Chris Drage welcomes a trio of new handheld microscopes

Coombes minibeastIt seems only logical that, following the popularity of webcams and small digital microscopes, the next step is to produce a USB-powered, handheld devices that can be used to magnify tiny objects whose images canthen be captured, stored, edited, presented and shared digitally. They bring to life the microworlds all around us, as The Coombes Infant and Nursery School discovered (left).

These devices are ideal for exploring parts of the human body - skin, hair, nails, fingerprints - or for investigating minibeasts, leaves, fruit, wood, snake skin, fur etc.  Natural materials like wood, leaves, fruit, pine cones and man-made materials like fabrics, foam, metals, paper can be observed at very close quarters.

These mini-microscopes are also ideal for displaying objects too large or too strangely shaped to work with a standard microscope. Using a handheld microscope with a computer connected to an interactive whiteboard means you can share the ‘live’ images with the whole class. Seeing things close up certainly engages children’s attention on the objects in question.

Three companies have similar devices competing for this role in schools: Commotion Group, Tag Learning and TTS Ltd.

 

ExplorascopeCommotion’s Exploroscope (£29.99+VAT) is an ergonomically designed handheld microscope which focuses automatically, has two built-in LED lamps for illumination and can take still images with a one-click operation.

Install the drivers and software, plug in your Exploroscope and it instantly provides images at 50x magnification. The Exploroscope offers a simple one-click operation to capture an image allowing pupils to record their findings and use them in project work and presentations. The ease at which you can unpack the Exploroscope and capture images cannot be over emphasised… it’s that easy.

I particularly like the ergonomic design of this one as it sits in the hand very comfortably. However, I think that the addition of two additional LED lamps would help spread illumination of the object more evenly and a small stand would help keep the device still - magnifying images also means magnifying unintentional movements!

Ratings (out of 5)

Fitness for purpose  4
Ease of use               4
Features                    3
Quality                       4
Value for money       4

Commotion Ltd, Commotion House, Morley Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1RA
Tel: 01732 773399
Fax: 01732 773390
www.commotiongroup.co.uk

Easi-scopeThe TTS Group’s Easi-Scope (£29.99+VAT) is virtually the same device as Commotion's but designed in a 73mm x 50mm ‘egg’ shape to allow very young hands to hold it.  Again, this handheld viewer is a simple plug-and-play device, attaches to your computer via USB and includes its own LED lighting system. The Easi-Scope has four tiny LEDs which provide very good all round illumination of the subject. You focus the Easi-Scope  by turning the top and, just like the Exploroscope, videos or still images are captured using the single control button.

In common with the Exploroscope, the Easi-Scope takes images of 640 X 480 pixel resolution. The size of magnified image varies according to the type of display: 35x on a 14” monitor; 43x on a 17” and 53x on 21” screen.  Unlike its competitor, the Easi-scope comes with two, clip-on adaptors which help provide stability and accuracy when using it.  Thanks to its unique design the Easi-scope is a neat and useful solution to handheld microscopes for the younger pupil. 

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   4
Ease of use                4
Features                     3
Quality                        4
Value for money        4

TTS Group Ltd, Park Lane Business Park, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire NG17 9GU
Tel: 0800 318 686
Fax: 0800 137 525
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
www.tts-group.co.uk


The compact Veho Discovery Handheld Microscope range from TAG Learning each measures approximately 112mm x 33mm. It comes in three flavours: 200x  with adjustable alloy stand  (£59+VAT); 400x  with cradle only (£64+VAT); 400x  Deluxe model with adjustable alloy stand (£69.00+VAT).

Veho DiscoveryApart from the magnification, each microscope is essentially the same. The 1.3 megapixel lens can be adjusted to point in any direction using the movable arm that extends from the base. Focusing is achieved using a rotating cylinder built into the microscope body, and the four LEDs embedded around the lens illuminate the subject very well indeed. Captured images are displayed in real time in the software window and a push of a button or (better) a click of the mouse on the software ‘capture’ option results in a still image.

Where this device scores heavily over the Exploroscope and Easi-scope is in the Microcapture software. Not only can the resulting resolution be changed but it images can be saved in either bitmap or jpeg picture file formats.

The software offers multiple filter choices to highlight different aspects (light enhanced, square base, colour or black/white, reverse tone, blue/red/green filters. In use, I found trying to manually capture a clear/sharp image at the highest magnification (400x) was not easy as there is movement in the stand.  However, set it up and then capture using the software results in crystal clear images every time.

Despite the additional cost over its competitors, the software and the small stand-alone fully justify this. The Veho Handheld Microscope is a truly versatile and flexible device which in tandem with its software, is admirably suitable for school use.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   4
Ease of use                4
Features                     4
Quality                        4
Value for money        4

TAG Learning, BLi group, Angel House, Sherston, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0LH
Tel:   01474 357 350
Fax: 01474 537 887
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.taglearning.com


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