HP's best scientific calculator?


What would have been HP's best scientific calculator that can easily be carried around in ones shirt pocket? I'm kind of liking what I see in the 42s.


The 48/49/50 series (and the 38/39/40 series) are too big for a shirt pocket, so the contenders are arguably the 41C series, 15C, 32S/32SII/33s/35s, the 42S, and the 28C/28S.

If you need a way to save and load programs, the 41C series is your only choice, though it verges on being too big for a shirt pocket. The 42S is compatible with the 41C series, and better in some ways, but does not have any means of external input other then the keyboard.

The 28C/28S are the only compact RPL scientifics. They also lack external input, but have more powerful symbolic capabilities than any of the other listed models. They may be too wide for some shirt pockets.

For compact size, the 15C, 42S, and 32S/32SII/33s/35s are the best choices. I personally prefer the 15C, as it mostly avoids menus and such. You do have to remember the codes for matrix operations and conditionals, or look at the reference printed on the back of the calculator. However, the 15C also has the least available memory.


My HP-15c is my all-time favorite. I used it steadily for 25 years as my carry-around calc, leaving other bigger calcs like my HP-48SX sitting stationary on my desk. A modern version with a faster processor and more storage memory would be awesome, but I think that's a pipe dream and is hard to justify given iPhone apps.


I never thought about it that way but wow! To think that the last machine HP made, which is pocket sized and I/O, dates to 78 and out of production in 90. Crazy!

I think the sharps were way better from a pocketable I/O standpoint. I wish I had realized that they existed, back in the 80s. Then I might never have been so HP though...


Buy a large pocket shirt, put a 50g inside. I know many distingish between graphic and scientific, but in the end graphic calculators are also scientific. Hence the best HP scientific is the 50g in a large pocket shirt.


That's like carrying a boat anchor around. That's a much stronger statement than a pocket protector for sure;-)


i agree with eric, and would add that if you're going to use several programs , and/or use them infrequently; get a 41 or 42. those have the ability to prompt and label output. otherwise, the 15 is the smallest, the 33 is usually the cheapest and the 35s is the best combination of easy to get into and cheap.
on the other hand; eric has made some pretty good RPN calcs.


The best is yet to come! :-)


The best is yet to come! :-)

Do you know something we don't??

To me only one thing would tip a 41CX, and that'd be... a faster one - Now this may be just around the corner :)

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 5:28 a.m.


Do you know something we don't?

Yes I do!

I was commenting on db's statement that I have "made some pretty good RPN calcs" (in partnership with Richard Ottosen).


Give us a hint ... if you can. ;-) All that statement does is make us curious.


Don't tease me now.


I share your feelings for the 42S. In addition to the points the previous posters made: If you want to get the 42's function set plus data & program I/O plus real speed, load Free42 on your PDA or iPhone. It may even be worthwhile getting a cheap PDA for this. The only drawback is the lack of real keys.

BTW, carrying a 50g in your shirt pocket may turn you asymmetric d;-)

And FYI: Pauli & me are working on a 30b repurposing project to convert that speedy banker's gadget into a real scientific. Thomas C. joined us for porting the code on the 30b.

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 2:07 a.m.


Looking forward to seeing what you come up with ever since we saw a great mockup of what you showed the keyboard "should" look like earlier in "Thanks to our numerous supporters ...".



Because of what is already mentioned. And because of new developments like the Clonix/NoV modules and the MLDL and the PIL-Box. And because more is coming.




Oh yes.



I'm not familiar with that -- is it an actual product? I tried googling it but that didn't turn up anything useful.


I assume the family will continue then with 41CC, 41CD, 41CM d8-)


Strictly speaking it isn't the "HP"-41CL:

41CL Calculator page


Strictly speaking it isn't the "HP"-41CL

It's just the L that's not from HP... ;-)



So, it's vaporware, then? Not to belittle anything as cool as a project to resurrect the HP-41, but since we were talking about "the best scientific HP calculator", I figured we'd at least be talking about calculators that, well, exist. :-)


Well, _one_ exists. It's on the desk in front of me. Then there's the testbed one in the other room.


So, it's like the Mercedes-Benz C111 then. It's cool, one or two of them exist, but you can't buy one. Still sounds like a prototype, i.e. something that has no place in a discussion of "best X product". In a discussion of "coolest X prototype", sure.

Mind you, I don't mean to complain. Just wanted to make sure what's what.


I want my vintage calculators to be 100 percent vintage and with the original guts inside the box. What's the point otherwie?

