Ah, the business card. That tiny fragment of paper that is your palm-size resume, ready to reach out and give people your pertinents — snapshot details that explain who you are, what you do, and how to contact you. In return, you get them by the handfuls. The problem is, the modern world really isn't made for paper business cards. So what do you do every time someone hands you a business card? If it's someone you want to keep in touch with, you scan it into your mobile device and save it in your contacts.
But how do you get the information from the business card into your device without having to manually enter it? You use a business card reader app — of which there are plenty. I'll highlight some of my favorite such applications, all of them free, so you can begin the process of converting that mountain of business cards into a more useful digital format.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.
1: CamCard Free
CamCard Free (Figure A) is one of the best-of-breed business card readers for the Android platform. CamCard Free uses your device camera to scan the information on the card and convert it to digital format. You can also sign up for an account on the CamCard website, which allows you to sync all your scanned information across all devices.
CamCard Free allows you to save the imported contact information to pretty much any contact listing you have on your phone (phone contacts, Google contacts, etc.). The free version of the app does have restrictions: If you're registered on the site, you can add 100 cards for free and 10 cards per week (after first launch). If you don't register with CamCard, you can add 50 cards for free and two cards per week (after first launch). This app is available for both Android and IOS.
CardToContact (Figure B) isn't as accurate as CamCard, but it offers a few more features on the free level (such as the ability to place phone calls or send emails from within the app, add labels and notes to cards, and do a full text search of all cards).
CardToContact also has a powerful filtering system. If you have an overwhelming number of cards scanned into the app, you can filter by data, name, and company (both ascending and descending) or list by label and search by criteria. When you tap on a card, you can edit it, share it, add it to a different account, or delete it. CardToContact is free; there is no paid version of the app.
3: FullContact Card Reader
FullContact Card Reader (Figure C) requires you to sign in with either Salesforce or FullContact. This app is a bit pickier about how you take the photo. You need to have the card fill the rectangle presented in the photo-taking screen — otherwise the photo will not take.
With FullContact Card Reader, you snap the photo, add notes, and then submit it for transcription. The transcription can take up to about 20 minutes. As a card is being transcribed, you can snap photos of new cards and submit them. FullContact Card Reader allows you to scan cards into more than 250 applications (such as BaseCRM, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MailChimp). With this type of integration, FullContact Card Reader makes a great app for the business sector. FullContact is free for a limited time. It's available for Android and IOS.
4: ScanBizCards Lite
ScanBizCards Lite (Figure D), recently purchased by CircleBack, is another entry that allows you to sync your scanned cards (with SalesForce and SugarCRM). You do have to sign in to ScanBizCards; but by doing so, your cards will be backed up and accessible from either your device or any web browser. The one really big pain with ScanBizCards is that you can't lay the business card on a table and take the picture (like every other app). Instead, the card has to be propped up and the edge of the phone upright (you'll see an indicator saying "This Side Up!") You can't take the photo in any other orientation. This will be a deal breaker for some. But if you can get beyond this, the app is pretty good at recognition and offers plenty of features that should please nearly any user.
ScanBizCards Lite limits you to adding two contacts per week, limits exporting to a CRM to five, removes clipboard scanning, and allows you to create only one folder. ScanBizCards Lite is available for Android and IOS.
5: Business Card Reader
Business Card Reader (Figure E) is less like an optical character recognition (OCR) tool and more like an image gallery. Even though it has a rough time importing text from cards, it does a great job of displaying your cards in an easy-to-read cover-flow fashion (which allows you to scroll through your cards).
The text recognition is pretty bad with this app, so don't expect to import information from the scans. But if you use it as a sort of digital Rolodex that doesn't require you to enter in any information, you'll enjoy the simplicity of this app. (Of course, you could always create a new folder in the Android Gallery and save photos of business cards into that.) Business Card Reader does offer a nice UI, but it's available only for Android.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.