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Spotlight On: Microsoft Office Lens

We’re always keeping an eye out on periphery Microsoft apps that can help us save time while in the office as well as while on the go. Microsoft Office Lens is a small app that allows you to turn pictures into text documents, similar to a scanner, but just with a photo. Today we take a look at this little app and see how useful it really is. 

Last week we put the spotlight on Microsoft To Do, another neat lightweight free MS application across both desktop and mobile. Head over and check out the details if you are in need of a tasking app to help you (or others in your organisation) stay organised.

What is Microsoft Office Lens?

Office Lens is a quick document scanning app that allows you to take a picture of text and quickly save it for future reference. You have the option to save and (in the process) convert the image to text, instead of it simply being a static picture.

With Office Lens, you can save the output results in a whole bunch of different formats. The default is to save to Microsoft OneNote, the quick notes app in the MS suite, although it’s also possible to save to your main pictures gallery as an image, to pdf type, to OneDrive, to Word (as a text-extracted OCR document), and PowerPoint, as a slide. On your phone, you’ll also find the option to use a reader, that will read out the text from the images for you.

How much is Microsoft Office Lens?

The app is completely free to use across platforms. You can find it on the Microsoft Store on Windows, or the respective app stores on iOS and Android devices. Because it works mainly in tandem with the Microsoft suite of products, you should log into your MS account to use it.

How does Office Lens work?

Office Lens grabs a picture with your camera, finds the whiteboard, document, business card, or photo within the scene, then straightens it (if the text area is not straightened) and crops out the rest of the shot.

It’s meant to be used for quick, on the go snaps, perhaps in meetings, or if you have documents you quickly need to capture, and saves lining up for that perfect, screen-filled head-on picture.

Is it any good in practice?

We tried out Office Lens both with a Windows laptop and an Android phone.

On the Windows laptop, after downloading the app from the Windows store, we took a photo of a scene and saved it. Unfortunately, the app was incredibly slow, almost as to be unusable. Also, combined with the low resolution of the laptop camera, it took lousy pictures – although it did find and crop the required document and whiteboard easily. Using the app on a computer therefore, isn’t exactly recommended, unless you don’t mind waiting a fairly long time for the program to do its thing.

On the Android phone, the app showed promise. Because we used a new phone with a swanky dual camera, the picture taking results were far better: a clean, crisp document image. That being said, the app did struggle to find the whole document; instead grabbing only parts of the document in its selection rectangle. Also, if the image wasn’t perfectly lit or grabbed with the selection rectangle, when converting the text to words it was jumbled.

Is Microsoft Office Lens the right tool to use?

In a perfectly lit world, if you have a top of the line phone, then, Office Lens will do the trick for taking quick pictures of documents and whiteboards or projection screens and converting them to text.

If you have no other way to do this, then try out Microsoft Office Lens. If you don’t need to convert to text, then don’t worry about it; and if you can grab a copy of the presentation’s slides then do that instead.

The app isn’t perfect – but none of these style of apps are. We are still in the middle stages of grabbing text from non-perfect photos. A few years down the track we expect these apps to have progressed significantly from current standards. So it might simply be a case of wait a while for the best results.

Need help with productivity apps for your organisation?

Office Lens is just one free productivity app that people use for work and personal life. There are plenty more that can help you achieve small tasks with less manual effort. If you are interested in a consult to see which apps your organisation could benefit from, then get in touch. We are up to date on all the latest tools for desktop and mobile that can help bring your organisation in line with current digital organisation standards, plus we are Microsoft Certified Professionals.

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