Miniaturization has made a lot of cool electronic
toys tools possible. Often, when the size and cost of a device is greatly reduced, it opens up many new possibilities. In-the-field tests that would be impossible with a rackmount or desktop tool and awkward with a handheld one suddenly become easy when the tool can be almost built in to a project under development.
One great example of this is the Gabotronics XProtoLab. It’s a miniature, breadboardable dual-trace digital oscilloscope! While it doesn’t have all of the functionality of a desktop ‘scope (notably, its 2MSPS sampling rate limits it to low frequency signals), the ability to stick it on a breadboard or dev board and view signals in the field can be very helpful.
Setup and use is very straightforward: provide 5VDC and ground, and connect the signals to be monitored. The four control buttons operate various menu options, allowing the time and voltage scales to be set, as well as other functions (triggering type and level, persistence, etc) to be controlled.
The cost is actually another plus — at $49US, it’s cost-effective to have one or two of these on hand for measurement of signals in the field. GPS-enabled projects, for example, don’t do well indoors, and debugging often involves monitoring system functionality while moving. In an industry where a blinking LED is a time-honored diagnostic tool, the advent of low-cost, affordable tools like this is very welcome.