Some people- you might perhaps even say most people- have limited use for a camera on a tablet. Tablets always seem to be lagging behind phones when it comes to camera quality, so many people have a better camera on their phone, which tends to always be with them. That’s why some devices, like the Nexus 7 I love to hate, don’t even have a rear facing camera. 

Personally though, I value a good camera on a tablet, for two primary reasons. The first is rather niche, as it has to do with this site: A tablet allows me to make videos with my phone in it. The second reason is still not that mainstream, but it’s at least closer: Document scanning. The ability to fire up a document scanning app like Scanner Pro or Camscanner, point it at the poor piece of paper whose only crime was to be given to a paper hater, and digitize the sucker.

For those unfamiliar with such apps, they take new or existing pictures of documents and run them through a cropping and enhancement process to make them look as close to a properly scanned document as possible. Depending on the quality of the photo, you can get some really amazing looking scans from this method, especially if we’re talking about text-only documents.

For me this is an invaluable tool, as even in 2013 there are tons of people out there who still think that handing you something on a piece of dead tree is acceptable. I show up to lectures with my iPad mini and a stylus, and I intend to leave the same way- but with any relevant documents and notes stored for future reference in Dropbox. That’s a system that requires digitizing paper as you get it, and in such cases speed is always good.

Up until I got the iPad mini, I did this first by using a standalone digital camera with my iPad 2, and then via my phone. Any process that includes a second device takes longer than one that doesn’t, so while it wasn’t really an issue, I was really looking forward to testing out the iPad mini’s 5 megapixel camera for this purpose. Today I got that chance, and I have to say I’m impressed. The camera hasn’t impressed me too much for normal camera uses (photos, video), and the lack of an LED light is frankly on the list of my biggest issues with the iPad mini. Turns out that in normal room lighting though, the camera produces decent enough pictures of documents to be used for this process, which is a massive time saver over using my phone. The size of the mini also makes this a less awkward process than doing it with an iPad 3 or 4, which have a similar (or identical, not sure) camera.

After scanning, you can open these documents in various apps, both on Android and iOS. I open my scans in Goodnotes, annotate or combine them with other notes/documents as needed, and then I simply export them as PDF files to Dropbox when I’m done. That way I leave the way I came, with only my iPad mini, and I don’t have to worry about the safety of my documents.

This “trick” has been around for years, and I’ve written about it before, but it seems like it’s still something that few people have actually done- despite there being situations where they could have used it. I think it’s a great trick to have in your bag, and an invaluable tool for truly going paperless.