HP 20B - 1st impressions



#2

Received my new HP 20B today. Summary: very disappointed. In the hopes of saving a few others time and money, here are my comments.

If you want a powerful platform to experiment programming firmware, I'm sure it's great. And it's always wonderful to see a new HP _RPN_ calculator. And yes, the HP 20B is pleasing at first sight with its:

  • bevelled key faces, to allow for a 2nd set of key labels;
  • double-width Enter (aka Input) key;

  • raised edge, to allow safe, face-down placement; and

  • high-contrast, easy-to read, segmented, number display.

But the moment I press a key - yech!! There's no 'HP click'. Instead only 'mush'. And to add insult to injury, I have to watch the display to ensure each keypress is registered. To be sure, this is not much different than any other non-HP calculator, such as my Sharp EL-733A Financial calculator. But it's the cognitive dissonance. On the other calculators I expect 'mush'. But when I see the famous HP bevel keys on the HP 20B, a lifetime of experience has me expecting the hinged-key 'click'. Instead on the HP 20B there's only 'mush'.

And yes, the HP 20B is a financial calculator _with_ the added bonus of scientific functions -- but they're mostly behind a single Math key. And this menuing system is more convoluted than that of the HP 17BII or HP 42S, with their labeled softkeys.

I mail-ordered the HP 20B, and so returning it is not worth it. But life is too short to reach for the HP 20B regularly, and then be continually re-disappointed with each key press. So for every day use, I'll stick with my HP 17BII silver.

...bt


Edited: 14 Sept 2008, 10:50 a.m. after one or more responses were posted


#3

Fully agree: cute in first view, but the limited display causing this so called "menu" system is a major obstacle. In fact, after reading Gene's DATAFILE article, this prevented me from the mushy key experience. Thanks, Gene d:)

#4

Hello.

The descriptions that several gave of the 20B were enough for me to decide not to even think about buying this new calculator. And here I get again the confirmation that my choice was right. My discussion may now go off-topic.

In my case, it was the 35s that disappointed me so much. I hardly use it. Several days ago I found a case lying around and I wondered what it was. Ah the 35s ... I opened it, switched it on and can confirm that the keyboard does still not behave as it should be. Sometimes keys are registered with a time lag and the system hangs so that I get wrong results.

Very sad. The concept of these new calculators is not so bad. There are some good ideas, but unfortunately, bugs, omissions, errors and these crappy keyboards make them useless to me. To tell the truth, I don't understand all those people who claim that these calculators are "great". I cannot understand how they manage to use them regularly. I cannot use them even for 5 minutes.

What bothers me most is the fact that there is a big chance, that HP will release scientific models based on the 20B ... ...

As far as I am informed, in several days or weeks there will be the HP conference. Will there at last be someone who will accuse HP? Or are there only people who tell them to go on as they do now? I don't understand.

But as long as my old stock of calculators works, I don't really care. 48 and 32 do the job for me and I have plenty of them ;)


#5

Hi Patrick,

Quote:
As far as I am informed, in several days or weeks there will be the HP conference. Will there at last be someone who will accuse HP? Or are there only people who tell them to go on as they do now? I don't understand.

This conference will be in two weeks from now. I don't expect any accusants there (pretty polite people), but AFAIK there will be a few participants coming forward with proposals or suggestions. That would leave it to the wisdom of HP to slam dunk them or to draw profit from them. As long as none of us has his own calculator shop, we'll rely on that wisdom, for better and for worse.
#6

Quote:
To tell the truth, I don't understand all those people who claim that these calculators are "great".

I think most feel its better than nothing or finally going in the right direction. I think it is great to see the large ENTER key. That alone is cause for celebration.
Quote:
What bothers me most is the fact that there is a big chance, that HP will release scientific models based on the 20B ...

I share your outlook of a grim future. I think we have all realized that if you want a classic HP, then get a classic HP.

They don't make them like they used to, is a timeless saying that applies to many technologies. Most will just adapt and that is why things can change.


#7

hello,

Quote:
I share your outlook of a grim future. I think we have all realized that if you want a classic HP, then get a classic HP.

They don't make them like they used to, is a timeless saying that applies to many technologies. Most will just adapt and that is why things can change.


also, at $40, which is less than $16 of 1980... how much was a classic HP calculator in the 1980s?

I would love to make a high quality calculator like they did at that time... but will you buy a 250$ calculator? would enough people buy it to make it commercially worthwhile? I mean, you can get a full PC for that price!

regards, cyrille


#8

Hi,

I agree your point regarding "old quality level" production costs, and subsequent loss of merchantibility for a $250 high-end calculator.

However, I cannot see how adding some tactile feedback to the keyboard design of a calculator (say the HP-20b or whatever) could increase that production cost by more than 500%(!). Every mobile phone in the range $20 to $500 do provide such tactile feedback, and some are almost "use and throw", with a very short life span (roughly one year), so production cost for "dome-type" keyboards must be *really* low.

