Review: NeatWorks for Mac

Update adds tax forms and Quick Look, plus improved reports and speed. (April 29th, 2010)

NeatWorks 3.0.5 splits scanning receipts, business cards, and documents into different categories, with numerous data fields to append searchable information.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: The Neat Company

Price: $80.00 US

The Good

  • Fast initial scanning and OCR processing.
    Excellent database capabilities.
    Good report generation.
    Excellent tax annotations including specific IRS category divisions.
    Easy to learn for new users.

The Bad

  • OCR consistently fails to read receipt information, which slows processing of large batches of scans.

If you want to reduce the clutter of keeping track of loose receipts, especially those associated with yearly tax expenses, Neat offers a solution with it's small scanners and associated software. The recently upgraded scanning suite, NeatWorks for Mac 3.0.5, adds U.S. and Canadian tax categories. It adds specific tax categories, with links to tax forms in the program, and subfolder support that allows you to create a folder with taxable receipts only, for instance. Other updates include Quick Look integration and workflow improvements, such as keyboard shortcuts, blank page removal, better speed, and an improved report interface.

Main Window

Main Window

The software seems to be very solid after the latest update. I tested the software with the NeatReceipts Mobile Scanner on Mac OS X 10.6. During the review period, The Neat Company released a number of software updates, with the fifth released in April. Each update fixes small bugs, two of which fixed crashes I experienced and reported.

NeatWorks 3.0 splits scanning receipts, business cards, and documents into different categories, with numerous data fields to append searchable information in each category. The Receipts category includes vendor names, project and client fields, and monetary fields for total cost and sales tax. It also has a field for credit card information that allows you to track the expenses of one specific card. There are U.S. and Canadian tax categories with a drop-down menu for numerous specific US tax forms, so that you can specify where a receipt belongs for tax time. There is also a notes field for annotating a receipt with information that doesn't fit into the other categories.

The Contacts category has support for notes along with numerous personal or business contact information, including titles, phone numbers, physical addresses, URLs, and instant message information. NeatWorks syncs contacts easily with your Address Book. Document scans include fields for title, date, author, to and from, received and sent, client, projects, and a notes field.

Scanned Receipts

Scanned Receipts

You can easily set up reports on tax documents, spending patterns or business contacts and publish them to PDF or a printed page. The new subfolders and search capabilities make creating reports even easier. NeatWorks 3.0 offers numerous viewing options when working through groups of documents.

Quick Look View

Quick Look View

Scans are quick and efficient with a rare slip that the software can usually recover from and provide skewed but legible scans. The blank page removal works well and you can easily add additional receipt pages and backs of business cards via a Command-K keyboard shortcut.

Optical Character Recognition

One of the main features of the software is its intelligent Optical Character Recognition, and that is where the performance of NeatWorks gets tricky. The software utilizes OCR to capture scanned information into categories such as Vendor and Amount to make the workflow of digitizing receipts easy, quick, and painless, or so the company claims.

Sample Scanned Receipt

Sample Scanned Receipt

The reality is not nearly as efficient. The software consistently misses numerical fields like Amount, and often mistakes the balance due on many receipts for the total, thus giving a total cost result of $0.00, instead of the correct balance, such as Total $17.24, as seen above. It seems that this is something that should be coded into the OCR AI to give proper results most of the time. The software also struggles to recognize sales tax, even when there is a specific line with a tax descriptor.

Captured Information

Actual Information Captured From Above Receipt

NeatWorks does a better job of recognizing vendors, but even then, it only recognizes about 55% of vendor information. It tends to recognize certain vendors consistently, such as Walmart and Target, yet always miss others, like Sam's Club and World Market. I scanned hundreds of receipts and the software never got all the OCR categories correct, which is far from the goal of getting all the categories correct most of the time. There were similar problems reading business names on business cards for contact info, though the software did well with phone numbers, names, and email addresses.

Information Added Manually

Information Added Manually

The OCR inconsistency creates a bottleneck between fast scanning of raw receipts and business cards and the excellent, flexible database capabilities of the software once it has all the metadata attached to each document. Hopefully, The Neat Company will improve the OCR function, because as it stands the real strength of the software, to organize information, is limited by the time you can spend performing data entry for each document scanned. The OCR only gets you started on each scan, and requires you to make adjustments to each document, instead of making a correction here or there once every ten or twenty scans. The time toll adds up quickly due to this bottleneck, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of receipts to scan.

In practice the best way to scan in raw data is to run numerous scans into the inbox, then, when there's time, go through each scan and fix the OCR mistakes. That workflow is the best available, but far from ideal due to the time consumption on large scanning runs. You can mitigate the problem by starting with new receipts and business cards, because a batch of ten receipts and four or five cards once a week would be more manageable. New receipt scans are more likely to yield correct information than older folded, bent, and crimped ones.

Excellent Database

The real appeal of the software is to be able to scan vast numbers of receipts, documents, and business cards into the digital realm where the software can track trends, print reports, and group the files intelligently. Part of the advertising campaign for Neat Software, shows piles of receipts quickly swept up into the computer, which eliminates clutter. It provides you with an excellent database to track spending trends, expenses, and tax preparation, but its not-quite-Intelligent OCR cripples the software. When the OCR makes passing grades, the software will really deliver, because it scans paper files quickly and it can do great things with its database.

Rating the components, the raw scanning capabilities deserve a four out of five stars for good speed and accuracy. The excellent database portion of the software deserves 5 stars. The OCR however slows down the process getting some things wrong, some things right and missing more than it hits. I can't give it more than two stars out of five until it consistently gets all the info presented on easily read receipts. At that point I'd have no problem rating this as five-star software. For now, the software scores a 3.5 out of 5 overall, and for what it is worth, I am going to stick with it despite the frustrating OCR limitations.

NeatWorks 3.0 requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or higher on an Intel Mac and works with NeatDesk or NeatReceipts scanners and other scanners from HP, Canon and Fujitsu. It is free with the purchase of a Neat scanner and $80 as standalone software. The update is free for users of previous versions, plus a version exists for PC users.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by EV Hunt


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