How would _you_ explain the marvels of HP calcs?


Hi Forum.
A couple of days ago, while at work and browsing the Forum and the Museum, I noticed a colleague of mine peeking at the screen,
a bit intrigued, seemed - but he did not asked anything.

I thought to myself I had been lucky, because I had imagined the following conversation:
[c] "Hey, what you're looking at?"
[me] "Oh, it's just the HP Forum, where we talk about HP calculators and things like that"
[c] "HP calculators? What have those machines to be so special when compared to others?"

..and here's my "problem": how would I get my colleague convinced about the superiority and power of the HP calcs? How would you illustrate the most outstanding features of an RPN calculators nowadays to somebody who's used to use Excel, and other powerful math PC softwares as well?
Thanks for your thoughts, always appreciated.
Best regards.

Edited: 4 Feb 2007, 4:01 p.m.


I always looked at it as a "If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand" kind of thing. It's like the guys I went to school with, who used TI for their engineering classes. I mean, if they were the kind of inquisitive type that I was, they would investigate, realize how much better they worked, and would go that way. If they aren't, then maybe they're just better off using what they know already.

I kind of lucked out, as I had won a contest in high school, and ended up with a Novus RPN calculator as my first, so I was used to RPN by the time I got my first beloved HP-41C. I was into HPs from 8th grade. Caught a lot of flack being the one guy in HS with a HP on his belt... :)


Hi, Giancarlo:

    Giancarlo posted:

    "¿ how would I get my colleague convinced about the superiority and power of the HP calcs?"

      This question of yours certainly needs refinement: ¿ superiority and power of which HP calcs as compared to what ?.

      Because there's one set of arguments if you are comparing the HP-25 or the HP-45, another if you are comparing the HP-15C, another if you are comparing the HP-41C, the HP48/49 ... you get the picture.

      Also, it isn't the same to compare an HP-11C, say, to a 4-function calc or inexpensive CASIO scientific model, to a vintage TI-58/59, or to a SHARP PC-1262. The HP-11C would run rings around the first, would offer different chances against the second, and would lose outright against the third. So you must address these important points before a meaningful argument can be set up.

      While the above points are generic in nature, there's also the equally important point of your specific colleague needs. You can motivate him differently depending on whether he's a financial type, an engineering type, a programmer, a designer, etc. The set of arguments that would catch the eye of an engineer or a programmer would probably left a businessman absolutely cold and unmotivated.

      If, for instance, he does extensive forecasts and chart analysis looking for trends in the share market with his Excel or some other equally sophisticated, net-aware tools, the fact that this little HP model of yours does complex numbers and hyperbolics on a 4-level stack won't register at all with him, don't you think ? "Horses for courses, as they say.

Best regards from V.

Edited: 5 Feb 2007, 6:12 a.m.


Hi Valentin.

Your answer is deep and sharp (no pun intended:) as always.

Most of my colleagues are electronics designers (both software and hardware).

I'm a relatively newcomer to this "environment" (even in we work in the same - big - Corporate,

I've been busy with production and quality, so far).

So, to get back to your appreciated points, I intended to magnify the capabilities of HP calcs "in general" as compared to other brands

(but you already pointed me in a slightly different direction)

Eventually, my "concern" was only to be able to explain that my "passion"

was not only something related to "the good ol' days" but relied on something real....

Do you think this makes a bit more sense?

Many thanks for your ever-enlightening opinion.

Best regards.



Hi again, Giancarlo:

Giancarlo posted:

    "Your answer is deep and sharp (no pun intended:)"

      A real pity. It would have been a pretty good pun ...

    "I intended to magnify the capabilities of HP calcs "in general" as compared to other brands"

      Here what I said earlier applies. You must decide what HP calcs and what other brands you intend to compare before deciding on the capabilities you ought to magnify. And I assume this "magnify" doesn't imply "artificially magnify" , because it might well be the case that the selected capabilities are in fact inferior and not superior.

