All QR Code readers are not created equally

QR Code Reader

Updated on January 8, 2018

We’ve manufactured thousands of interactive plant tags and signs that use quick response codes known as “QR Codes” that link to pages on

We check every QR code before we ship our tags and signs but occasionally get comments from users that their QR code readers don’t work.

While many phones now come with a built-in QR code reader, you may still want to download a QR code reader app for your smartphone or tablet to scan the tags. We’ve done a lot of research and have tried a lot of mobile apps to read QR Codes and we wanted to share some tips we use to consistently scan QR codes successfully, not just from our own Plants Map tags and signs but on any product that uses quick response codes.

When someone contacts us that one of our QR codes appears to not be working, we have always been able to resolve that the issue was actually related to their device, an internet connection, the camera on the device or the QR reader they downloaded for their device.

Let’s start with best practices

1) Use a reader from Scan.Me

We don’t get paid for promoting this app but we’ve just found that it is very fast, it is available for multiple mobile devices and it just works the best after testing many of them. From your phone simply visit Scan.Me and choose the appropriate version for your phone and decide if you want the free version or pay for the ad-free version. The ad-free version of the Scan Inc. QR Code reader is currently $1.99 and it seems to be significantly faster than the free version and we think it is well worth the price. We assume this speed boost is because you aren’t waiting for their ads to load. For more options see How to Scan QR Codes on Plant Tags.

2) Set the app to open web pages in your default mobile browser

Many QR Code readers have a built-in browser. The browsers often allow you to store the codes that you scan so you can return to the pages later. We’ve found that the browsers are just not as good as the default browser on your mobile phone or mobile device. Set the preferences for the app to open pages in your default browser. You can still save your pages or add bookmarks if you wish using your normal methods.

3. Consider upgrading to remove ads from the reader

Many free QR Code Reader Apps are free because they are supported by delivering ads on the result pages after you scan a code. We’ve found that the task of delivering ads really slows down getting you to the page you want to see after you scan the tag because the ads take so long to load. The ads also use part of the precious space available on your mobile screen. The small upgrade fee to remove ads pays the developer of the app but also vastly improves your user experience when scanning codes.

4. Hold the QR Code still

If you have the ability to hold the product with the code still, only one of the pieces to the scanning puzzle is moving and the QR Code Reader app will have a much easier time getting a clear image of the code. If you are moving both the code and your mobile phone then it will just take longer to capture a clear shot of the code.

A few more tips: 

  • Know that the age of your phone has something to do with how well a scanner will work. The ability to scan is directly related to the camera optics and newer phones have vastly improved cameras.
  • Your cellular or wifi internet access may also disrupt the ability to scan a tag as well.
  • Low light conditions can also make it difficult to scan a code.
  • Older QR Code readers only see black on white and you have to go into the settings to change them to scan our tags which are the inverse, white on black. New scanners can read both and can adjust automatically but check your settings just to make sure if you are having difficulty.
  • Microsoft Windows Phones will need to update their phone to the Microsoft Edge mobile browser. Also, know that as of July 2017 Microsoft announced they will no longer continue support or development of their Windows Phones.

Here is the background:

QR Codes are a series of squares or dots organized in such a way that they create an image that can then be turned into text.

Think of a QR code as an alphabet and when you put letters together, they make words. Rearranging the same letters, you can make new words.

The text inside of a QR Code can be plain text or the text can include programming code like HTML that tells a web browser to do something specific, like open a web page.

In order for your QR Code reader to interpret the image and figure out the text that is embedded, the app you use turns on processes in your mobile device to take a video of the code you are trying to scan and get a clear view of the code and then use the programming in the QR Code Reader to convert that video image into a static image and then figure out what text is embedded.

Suffice to say, there is actually a lot of computing going on when an app is trying to figure out what is in the code. The processor in your device is working hard for a few seconds. So, older mobile devices with slower processing power render QR Codes more slowly than newer devices. In addition, some programming in QR Code readers is more efficient at reading the codes and doing the interpretation than other apps.

If your code is on a moving object and you are also moving your mobile device when you are trying to read a code then there is double work going on to get a clear image of the code.

In conclusion:

If a QR Code works in one app but not in other apps, the problem is not with the code, but with one of the other pieces to the puzzle. If you are having problems scanning QR Codes, a good start is to use a quality QR Code Reader App and try some of the suggestions we just discussed.

We hope this post helps you find a good QR Code Reader app and helps you to more easily use QR Codes the next time you see one on a product or on a Plants Map tag or sign.

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