It has finally happened – the Office Lens team have released the universal Windows 10 app version of Office Lens.
And it’s great!
I was fortunate enough to get access to the early release preview and have been using it at a conference for the last few days. It has all the features of the IOS version, but for your windows device. For me, this meant my Surface became oh so much more usable as an aggregator of information when note taking – no more using the phone to send the photo to the cloud and then pull that image down to my main device. Instead, it all happens in one place, almost seamlessly.
For those who aren’t in the know, Office Lens is a photo/scanner/whiteboard/document capture and transform app. When you open the app on your windows device it is immediately ready to take the first image. At the right of the app, the scanner icon allows access to the options for the document types:
- Photo – takes an unedited or manipulated photo
- Document – captures a corrected image of a document
- Whiteboard – captures a corrected image of a whiteboard, also cleaning the background to pure white
- Business card – which captures the corrected image as well as the contact information ready to add to your address book
Very cleverly, the app detects the edges of the document, whiteboard or app in the view of the camera, and after taking the photo, the edges are cropped out, and the document transformed to rectangular.
By default, touching the screen will take the photo – which may well not be what you want, especially if you have used the IOS version. If you are used to focusing the image first, then taking the photo, you will need to adjust the settings – like most Windows apps, the … icon in the bottom right accessing the settings. Under the General tab, there is the option to turn off “Tap to take photo”, along with the ability to change the camera or the resolution of images taken. If you choose to turn off the “Tap to take photo”, only pressing the “camera” icon will take the photo – just like the IOS version of the app.
Also in the settings area is the ability to import previously taken images from your camera roll – very good for fixing any images you took before getting the app!
If for some reason the Office Lens app doesn’t detect the document correctly, pressing the resize button allows the user to drag the document selector to the “correct area” which will then be cropped and transformed after hitting done.
You can also change the processing type on this edit screen by hitting the “scanner” icon. To round out the options, you can trash the image (if it’s terrible!) and name the individual image of a series of images you have taken before you save. Unlike the IOS version, there is no way to rotate an image currently, but I expect this will be an update to the app very soon – in the meantime you need to do this in the software you end up using the image in.
When you save the image (or images!) the current options are OneNote, OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, PDF (all of which require internet access) or to the local image Gallery. A nice feature is you can use the checkboxes to send an image to more than one file type at once – very cool!
In this very connected world, I understand that most options require internet. However, for my testing I was at a conference with very dubious internet connectivity, and so being able to save to the local image Gallery meant I could still use it seamlessly on my device. After I took the image, and saved it to my Gallery, tapping the image in my recent uploads opened it in photo viewer, where I could right click, copy and then paste into my notes to mash up with annotations and drawing. I do wish I could copy the image directly from within Office Lens, and hopefully this might be enabled in future updates.
I really like the usability of the new Office Lens for windows on a larger device, compared to my IOS experience on a phone. As my Surface is my primary device, there is something just right about being able to do everything I need in one place, and changing the occasional snap points with big fingers on a big screen works much more accurately than on a phone.
When connected to a wireless network (which face it is most of the time!), a little bit of cloud workflow planning and management can pay huge dividends. I’m a big OneNote user, because I like being able to annotate over digital artefacts. But finding the right OneNote and then the right section to store the page can be difficult. So I have created a OneNote Notebook especially for Office Lens (both for my IOS and Windows devices now!), very imaginatively called “Office Lens Synch”. The first time I ever saved to OneNote from Office Lens, I navigated to the “New Section 1” folder within this Notebook and now whenever I save to OneNote, I know this is where it will go – no thinking needed – So when I open OneNote on my computer, I just go to the Office Lens Synch Notebook, and after a few seconds my document is there and waiting as a new page.
I also like the ability to turn an image into a PowerPoint slide (it gives three slides for each image – the photo, a slightly rendered photo, and one turned entirely into drawing objects), a PDF (perfect for sending a scan of anything to anyone), or even a Word document. In business card mode, the fact it gives the image of the card plus all the extracted contact information is massive (especially at a conference) and a really great time saver. But for me, it’s the OneNote and basic image tools that are the reasons I keep coming back to Office Lens time and time again.
Now if the Office Lens team could just turn it into a nifty little self hiding floating toolbar like the Snip tool that came out of the Microsoft garage project, I would just be in digitising heaven! For the time being though, pinning it to my task bar (right click, pin to task bar) has it in reach for whenever I need to take a screen, document, whiteboard, business card or anything else and turn it in to a usable digital artifact.
You can download the new Office Lens app for Windows from the store: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/p/office-lens/9wzdncrfj3t8