Feb 23, 2014:
For several years we have had requests for a handheld antenna analyzer equivalent to the AIM4170. Until recently the handheld format required a sacrifice in performance and a rather high cost. Now technology for the tablet computer has improved to the point where a full-featured handheld analyzer can be obtained at a reasonable cost. The new tablets work with both the AIM4170 family and the VNA2180 family.
The new tablet computers running Windows 8.1 make it possible to have a handheld antenna analyzer with all the features of a desktop computer. These tablets have the complete version of Win 8.1, the same version that runs on desktop or laptop computers. The same AIM or VNA program can be downloaded and the touch screen can be used without a keyboard or mouse to operate the AIM4170, AIMuhf, PowerAIM, VNA2180 or the VNAuhf. Members of the AIM family with one port need only an extension cable of two or three feet to extend the RF port to a convenient point for making connection to the antenna or component under test. This cable is included in the calibration process so it's length, impedance and loss are not important. All these parameters are compensated by the calibration data. The AIM itself can be carried in a backpack or totebag with tools and accessories, so it's out of the way. The tablet itself can be conveniently carried in a coat pocket or large pants pocket for easy access. The screen of the tablet I'm featuring in this report has 1280x800 pixels, so the graph and data have good resolution. Scan data can be saved in files and transfered to another computer via the wifi link, email or flash drive. Screen shots can be saved with the Snipping Tool included in Windows. Everything operates the same way that it would on a big computer.
The Dell Venue 8 Pro is available for less than $300. The Microcenter computer store (microcenter.com) has them for $200 for in-store pickup. In January, 2014 Amazon.com has them for $250 with free shipping. The model I have has 32GB of memory. Another model has 64GB of memory.
The software includes Microsoft Office too. All the software is preloaded so there is no CD to worry about. For the initial setup, I found a keyboard and mouse were convenient but they aren't required. These accessories can be connected to the USB port with a simple USB expander and for about $15 in accessories, I have a complete computer. The keyboard, mouse and AIM can all be attached to the USB port at the same time. For portable operation in the field, only the AIM connection is needed. When you get the Venue 8 Pro, be sure to get a USB/OTG adapter to connect the microUSB port on the tablet to external devices. This is about $3 and can be found at the computer store or on eBay. A nice case can be found on ebay or Amazon for around $15-$25.
For models of the AIM family that need a USB/RS232 adapter, I have evaluated a model that I got on ebay from earthpeopletechnology for $8.00 including shipping; look for the FTDI designation. It installed itself automatically on the tablet running Win 8.1. The adapter has blue LED's that blink when there is buss activity. The I/O port was assigned to comm 3.
After going though the initial setup of the computer, the connection to my wifi link was very easy. Windows found the link immediately and I just entered the password. Similarly for the AIMuhf, it recognized the new hardware and found the driver on the internet automatically. The comm port was assigned to comm 3 and when I entered this into the AIM program, the AIM worked just like it does on my main computer. The buttons and menus can be operated by the touch screen so you don't have to use a mouse or keyboard for field work. The battery in the Venue 8 Pro will last about eight hours. It recovers from the sleep mode instantly. If you want to turn the tablet off to save power, it will reboot in about ten seconds. The display is readable even in bright sunlight.
The tablet and your big computer can use the same AIM/VNA programs and the same calibration files.
A user of the VNA2180 has reported very good results with an Acer Iconia W3 8 inch tablet. It also features Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office.
Here is a comparison between the Dell Venue 8 Pro and the Acer W3. The Dell is a little faster although that probably won't make a difference when controlling the AIM or VNA. The Dell is also a little smaller and much lighter in weight so these factors might be consider for portability.
Note: There is a Microsoft tablet called the "Surface RT". This has a special operating system and not the real Win 8.1, so it can't be used for the AIM. The regular Microsoft Surface computer with Win 8 will probably work but it's much more expensive.
3. Optional but highly recommended - Stylus. Inexpensive stylus shown on ebay for three or four dollars for a pack of ten are good. The stylus makes it much easier to select items on the screen and it even works when you're wearing gloves.
Note: the Dell stylus for about $30 has received consistently bad reviews through 2013. I did not get this option.