Just an opinion though.

Diego.


#9

hello,

Quote:
Every mobile phone in the range $20 to $500 do provide such tactile feedback, and some are almost "use and throw", with a very short life span (roughly one year), so production cost for "dome-type" keyboards must be *really* low.

These phones do NOT cost $20, they cost at lest $45 (last time I did a break down analysis)... they are sold to you for $20 or even $0 because they are subsidized by the 'plan'...

regards, cyrille


#10

Cyrille,

Quote:
These phones do NOT cost $20, they cost at lest $45 (last time I did a break down analysis)... they are sold to you for $20 or even $0 because they are subsidized by the 'plan'...

Correctly analyzed. And the consequences? For 45US$, you can get a reliable keyboard and a reasonable display and a bunch of software in a nice small case. After all, this package is teeny-proof, which IMHO is a pretty high standard :)

#11

Ah, but this is where unit cost and scale come back in. Today, the cell phone is a big seller; the high performance calculator a specialty. So the calculator is on an uphill climb.

But even then, it should always be possible to avoid going backwards. From a keyboard standpoint, I so far have been happy with my 35s. Even my 33s was good, until one day it wasn't. But three years of use...I think that is fully amortized.


Edited: 14 Sept 2008, 10:43 p.m.


#12

Of course you're right, Bill. But many will gladly spend 100US$ or more, if they know they get a calculator they can rely on -- a serious scientific instrument.

The small, though important shortcomings are what bother people: keyboard quality, suboptimal menu access, outdated displays, missing functions (R<>P).

The 17bii+ Silver sells for 99.95US$. So, some 20 bucks more shall fully pay for the interface included in the 20b, and leave a nice margin for HP. Please see also Martin's post below.


#13

Ah, yes, I agree on the faults.

But, what you mean by "many" will spend $100 is another thing to ponder.

How many is "many"

10
100
1000
10,000
1 x 10^6

I'll bet the worldwide population interested in spending $100 on a scientific, non-graphing calculator is less than 10,000 souls. It could well be less than 1,000.


#14

Well, that's easy: 1, 2, 3, many :)

Seriously, one may estimate the TAM (total available market) by counting the number of science and engineering students, adding the number of professionals with such a background, applying proper reduction factors etc. If the device is cool enough, you may even add some students to the students above ;) Don't forget there may be some education sponsoring by (grand-) parents. Shall need no sorcery, but (?) marketing at its best.

#15

Hi again,

The cellular (mobile) phones example was not intended to be literally taken but to make a figure on how easy and widespreaded is manufacturing keyboards with tactile feedback.

If the point comes to be specific, I can also be:

The first specific question (and I'm pretty sure someone at HP knows the answer up to the 2nd decimal place at least): How much will 20b production costs will rise up if manufactured with tactile feedback keyboard, instead of the current one?

The second specific question should be obvious: How much "that" increment in production costs will affect final selling price?

And even another one: Why this "differential" is *so* important to the people that take decisions at HP as to choose a poorer final product?

I'm not confident in getting the corresponding asnwers. And I understand that these answers may well be covered by "industrial secret", however; getting back to the phones example; HP could take it for good... as telecom companies sell phones below production costs in order to get a bigger share of the market...

...why not reduce some marginal profit in calculator selling, by producing a quality range of devices at "reasonable" price, in order to "recover" the share of a marked now controlled by Casio and TI?

On the personal side I'm delighted to have an HP "representation" in this forum, even though it's at unofficial level; and wholeheartedly thank your effort and contribution in order to support an open platorm like 20b is.

In my opinion the line is perfect, but the product is not, and seems I'm not the only one in thinking like that. Should this make a difference for future products improvement? Let's see.

Again, just some thougths.

Best regards from Spain, where HP-35s is $116


Edited: 15 Sept 2008, 7:10 p.m.

#16

Quote:
but will you buy a 250$ calculator?

this is FROM how much HP42s' are changing hands these days...

regards,
reth

#17

only 250 USD?

I will depart from my 42 (The Answer) for a mere
299,95 Euros + postage + package + handling + office fee
(note the new lowered price 299,99 -> now ONLY 299,95)

VPN


#18

how many of them do you have? cos they won't last at that price ;)
cheers
reth


#19

just one - and I'm really selling it - want to buy it?
write to
nousiainen <radix> velipekka <cat> gmail <radix> com

#20

Quote:
I would love to make a high quality calculator like they did at that time... but will you buy a 250$ calculator?
Am I wrong to say that minor problems cause major huff for users?

The 35s basically has a good keyboard. At least mine still works and feels ok. How much would it cost to ensure every 35s has a keyboard like this?

About its bugs, the 20b shows that it is possible to have a re-programmable firmware. Doesn't seem to cost a fortune.

Now, produce a calculator that implements both features, good keyboard and a way to get rid of bugs, how much would it cost? Wouldn't you think that it would be only slighty more expensive than the current 35s is? I bet that would make up for a calculator people would recommend to others.