The only thing unique about the several HP-41 units I've owned since 1980 (including the perfect condition HP-41CX a few feet away from me now) is that they all had the best keyboard "feel" of any calculator that I've ever used. But the display is, compared to anything available for the past quarter century, very terribly limited.

I wouldn't change a thing on the originals.


Hi Mike;

I know very little about the NEWT, but i did sit next to Monte a few years ago at an HHC conference in San Jose where i got some early info. He also gave a presentation about it. One of it's minor positive points (major to me) is that this will resuscitate a lot of "brain dead" 41s that have no problems other than a zapped or otherwise damaged processor. Add that to giving buyers access to 100 4k ROMs who's manuals are available on the Museum DVD (as Diego's work has done) and you have a real users tool. Of course, i don't have one yet but i believe that we will be able to re-write the ROMs, which will be a major win in the surveyors rom for instance. A couple of missing global labels there (local labels only) made it impossible to access key points in the programs to store data by point number and to enter horizontal curve data as it is usually found. We'll see about that. I don't care one way or the other about the speed enhancement.

The NEWT may give us capabilities we needed 30 years ago, and do that on calcs that are dead anyway. I know you program, for real uses. Keep an open mind on this, You may like it. - db

BTW: I do see the limitations in the 14/17 segment screen in that one can't display most lower case characters, but they are just sooooo pretty.


I opt for one of the first production units if the price is right.

BTW, I checked the manual and found a few typos:

This project never could have succeeded with Warren Furlow’s excellent Web site

The setup of Hepax RAM pointers seems to be buggy (too much copy&paste):


The 8 should read 7 in both cases.

I'm missing a chapter about or even some ready to use code for "standard configurations" like Hepax development or HP-IL setup with all the necessary modules in place. A feature to save and restore named configurations would be very handy, too. I guess, most users will create focal code to accomplish this but a standardized method seems to be more appropriate.

Greetings from Germany



Marcus, thank you for pointing these out.

As far as named configurations, that is way beyond my programming skills, sorry.


A working prototype was presented here last year:



Hey Monte,

I had heard of the CL before, and this does interest me. Any idea of when they might be ready to sell ?, and the sell price ??



Beta units end of February. $225-$250.


The 50g is the most comprehensive and complex scientific/graphing calculator on the market. With it comes a very steep learning curve and so because of this I'm not sure it's the best.

Of the current HP scientific offerings the 33s/35s have a fairly complete set of function for most users. Both are easier to learn to use than the 50g.

Using an old analogy of the longbow and crossbow - both have their uses and skills required for mastery but when used properly both are very effective.



Never put a HP calculator into a shirt pocket, or
'the HP's best scientific calculator' will be a dead one.

Why is that? Might fall out?

Strange, I'm not able to find this thread.

I read it here in MoHP (as rules for keeping safe old calcs) and since that time, I don't keep any calc in any pocket anymore.

Edited: 23 Jan 2011, 5:03 a.m.

Actually I never keep my calcs in my shirt pocket either but if I needed to temporarily it's nice to be able to slip it in there until I can find a safe place to carefully put it down. Better in my shirt pocket than my pants pocket and forget about then sit down and break something.

A steep learning curve is a good thing. If the learning curve was shallow, it would take a very long time to learn to use it.

A steep learning curve is a good thing to get to an achievable next level fast. If said level is too high, however, without any intermediate steps before, you may fail reaching it on said steep curve at all. Compare to mountaineering, mountain biking, etc. It all depends on the level gap in relation to the learner's energy. IIRC we had this topic recently already.

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 4:41 p.m.

Here's a visual of trying to climb the 50g mountain...

The view from the summit is spectacular but there are dead bodies littering the trail.


Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 6:32 p.m.


I guess the c|:-o guy on the left is shouting: "Yes you can!" or "Steep curves are good for you!" d;-)

A steep learning curve is a good thing. If the learning curve was shallow, it would take a very long time to learn to use it.

That's only true if you assume you have guaranteed forward motion. :-)

In the real world as I know it, steep learning curves are a bad thing, where people just get stuck and end up suffering a lot of needless frustration, usually caused by poor documentation. My favorite example is vi, which is an excellent text editor, but which also causes untold frustration... not because it is badly designed, but because most tutorials don't bother to explain its design. I suspect that the HP-50g suffers from the same problem. Apple's products also have a bad history in this regard (speaking from a programmer's perspective, not a user's...)

Are you using something other than time as the X axis of the learning curve, then?

