch Scans and Photomerge.

Docu_pcs

I purposely made the scans uneven because I wanted to see how it would handle the scans when the weren’t perfectly aligned.  The Flip-Pal stitch has a slight bow, and the Photomerge doesn’t, but both are stitched together beautifully and are perfectly readable. Unfortunately, neither platform made the handwriting any more legible.

Flip-Pal:

Docu_stitch_FP

Photomerge:

Docu_stitch_PS

But I wasn’t yet satisfied, so I scanned an old, crumbly book. Being able to remove the lid of the scanner and look through the window in the back to see exactly where your scanning is fantastic, especially in the case of old, fragile items such as books! Since the Flip-Pal is so small, it took ten scans to sufficiently cover the two pages of this book. When stitching scans together, you want to allow for plenty of overlap between scans. That is what the software is using to put the pieces back together, images matching from one scan to another. I should also mention that in order for the Flip-Pal Stitch Scan to work properly, all the scans need to be oriented in the same direction. If there’s a reason you can’t do that, you can always flip them in your photo editing software, and resave before stitching.

book_pieces

Stitched_book

Again, the Flip-Pal stitching software did an excellent job! I’d daresay you’d be hard-pressed to find any sign of stitching here!

The last example of scanning and stitching I wanted to undertake was  a framed image, but not just any framed image! No, I wanted to scan a particular nemesis of mine, a picture in bubble glass! The only way I’ve been able to find that satisfactorily captures the image of a convex oval portrait, mostly very big and nearly always very fragile – too fragile to even attempt removal from the frame, is to photograph them in many pieces, from a lot of different angles and stitch them back together. Again, I’m not set up with a lot of professional photography equipment (none, actually), so the job is just that much harder. To be able to lay the scanner on the portrait and get good images to piece together would be a treat for me! I used a small bubble glass picture and scanned it in 6 pieces. Looking back, I probably should have made at least eight, but it still worked out really well.

Bubble_pcs

There’s actually only one area of the frame where you can tell any stitching took place at all, and that could be very easily fixed. All in all, I’d say it was a very impressive job.

Bubble

You’ll notice I don’t have any examples of regular, flat photographs in this review. There are a LOT of Flip-Pal reviews going up right now, since this wonderful little helper is brand new to the market, and I’m sure there will be an excess of those kind of examples. I wanted to go for the different things you could use it for, and I’m sure there are many, many more than I covered here.

If you happen to get one for yourself (and at $149.99 plus free shipping, you really should!) you’ll probably find yourself scanning everything you can think of (hint: dogs don’t usually scan well. I’m just saying…)! If you come up with new, successful scanning victims ideas, let me know! But, of course, it does scan photographs wonderfully. I wouldn’t have a bit of a problem working on a photo that had been scanned with Flip-Pal, and, after all, that’s what it’s all about for me! Also, think of the possibilities when you go over to that cousins house, the one with all the great family photos who won’t let you take them home to scan, but keeps promising to scan them for you…someday? Imagine taking your cute little Flip-Pal and scanning right there in the safety of Cuz’s house! You’re happy, Cuz is happy and you finally have fantastic copies of your family photos!

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Janine Smith (108 Posts)

Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters.
Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies.
In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine.
Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.


  • http://heirloomsreunited.blogspot.com/ ToddHouse

    I purchased a Flip-Pal to scan pages of old autograph albums/journals, tabloids, framed items and other things that can’t be handled safely with my regular scanner. It works great!

    My only wish is that they’d create a companion one that’s regulation-size or larger, as many of those old memory albums pages take two or more passes; same with cabinet photos, unless all that is needed is the photo area itself.

    I’d want the original for its portability and ability to flip. I’d gladly pay for a larger one, just for the flip alone.

    Also, when the scanner is flipped, I keep hitting the green scan button when I don’t mean to. Getting better at that, though.

  • http://landailyn.com Janine

    Thank you for your comment, Todd! I also kept hitting the scan button, but it does get easier to avoid it! A larger one would be really nice for home, wouldn’t it? That flip-ability is so great!

