Does the clock on your VCR constantly flash 12.00 because you could not figure out how to set it? Boy, does Hewlett-Packard have a scanner for you! Before you go thinking that I'm about to rip HP's new ScanJet 5p to tiny pieces, think again. HP has once again come out with a superb piece of hardware that generates high-quality images at a low cost. The software, however, leaves a lot to be desired. HP provides documentation reminiscent of the Japlish that once confused early Honda and Nikon owners. The ScanJet 5p is a considerably smaller unit than the 4p it replaces. The 5p is a good 6cm narrower and 9cm shorter, something that those with limited desktop real estate will appreciate. It also weighs rather less than the 4p. Size reduction does come at a bit of a cost. The 4p has a shorter scanning bed and cannot handle legal-sized documents. Under the hood, the 5p is a 24-bit scanner with a maximum optical resolution of 300 dpi and interpolation to 1,200 dpi. That depth and resolution put the ScanJet's abilities in the low to mid-range market. Although 300 dpi is about half of what most mid-range units offer, it is still more than most people need: 300 dpi is enough to make a 20 MB plus file out of an eight-inch by 10-inch colour original, or a 3.86 MB file out of a three-inch x five-inch print. At 1,200 dpi, the images are interpolated, or resampled to a higher resolution. The quality is about the same as resampling the image in PhotoShop, and the amount of time taken by the scanner to interpolate the image makes the feature less than appealing. A three-by-five print scanned at 300 dpi scanned in 30 seconds, but when scanned at 1,100 dpi it took an extra five minutes. The software for the ScanJet 5p comes on CD-ROM only. Those needing diskettes will have to request them from HP. If you don't have a CD-ROM drive, you should let the dealer know, before you take delivery of the unit. The CD contains installation software for both Windows and Macintosh. HP PictureScan must be used to scan images from the ScanJet 5p. PictureScan is TWAIN compliant and can be accessed through the acquire menu of any TWAIN compliant program, such as PhotoShop or HP's PaperPort, or it can be used on its own. Exposure and colour correction are automatic, with absolutely no ability to override or make manual corrections. This automatic correction generally works very well until you get to an image that has no real highlight or shadow, such as a white rabbit sitting in snow or a night scene. Manual adjustment of the file size was no straightforward operation either. Rather than simply specifying a resolution, a user must first click the options button. Under options, there is a menu that allows you to choose how the final image will be output. By selecting a 1,200 dpi printer, the resolution can be changed to the maximum 300 dpi. Selecting a 300 dpi printer will lower the scanning resolution to 100 dpi. Change the final output to a computer monitor and the resolution drops to 72 dpi. Achieving a specific file size must be done by scaling the object. By making the output size bigger than the size of the original at 300 dpi, the scanner will interpolate the image to give an output resolution greater than 300 dpi. Why did HP have to make this so complicated? It is nice that there is a simple, 'Here's what I want to do with this original, now you figure it out' approach, but any sort of manual adjustment is not as straightforward as it should be. Why can't they just have one simple dialogue box that allows the user to specify the output size and the output resolution, or the file size? The scanner software also has a sharpening feature in the form of a small button to the left of the image preview window. Although the feature works extremely well and sharpens images with no noticeable noise, the button looks rather like a compass that is split diagonally. Half of the compass is grey and . . . wiggly, I guess you could say . . . while the other half was normal. At first glance, I thought that this was used to rotate the preview from a vertical to a horizontal position. Why can they just make a button that says 'sharpen'? Luckily for HP, the scanner works quite well in spite of all of these problems. When I scanned a Kodak Colour Separation Guide and Grey Scale, the colour was not only spot on, but the scanner reproduced every step in the grey scale distinctly. Text was sharp, and the unit handled text of six-point size without using the interpolation. The calibration software allows you to calibrate the ScanJet 5p for your printer. This is done by printing two test charts, one colour and one black-and-white, and then scanning them with the 5p. The concept is a very sound one, but I found that in practice it did not work all that well. At first I tried scanning a 720 dpi test pattern printed by an Epson Stylus Colour Pro. The scanner failed to find the pattern and returned an error message telling me that the test pattern was not in the scanner. When I repeated the process with the printer set to 360 dpi, the scanner found the pattern without trouble. However, the results that I got with this calibration were terrible. What had been neutral, sharp scans with good tonal range came out green and very flat, with extremely poor shadow detail. When I could not get the scanner to recognise the 720 dpi, I foolishly pressed the help button. Rather than being given some kind of interactive presentation that explained the process, a list describing the buttons came up. By clicking on an item in the list, I was given amazingly helpful notes such as, 'Calibrate button: the calibration process.' Sheer genius. I can't believe that HP went through all of the trouble of making a help program to explain things that any moron could have figured out for himself. There was no trouble-shooting section, some of the controls described were Windows-specific and I was using a Mac. Lastly, most of the descriptions were less than a dozen words long. All in all, the Scanjet 5p is an excellent piece of equipment, which produces very high-quality images.