      Just for instance, let's suppose that you want to "magnify" the HP-15C capabilities. Then you must be sure to compare it with lower models or fully emphasize its unique characteristics, such as pretty advanced built-in functionality, small size, ergonomics, ultra long-life batteries, and such. Because else, a comparison against, say, a SHARP PC-1262 would be a total lost case: the SHARP is equally petite, but has a 2-line dot-matrix display with full alphanumerics, 20 times more memory, high-level BASIC language, 20 times faster, and full I/O to boot.

      If your colleague has or knows about this SHARP, you'd better stick like mad to the advanced pre-programmed capabilities of the HP-15C, avoiding touching any other specifications, because as far as size, rugedness and functionality are concerned, you're bound to lose the argument.

    "Eventually, my "concern" was only to be able to explain that my "passion"
    was not only something related to "the good ol' days" but relied on something real...."

      Seems to me you're actually trying to justify your fixation to yourself more than to any colleagues. But taken at face value then, if your "concern" is basically to try and demonstrate your colleague that you aren't nuts, wasting your time and money with these obsolete, underperforming gadgets that no one else uses any more, I suggest you simply put on your "Knowledgeable Collector Hat" and show them off as valuable collection items, very much like a Curta or Slide-Rule collector would do.

      The Curta/Slide-Rule collector doesn't try to justify his collecting or the item itself by assuming or magnifying its 'superiority', but by demonstrating a well-built, durable product, nice to look at, which still works fine, and which can be appreciated by connoisseurs as an object d'art by itself.

      Actually, this might be the best thing to do to save face.

Best regards from V.


Interestingly, not a single engineer in my office is familiar with the Sharps. I don't think they had much market penetration.

But I well remember my German colleague pulling out his SHARP in 1998, after I had shown him my proud little 32sii program. Wow what a comeback that was! That Sharp was extraordinary.


Hi, Bill:

Bill posted:

    "Interestingly, not a single engineer in my office is familiar with the Sharps. I don't think they had much market penetration."

      Perhaps not in the US, but they sold by the millions in Japan and Europe, most specially in Germany and France, AFAIK. The combination of superb quality and capabilities at a price far below HP offerings made them sell like mad. You can see a detailed history and full review in my V25N3 Datafile article "Know Thy Foe: A New Contender", which pits the SHARP PC-1211 vs. the HP-41C, with pictures and sample programs (in versions for both) included.

    "But I well remember my German colleague pulling out his SHARP in 1998, after I had shown him my proud little 32sii program. Wow what a comeback that was! That Sharp was extraordinary."

      Do you remember which model it was, perchance ? The ones I would fear the most in any comparison versus HP models would be the SHARP PC-1262 (HP-15C size, 2 x 24 char display), 1360 (4 x 24 char graphics-capable display), 1421 (Financial), 1425 (Statistics), 1475 (Double precision, Matrix, 2 x 24 char), 1600 (4 x 26 char graph. display, 2 processors, very fast), E220 (2 x 24 char, Engineering Library, full bult-in Assembler for machine language programming) and E500S (Double precision, Matrix, Engineering library, 4 x 40 chars graph. display, ultra-fast).

      Any of them would give the equivalent HPs a run for their money.

      Thanks for your interesting comments and

Best regards from V.


I can confirm what Valentin says about Sharp's sales in Italy as well.

My very first programmable calc was a magnificent (for me at that time...)

Sharp PC-1401, and I can also remember a friend of mine put his TI-59 in the drawer

and buy a brand new PC-1475 (IIRC).

I can still remember how that great calc was helpful to pass my engineering exams

especially helping to draw fast and accurate Bode diagrams by means of a simple

Basic program I had written by myself...

I still have that 1401 working, even if I can start to see some signs

of ageing for the pixels (you know, that little "wear" on the border of

each square pixel that make it not so sharp... :).

Best regards.



Hi Valentin,

thanks for the interesting links. However, so far I cannot open your article. Please check.

Best regards, Walter


The one point on which I have so far always found agreement: tactile feedback. I have yet to have someone say that they feel the HP (voyager, pioneer/champagne, and LED) keys feel inferior. Even dedicated TI users such as my last two bosses, each of whom used TI (one had a 59) liked the keys on the HP better. When I showed them the 33s, they were unimpressed with the keys--in fact one frowned and said that it was very disappointing.

