Tech Review: Expense Receipts on the Go

In the old days, we used to tape down receipts from our travels and submit them to accounts payable. But that was before remote employees who may live in a different city from the home office. And of course, there's all that paper—even as we're moving toward a completely paperless world. Fortunately, there are a variety of apps, many of them free, that let you easily turn all paper documents into electronic files—no new hardware required.

We downloaded Smart Receipts, which we found comprehensive without being cumbersome. It's available for android phones or tablets, and we tested it on a Samsung android tablet. The app allows users to create a series of expense reports, which can be divided by date, trip or any other convenient way. Once a report is created, the app prompts users to add expense items in one of two ways.

The text-only method opens a window with blank spaces for the name of the expense, price, and description. A lengthy pull-down menu lists general categories and an optional comment line lets users enter a fuller description. We particularly liked the "expensable" checkbox, which lets users keep track of expenses that they're not submitting for reimbursement, such as conference souvenirs for the kids.

However, the real use of Smart Receipts is the way it works with a cellphone or tablet camera: The second way to add receipts is the camera method. Press the "picture" button and the camera turns on. Use it to take a photo of a receipt. The app did a pretty good job of allowing us to center the camera on the receipts, and after snapping the photo, it showed us the result instantly. If it wasn't readable, we were able to quickly do a retake. After we got a usable photo, we could label it, with the same fields as the text method.

When we were done, we were ready to generate a report. Smart Receipts gave us a choice of a PDF report—with or without a summary table—a CSV file (compatible with Excel) or a zipped file with time-stamped JPGs. We liked the full PDF report in particular: every expense listed in table form, with each photographed receipt neatly labeled.

After generating the report, Smart Receipts gives users options for sending or storing them, via email, Bluetooth or an upload to Google Drive or Dropbox, for example. Users can send the reports to themselves, or directly to a supervisor or accounts payable.

The only thing we would've liked to see is optical character recognition (OCR), which would allow the phone or tablet to actually read the receipts and enter the results in the table, saving us the task of manually entering them. The developer said this addition is planned for a future release; we're hoping it can read all those badly printed taxi and Starbucks receipts.

Smart Receipts is available from Android stores in an ad-supported free version or an ad-free version for $2.99.

When OCR Is Mandatory

Most printers also double as scanners today—but that doesn't help when you're on the road. If you absolutely have to have OCR while traveling, take a look at the ScanSnap S1100 Color Mobile Scanner from Fujitsu. It weighs less than a pound, and is suitable for small jobs in your hotel room at the end of the day.

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