I am thinking of the "learning curve" as a mountain you have to climb. As long as the grade is shallow enough, everyone can scale it, and some will do so more quickly than others. As you make it steeper, getting up becomes harder, and some people will not be able to make any progress at all once the grade gets too steep.

As long as it is possible to keep the grade shallow, we should do so. Civilization is not about bragging rights about who makes it up to the top, it is about making it possible for as many people to make it up there as we can.

What's *your* idea of the X axis of the learning curve?

EDIT: Referring to my previous post, "documentation" is "making the grade shallower". Note that I'm not advocating "dumbing down"; the mountain of knowledge will be as tall as it is regardless of what anyone will do, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything to make it easier to get up there. It is possible to understand the wheel without being forced to reinvent it.

Edited: 24 Jan 2011, 11:03 p.m.

I guess the learning curve was not steep at all on my 41cx and 71. When they arrived (the 41cx a year or two ahead of the 71), I just started at the beginning of each manual and read through to the end, and when I was done, I felt like I knew the machine quite well, and yet I never got to the "hard part." OTOH, the manual that came with my 50g was just about worthless, so the 50g sits in a drawer, unused.

Knowledge on the Y axis, and time on the X axis. At some point the curve will approach a horizontal asymptote, which hopefully will be at a Y coordinate corresponding to the level of knowledge you want.

Hmmm, well... that's what I was afraid you meant, but with that interpretation, the learning curve might as well be vertical, that way we'd all learn everything instantly. Which, in the real world, would translate to not having any form of education, instruction, manuals, textbooks, etc., at all -- either you spontaneously "get it", or you lose.

No, that would be a nearly flat learning curve, because no matter how long you flail away at it, you never learn enough to be productive. As t approaches infinity, y stays near zero.

I'm tired of this constant bickering over learning curves. Apparently understanding the meaning of learning curves has a [steep] [flat] learning curve.


I think all righthtinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not! And I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.

-- Monty Python

Excellently put.

A virtual one. Consider a fine emulator for your phone. I use Free42 mostly. But have just about every other virtual HP as well, including the very capable 49g.

If you really need to crunch a lot of numbers periodically throughout the day and a virtual HP just doesn't cut it then I'd have to throw in my vote for the 15C (followed by the 42S). The 15C is the only HP I've actually put in my shirt pocket (on the very rare occasions I actually have a shirt pocket).

I see some votes for the 50g. You are going to need a holster for that. One of the HHCers is always sporting one. Along with a backup 50g, camera, phone, PDA, tool-set, soldering iron, slide-rule (just in case), a pocket ref, a fork, etc... in other holsters. Kinda looks like Nerd Vader's utility belt. :-)

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 3:39 p.m.

I have and been using Free42. Most definitely an amazing simulator and very customizable though I, without a doubt, prefer the "realistic" skin over any other.

No doubt the 50g would be a wonderful scientific if it weren't for the (HUGE) learning curve and also the inconvenience of so many functions embedded in layers of menus. Of course, how else could they include so many functions (quote: "over 2300") without using nested menus? A holster is the only way one could realistically carry one around unless you wore farmer's overalls. ;-)

"Best" is too subjective. You'll never get agreement on one (or even two or three). Eric Smith gave the best synopsis of the contenders and why.

IMO, since (besides scientific) pocketabilty was the only stated criterium, the choice is limited to a Voyager, Pioneer, or 33s/35s, and the last two are "stretching it" a little (pun intended).

And since the responses are (not surprisingly) all about RPN, I will throw in my choice from The Dark Side, the 27s. Two-line alpha-numeric display, amount of memory, included "business" functions, and that wonderful Solver are the reasons.

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 4:17 p.m.

Well, notice that I "qualified" my question about what the "best" one as one that could be carried in a shirt pocket. I know it doesn't narrow it down too much but pretty much does disqualify the larger ones with large displays (ie, 39gs, 40gs, 48gii, 50g).

I prefer the pioneer series form factor. Have always loved the size, look, and layout of my 32sii, for instance.

The HP-15C is my all-time favorite. It took me through engineering and master degrees. And I used it at work for a long time after that. It's has s great size and has a wide range of functions directly from the keyboard without having to access menus (which I really don't like).

I also have a sentimental attachment to one of my all-time favorites which took me through high school --> HP-21

The 10c/11c/15c/16c/12c family is the smallest. None have digital I/O.
15c was top dog of that group.

The 20s/22s/273/32s/42s are a bit longer but just as thin. They are just a bit too tall to hide in a shirt pocket.

