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I was recently looking for a good free QR code reader for my iPhone and iPAD and was having an difficult time.

See...  There appear to be hundreds of apps--as you may have guessed.  But Apple makes it so difficult to find quality apps that the entire process was nearly unbearable.

I'm going to do the 5 second explaination of a QR code, the method I used to rate each app and will attempt to document some of my notes about each App that I tried.

Note that I decided to split this blog entry into two parts because there were just too many apps to cover in one session.

What is a QR Code?

Those are the funny random looking blocks that you sometimes see on advertisements.  Here's an example one:

These codes have really caught on a few years ago in Japan and in Europe.  For various reasons, they haven't been as popular in the United States.

These "QR" codes are effectively like the standard bar codes that you might see on grocery store products, books, magazines, everything.  The difference is that the QR code can uses a second dimension (2-D) and can store more data.

But that's just where it starts.  Depending on the QR code reader, you can do all kinds of cool stuff such as:

  • Store a simple message
  • Store a link to a web site
  • Store a link to an email address
  • Store a link to a telephone number
  • Store the data on a business card  (vCARD or MECARD formats)
  • Store Calendar events (iCal or iCalendar format)
  • Store WiFi access information

 

At the core, the QR reader just stores simple text.  However, there are many typical formats that are used to "encode" other information such as the web site links, email address links, etc.

Definition of "Good"

Many of the QR readers also seem to double as some type of "price checker" feature.  In addition, other QR readers seem to have the ability to generate new codes.

That's not what I'm looking for. 

Also, there were several readers which also promised to generate QR codes.  That's not what I needed either.

Instead, I'm looking for a QR reader that does the following:

  1. Is Free
  2. When you open it, it immediately is in camera mode looking for a QR code to read.
  3. Auto-reads the codes
  4. Is fast
  5. Is flexible in terms of the size of the code that it will read
  6. Can interprete all of the typical formats used above.
  7. Is easy for others to find, download and run.
  8. If possible, it has an Andriod equivalent.

Before I jump into the various apps, let me briefly explain each of these criteria.

Is Free

If I'm going to build systems and web pages that use QR codes, I need to be able to easily get others to install the app on their phones and tablets.  Having the app free requires less convincing.

Immediate Capture Mode

For my needs, the application needs to immediately be ready to scan codes.

You would be surprised by the number of apps that didn't do this.  In some apps, they required a button to be pressed to start scanning.  This doesn't make much sense because the whole reason you tapped on the app in the first place was to--duh--read a QR code.

In addition, I found a few apps that wanted me to "Sign Up" or "Sign In".  I don't understand why they would want this other than to "spy" on what codes I'm reading.  (Note...  I'm not doing top secret or illegal stuff here...  I just don't want someone collecting information on what codes I'm scanning.  In addition, I don't even want my phone/tablet to even spend WiFi or cellular bandwidth doing that.

Auto-reads the codes

Some of the readers required to you press a button to "take a snapshot" of something before they would attempt to read the code.

Given how the other readers worked, this proved to be a show stopper.  It adds a small amount of time to the scanning process and also frequently requires the process to be two-handed.

Fast

Some of the readers would take a significant amount of time to read the code.

Flexible

Some of the readers were designed to just display blank messages or jump to a URL.  For me, I wanted to generate codes that have calendar events, web site addresses and even business cards.

Any reader that couldn't do each of these was deleted.

Is easy for others to find, download and run.

This was tough.  As I mentioned above under "free", it is very important for me to be able to quickly tell others how to download the app.  (That's a funny thing...  I could create a QR code to do that...  But you would need the reader in order to do it.)

Having a web address that was really long or a name that made it difficult to narrow down in the App Store wasn't good.  Example?  If the reader is called "QR Reader", you could have what seems like a hundred matches.  If the App had a unique name, like Qrafter or Paperlinks, you can easily tell someone how to find it.

If possible, it has an Andriod equivalent.

Because my events and clients can have a variety of phones and tablets, I focused more on App developers that made apps for more than one platform.

I spent a few hours and collected what seemed like hundreds of Apps on my phone.

 

Summary of the Ones I Did Find

Here's a list of the ones that I found and some brief notes on each one.  Please note that because a lot of the apps are named the same, you may need to figure the software developer of the app in order to make sure you are downloading the correct one.

Best Barcode Reader by ???

The icon for this App has a partial QR code on it with a red heart on the lower right.

I consider this the best readers out there.  It is amazingly quick and hits all of the above criteria.  The only issue that I noticed was that it didn't seem to handle iCal formatted events quite right.  In specific, there seems to be a problem with UTC date and times.  I've contacted the developer and hopefully this can be resolved.  (Note...  It could be the code generating the iCal data that is at fault.  However...  Other QR Readers processed the iCal data correctly, so it is hard to tell where the problem might be.)

The other minor issue is finding the app.  Because it doesn't have a completely unique name, it is difficult to tell other people how to find and install it.  (other than the "red heart" line above.)

Also note that this app is related to the "QuickMark" QR reader.  I didn't use that reader because it cost $0.99 and it didn't meet my criteria for being free.

Qrafter

There are two versions of this app.  One version is free but attempts to get you to buy the "generator" function as an in-app purchase.  The other version is a straight paid app.

