A review of SonoScape’s low-cost, black-and-white portable ultrasound machine
This was a pleasant surprise.
After testing and using many of the newer low-cost ultrasound machines, I was a bit resolved to the fact that using low-cost ultrasound machines would be a little frustrating. But in my review of the SonoScape A6, I found some relief.
You see, a lot of low-cost ultrasounds have entered the market, and most have surprisingly good image quality. But the tradeoff for price/performance was the complicated nature of performing secondary tasks such as exporting images, saving presets, customizing the machine, etc.
In fact, some of these systems’ procedures felt like I’d stepped into 1982 and the ultrasound was preparing to ask me:
"Would you like to play a game?"
OK, that’s extreme, but you get the idea. In most cases, dealing with these little annoyances was just something we had to deal with.
This is one reason why I chose to review the SonoScape A6. Using the A6 was a pleasant surprise. It feels solid, is straightforward in use, and doesn’t require a detective to perform secondary tasks.
SonoScape A6 Feature Review
The SonoScape A6 black-and-white ultrasound weighs about 13 pounds, has a 12″ LCD that tilts up to a 30° angle. It has Tissue Harmonics Imaging, and is available in human and vet versions with a large range of probes available. The internal battery allows you to scan for up to 3 hours on a full charge. It is fully digital with 1GB of internal flash storage, networking and DICOM capabilities, and can export via USB or DVD-R.
A bonus: two active probe ports. This is not common on portable ultrasound machines and is a very welcome feature for anyone doing more than one type of study. This is made possible by the design of the unit, which is kind-of opposite of what is found on most portable ultrasound machines. Like a reverse laptop. Huh?
OK, I don’t know what else to call it. There are two types of portable ultrasound machine designs: those in which the LCD screen folds upwards from a keyboard/base unit (like a traditional laptop computer), and those where a keyboard folds downwards from the monitor/base unit (as it does on the SonoScape A6). Each has its limitations and advantages. For the A6, it’s pretty much an advantage all the way around. You get more peripheral connections (S-Video, VGA, EKG, 2 x USB) and two transducer ports. The typical limitation is that you can’t tilt the monitor. But on the A6 you can… up to 30-degrees. This is nice.
The image quality is very good on this machine. I did scans on my carotid, thyroid, ankle, achilles, and wrist with the linear probe, and I was pleased with the results. Does this mean it’s as good as a $30,000 ultrasound? Of course not, but when you consider the price and performance of this machine, the value that is presented with this machine is obvious. Anyone looking to introduce ultrasound into their practice without needing color or Doppler, should get a quick return on investment with the SonoScape A6.
The images here appear a little dark on some browsers, but you should be able to get a good idea of the detail I was able to pick in the tissue and bone in these images.
There are many vet and human uses that don’t require color or Doppler. What applications? To name a few: MSK, Urology, OB/GYN, Pain Management, Vascular Access, abdominal, needle guidance, anesthesia and basic cardiac. This is particularly popular for those on a tight budget, those dipping their toe into the ultrasound world, and those looking for the fastest return on investment.
Operating the A6
Overall, this is relatively easy-to-use, and probably the easiest I’ve tested in this class. The controls feel solid, selecting and performing exams is straightforward, and 90% of the functions are straightforward. For the other 10%? Much of that refers to saving and exporting images. It’s not straightforward until you know how to do it right. I’ve got you covered on that in a sidebar below.
The SonoScape A6 runs a wide variety of probes for nearly every type of exam. In addition to standard convex, linear, and endovaginal transducers, the A6 has a broad range of available probes. This includes:
- Low and high frequency microconvex for cardiology and veterinary
- Biplane rectal transducer
- Linear rectal transducer for veterinary reproduction
- High frequency convex transducer for pediatrics
The SonoScape A6 receives high marks for its image quality, features, ease-of-use, and price. A great system if you’re looking for a black-and-white ultrasound machine.
Tips on Saving Images with the SonoScape A6
At first, exporting and saving images on the A6 seems clunky and difficult. However here are some keyboard shortcuts that will make your job much easier.
Tip #1: Don’t use the save button. After freezing the image, it’s faster and easier to save to disk by pressing “D” for DICOM, “B” for Bitmap, and “J” for JPEG. These will save to the hard drive for export.
Tip #2: Exporting Images. This can be a complicated screen at first. The following tips are for the Disk Management screen, found by pressing the “File” button:
- Buttons on the left-hand side refer to entire folders/directories; buttons on the right-hand side control individual files/images.
- To select multiple files or folders, use the ESC key (the Set key only lets you select individual files)
- Press “S” then “D” to select to select all directories/folders
- Press “S” then “F” to select all files/images
- After the images are selected, use Copy and Paste to transfer files from the ultrasound to your USB flash drive
Questions or comments? Drop me a note below and I’ll be glad to help!