Stop typing and import data into Excel and Word with only your phone camera
Listen, unless you’re an expert, spreadsheets can be daunting. You have myriad options, countless formulas, and don’t get us started on the formatting.
Even importing data can be a complicated process. But Microsoft Excel’s mobile app allows you to take a picture of a table and paste the information directly into your spreadsheet. And no, that doesn’t mean sticking an image in there—it means the app can read, digitize, and paste the actual data into the corresponding cells.
You can find the same feature in the Microsoft Word app, so you’ll never have to type the contents of a physical document ever again.
How to import data into an Excel sheet with your phone’s camera
Importing data to an Excel spreadsheet using your phone camera is simple. First, download the Excel app (free for iOS and Android), sign up or log in, and open a new document by tapping the plus sign in the upper right corner of your screen. There, you can choose whether you want a blank spreadsheet or one of the platform’s free templates.
Tap the cell where you want to input data and then tap the Menu button at the top of your screen—it looks like an A with a pen over it. From the emerging menu, tap Home, and choose Insert from the dropdown menu. There, tap Data from a Picture and grant Excel permission to use your device’s camera.
Now point your camera at the table you want to scan—it can be your bank statement, a guest list, or almost any piece of paper with any information distributed in rows and columns. To be clear, it’s not necessary for the data to be in a visible grid. As long as there are rows and columns, you’ll be good to go, but we did find the feature works best when you use it to scan something that has been typed and printed. You can also try pointing the camera at a spreadsheet on a screen, but it’s likely the moiré effect (those weird lines that appear when you snap a picture of your computer’s monitor) will distort the content and make it impossible for the app to recognize it. Don’t even try handwritten text—no matter how clear your words are, Excel just won’t be able to read it.
Place the document on a flat surface and point your camera directly at it (your phone should be as close to parallel with the surface as you can get it)—pro tip: if you have a somewhat new smartphone, get some help from your camera’s built-in level to help you position the camera just right. When you’re ready, tap the shutter button and use the cropping frame that appears on your screen to outline the information you want to add to your spreadsheet. When you’re done, tap Continue.
Excel will extract the data from the table you snapped, but before it pastes it into your document, it’ll ask you to check a preview to make sure everything’s just right. The platform will flag everything it might have gotten wrong by painting the cell red; to review it, tap the potentially problematic entry and choose Edit. To finish, tap on Open at the bottom of your screen.
You can do this as many times as you want in a single Excel file, and once the data is in the spreadsheet, you can use the program’s massive analysis power to do, well, whatever you want with it.
How to import text into a Word document with your phone’s camera
You didn’t think Microsoft would come up with a great tool and only make it available for one of its Office programs, right? Excel isn’t the only one with photo-based text entry—there’s a similar tool in the mobile Word app, too.
To use it, download the app (free for iOS and Android). If you’ve already signed up or logged into the Excel app, Word will recognize you and you’ll be able to skip this step with other Office mobile apps in the future. Use the plus sign in the upper right corner of your screen to open a new document, then tap the Menu button. Tap Home, choose Insert from the dropdown menu, and finally tap Scan Document.
Word will open a tool similar to Excel’s, and you’ll be able to choose one or more images from your photo gallery or take a new one. Whatever you do, you’ll be able to use the crop tool on the next screen to choose the specific block of text you want to import. When you’re done, tap Confirm.
When it comes to importing text from real-world documents, the Word app is slightly more sensitive than Excel, and will also take format into account. This can be a bit annoying if you’re only interested in plain text, and it can blow out the proportions of your page if you scan something big, like a news headline.
Still, both of these tools will save you a lot of typing if you need an editable copy of an important document. Office 365 apps also work on the cloud, so if you’re not a huge fan of typing or playing around with spreadsheets on your phone, you can access your documents later on your laptop to replace taps with clicks.