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Tryout: LabNation SmartScope

-October 09, 2015

Over the last few years, USB oscilloscopes have certainly grown in usefulness and in popularity. Unless you need the highest speed, you can probably find a USB oscilloscope to meet your need at prices from around $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on fspeed, bandwidth, and features. The SmartScope from startup company LabNation may come in at the low end of that price range, but is has an array of features that go beyond just a basic oscilloscope. With some improvements, it could make a worthy tool for your home bench or toolbox.

Touted as an oscilloscope by and for makers, the SmartScope's claim to fame is its ability to operate under a wide range of operating systems: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. I tried it on a Windows 7 laptop because I don’t have an Android device (using my wife's phone is out of the question) and to use iOS, you first have to "jailbreak" the device. Plus, many engineers would rather use a laptop computer for real work, anyway.

Over the next few pages, I'll show you how the SmartScope looks, feels, and works. I'll look at it feature by feature.

The SmartScope comes in a solidly-built metal case that should act as a good EMI shield for both emissions and immunity. One end of the unit holds the usual BNC connectors for its two analog channels. The opposite end contains a mini-USB connector that communicates with the host device. A micro-USB connector lets you attach a power bank should you need additional battery power in a portable application (the SmartScope is bus powered) and for synchronizing additional units when you need more channels. A 16-pin AUX I/O connector provides access to an external trigger input, the AWG (arbitrary waveform generator) output, eight logic inputs, and four general-purpose digital I/O lines. Two pins provide ground connections.

The box (Figure 1) contains two 60-MHz analog oscilloscope probes, eight clip leads for the digital inputs, and a ten-line ribbon cable that lets you connect to the I/O connector. You also get a mini-USB cable and a micro-USB cable.


Figure 1. The LabNation SmartScope comes with probes for analog and digital inputs.

Software installation and startup
Before connecting the SmartScope to my laptop PC, I downloaded the software and tried to install v4.1.2. LabNation requires that your Windows PC have Microsoft .NET 4.0 or higher, which mine didn't. The SmartScope software attempted to download and install .NET, but failed. I downloaded the latest .NET version manually. After that, the SmartScope software installed without a glitch.

On initial startup, the SmartScope software displays a help menu (Figure 2) that shows you how to control basic oscilloscope functions such as time and voltage scales, viewfinder, and waveform movement using touch, mouse, and keyboard operations. You can invoke the help by pressing the F1 key. I found myself referring to this screen several times during my tryout. If you need more help, you can view the manual online.

Figure 2. The help screen shows you how to operate the SmartScope's basic controls.

Take note of how to change voltage and time scales with a mouse. The software designers assumed you'd use an external mouse because to change those settings—you must use the scroll wheel. When I started this evaluation, I was using the laptop's mouse pad. Without the external mouse, you must use the keyboard to change voltage and time settings. At that point, I connected a mouse.


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