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How to scan and fax from your iPhone

Faxing is definitely back-in-the-day, but when you need it, you need it. Here are some useful apps that will help you make retro connections to old-school organizations.

old-fax-machine-istock.jpg

Anybody seen the fax machine? Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you ever had one of those days when you're pulled out of your normal routine and you suddenly have to adult-up in an old-school kind of way? You have to somehow produce an important document out of thin air, right-the-heck-now. Or you have to get some important document that lives in meatspace and send it to someone else who lives in meatspace... and yes, you need to do it right-the-heck-now.

I don't enjoy those days. But, thankfully, I have a set of tools that makes the process manageable.

I'm talking about scanning and faxing from your iPhone. Scanning is probably the one you're most familiar with. Your iPhone has a camera. You take pictures of just about everything with it. So, scanning a document is a natural extension of the taking pictures of everything thing.

But faxing? Seriously. Does anyone fax anymore?

Yeah, they do. I'll give you one example from when I was handling some really tough family stuff. My dad (who has since passed away) was in the hospital. The care team needed some medical records right away for urgent care, but the medical records office at the facility my dad had been transferred from was closed for the night.

As it turned out, I had received copies of those documents earlier. They were stored in my Evernote. I couldn't print them at the hospital because they didn't have a printer I could access. But they did have a fax machine. So, I pulled the document out of Evernote and faxed it -- all from my phone -- to the hospital's fax machine. The important document was in the doctor's hands in five minutes, instead of sometime the next day when it well might have been too late.

Over the time caregiving for my parents, I had to pull the fax-documents-from-my-phone trick numerous times. I also needed to transfer documents while on the road traveling. There were times all I had was my iPhone, and I needed access to my entire document library. I talked earlier about how the cloud helped me in these circumstances, but a critical piece of the puzzle has always been the scanning and faxing capabilities of my phone.

How to do it

As with everything on the iPhone, if there's one app in a category, there are fifty. Rather than run down all the possible apps you might use, I'm going to just showcase three apps that I use for scanning and faxing.

My first go-to app is Scannable, a free app provided by Evernote. Scannable is smart in how it grabs documents. It easily finds the natural edges of a page. You can capture a bunch of pages in a row, and either upload them to Evernote or send them to another application.

Also: Best scanners: Fujitsu, Canon, Kodak, Epson, and more

I like how Scannable lets you turn a flashlight on and off to get better images in less-than-ideal environments. It also de-warps documents (at least a bit), so if you take a picture of a document from an off-angle, Scannable does its best to square up the corners and present a clean image.

As useful as Scannable is, it doesn't help with one problem: glare. Have you ever tried to take a picture of another picture and had glare from a ceiling light obscure some of what you were trying to capture? It's a paradox of capturing glossy images. If you get enough light on the object to get a good shot, you're going to get some glare.

To get around this problem, I use PhotoScan, from Google. PhotoScan is available for both iOS and Android.

You use it by holding the phone over a photo you want to scan. PhotoScan will present four white dots. You need to angle or move the phone to make sure a targeting pointer is inside each of those dots.

As you do, PhotoScan grabs images of the photo you're scanning, from slightly different angles. By doing this, the program gets different views of the photo being scanned. This allows it to stitch together all the views and angles, building a composite image that does not have the glare in the final picture.

For faxing, I use a service called eFax. These folks aren't cheap, with plans starting at $16.95 a month. The benefit of eFax is you get (or can port) a fax number, so you can both send and receive faxes. There's also a cloud interface that stores your faxes. In my case, this allows me to give out a fax number so that I can get critical documents from organizations that are stuck in the 1990s.

What I like about eFax is that it includes a share extension, so I can fax from almost all iOS apps that support sharing. This makes it easy to fax a document from almost all of my apps.

I know some of you looked at that $17/mo fee and shook your head with a big, "no-no, uh-uh, I'm not paying no two hundred bucks a year to fax stuff" grumble. I agree. It's rough. If it wasn't something I use relatively regularly for both work-related communication and family management, and had years of faxes stored in their online library, I wouldn't either.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. One good alternative is iFax, which is substantially less expensive. The base iFax plan is about 30% less expensive than eFax and includes 25% more faxes per month. The Pro iFax tier supports more than double the number of pages as eFax's Pro plan, for about the same price. eFax has a few more features, but iFax's interface is a little cleaner.

A somewhat wackier alternative is Fax Burner, an app that allows you to send and receive a few pages at no charge. It has in-app purchases that let you buy more pages, but if you just need to send a couple of pages once or twice a year, Fax Burner is a decent alternative.

I haven't personally used the service. I'm always a bit wary of sending confidential information through a free service, but for those of you who need to fax and don't want to sign up for a costly plan, it is an alternative.

What apps do you use to scan and fax documents from your phone? Do you still fax at all? Let us know in the TalkBacks below.