Testing 3D Scanner Applications for Smartphones


After being inspired by our readings and class discussion on digital reproduction and its use in museums, I decided to experiment with a couple of 3D scanning applications on my smartphone. Mainly, I wanted to see how easy it would be for an average person to scan a 3D object into a digital model. While the techniques we viewed in class produce amazing results, they require a variety of different scanners and cameras, not to mention the skillset to utilize them efficiently.

Although I tested a series of different android apps, most did not work. For instance, 3D Scanner Pro, a paid application, crashed every time I tried to process the images. (Thankfully Google has a 48-hour refund policy)  Similarly, another app titled, SCANN3D, which expects users to pay $7.49/month to export their models, had the same issue and continuously crashed. I tried re-shooting my photos and had no luck. Lastly, while Qlone was unique in that it requires users to print out a model map that makes scanning “easy,” I was unable to even finish a scan without the software glitching out. None of these apps were highly rated, so I should not have expected much.

Therefore, I settled on using 3D Scanner, an app made by Samsung for Galaxy Note 10 owners.  The program utilities the phone’s time-of-flight (ToF) camera to scan 3D objects into models. A ToF camera works by measuring the time it takes for an infrared beam to reflect off an object and return to the camera sensor.  Next, the camera’s software compares the recorded time with the speed of light to calculate the distance from the camera to the object. This calculation allows the sensor to estimate the depth of objects much more accurately compared to conventional smartphone camera sensors. [1]

Overall, Samsung’s application is quite easy to use. Once you choose something to scan, a user must walk in a full circle around the object and keep the item within the circular boundaries on-screen. The ToF sensor scans the object and creates a 3d model. But, if at any point you block the infrared sensor, the scanning fails, and you must restart.

Scanning an object with Samsung’s 3D Scanner.

In my experiment, I scanned a few random objects I found around my apartment.  It was not the perfect environment: the lighting was subpar, and I did not have the objects against a dark background, but this experiment was more about the experience of attempting photogrammetry with a smart device instead of getting flawless results.



Some of my results from Samsung’s 3D Scanner. In order: The Boy Allies in the Balkan Campaign (1916),  a baseball hat, a Google Home and a Huron Coffee Mug.

Here are some of my results with Samsung’s 3D Scanner. (You can also choose to export the file in a format that will open in programs like MeshLab or FreeCad.) While far from perfect, the results are pretty good when you consider that each scan took only about a couple of minutes walking around the object.  While the Huron coffee mug is the major outliner, this is likely because I ignored the “do not scan reflective objects” warning.  From what I can find online, my results are on par with others. According to the general opinion on Reddit, the application works best when scanning stuffed animals. Maybe next time I am back in Goderich, I will dig out some of my old toys and give it a shot.

That being said, I noticed a few glaring issues. First, you are unable to move the object while scanning, so you cannot capture whatever side is on the ground. Additionally, the app seemed to struggle with objects larger than 30 centimetres and crash while scanning. Lastly, it seemed the software would crash after a few minutes of continuous scanning. Therefore, I was not able to take my time and ensure I captured each angle of my object. Although I had some problems using the application, at least I was able to get a 3D model out of it!

Overall, while the software is fun and easy to use, I do not think museums and archives should start buying Galaxy Note 10’s to 3D scan their artifacts. The quality is just not there yet. I think Samsung’s current offering works best as an introduction to 3D scanning. People could use it to 3D scan a small object that they want to share with family or friends.

Like most things in digital history, it will be interesting to see where this technology goes in the next 10-15 years.  The field is already becoming more accessible, with companies selling 3D scanning add-ons for smart devices.  As more museums, archives and individuals gain access to these technologies, it will be exciting to see how it can be utilized to create fun and engaging experiences.

[1] If you want an in-depth dive on ToF Camera sensors and their applications in smartphones, check out: Jerry Hildenbrand, “What is a Time-of-Flight camera and how does it work?” Android Central, February 22, 2019,  https://www.androidcentral.com/what-time-flight-camera-and-how-does-it-work.


One thought on “Testing 3D Scanner Applications for Smartphones

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  1. Hey Tom – Awesome post. I tried out a few scanning apps too. The only one that worked for me on my IPhone 7 was Qlone, but every model looked like it was chewed up by a dog. I actually tried it out with my friends newer iPhone and it crashed every time. Seems to be an issue with these apps. I agree that museums won’t be using these just yet, but it’s pretty encouraging to see what’s already possible. I suspect that 3D scanner apps will improve as (or if) 3D printing becomes cheaper and more accessible.


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