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How to Scan a QR Code (with pictures)

Summary:  How to scan a QR code may depend on the app you’re using, the model and age of your smart phone, the resolution and focal distance of your smart phone camera, lighting, and other factors…


QR codes are not created equal.  The complexity of the barcode and the variances of your phone and camera can determine how well you can scan a QR code.

QR code “snapshot” versus QR code “video capture”

Some apps allow you to move your mobile phone and watch the code in video and the app decides when to capture the QR code and interpret it.    Snapshot software requires you to steady your hand and take a snapshot of the QR code, which is then decoded by the application.  It really depends on your mobile phone and the application you’ve chosen, but it makes more sense that letting the phone’s software decide when the QR code is readable using video capture is much more effective than using a “snapshot” mode.

QR code lighting and positioning

Some phone cameras do a great job reading and decoding QR codes in low light – unfortunately, if your phone can’t read a QR code in low light then the only option is to increase the area lighting.

You should try to if you position the QR code directly straight on in the viewfinder it will have a better chance of being decoded.   Also, if the QR code fills the screen – or the designated area on the screen, it is more likely to be read than if it is far away.

QR code resoution (complexity)

The more characters (or data) contained in a QR code, the more pixels (or “picture elements”) it will contain and the more complex it will appear.   As the person scanning the QR code (not the creator) there’s not a lot you can do about the QR code complexity.   Many QR code creators don’t understand the relationship between characters in the code and complexity.  They don’t know that if they simply used a URL shortener, they could make their codes much more highly readable.

QR Code Native App versus QR code 3rd Party Apps

Of course it’s easier to use an app the is natively installed on your mobile handset than it is to try several 3rd Party Apps to figure out which one best matches your needs.    iPhones don’t have Native Apps, but they have many free QR code scanner apps in the iTunes store.   Some Android phones have built in codes and Android QR code apps are available both for free and for a fee in the Android store.   Blackberry has a native app and they have 3-rd party apps available through App World.

Scanning QR codes on different types of mobile phones and tablets

  • Scanning QR codes on Smart Phones:  A “smart phone” is one that has advanced computer power.  For example, the iPhone and Android phones are considered smart phones.
  • Scanning QR codes on Feature Phones:  A “feature phone”  is one that has special features (perhaps a camera, a browser, and a mail manager), but isn’t especially good at running applications.   Because Blackberry phones are primarily for e-mail they’re known mostly as feature phones.
  • Scanning QR codes on Camera Phones:  A “camera phone” may be a simple phone such as a flip-phone or clamshell phone that can’t run sophisticated applications (apps) but has limited internet connectivity
  • Non-camera phones:  QR codes cannot be scanned with a mobile phone that has no camera.

Camera resolution and Focal Length when scanning QR codes

The Flip video camera was discontinued, in part, because full featured mobile phones now have cameras of 12 megepixels or more.  However, some of the earliest mobile handsets had cameras with resolution of 2 megapixels or less.

Photo/Image Credit:  Photos and images Chuck Eglinton

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