Musings and comments about our common interest
We have received a new lot of HP 17bII+ calculators. They are now priced at a competitive 77,90€
It is true that the sexiest financial calculator is the HP12c, but the HP17bII+ is soo much more powerful.
From the beginning: it is extremely solid. The whole back part is on hard plastic - the beautiful metal front is protected by the raised sides. Keys are big and wide, and click very well. As the machine is menu-driven, the keyboard is not as cluttered as the HP12c or some scientifica calculators'.
It comes with a protective pouch. It is build in the same way as the HP35s, but it is not as big as its scientific sibling.
The screen is two lines but one of them is reserved for the menu hotkeys. This hotkeys can be programmed through the solver application - which is a programming system in itself - and an easy one, at theat.
The menus make it a lot easier to remember how to do things. While with the HP12c you achieve things with less strokes, the HP17bII+ allows you to be able to recall most of the components of the calculation for later use.
When it comes to statistics there is no comparison between both. With the HP12c, with each data pair entry you are feeding the 5 counters (n, x sum, x2 sum, y sum, y2 sum and xy product) but the information as such is not kept. With the HP17bII+ the data is kept in a list that you can save, edit and retrieve for another moment.
Cashflows for DCF calculations are kept in both - but the HP17bII+ makes it much easier to edit them. You can also choose between individual cashflows or grouped cashflows.
The real strong point of this calculator is the solver. You can write any formula algebraically and the system will keep all the variables in the hotkeys, allowing you to solve for any of them. As you can store a lot of formulae, you can really configure the machine for your own uses. Typical formulae include Black and Scholes, trigonometric functions, break even analysis, etc.
There are a lot of scientific functions too - all except trigonometric (but think - when was the last time you used them?)
I have received mails about my previous comparison between the HP17bii+ and the HP19bII. Some felt unfair that we compared a calculator that is 25 years old with one in current production. They say that the proper comparison is between the HP12c and the HP17bII+. For some reason, no one includes neither the HP10bii+ nor the HP20/30b, nor the HP12c Platinum. Truth be told, they are right. The new HP10bii+ is a fantastic calculator for the price, and arguably much better equipped than both of our contenders with functions - but has a cheaper feel to it - albeit less than the HP20/30b family, which is not worthy of the HP tradition.
On Monday we’ll discuss both calculators (HP12c and HP17bII), their applications and typical use in real life.
I hope this helps in selecting the right one for you!
We are putting together two new items:
A new HP41cl, coming from a version 41C, but boxed and with English manuals. It is already available as an option in the website. It is more expensive than the rest - but it is not so easy to get boxed units in good shape. More and more, we’re finding difficult to find units with un-corroded battery contacts. Yes, we know that this can be perfectly repaired with a repair kit, but some users may object to having a less-than-original calculator when they are paying north of 600 €.
A set of HP17bII, including all of the most significant models:
The original, brown color HP17bII
A black model - I have two available only, so only two persons will be able to have this pack
The gold, curvy HP17bII+
The latest, silver HP17bII+
With them, you have this part of the collection ready in just one swift stroke!
You will have the chance to compare all the different versions of what I feel is the most accomplished financial calculator ever made - and one of the 3 or 4 top calculators from HP - all types comprised.
(For the sake of clarity - the silver HP17bII in the pack is a new unit, in its original blister. You can choose in the instructions of the order which specific language you want it)
I guess that you have seen this somewhere else, but in case you haven’t: there is a page with all current HP calculators’ emulators for PC, in HP’s French site. You can find it here:
You have several surprises awaiting there:
Both the hp17bii and the hp42s were built on the same Saturn architecture, and therefore, if you have mastered the emulator architecture, it would be a piece of cake to do the emulator of the hp42s. And why not think about doing another limited edition…?
I have been told by hp officials that the current HP17bii is not a good platform to do that, since it is built from scratch on a completely different architecture, and it is not even compatible with the original HP17bii firmware. But this is a good development thread - the really good thing about these calculators was its wonderful set of features and clever key combinations.
Scene: monthly closing at a multinational Headquarters office. Most calculations are done in Excel. Imports from the accounting consolidation package (HFM or Hyperion Enterprise) are loaded in Excel and the analysis begins. Many things are automated and the same analysis performed month after month; and many others get calculated on the go in the Excel spreadsheets. In principle, there is no need for a standalone calculator - and many controllers work without one.
For those who do, there are two different schools: those who use HP, and the rest, which use “shop” calculators: these with big screen numbers and even bigger keys, to be used by manicured ladies to give you the discount percentage over the time you want.
