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HP17bII+ - more...

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 There are some features that, while useful, have been terribly outdated with time.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.

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