HP 33s for non-engineers


I recognize that most people here are probably engineering students, and see the HP 33s as a good calculator for the NCEES exam. I'm a physics student, rather, and am looking for a good calculator to replace my old TI-36. Does anyone have any thoughts on the 33s in that light?


Hi Dave,

I am a little baffled--what is the difference between engineering and physics in regard to calculators? Is it which built-in constants are chosen?

What other features would be distinguishing?




Edited: 3 May 2004, 3:27 p.m.


Just to point out I'm not looking for a calculator specifically for an exam. I'm looking for something that helps in my studies--the TI I've used worked great, but doesn't have enough memory to hold all the numbers I need when solving problems for class exams and whatnot. The programming capability will help in my math classes (primarily numerical analysis) as well, but I don't need anything too powerful, like a large, expensive graphing calculator. Whenever I have a problem that needs that capability, I'm using Maple or Matlab.

So, I'm just curious especially to hear what people who have used this new model think about it.


Hi Dave,

I used an 11c all through college, including physics, and it was a splendid tool. I replaced it with a 32sii, which was really the same, only better, especially for programming.

The 33s has all the features of the 32sii, with a lot of additional memory, and some additional "scientific constants" built in.

The programming is identical with the 32sii. However, it also works in Algebraic mode if you so choose (including in programming).

I enjoyed using my 11c in college, as I used to program it frequently on the fly, which was great in physics. The 32sii is much easier to edit, as it has a memory management system with checksums and the ability to erase pragrams one by one. The 33s has this as well.

And although it does not do matrices automatically, and the complex number handling is not optimal or super like the 15c or the 42s (which are different from each other by the way) it does work.

It should be a good tool, and it is relatively inexpensive for a programmable machine.

As an engineer, I don't see any difference between its use in physics as compared to engineering. The 11c, then the 32sii, and now the 33s are all good.

Of course you can buy a TI-30 for like $9 but forget programming then.




Hi Dave,

Except for the fact that in algebraic mode, the parenthesis are on shifted keys, once in algebraic mode, this is a far better calculator than the TI-36. Also, note that the TI-36 has a defective logarithm algorithm. When calculating ln(1 + x) where |x| < 1E-5 or so, the result will lose accuracy. On my TI-36, I just use x - x^2/2 in such cases.

TI has been informed of the bug/feature, but refuses to fix the problem.

If you like AOS as opposed to EOS, the 33S may be your only real scientific calculator alternative. The 33S uses a nice hybrid, of AOS and EOS, however, the editing capabilities are not state of the art.

BTW, I use both the RPN and ALGebraic mode, depending upon the problem that I am working on as well as whether I'm showing a calculation to someone who is unfamiliar with RPN.



Unless your instructors expect you to do a lot of calculator-based graphing, the 33S should be fine.

I teach physics (and astronomy) at our community college. In physics, we have both algebra/trig based courses and full-blown calculus-based courses. I use either a 32SII or a 42S for working out the homework questions that I assign, although most of my students have TIs or Casios.

Throughout my research and teaching career (some 35 years, going back to graduate student days), I've seldom felt the need for anything more powerful than that. I've had, and used extensively, first an HP35, and then HP-11 and HP-41CX. That was always enough hand-held power. For anything tougher, it was time to use the computer.

Best wishes for your career,



The 33S has two features that are hard to find in competitive models:

(1) Optional RPN mode. If you can adjust to RPN, then you can crunch complex numerical expressions faster and more accurately than on a standard algebraic calculator. If you plan to use the 33S in algebraic mode, like your old TI, then RPN doesn't matter.

(2) Programmability. It's difficult to find a non-graphing calculator that has significant programmability. The 33S is about the only option on the market today.

HP graphing calculators, like the 48 and 49 series, have two significant advantages over the 33S:

(1) The 48 or 49 can be easily loaded with a wide variety of existing scientific and engineering software. Suggest you check www.hpcalc.org to see if there is anything of interest to you there. In contrast, there is little pre-existing software for the 33S, and long programs have to be entered manually because it has no communication ports.

(2) The 48 or 49 can easily attach units to numbers, and calculate with them. For example, a 48 or 49 can quickly tell you that the product of "50_kg" and "9.81_m/s^2" is "490.5 kg*m/s^2", and that this is equivalent to "0.4905_kN" or "110.3_lbf". This is an extremely useful feature for engineering, especially when using non-SI units.


(2) The 48 or 49 can easily attach units to numbers, and calculate with them. For example, a 48 or 49 can quickly tell you that the product of "50_kg" and "9.81_m/s^2" is "490.5 kg*m/s^2", and that this is equivalent to "0.4905_kN" or "110.3_lbf". This is an extremely useful feature for engineering, especially when using non-SI units.

I graduated in applied physics engineering and this is the single most important feature I found on my calculator. It also served me a lot when I moved to work in the UK from France.

Of course matrix operations, complex numbers and memory for programs and a few statistical operation is also welcome.




The 33s is perfect for you. It is powerful enough to be more than you will ever need, but not so powerful that it is TOO much. You will be absolutely amazed by the speed. Compared to the TI-36 that my sister has (and that I used to use). For example: try 69! (the highest factorial that the TI-36 can do). On the TI-36 it takes 5 seconds (just by me counting) while the HP-33s takes less than half a second. It also includes all the constants of the TI-36, and 20 more. Plus it will have more than enough memory for storing numbers (27 compared to 3) and is programmable.

You will love it.



I think you are either an RPN kinda person or your not. If your not, it really doesn't matter what kind of infix calc you use. Personally I always thought the SHARP or CASIO's were superior to the TI's. Either way, you have lots of choices and calculator power for very little $$. If your an RPN person, as most of us are, you really don't have much of a choice. I can't use anything but RPN for more than a minute or two with out getting frustrated. I thought the 6s was a nice little calc - it would be perfect for 90% of what I do if it was RPN. I now have a 33s and while it's an OK calculator, I think $50 is a bit steep for what you get. BTW, for you other 33s owners (or soon to be), I found the adjusting the contrast on the LCD has a significant impact on the visibility of the decimal point (and comma). If you get the contrast just right (and learn to hold your head just so), the parallax and ghosting of the cheep display is greatly reduced. I still use my 41 every day.


The HP-33S has h-bar built-in... That could be useful.

For programmability, robustness and cost, I think the HP-33S is a fine calculator for cranking out physics problems. As was already mentioned, if you're not used to RPN, you may or may not like it. After many years of being an RPN person, I find algebraic calculators to be frustrating, really! The price I paid, including a $9.99 "rebate" instead of the "free" susscription to Business 2.0 that comes with th epurchase of a new HP-33S, was - this includes shipping and tax (New York requires sales tax to be paid on internet sales) - $48.07. That's $1.93 less than the $49.99 advertised price off HP's website... Also as was already mentioned, it's a bit pricey for what you're getting. In my case, I paid for an RPN calculator that I can use on the PE exam in November.

On the other hand, I am an evangelist for the non-PE-acceptable HP-28S. You should purchase two of them off eBay. While it's not the 48GRX or whatever, I found that it's the best calculating device I've yet used.

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