The Hp ones come from three families:
So this year end closing I decided to try to work with the 17bii+. I took the “+” version since I wanted a better screen contrast, and specifically the currency exchange menu, that the original machine doesn’t have. I need to translate frequently between 4 different currencies, so this is a good help.
I have grown used to the % comparisons from the hp old financial calculators, that i have programmed into the hp41cl or 15c (yes, both have most, but %T is not one of them, and it’s the one I use most, together with %CH). I doubted if using the screen-keys calculations in th BUS main menu would be a match for them. I was wrong. I actually took much better productivity from it. I could always recall the old value, or subtracting both easily. When you store the numbers in the screen softkeys, they still are in the stack - so you can subtract them, too, apart from taking the % you want. And its easier to take the right formula for comparison - you need to use less your brain.
Same for the IRR and NPV analysis. I thought I was fast with my 41cl - I was able to do it much faster (and with less errors) with the 17bii.
Same for the exchange rates. (What a hit today with the Swiss Franc - a lot of noise in the office about it) I have a program to calculate the exchange values in the hp41cl, and I still think it has the edge for use (The top letter means “translate from this currency to €” while the shift-top letter means “translate from euro to that currency”, and you can use one currency after other without changes) but it is so much cumbersome to set up, since you need to enter the currency rates in specific registers.
So, for controlling, and if I need not to do anything else, it is the hp17bii from now on!
And it really looks gorgeous. Look below!
Don Shepherd is a well known calculator expert that usually posts in hpmuseum.org. This forum is populated mainly by scientific calculator users, with a couple of exceptions that also have a little place in their heart for other types of calculators. Don is one of them. In particular, Don’s interests include the HP17bII, of which the HP17bII+ is the latest version. For me, it is the best current financial calculator; and fighting with the HP19bII for the “best ever” title. And it is incredibly flexible with its solver.
The reason of this blog issue is an article from Don that I have read while looking for additional solver programs. You can find it here:
Some examples of what Don managed to extract from the programming capabilities of the HP17bII+:
This last one is below. A Zero result means the number is prime; any other number shows the first factor found.
fact = 0xL(j:0)+
I will continue writing about the HP17bII+. There are some features that, while useful, have been terribly outdated with time. When the original HP17bII and HP19bII were created (around 1987, if I remember well), there were basically no mobile phones, let alone smartphones. Therefore, there was no device that could be used as an organizer, keeping your dates and alarms in a single place.
The HP41c with the time module was able to do that - but to set it up would have been seen as programming by most business users ( enter message in Alpha, enter day and hour (and something else I don’t remember now) and execute XYZALM. It even allowed the user to launch a program at the programmed time. I am using it from time to time: is faster to set than the HP17bII+’s method, albeit less user friendly, but you can program a user key to automate its use; I acknowledge that the iphone’s alarm or timer are still much more user friendly. That’s just our freakiness at play.
Coming back to the HP17bII, you can set a number of alarms in the system (up to 6), and define if they have to be repetitive or not, whether they show a message or not, etc. A use where it could be competitive is when passing a test in an environment where mobile phones are not allowed (like most!). This is a way of recalling you how much of the exam time is left.
Another function where the HP17bII is still competitive, is regarding time calculations. In business, there are many times where you need to calculate how many days have elapsed from a given data, or which week day will it be in 90 days time. This part is handled with ease by the HP17bII+, in an intuitive, easy way. You use it as a solver formula. You have three basic keys (Date1, Date2, and Days), and you just need to enter 2 of them - whichever - and press the soft key of the other, to get an instantaneous result. You can too select whether you want real days, 365 days or 360 days calculation; but the fact is that it is the most convenient way around, short of opening your Excel (which is like killing flies with machine guns)
When it comes to statistics, it is not at the same level of newer financial calculators, even from HP. There are now two models (the HP30b and the HP10bII+) that can perform diverse operations with statistical distributions; and while the function fitting capabilities of the HP17bII+ are good, they are no better than those of the above calculators.
But what really sets apart the HP17bII+ from the competition and its siblings, is the solver. It is surprising that no more companies have come up with elegant solver solutions during these 25 years! Even the HP30b and HP12c Platinum (both of them newer designs) cannot match the HP17bII+ in that respect.
And the solver allows some subtleties that are very similar to programming! You can have branching (a formula is applied if a key is pressed; a different formula if you press another, for example), and you can have extended sums (sum this formula from this variable changing from 1 to 200, for example). It is been a long time since I don’t use it, but there were several interesting things that could be done. Business types don’t typically program; but this could be the solution of many a math exam in university!
Regarding speed, this machine originally was running on a Saturn processor; the last redesign (by a taiwanese company) made it work on a 8502 processor (if I remember well). Some operations are faster, but others are not; and newer calculators like the HP30b, which run on ARM technology, are around 100 times faster!
