What's the Latest and Greatest in Calculators?

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What's the Latest and Greatest in Calculators?

Xah Lee, 2011-01-07

Am a fan of calculators. My fond memory is HP-28S that i bought in ~1991 for some ~$250 USD, and wrote my first program to solve the 8-queens problem without knowing anything about computer science or programing.


I also wrote a large program to play any musical chords and scales. See: HP-28S Advanced Scientific Calculator.

But that calculator is basically my last one as well. Mathematica and computer took over. Since the HP-28, the next generation the HP-48 came along, but i never got into it (and am out of college as well). However, now and then i look at the calculator scene as a arm-chair philosopher. Checking their current capabilities, their design, placement of buttons, symbols on the keys, user interface, and muse over the issues of tech advance, education, futurism.

casio fx 85wa calculator-s

Casio fx-85wa. Source en.wikipedia.org The only calc i currently own, but basically never use.

Been always fascinated by calculators. You know how there's scientific calculator where some buttons are labeled “sin”, “cos”, “log”? At age 11 or so, seeing them, my thought was that these are some very advanced things, that to know what they are would mean something like a rocket scientist. (but of course, as you know, they are actually just the very basic trig functions that you learn in pre-calculus in highschool.) While in college, i have this fantasy of bringing a basic scientific calculator and show it to Euler, Gauss, them 1700s guys. I would tell them, “Look at this! you see this sin log buttons?” and they would go “huh? what?!?”. Then i would proceed to explain the magic on my hand.

Latest and Greatest

Today i took a hour to gander at today's calculator scene. Here's some summery.

The HP calculators, once was the love of true tech geeks since 1970s, but in the past 10 years they have degraded so badly to universal bad reviews. The latest series is HP-49 series, but not worth your money. Lousy buttons, lousy features, slow, lousy look.

HP-50 calculator-s

HP-50g. amazon

TI-nspire CAS

TI-Nspire CAS Touchpad calculator

“TI-nspire CAS”. amazon

The TI calculators, made inroads starting in early 1990s, and just gets better and better. Today, if you in college, your best buy is a TI calculator. The current bleeding edge model is TI-Nspire series. You want the model with CAS (for computer algebra). If you don't want to be that fancy, go for “TI 84” amazon.


What about Casio? They are the best. The latest model, is a touch-screen based Casio ClassPad 300. According to some reviewers at amazon who owns all the HP and TI ones, they say this is the best, beats TI-Nspire. I tend to believe it.

Casio ClassPad 300

“Casio ClassPad 300” amazon Source en.wikipedia.org

Wait, I Want My “sin” Button Back!

Where did the “sin” button go?

I tend to prefer lots of physical buttons with weird symbols on them than a large blank touch screen. Physical buttons give me a sense of math, the esoterism, and offers fast direct access than screen menus. You know? kinda like old fashioned rocket scientist who prefer intricacies of mechanical devices than digital stuff that you can't see and touch (how ironic). But i suppose touch screen is the way to go for the future.

Actually, i think calculators are going the ways of the dinosaur. These days, the cell phones, iTouch amazon, iPad stuff are all just unified hand-held little computers. They can play video, music, has builtin camera, phone, connects to the internet, GPS, and thousands of applications. Who needs a one-purpose gadget to carry around?

Calculators are good basically just in class rooms. Though, i wonder how many more years they'll last.

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