The other aspect that seems to find agreement is the general level of quality. Sadly this is no longer an advantage (for new equipment).

My most recent company had quite a few HP users. Out of 22 total engineers, 9 were daily HP calculator users--three of them used algebraic 20s regularly. Another engineer used a 41c for years but doesn't even carry a calc any longer. 3 of the 4 senior members of the company--the founders--used hp (one used a 20s). Ominously none of the recently hired 20-somethings used HP. They all used TI. Basically the cut-off is age 37.

On the points of power etc it is as you say--all relative.

Edited: 5 Feb 2007, 11:16 a.m.


Whereas Valentin proposes a specification of the question and while that may indeed be useful, it may suffice to answer like I do most of the time:

Oh, my fascination with old HP calculators? Well, I can very easily change their functionality. Most modern devices like cell phones or PDAs doesn't allow the user to easily change or add functionality. With my calculators, I can simply by pressing a button, program new functions or change the behaviour of the whole calculator. I can even turn it into an Ultimate Alarm Clock [add the usual rant about the fabulous UAC and why every man, woman and child on this planet would need and want one].

Of course, this is just how I start long conversations about old HP calculators. It may or may not be what you wanted.


Back in 1975 when I was shopping for my first calculator I didn't know anything about calculator. I bought the HP-25 and not a TI or other brands just because it looked better and seemed better built according to what I saw and what I felt playing with them. I think that was the strongest argument and it still is.



I had not thought of that particular feature,

but I must admit it's a valuable and easy-to-grasp one!

Thanks for your input.

Best regards.




Quote: would I get my colleague convinced about the superiority and power of the HP calcs?

Dont burn me for my heretic talk (or don't read beyond this point ;-) ) but in my opinion, this "superiority" of HP is history by now...

Modern hp-calculators are in no way superior to the competition (on the contrary, if I had to chose between an hp-49/50 or a Ti-89/Voyage, I wouldn't hesitate a second to take the Ti). And as for RPN, sorry, but if you ever entered an equation "exactly as written on the paper" into a modern algebraic calculator (like a Ti Voyage 200 with a proper alpha-keyboard), then RPN really only is a waste of time. A good alternative to waisting your time playing sudoku maybe, and a good excercise for your brain maybe - but not really appropriate for a modern working environemt where you get paid for the power you deliver (remember phsics: Power = Work divided by Time !). And for the same reason, pocket calculators have almost totally disappeared from industrial/engineering working environments, at least, as far as office work is concerned.

The story is totally different for vintage hp calculators of course. They really were superior during their time, and thats why they attracted and still attract so much admiration.

Greetings, Max


I would have to agree with much of this, even though it pains me to do so. I'm about as staunch a supporter of HP calcs as you can find, but if you are comparing modern HP calcs to modern TI calcs, the gap is very very narrow. The HP-50g (and possibly HP-40gs/39gs) are the only really impressive machines to come up in recent years, and the only ones that could challenge TI on the same level playing field.

Older HP cals had a hands-down superiority over TI calcs. No one, not even TI IMHO, would disagree. Today, however, it's a different story.

BTW, even though I feel this way, trust me, you will not find a single TI calc in my possession, and I go out of my way to make sure my nieces and nephews have HP calcs in their hands to try out in school and make up their own mind. I keep a stable of HP calcs easily at hand, including my day-to-day use of the 42s and 33s, occasional use of the 16c for computer operations, the 12c for financial and I use my old 25c, 19c and 34c calcs simply because they're beautiful and I have a hard time keeping my hands off them.

That all being said, I am excited at what I heard at PPC2006, and I'm hoping that HP will kick some TI butt starting this year! :-)



I kinda agree with you on this too. Since I picked my first calculator on look and built quality and I picked HP. If I would apply the same criteria today, I see no superiority with current HP offering either.


