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Ask HN: Do you continue to use a hand-held/desktop calculator?

Ask HN: Do you continue to use a hand-held/desktop calculator?

2023-08-02 13:36:12

I have my TI 89 in my office by rarely use it.

I wear a Casio calculator watch as my daily driver because i like the style and actually use the calculator function more often than you’d expect.

I also have and learned to use a nice Japanese desk abacus, because it was fun. And finally I own a giant novelty calculator for those big calculations. Again, I never use them.

Yes, a Swiss Micros DM42.
Why? Mostly because I like it, but I justified it to myself by using it in the lab, where having are having a more expensive screen is not wise.

They are also useful for teaching.

Yes, I have a desktop calculator primarily because I like using RPN, and there are very few software RPN calculators _that aren’t just HP emulators._ In a pinch I will use PCalc in RPN mode on iPadOS, and Droid48 on Android, but those just can’t beat the tactile sensation of real buttons.

I bought a SwissMicros DM42: the build quality is great, the e-ink display works really nice for a calculator, and it sips power compared to more recent graphing calculators. (I’ve had this thing for over a year and it’s still showing a full charge on the CR2032 battery it shipped with. My HP 50g used to demolish a set of like 3 or 4x AAA batteries every 2-3 months.) My only complaint is the rubber feet have exposed my office desk as not being a truly flat surface.[1] (I also have access to an HP-15C (both the original and a clone), but I like being able to see the whole stack in XYZT mode. I have no mind’s eye, so seeing only the one register is torture for me.)


On the terminal, I use `qalc`[1]. It’s a nice natural language calculator that does arithmetic, solves quadratic equations/linear systems, does unit conversions and even a bit of calculus. Combine it with a cli graphing tool and you can do pretty cool things.

Anything more complicated I’m probably ok with latency, so I open up wolframalpha and enter it there, again, in natural language.


Yes. There are some things that just work better with a dedicated tool. Sure, my computer has a calculator app, but it’s fiddly, the keyboard doesn’t physically have buttons for all the operations, so I have to go and click on things. If I need to compute something and copy data to/from other windows, I have to deal with moving windows around to make room.

I do use the calculator on my computer. Quite a lot, in fact. But it’s just annoying enough that I keep a pocket calculator on my desk at all times.

It’s really great for when I’m doing calculations in my head and need to quickly do some operations. It’s just ever so slightly easier to slide over my physical calculator and punch some buttons. It helps me stay in flow and keep all the numbers in my head. The calculator app is just a little bit too annoying and the physical calculator is just a little bit more functional.

As for model, no idea. Some Casio scientific calculator. I bought it because it advertised it could operate with hex or binary representation, but I never figured out how to make that work.

I would prefer a TI-84 or one of its decendants any day. I used to use a TI Nspire, it was really good. It even did 3D graphing and calculus.

I still use an HP-12C financial calculator, although somewhat sporadically now. It used to be an extremely useful companion when I worked with loan processing systems some years ago.

Same here. I keep it in my briefcase inside a leather sleeve.

Very handy even when a laptop is out or during a board meeting.

Somehow for me using a calculator like that, rather than having to use screen space, or a phone …. Makes my workflow better.

I still often use a TI-89 I bought in 1999. I also bought my daughter a used TI-86 and she uses it daily. Both are way nicer to use than the calculators on our phones.

I agree. I have my TI-89 from college that I use at work. Unfortunately I work in a lab and spilled a solution on it after nearly 2 decades of use and now the + button doesn’t respond most of the time. What a drag!

As of 2017, Casio FX-9860GII. Overkill for actual usage, but cheap — so why not?

Before that, TI-30XS from 2013 and the TI-36X from 2011. The 36X is still in my laptop bag. Can’t remember what I had before 2011 — some old “programmer’s calculator” from the 90s.

My wife (and various colleagues) thinks I’m crazy, but it’s actually easier to grab the calculator from the desk and do a quick calculation than to open/use the calculator app.

Makes sense to me!

It’s similar to how it’s easier to pick up a pen and start writing on a pad; then pick up your phone, open the note app and start a new note.

I just want a simple desktop calculator for the office. And that got me interested in the topic. But like you say, I t’s cheap enough to go for the overkill option these days.