#21

Quote:
Now, produce a calculator that implements both features, good keyboard and a way to get rid of bugs, how much would it cost? Wouldn't you think that it would be only slighty more expensive than the current 35s is?

Now, here we go! Take a 17bii+ Silver (soft keys!) WITH reprogramming interface as a first step. Update with a state-of-the-art display in second step. After step 1 already, people will start singing the encomium of HP again...

Edited: 14 Sept 2008, 5:08 a.m.

#22

Quote:

Now, produce a calculator that implements both features, good keyboard and a way to get rid of bugs, how much would it cost? Wouldn't you think that it would be only slightly more expensive than the current 35s is? I bet that would make up for a calculator people would recommend to others.


This is what I have been saying for a few months - this talk of "No one will pay $250 for a calculator today" misses the point. The 35s comes so close to being a good calculator at $60, with today's production methods, HP could make it a great calculator for just a little more money, or even make a great 45s for about $100. That would be something that many would gladly pay for.

Anyway, which is better, to try and mass-market a buggy calculator whose sales will peak shortly after the word gets around, or sell a great calculator in somewhat smaller initial quantities, but whose sales will continue longer because the word gets around how great it is? I confess I don't understand the current thinking at HP. Meanwhile I will continue to use my Pioneers and 48sx.

#23

I do not think a single metric can be used to defend the 35S or the 20B. In general all consumer electronic costs have been reduced while increasing functionality.

With little or no change in cost the 35s could have been smaller (like the 42S), and could have had better software. That is my biggest gripe with the 35S. E.g. poor complex number support, poor matrix support, no R<>P.

Diego's comment on the mobile phone keyboard is spot on. I have often wondered about this myself. I have never had a mobile phone that did not have good tactile feedback. I have never had to look at the screen to verify that a number was registered. Kids key in text accurately at incredible speeds.

#24

Quote:

but will you buy a 250$ calculator?


In spain the official price of the calculator HP50G is 199 euros. At the current euro-dollar rate (1,418), we could say that we are buying a 282$ calculator. (> 250$). At least, I did it.

regards, Jose Luis

Edited: 15 Sept 2008, 11:01 a.m.

#25

I don't know what HP requires for gross margins, but I'm pretty sure that adding metal snap-discs to the keyboards of any of HP's existing calculators won't push up the cost enough to make the retail price $250.

What the mushy keyboard of the 20b tells me is that HP doesn't believe that customers care about the feel of the keyboard. Maybe that's true. In the old days, people bought HP rather than other brands despite the higher price because they expected the HP to have higher quality. Maybe HP now believes that they can make more money by selling calculators of lower quality at lower prices. HP certainly isn't the first company to go down that path, and won't be the last.


#26

At the end of this path, there's a huge and hungry YELLOW SHARK (or dragon?) waiting!

#27

hello,


Quote:
As far as I am informed, in several days or weeks there will be the HP conference. Will there at last be someone who will accuse HP? Or are there only people who tell them to go on as they do now? I don't understand.


yes, in 2 weeks, and I will be there.

cyrille


#28

AND
you enthusiast customers will C the light!
there are people at hp who do care about calculators
and who will do their best to fulfil our dreams.

Hopefully they will introduve a new top model similar to
Xpander (Casio ClasPad, TI Nspire CAS) or Qonos

new hp 42s with USB and Flash would be nice
or
hp 15C Platinum...

VPN

#29

@ cyrille

I know that you give your very best and without you, there would be hardly any evolution with HP calculators.

I don't blame you of all the issues, but I do blame those people at HP who make the decisions and who don't see that they could build top products.


#30

I 2nd that.

"It's not personal. It's business."
-- Don Lucchesi, The Godfather: Part III

#31

After a 6 week honeymoon with my 20B, the keyboard has been a disappointment.....not only the mushiness, but one key is beginning to "stick".

There is certainly alot to like as a financial calculator.....the amortization function is very nice. After learning to use the date function I find it useful. The stats function seems pretty crowded, though I am not an engineering type.

The 20B is probably priced about right for what it is. It is certainly not the calculator I reach for when solving a finance problem, and there are 5 calcs on my desk. Best keyboard? 41C or 41CX. Best financial calculator? 19BII.

Just one guys opinion

Don

#32

Mine has arrived today. The good news: It's available in Germany. The bad news: bt is right!

The shiny surface looks noble as long as I don't touch it. My oily skin has left fingerprints all over the case. The keys are not only mushy, some of them scratch the case with their upper side. This gives a very unpleasant feeling and leads to missed keys.

The menu system is a little tricky. I was unable to compute PI-ACOS(-1) in RPN mode. It seems that selecting ACOS from the menu pushes its argument on the stack. This way, PI ends in Z, -1 in Y and ACOS(-1) in X. I'm puzzeled.

Marcus

Edited: 17 Sept 2008, 2:04 a.m.


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