Algorithms for business functions are quite optimized, and therefore these speed differences don’t hurt like on scientific areas, where loops and long procedures are much more common.
It really surprises me that the HP17bII+ does not have more success among the business students and professionals. It is a very comprehensive machine, that has been extraordinarily thought out for daily work.
Today I have forgotten at home my HP Prime, the one I use most lately. While I am at home, I prefer to indulge on my HP41cl, and I don't take the latter out - the loss in case of damage or steal would be too high, and the pepasure I derive from using it when I am at home has no parallel. Therefore, it is the Prime for day to day work at the office. But as I said, today I also forgot it.
Looking into the drawers of my workplace I found an HP17bII+ - the silver version pictured beside.
Apart from looking gorgeous and totally at home with modern Apple-like computers, I thoroughly enjoyed its use for the day.
With the HP Prime you have to carefully consider what you want to do with it. It is a little bit of "problem solving", be it to prepare it to handle currency conversions, to prepare it to solve functions, etc. Once the "problem" is "solved", then it is incredibly fast and convenient.
With the HP17bII+, everything is pre-programmed, and the user interface is the best there is for a financial calculator (having used all of them)
I had to do some currency exchange. As a departure from the old HP17bII, the HP17bII+ has an additional menu for currency exchange, and it allows you to set up 6 currency combinations in a soft menu. You choose these conbnations from a menu where the most used currencies appear. You select the pair, enter the rate and store it.
Another menu that I often use is the BUS (business) menu. -you have several options (% of a total, % of increase, margin on sales, mark up on costs, etc.) These menus are made of the three components. You enter two of them and pressing on the third button, you get the answer. And if that variable appears in another menu, you can still use it. This is extrmely good to perform repeated calculations. For example, when analyzing a balance sheet or and P&L, you may want to enter a total, and calculate which percentage of it are the other figures that appear there. You enter the total once, and then you enter the components, find the %T, and enter the following component, etc. Very convenient - and you don't need to enter the total anymore.
Next week, we will talk about the solver.
I have been reflecting in how a calculator may be atractive to some, like me; and why this attractiveness is being reduced over the years. Talking about “owners’s pride”, I guess that it went downhill the moment HP decided to put all of their calculators in blisters. When you open an hp 41c box, or even an hp 12c original box, you were in presence of a luxury item. (And if you look at the prices then, it really was). Even though the vinyl cover of the hp 12c is a little crude, and the hp41c case color was really horrible!
(Some time ago, someone helped me realize a nice marketing trick from hp related to the 41c. Remember its case, which was longer than required by the calculator? That was to make room for the card reader. From day one, you knew that your brand new calculator was INCOMPLETE!)
HP realized the “ownership pride” issue when they released the anniversary models. They were packed in an special box, that could be used for display, but as well made the calculator much more like jewelry - worth paying the asking price. (By the way, please consider the concept of “Limited Edition” or “Anniversary” calculator: quite odd, isn’t it?)
Apparently, HP message is that 12c-related calculators will not be produced anymore. So if you are willing to get one, it is now or wait for atrocious prices in Ebay. Just see what happens with hp42s units!
It seems that hp’s current calculator management has invested a significant amount of time to create the new line, heralded by the hp 39gII, and continued by the HP Prime. They are going for the educational market, that they lost without a fight to Texas, many years ago. (Now Casio seems to be taking it over again from Texas -it is e only machine I see on desks these days. Even the cheaper HP school machines correspond to a Casio model). And HP is going for at market in a comprehensive way. They prepare calculators, data loggers, computer systems so that the professor takes control of all calculators in the class, everything working integrated. The main competitor here is not Texas anymore: is the ubiquitous iPad.
We’ve seen that the educational market will be well covered. Now, will the financial market be catered for? For a long while, the financial market was HP’s. There were some bad calculators produced in the past - I am thinking about the original 10b, the newer 20b, and partly the 30b. For the two latter, it is not that the software was not good -it is the hardware that was lacking. Horrible screen in both cases, horrible keyboard too in the first.
They have corrected that in the lower price point with the HP10bII+. It has a fantastic keyboard, a good screen and a nice, professional appearance. It comes with many more functions than the model it replaces, fully using two shift keys. It even has a break even analysis - something that none of the other financial calculators in HP had.
I think that now HP needs to release a “prestige” financial calculator, to replace the HP17bII+, and to succeed the HP19bII. Everywhere I find a user of the old HP19bII, they would spend a lot to get back that calculator, that helped them through their studies and that inevitably failed when the battery cover broke. There is room for HP to get that. Maybe based on the tactile screen used by the Prime?