I hate putting calculators in shirt pockets. They fall out when you lean over to pick up the blackwing 602 you happened to have dropped.

They fall out when you lean over to pick up the Blackwing 602 you happened to have dropped.


$20 for a pencil, do you work for The Pentagon? If not, remind me to not get into a bidding war with you.


Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 6:36 p.m.


I just happen to have a small stash of them left :-)

I don't really consider any of my HP collection "pocektable" (mostly LED models) so for that duty I have several quite good emulators loaded on my iPhone 4, which defintiely IS pocketable. i41CX+ is just an incredible 41C emulator, highly recommended. And there are 15C, 42S, etc. etc. emulators on the App Store, too. Also VintageRPN which has HP-35/45/55/80 (quite good, not perfect), and GO-21 which is a really nice HP21.


Without any question or ambiguity, it's the HP 42S. It leaves its closest pocket-sized competitor, the HP-15C, in the dirt in every respect except color scheme and display clarity. It makes up for those two items by not having the abominally stupid landscape layout, an error that HP never repeated outside all those recurring HP-12C re-issues.

Most knowledgeable people evaluate the HP 42S, even today, as the best RPN calculator that has ever been made. This is astonishing for a calculator introduced in 1988. It actually says that HP hasn't given a crap about maintaining more recent similar-sized releases (32SII, 33S, 35S) with capabilities that can equal what was available 23 years ago.

If you simply wanted to know the best calculator made by anyone, without regard to size, there's nothing to compete with the HP 50G. But it's about three times the size and weight of the HP 42S, and programs in RPL, not RPN. HP can be proud of their HP 50G. But...you can get several of them new for the price you're likely to pay for a used HP 42S.

The proof is in ebay prices. These are prices being paid by users, not collectors.

Edited: 22 Jan 2011, 11:18 p.m.

Mike, I agree the portrait format makes more sense. But apparently a lot of folks either like or tolerate well the landscape format of the Voyagers. I'm not a 15c advocate; I don't even own a 12c, but since you mention eB** prices, remember the 15c also does very well in this regard.

Hi Martin. If I sound like I'm down on the HP-15C, that's not what I intend. I own two, one of which I used every day for eleven years even though I also owned a HP-41CX, HP 28S, HP 48SX, HP 48GX, and HP 32SII during that interval. Were it not for the stunning capabilities of the HP 42S, the 1982 HP-15C even with its adverse and pointless landscape layout would still be the finest RPN calculator ever made. But since the HP 42S appeared 23 years ago, the HP-15C has been the second best. A distant second best for sure, but still very very good.

Landscape-arranged pocket-sized calculators have a "cute and different" appeal, but are much more awkward to *actually use* as a handheld calculator. That is a very bad quality for a handheld calculator to have. Landscape scientific calculators have good purpose only when the width is small, like those "credit-card" size scientific calculators from 27 to 33 years ago. Like the Casio fx-48 (1978) and fx-98 (1984), and (best of the bunch) the Radio Shack EC-4009 (1984, made by Casio...an improved fx-98 with permutation and combination functions). BTW, now these usually bring prices approaching or exceeding those of the HP-15C or HP 42S. They are far far more difficult to find on the used market than nearly any HP calculator.

I have great hopes for the possibilities in the future if HP developes more machines along the same lines as the recent and excellent HP 30b. A calculator that had the best features of the HP 42S and the HP 30b would be the greatest scientific pocket size calculator ever. Include all HP 30b financial capabilities and HP 17BII clock/calendar functions and one would have absolute Nirvana...a calculator that literally was "one with everything"!

Edited: 23 Jan 2011, 2:00 p.m.

Hmmm ... best shirt pocket HP = 15C. Best jacket pocket = 28S. Well actually if there really were a 'best' HP then I wouldn't have so many in my collection (and use them on a regular basis)! Cheers, Keith

What's wrong with the HP 42S in your collection?

I've got more 42S's in my collection than 15c's, so you have a point Mike. I think I was really just responding to the 'shirt pocket' question - I will take my 42S with me more often to a meeting or on site, but if I had to put something in my shirt pocket then i'd go for something smaller - hence the 15C. I do love both calculators though.

Interesting too - I just got the book "A Guide to HP Handheld Calculators and Computers" by Mier-Jedrzejowicz - it says that HP considered having the 15C (and all the 10 series) in portrait format before moving it to landscape. Cheers, Keith

Thank you all for your thoughtful recommendations and opinions. I'll just keep my eyes open for a reasonably priced 42s. In the meantime I'll continue to use my 32sii and 30b.

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