  • http://www.BridgerMountainPhoto.com Christine Pentecost

    Wow, this is quite impressive. Great review Janine.

  • C Scott

    Thanks for the review. Looks great and looks like it will do just what I want it to!

  • http://www.catholicbookwriter.com/goldenarrow/dream-of-the-great-ship/ tim

    Try scanning a latent thumb print on any reasonable surface… I’m curious.

  • Missy

    Wonderfully detailed review…thanks Janine!

    I have a question. Did your Flip Pal come with a software cd? The one I was looking at…it says the software is built right into the SD memory card that comes with it, of course. I understood it to say that you don’t have to download any software to your computer since it is built right in on the memory card!

    I am not techno savvy and was wondering…what do you do when you fill up the included memory card if the software is built into the card? I like to switch out cards anyway, for different occasions, even if they are not full. This may be obvious to most, but I’m ancient, lol.

    Thanks for the help! Very warmly, Missy

  • http://www.landailyn.com Janine Smith

    Missy, yes the software is on the SD card. What I’m saying is that you can also put the software on your hard drive, in case you change the card, or use more than one. So, you don’t have to, by any means, but I, for one, love that I CAN! Also,you don’t have to leave the images on the card; you can move them to a folder on your hard drive, or delete off the card if you don’t like the image. You can also use any SD card in the slot. You can get some great deals on them and have extras on hand! It’s a really wonderful thing! :o)

  • http://ThankyouJanine! Missy

    OK, I get it, duh, lol. I was wondering if you have reviewed the VuPoint Magic Wand? It’s a portable scanner for flat services that is getting tons of hype. I am dieing to know what you think, and how you would differentiate between the Flip Pal and the VuPoint Magic Wand. I’m so confused now, lol. Buying Christmas presents! Would someone use/need both items? Maybe the FlipPal won’t scan a whole 8 x 10 document, in one pic, like the Wand will…just guessing. I know the Wand can’t scan 3-D objects.

    Even though the FlipPal has a stitching program…what is a good photo editor for us amateurs? I saw this HDR stitching software add: http://www.ptgui.com/features.html. But I guess that would be over my head and not sure how much it costs. I didn’t even know there was such a think as “stitching” before I read your review, lol. Just looking for a “dummy” photo editing program with stitching capabilities, I guess.

    Last, and I promise not to bug you anymore…unless I need pictures restored! (Apparently you are the master; very impressive resume.) I come to Ft. Worth when I can, DH is a cutting horse trainer and manufacturer of training equipment; so it would be easy to be in contact. Oh my Goodness, while I am yacking on…I just thought of a black and white pic that I would love to have restored! Oh, I’m so excited; I’ll have to go find the original.

    Okay, as I was saying, ahem…my last question…it seems like the FlipPal can only copy small sections of a page at a time…therefore, the stitching program is needed quite a bit. Is it difficult to copy pages from a book, document, or magazine with the Flip…or best just to stick with smaller pics? Maybe that’s what the Magic Wand is for?

    Well thanks for listening and helping with my Christmas list :) !

  • http://www.landailyn.com Janine Smith

    Hi Missy! I’ve not tried the VuPoint wand scanner. I, personally, don’t care for wand scanners. You have to keep a constant pressure and move them at a constant speed so, if your hands move or shake at all, you’ll have a flaw in the scan and have to start over. I can see how a wand scanner might be ok if you’re scanner something like, say, receipts, but I wouldn’t use one on photographs. I’d probably opt for an inexpensive flatbed scanner before I spent money on a wand scanner. Again, that’s just me and my opinion.

    Now, about the stitching software: I’ve not tried the stitching software you’ve given a link for, and while I’m sure it’s wonderful, I’d be more apt to invest in a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, which has Photomerge stitching included and does so much more, before I’d pay all that money for something that basically does one thing! Besides, PSE9 costs less! There’s also some free stitching software to be had on the web. I’m planning on doing a comparison at some point, but Adobe’s Photomerge, included in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, is an excellent stitching program.

