Scanning & OCR on Android

All apps were tested on a Samsung Galaxy Note 2

I use my phone's camera as a scanner frequently for genealogy, but for some reason it never dawned on me to look for OCR options until today.

Currently I am about 1/4 of the way through transcribing courtship letters from 1885-1886 for my genealogy blog, and it finally "clicked" that there is probably an app for that.

There is.  More than one. I'm typing this post as I try them out, but so far it looks promising that there is a good option for this!  As I was looking for OCR options, I found scanner options too, so I will be looking at those as well.  An app that would automatically "clean up", straighten & crop my genealogy scans (by phone) would be awesome!

Below the chart is a more detailed description of how each app worked for me.  My final choices?  On my phone I am going to keep Text Fairy, for when I want to convert to text right on the spot.  But for the genealogy transcriptions, Google drive is the hands down winner.    I will still need to use my laptop, but I can take the pics with my phone, send them to google drive to wait until I am at my computer to use the OCR.  The benefit is that the new document will have both the photo, and the text, in the document.  

The defining factor between Text Fairy and Mobile OCR is that Text Fairy is free, and it looks better.  Mobile OCR allows 10 scans a day, which is probably more than I need, but text fairy looks better, and is unlimited.

Mobile OCR

This is a bare bones app, in the free version.  The first photo I took in landscape mode - the app cannot deal with that, it was unable to translate that.

I took the photo again, this time with the camera app on my phone, rotated it, then opened the Mobile OCR app and chose the gallery option to import the photo.  If you take the photo in app, there are no options to crop or rotate it.

The share options are nonexistent.  You can copy the text, that is it - but really, that is enough.  From there you can paste the text into any other app. 

The version I tried was a trial version, limiting the number of photos and scans I could take, and hounding me to rate the app as soon as it translated the text - before I could even see if it had done a good job.

Limited to 10 pages a day in the free version.

I can send a photo from my phone gallery to Text Fairy simply by clicking the share icon on my phone - just like sharing to facebook, but share to Text Fairy instead.  I loved that.

Once the photo is chosen, the app gives you options to rotate and crop before it scans.

The graphics are great - it shows the "scanning" of the text.

Then at the end, the share features are great - I can send the text to a large variety of apps, save it as a pdf, etc.

I loved everything about this app - except for the actual OCR.  The text it scanned came out as gibberish.  I tried taking the photo "in app", and I tried taking the photo and then sending it to the app - gibberish both times. I tried a second document and that one worked well, even though they were both typed in the same font, on the same paper.  

Mobile OCR read the text in both photos, but had some problems with a few lines in the troublesome document here too.  Mobile OCR did a much better job than Text Fairy, but the fact that they both struggled with the one document gives me hope for Text Fairy - I really do love all of the features.

Smart OCR Text Miner
This app has a clunkier interface, after using the two above.  It isn't bad - but it does not offer anything better than the two above, and it looks worse doing it.  It worked about the same as the two above as well - one document converted very well, one was gibberish.  There were limited sharing options.  It is free.  

Google Goggles
I read a Life Hacker article on using Google Goggles for OCR, but it was written in 2011, I think better options have appeared since then.  I did try it today, but it was frustrating.  It didn't want to let me select the text area, so it just scanned the middle of the document, not the top or bottom, and once the text was there, the only option was to copy it..  it works, in a pinch, for small sections..  but for the genealogy transcription I am working on, this is not a viable option.

Cam Scanner PDF
This was a nice little scan app, but adding the OCR plugin only makes the text searchable, it does not give you a file, nor a reading, of the text.

Take the photo on your phone.
Share it to google drive
Go to your computer (I could not find an option through the app on my phone)
Click the box beside the file.  Choose "more" at the top of the screen.
Choose Open With
Choose Google Docs

This created a new document for me, with the photo at the top, and the text at the bottom.  
For genealogy, this is perfect.  I can copy and paste the text in my blog, and save all the documents with the scanned photo at the top, to check errors if there is a question later.

More about OCR in Google Drive:

ABBY Cloud OCR has a variety of packages, starting at $9.99.  I did not want to bother with registering and paying for the service to try it out, but they do have a free trial.


  1. You might want to try out OCR Instantly Free, which is missing from the list :)


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