As an engineer in a major European, say Swedish, truck manufacturer, I must agree to that pocket calculators are almost a thing of the past... But what do you reach for when thinking in some minor calculations, using some %, +-*/, and maybe illustrating something to someone? Excel? Not me, I go for the 15, 42, 17, 19, 49 (or Jornada 720), ALL are on my desk. +My stock in the drawer and at home (48, 41, 42, 35, 28s, 28c (recently added), 48sx, printer ;) )... 50g to appear at work shortly. HPGCC made me ecstatic!

Back on some kind of line: I own 2 TI 30(?) (the equivalent of the Casio fx82b), the basic ones. Rubber keys. Small and lightweight. Why did I buy them in 1994? They were "simple and basic enough" (== slide ruler) ! to be used at the university (Chalmers) on some non-math (maths was no-calcs) and other courses (mechanics, finance, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, etc), whereas in solid mechanics, composite mechanics, etc, one could use a *proper* calculator. So, for me, TI at alii are still the "limited capability calculators". In mechanics you need a HP48, or above. Still like the solid feel of the 48SX, and the keys. Rock solid. For my PhD studies Matlab became THE tool, and still is, when you actually present results, etc...

But RPN is a waste of time? No! EVERYTHING is not made in "as you write on paper". I frequently use my rpn marvels as an aid in thinking, or just for some plain "ballet"; letting my fingers dance on the keys while I think. Yes, I am not like the TI users - TI users bite their hair or fingernails.

Cut off age in Sweden is really 33... I am 33, and my younger colleagues (age =< 33-eps) ALL have Tex' Ass, although I am responsible enough to have enough HPs for everyone... Ask them something about that Polish guy and his strange calculators, and they all go hide.

I do sometimes use Free42decimal.exe, skin: Michaels HP, but that just makes me long for the real deal.

So, does this explain some marvels? Maybe not, but I am glad I like them. And a 2 line display 15c/s/x would be neat.




And as for RPN, sorry, but if you ever entered an equation "exactly as written on the paper" into a modern algebraic calculator (like a Ti Voyage 200 with a proper alpha-keyboard), then RPN really only is a waste of time.

I would beg to differ on this point. In working with my (new) 50G, I have discovered that building a symbolic equation right on the stack using RPN logic works very well and affords the inherent level of control over grouping that RPN is famous for. Being able to throw different sections of a really big equation onto different stack levels, and then assemble the whole thing using the stack manipulation tools is really nice. Since the 50G gives you a textbook equation view right on the stack, it's a nice alternative to the equation writer environment (which admittedly works quite well also). The bottom line...keying in alot of brackets is just tedious business, and RPN was, is, and always will be a great way around such tedium.

Best regards, Hal

Be careful in the amount of enthusiam you share with anyone
around you. They may get caught up in your enthusiasm and
become addicted. As they spend the money they need for supporting
their family on eBay, you may regret starting them down this
path of no return. You may also regret having a co-worker
scoop up all the treasures found at tag sales, and second
hand stores in your area!

It is better to get them interested enough to pass on to you
any bargains they find.

Proceed with caution!




I hadn't thought about that drawback ;/

Thank you for pointing that out !! :DDD

I'll disguise my love for HP calcs as.... - any suggestion on what topic use as a camouflage?

Thank you for your appreciated sense of humour!

Best regards.



You can disguise you love for the real HP calcs as you interest in emulators. You can say that with free emulators running on a cheap PC you could have the same functionality as the one time expensive HP calcs. You also would be interested to get some of these obsolete calcs just to see how bad they are compared to the emulators. In that way they would pass on to you their garage sale finds. In other word you show them that you're interested in accquiring these calcs but only to see how bad they really are.


When people ask me about my fascination with these “weird” calculators, I start with what I believe is the fundamental difference: When I use an RPN calculator, I do the MATH while the machine does the ARITHMETIC. I do the thinking, it does the working.

Usually, by this point I can tell if the person has a genuine curiosity or not. If they do, I work a couple of easy examples. ((4+8)/(5-3))^(8/4)for instance makes the arithmetic easy to follow, but showcases the RPN/L punch. More often than not, they ask to work out some easy ones by themselves. But, sadly, over the last 20 years it’s only resulted in two coworkers actually buying an HP.

Very Respectfully,

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