The TI-36x is a solid choice for a fairly basic “scientific calculator” and is still widely available online (about $20). Mine is holding up well.

If you have the money for a “guilty pleasure”, check out the HP 15c Collector’s Edition. I might indulge myself.

I use a calculator so rarely, I’ve found I mostly just type the equation into the closest browser address bar to see the result. Works great for most PEMDAS operations. For 90% of the time, I have my answer quicker than I would be able to open another app.

For anything more complex, I usually open a spreadsheet or drop into a python shell.

Yep, I’ve had the same TI83 on my desk for decades. I use it for one off calculations and napkin math.

If it’s something I need to type up in a report, or copy-paste into a config file. I’ll usually fiddle around with bc or python.

Yes – a Casio fx991ES PLUS.

Have owned it since school, and I vastly prefer it for quick maths to a phone or a computer-based calculator.

I keep looking for something similarly basic and affordable that has a backlit display, so far no hits!

Funny, yesterday I got out my TI-89 Titanium to go over some linear algebra, and explore some ideas regarding exterior algebra and deep neural networks.

The big lesson is: my linear algebra is pretty rusty.

Yes, I have a Numworks calculator, that I still frequently use.

While programming but also when sketching algorithms, or when working on 3D models.

See Also

When I don’t have it around, or when I need to work on large numbers, I use the Ruby or Python interpreters.

I pull out a TI-83 once a year to check my math on paper tax forms. The history display is nice to have.

But that’s it. Otherwise, it’s either the built-in app on my phone or Spotlight on macOS.

Depends. For simple math I just have a SpeedCrunch window open somewhere, but for more complex equations or if I need to graph something (which is rare for me nowadays) my school Numworks is still on my desk

I keep a TI-86 on my desk which I use modestly. Usually for a longer calculation.

I also have a calculator button on my keyboard right above the number pad which is very useful. I use it for quick maths every day.

Absolutely! Depending what I’m doing an HP-12C (financial stuff) or a Casio fx-82 solar II (most other stuff). I have one of each at home and in the office.


Graphing calculators are abusively priced and regular calculators lack visual history or GOOD recall. The best “calculator” I own is Excel, then whatever device I happen to be on except the iPad which doesn’t have a real one in 2024 because some dead guy said it was a bad idea in 2009.

The Windows 11 calculator is a notable downgrade from its predecessor. Randomly takes forever to load, sometimes even spawning an update window instead, and never spawns on the same monitor as my mouse cursor. All for what? To add a bunch of “converters” that are still worse than Google let alone any LLM.

An RPN calculator is a must for almost everything I do, from real engineering, to startup finances and expenses, to making/3D printing, to home/landscape improvement. I keep a real HP emulator* pinned to the taskbar at all times, ready to be launched and used with just a touch (and yes the touchscreen works great with the emulators, if you upsize them a bit. Plus, an actual HP-41cv on my physical desktop, for the heavy lifting not easily handled by the emulators.
(Anything that can’t be done on the HPs is going to need some code written, anyway…)

*Three, actually – an HP-15C Scientific pinned to the taskbar, and the default install links to the HP-12C Financial, and HP-16C Hex/Binary emulators in the apps menu. All are official exact HP emulations for Windows published by HP France some time ago. Alas, the link I had is dead, so I’m not sure where you can get them anymore…

Oh, and CreativeCreek’s excellent MathU RPN on the iPhone, which feels insanely HP-like as it mashes together the functionality of several HP calculators in a very useful way. (It does the work of the 12C, 15C, and 16C quite well – at least all of what I use on each!)

MathU remains one of only three apps I’ve ever paid for. It is actually the last major thing keeping me from leaving the Apple ecosystem, since there’s no Android version. Yes, it’s that good.

yeah, I keep and use a TI-85 and an HP financial calculator. I was trained in the use of both (one in college and the other a job) so it is easier for me to just grab one of those than look up the calculator app.

EDIT sorry it is an 83 not 85

no (are these comments a self-selecting population of desk calculator users?)

I use “bc” actually. I should probably figure out a better solution, but it has worked for quick calculations for me.

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