This app is pretty slick looking and handles the parsing of each of the types of QR codes that I was interested in using.

The only downsides are that the free version of the app has advertising running on it all of the time.  In addition, the app doesn't immediately scan on lauch unless you configure it that way.

Ultimately, I deleted this app from my machines because of the advertising.

QRCodeScan

I couldn't get this app to read any codes.

ScanLife

This one seemed to have a smaller area for which to scan a code.  And while this one scanned web addresses, it didn't interprete the MECARD or iCal formatted codes.  In addition, after it would read a code, there seemed to be some type of pause and I would frequently find myself on the scanlife.com web site.  This seemed unwarranted and just seemed like it was spyware.

i-nigma

This one had a cool name but seemed to not use as much of the screen has needed.  This caused issues with larger codes.

In addition, whenever it successfully read a code, the app would transfer to Safari--but through a redirect from their site.  (Spyware...)

Note that this app did seem to handle calendar events and a business card without any issues.

Norton Snap

This app supposedly has a security element in that it will scan codes and attempt to protect you from "running" QR codes that may be attempting to hack your phone/tablet.  (I'm guessing that it needs to "phone home" to do that...  In other words?  Spyware.)

In practice, this just seemed to add another level of questioning when you scanned a web site code.  In addition, it didn't understand the business card or the calendar event codes.

In addition, the interface seemed a little clunky because I just wanted to scan a code, have it do an action, then revisit the app to scan another code.  When you revisited the app, you are presented with the same scrollable menu of options.  It takes you several seconds to realize that pressing the "Snap Code" button was the way to scan another code.  (Sorry...  For some reason, this phrase wasn't very clear.  Not like some of the others that clearly said "Scan" or had a simple camera icon.)

In addition, there were times when you would scan a code and you needed to flip up to get to the "Open Website" and other times when you needed to do the opposite.

QR Scanner

This generically named app wasn't too bad.  It did require me to set some of its options in order to smoothen out the process of scanning QR codes and jumping to web sites.  It didn't have any clue how to handle a iCalendar event.  And it thought the business card was a phone number.  (Apparently there is some regular expression detection thing going on...)

QR FlipFlop

This one had a clunky interface.  To read a code, you needed to press the Scan QR button.  But what also was annoying is that once you pressed this button, it rolled up the bottom of the page and then asked you another question:  Scan with Camera or choose a picture from the library.  I kind of felt that I didn't need to be asked that.  Each time I did a scan, I needed to tap two on-screen buttons to run another scan.

In addition, once you scan a code, it just put its result in its "history" area.  You then had to click on the code you just scanned in order to take action.

The app was able to figure out the business card but not the event.

ZBar

This app didn't recognize the business card or the calendar events.  It also had a banner of ads running at the top of it.  Otherwise, it seemed to work rather well.

Tapscanner

This one didn't understand events.  But it did handle business cards.  I felt that I was doing to many clicks to get things done however.  Once a web QR code is scanned, you still need to click on it to execute.  While you can adjust some of the settings to make this easier, I still felt that some of the others that just open in camera mode were faster to use.

This was also an App that was "nagware".  It seemed like it constantly wanted to use location services.  It also wanted me to sign up or sign on initially but that question was easily dismissed.  After I adjusted its settings, the warning seemed to go away but quickly returned.  (a small bug.)

MobileTag

This app didn't understand the event code but did handle the business card and web addresses just fine.  It also had some nice instructions on how to scan a code.  Personally, I didn't think that was necessary because I kind of think that any idiot that doesn't think the camera needs to see the whole QR code before it can be read is... well...  an idiot.  It might be nicer to just have it jump into the camera mode and if, after X seconds a code isn't successfully read, perhaps then it could have the little info "i" icon at the top start "pulsing" to prompt the idiots to click the information.

However...  After using the app for a few minutes, I started noticing yet another web "redirect".  In other words, spyware again.

Delete...

Bakodo

This app had a nice, unique name.  The app itself was pretty straightforward.  However, it did advertising along the bottom.  This reader was able to read the business card and the web site.  It required an extra click to run the web site.  It didn't seem to understand the calendar event.

I also noticed that I really needed to back off some of the codes before they could be read.  I only mention this for this app because I didn't notice this issue with many of the other apps.  (It was only obvious because I was using the other apps.)

Note that this one had a nice feature of allowing you to see the actual text that was scanned.  This can be useful for learning how other QR codes work.

RL Classic

This app seemed to be able to read all of the codes.  In fact, my only real complaint is that even after turning on its "Scan on Startup" feature, it would still require me to press the flash button in order to turn on the camera.

Otherwise, it seemed to parse the business card and calendar events without any issues.

Like the others, when you press the "Back" button to go back after seeing the results of a scan, you need to press the flash button to turn on the camera.  In other words?  Two buttons to press to scan another code.

Conclusion - Part 1

Ultimately, I wished that iOS and Android (and others) build in basic QR reading into the operating system.  That way, all devices would have QR readers and the usage of QR codes would explode.

But because this hasn't happened, we are stuck looking for an add-in to do the work.

In my opinion, the Best Barcode Reader app is the best for the iPhone.  For Android, the QR Droid app appeared to be the best.

I will add the details for the other Apps


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