"Scanning" with an Android Phone's Camera
(Click here if you have an
There is an inexpensive way to use an Android's camera to "scan" book and
other merchandise bar codes for fast lookups using ScoutPal Live. If
you don't already have an active ScoutPal account, you'll need to
Subscribe or begin a
Free Trial, before you can proceed.
Before trying camera scanning, you must do this simple test to confirm
that your phone can do lookups from typed-in ISBN and UPC numbers: Start
your Android's web browser, then browse directly to
(notice the "ie" instead of "www".)
Login, then use the phone's keypad to type in and lookup a couple of ISBNs or UPCs.
(Hint: tack on ?id.password at the end of the ie.scoutpal.com
URL (your particular id and your password), go there,
then bookmark the page that comes up. You will now have an easy way to start ScoutPal
specifically for manually typed-in ISBN/UPC lookups and/or to use it
with a "real" laser bar code scanner*.)
Next, follow the numbered steps below to use your ScoutPal accout with
the free "Barcode Scanner" app, produced by the
Team. ZXing produces the fundamental scanning driver library used
by nearly every other sort of Android "scanning" app. Not surprisingly,
we have found their own free app to be superior in performance and ease of
use over the other, derivative apps. Also, please note that the ZXing app
referenced on this page is NOT produced by ScoutPal: please review our Terms Of
Service regarding links to other websites.
Keep in mind that any camera-based "scanner" app is not really a true
laser bar code scanner*. Instead, it literally
snaps a photo of the bar code, so the process will be like taking any other
sort of snapshot: there must be good lighting without shadows, and you'll
need to hold steady and get the subject into focus. It will take some practice to learn how to use the app, after following
the steps below to install and set it up. (These steps assume that you already
know, in general, how to use Android navigation buttons like
and [Back] and that you know how to
cut & paste text on the Android.)
- Use the "app store" on your Android to find and install the
free ZXing Barcode Scanner app. Exactly how to do this may vary by phone and cell company. For example, with an LG Ally on Verizon:
- Press [Home].
- Look in the phone's app list for Play Store or
Market or whatever your phone calls its app marketplace.
- Search the app marketplace for an app named ZXing Barcode
Scanner. (The Search button or icon looks like a magnifying
- Install the free ZXing Barcode Scanner application.
- Browse to http://www.scoutpal.com,
using the browser on your phone.
- Log in (right side of page), then tap on "Additional Service Addresses".
- Copy the contents of the URL text field (it starts with "http://") that's
displayed on the middle of the page. Use these exact steps:
- Touch inside the URL field briefly, to give it focus.
- Touch and hold inside the URL field. A list of choices
will pop up.
- Choose "Select all".
- Touch and hold again.
- Choose "Copy".
- Start the Barcode Scanner app on your phone. Don't try
to scan yet.
- Press the
[Menu] button, choose Settings.
- Scroll to (pull up) and choose Custom search URL. You will
be presented with a URL field.
- Paste in the URL you previously copied, using these exact
- If the URL field is empty: Touch and hold inside the empty
URL field, choose Paste.
- If there's already something in the field: Touch and hold the
URL field, choose Select all -- touch and hold again, choose
- Confirm that the URL has &i=%s at it's tail end. If it
doesn't: touch inside the URL so that the cursor is blinking at
its tail. Then edit the URL as necessary, so that the &i= part
at the end is exactly this: &i=%s
(This is important because the %s is what will be replaced with
a scanned ISBN/UPC.)
- NOTE: If instead of doing the copy/paste procedure you choose
to write down and then laboriously type the URL in by hand (NOT recommended),
then you will need to get every single letter, number, dot, colon, slash
(/), and other punctuation typed in exactly and perfectly,
using all lowercase letters, and no spaces. Although your Android will
likely break up the display of the URL into multiple lines, be sure that
it's typed in with NO spaces at the beginning, inside, or end of each
line. In summary: perfect and exact
punctuation -- all lowercase -- no spaces Sorry, but computers and apps
are always extremely picky about things like this.
- Tap OK. Press
return to the scanning app, then exit to the home page, then turn the phone
off and on again, then start the scanning app.
- Aim the camera at any kind of merchandise bar code. (Book, CD,
- After the app captures the bar code, choose Custom Search, ScoutPal
live will do the lookup.
- Press [Back]
to return to the scanning app, then scan another item.
- If there is no bar code on the next item you wish to look up, simply
type the ISBN or UPC into the search field that's at the top of the last
lookup screen, then touch Fetch.
* After trying "camera scanning",
you may wish to consider using a compatible true laser scanner, like the
they can be expensive, there is simply nothing like a real laser scanner!
(Hint: it's easy to Velcro®
a Scanfob to the bottom
of a phone, making a one-handed and compact scanning tool.)