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Read and Decode QR Codes Without a Smartphone

March 12, 2010

By far the best way to read QR codes is to use a smartphone with a barcode reader (there are a ton of them for the iPhone in the app store), but what if you don't have a smartphone?

There are many people who either do not have a smartphone or don't already have a barcode reader application. When I created SnapMyinfo, one of my original goals was to enable QR code reading for a larger number of people, making these 2d barcodes more useful. I've moved snapmyinfo in some new directions lately, but I still maintain the goal of making these barcodes more accessible.

It's my belief that lowering the technical barrier to using these optical barcodes, even if the decoding method is sub-optimal, will increase their usage, exposure, and adoption. This led me to create a way to read these 2d barcodes without a smartphone. What I've built is an email-based QR code decoder that works on photo attachments. Initially this decoder only worked with snapmyinfo-specific QR codes but recently I've removed that restriction to start testing general QR codes. The only requirements are that your mobile phone have a camera and be able to send email or photo text messages to emails (e.g. verizon picture messaging). This includes many of the so-called "feature" phones that allow sending text messages to emails.

How do I use it?


  1. Take a photo of the QR barcode you want to decode. It's best to leave some white space around the barcode and try to keep the image sharp. (pull away if you have to)
  2. Send the photo to the address shown via email or text message.
  3. Wait for the response
This is still test software, so I make no guarantees at the moment, but it should work. The more examples of different devices, their picture, email and text characteristics will help me refine and solidify the decoder.

I'm opening this up so people can test it and let me know their experiences with it. I know I need to improve the formatting for text messages and I'll work on it as I get example text messages.

I'm still working out kinks in the system so I'd love feedback.