We use many types of bar codes in our everyday life. Nearly everything we buy has a UPC code printed on it. The CrackBerry app store features QR codes in the description for every app. Magazines and even books use these codes to rapidly steer their readers to more information.
To make use of all these codes, you need a good scanner. I tested four of them: Edocrab, ScanLife, Sccope, and Microsoft Tag. A good barcode app is one that scans easily, understands a variety of codes, and gets you to the correct information. Only one actually met all of those qualifications.
First, some background information. Bar code scanners are pretty simple apps to use. Once you've started the appropriate app, it's pretty much point (your BB's auto-focus camera at the bar code) and click (to take a picture). Assuming you've taken a decent photo of the code, the app does the decoding and acts on the information in the code. This information could be a web address, a vCard, or even instructions to call a specific phone number.
Not all codes work with all apps. The Universal Product Code (UPC) is standardized by an international non-profit. You'll find it on most everything you buy. QR codes are more and more common each day, appearing on the CrackBerry app store; in advertisements, and even in BlackBerry Messenger. But there are many barcodes that only work with specific apps. EZ Code and Data Matrix codes only work with the ScanLife app; Microsoft Tags only work with the associated reader.
Awesome: App decodes UPC, QR, Data Matrix, and EZ Code. Fast decoding under many different lighting and focusing situations. Easily scans codes on LCD monitors. Codes can be linked to ScanLife.com account to create links to web pages, place a phone call, or add a contact. Personal codes can be created for free. After scanning UPC, mobile site offers links to product information, reviews, and online purchasing.
Meh: Mobile site simplistic and provides bare-bones information. Limited supply of online retailers, no local retailers. Codes to start a phone call only open up the mobile site with a link to the phone number.
Meh: The days of Edocrab seem to have passed. When you can get it to actually scan a barcode, you'll find Edocrab doesn't properly handle QR Codes; and UPC lookup seems to have failed as well. The last blog post on the site is from November 2009, and Steelthorn no longer seems to support the product on its site.
Awesome: UPC lookup results directly in the application. Ability to purchase products through the app. Free trial available.
Meh: $2.99 when other scanner apps are free. Difficult to scan barcodes; application controls some camera functions, takes pictures randomly at times. Forced to scan pictures in landscape mode. No QR code support.
Awesome: Use multicolored tags to link people to your product. Ability to change tag's background or transform into a multicolored image. Create MS Tags to link to web pages, call a phone number, or add a vCard. MS Tags are free for personal and business use. Application scans screen and print images well.
Meh: App only supports MS Tags; cannot scan UPC or QR codes.
Of these four apps, only ScanLife scans easily, reads a variety of bar codes, and gets you to the information quickly.
As a QR, Data Matrix, EZ code reader, this app performs splendidly. As a UPC scanner, ScanLife seems a bit lacking. After recognizing a product's unique code, ScanLife provides a limited number of prices of online retailers in a simple mobile website format. In these days of sophisticated apps, getting results via the browser seems like cheating somehow. And in the coming days of the BlackBerry OS6 revolution, simple mobile sites just won't cut it anymore.