A handheld oscilloscope is a type of portable oscilloscope that’s lightweight, compact, and small enough to be held in one or both hands, as opposed to remaining stationary on a benchtop.
Unlike PC-based USB oscilloscopes (another type of portable oscope), handheld oscilloscopes do not require an external computer to power and display measurements. Instead, these self-sufficient scopes are equipped with their own battery power and include a built-in display and button interface.
Handheld oscilloscopes are popular for their budget-friendliness, portability, and overall convenience. In general, they’re less expensive than benchtop oscilloscopes, even when compared to benchtop units with similar specifications and capabilities.
Handheld scopes also tend to have simple, intuitive interfaces, making them a great beginner-friendly option. Many handheld oscilloscopes offer additional capabilities, like a built-in multimeter, FFT analysis, data logging, and a waveform generator. Oscilloscope multimeters are commonly handheld.
Originally, handheld oscilloscopes were just wide enough to fit in one hand, but companies like OWON have started to provide tablet-sized oscilloscopes, which feature much larger screens and resemble the size and shape of an iPad or Android tablet.
Traditional handheld oscilloscopes are small enough to be held with one hand, similar to most multimeters. Given the limited space, the user interface and operation tends to be simpler and more intuitive than benchtop oscilloscopes. Most of these portable scopes are battery-powered and include a kickstand and durable, rugged casing.
While the screen is certainly smaller than benchtop units, many handheld oscilloscopes can transfer measurements to an external device, such as a PC, so you can view data in more detail. Despite their compact size, handheld oscopes are often multifunctional, combining an oscilloscope and multimeter in one unit. Some handheld oscilloscopes even come with waveform generator capabilities!
Originally, handheld oscilloscopes were designed to fit in the palm of your hand. A newer type of portable oscilloscope is the tablet oscilloscope, which features a much larger screen, but is still compact, lightweight, and easy to use on the go. Many tablet oscilloscopes offer touchscreen operation, which can provide more customization and measurement capabilities than other handheld oscilloscopes. Touchscreens can also eliminate the need for buttons, making it possible to have wider screens.
USB or PC-Based oscilloscopes, such as most automotive oscilloscopes and the recent pen-type oscilloscopes, are another kind of budget-friendly portable scope. PC-based oscilloscopes don’t include built-in screens but connect to a PC via USB in order to operate and display measurements.
While not handheld per se, USB oscilloscopes are still an attractive alternative to benchtop oscilloscopes because of their budget-friendliness and compact size. They’re easy to transport, but do require a PC to operate.