    Next time you come to FTW, give me a call (phone # is listed on Landailyn.com) and you can come by. I’ll show you the coolness of the Flip-Pal and how very easy it is to stitch together. I’ll even throw in a Christmas cookie or two! I seriously love the Flip-Pal so much, I became an affiliate through my website! I’ve never done that before, for anything!

  • Lyle W. Swenson

    This certainly sounds like what we have been looking for as Iagree with those ref the wand scanners, not all that there cracked up to be. We scan all sorts of items constantly so this is just what we aqre looking for.

  • Kathie F.

    I just got my Flp Pal and LOVE it as much as you do. It is perfect for going to the library and scanning pages. Don’t have to worry about having enough dimes for the copier. One of the best things I ever bought other than my computer.

  • Missy

    Hey Janine…just unwrapping my FlipPal. Does it have a restore program? Mine came with an extra CD Create Manager Suite. There is a small scratch on the picture I want to scan and was wondering if the SD program or the CD would have some type of repair tool for that. Otherwise…it’s getting shipped off to you, lol.

  • http://www.mccown.org Leonard

    One thing I have noticed on the advertisements and the reviews, NO ONE, ever says the size of the scanning surface. That is important.

  • Kaye

    @ Leonard, the scanning surface is just large enough for a 4×6 photo. The stitching program takes care of anything larger. I am looking at getting the Flip-Pal for my field genealogy work. I use to use a Mac notebook & Fujitsu Scansnap. However, I got rid of my notebook when I bought my iPad2. I’m thinking I should be able to put the photos into the iPad2 with the Camera Connection Kit. Wouldn’t be able to use the stitch program until I got the photos into the Mac. Well, we’ll see. Anyone used the Flip-Pal with an iPad2?

  • Terra

    Just wondering how long the batteries last before replacing, I wish they had the option of using a plug in as well.
    And if I read this right, you said the scanner/software is on the sd card itself? What happens if it is erased or you use another card,
    sorry not very savvy on tools, looking at this for possible Christmas idea for me.lol

  • http://tangledtrees.blogspot.com/ Theresa Casteel

    Sold! A great review with some wonderful examples. I love my usb driven flat bed, but the big awkward tomes pose a problem. I keep eyeing this ‘flip pal’, but haven’t convinced myself that I really need it. Your review tipped the scale.
    Thank you.
    Regards,
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  • http://photoduck.net Alan Porter

    I too have been thinking about the Flip-Pal ever since I saw it advertised before Christmas. As a genealogist and photographer, I think it might be great, and am very encouraged by the review of the stitching software. Will a version with a slightly larger (say 6×8 inch or 8×10 be forthcoming? But I’m excited by the reviews and cannot wait too long!

  • Carol

    I have the VuPoint wand scanner and it takes a lot of practice to get the pictures scanned. You only have a short span of time to scan and if you get the red light you have to try again. I have been looking at the Flip-Pal for easier scanning. Did you purchase just the scanner ($149) or did you purchase the scanner plus software pkg ($199)? I really don’t think I need the additional software but was wondering what you would advise. Thank you for your reviews! It has been very informative.

  • Cary

    Your review tipped me into buying the Flip pal, and I’m so glad I did. Wands may work for some, but I’m not good with the frustrations. With the Flip pal, evrything works as advertised right away. I bought it and also bought rechargeable batteries and a charger for those times when you are finding lots of good stuff. The only (minor) drawback is the need to crop black spots off the edges if I plan to print the pages. I have an HP 4672 open page scanner I can lay on book pages to scan at home, but it is VERY NOT portable. A digital camera means having to include pictures of whatever is holding the book open to the right page and flat. Flip Pal is the perfect niche tool!

  • barbara schultz

    Great Review! I’m more convinced that this is the product I want!

  • jonipipkin

    It’s a disposable unit. Mine died after a year and a half of being treated with kid gloves and TLC. I DID NOT buy the warranty. I’m out $207.