Calculator blog

Musings and comments about our common interest


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HP12c vs HP17bII comparison? Maybe


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.

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Ownership Pride and Hewlett Packard calculators

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?


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Calculator Gift ideas for Christmas


We’re now preparing a newsletter about possible Christmas gifts in our shop. So we start discussing our products in terms of owner’s pride, and not about “fitness for use”. And we get to different recommendations!

For example, let's take financial calculators. Probably the top financial calculator, when it comes to number, width and depth of functions, is the HP 30b. In fact, it is the only one that has the Black and Scholes formula. But would I give it as a gift to a loved one? Or to myself?

From that point of view, the best financial calculator is the HP 12c Anniversary edition. It comes in a very nice box, with leather texture, that can eventually be used to exhibit it in a museum. Please take a look at the box below. It has a better keyboard than the other “normal” HP12c (it also looks better: some keys have nicer printouts), and it comes with a full manual instead of just an starting guide. And it sports the “30th Anniversary” text in the front bezel.

Second in my view is the HP 17bII+. Its new metallic front looks much better than previous versions, and the screen is miles ahead than the calculator it replaced. In my opinion, its menu system has not been equalled yet; and with the added memory, you can fill it with formulae and cash flows until you retire. That cannot be said of the 12c. It comes in a normal blister (bad), but it also comes with a leather-like case that adds to the pride of ownership. And it is the ideal choice for your friend or relative that thinks that RPN is a television channel, since it can be used in algebraic mode.

When it comes to scientific calculators, as they say, “it depends”.

If the gift is for someone you really appreciate, he will be very happy with the HP 35s  It is programmable, it can work in RPN and algebraic, and, best of all, looks incredibly good. At the time, it was also an “anniversary” product (in this case, 35 years of the original HP35), and it really looks the part. Decent case too, but comes in blister, which is not too nice.

If the gift is for yourself, I take for granted that you appreciate yourself a lot. And that you think that you deserve the best. And the best is … the HP41CL.

You probably remember that HP41c calculator. You either had one of them, or you badly wanted to have it but could not afford at the time - this was my case. 30 years later, you can.

One problem at the time, is that buying an HP41c opened a can of worms. You always wanted more: more memory, peripherals, application modules… and once the HP15c was launched, the plain HP41c was not anymore the forefront. To remain up to the edge, you needed to add the Advantage pack. And probably you wanted a number of other modules. Even if you do it now, it will take you to a unbearable cost level.

And 30 years on, the speed of the machine can be improved. But for day to day use, many think there was no better calculator: good screen, excellent keyboard, customizable…

What if someone, using current technology, changed the innards putting a new processor, fully compatible with the original “Nut” processor, and filled with all the memory that the device could address and more, and loaded with all the modules known to mankind? What if he made it faster, say 50 times faster than the original?

Well, Monte Dalrymple did. He produces boards that can be fitted in some HP41c versions, that have all that and also the possibility of a serial connector to be linked with your PC!

The only thing that is missing from the package is the HP Time module hardware (the software - with all the time-related functions - is included in the pack). You will need to shell out 100 bucks to get one in internet - a pity. But this is just if you want to measure time - in the time of smartphones, you don’t really need it. Anyway, Monte is working on that for the future.

I have access to most of the HP calculators of now and before, and the HP41CL is the one I love the most, and the one I am reaching for when I need to make some calculations. Maybe I am seen as a vintage nerd in the office, but the HP41 has everything I need for daily business - having configured it to my taste, and with all the financial calculations (including NPV and IRR for up to 20 cash flows) running at up to 50 times the original machine speed.

When it comes to graphical calculators, you have just one that can fulfill the lust of your children - the HP Prime. Based on completely new hardware and software, with a slim form factor, a multi-touch color screen, a classy metal front and a cleverly designed cover, this is the best possible gift to a student. It will help him go through the maths courses from secondary school up to university degrees. And it is much easier to program than the RPL-based devices! Its basic-like programming language is very fast, and very clear. And it can be written in your computer, with your own keyboard, tested on the computer emulator, and then transferred to your handheld.

You can see besides a real example of the calculator. As it is slim and light, it can be taken to class in your backpack without any difficulty; it is sturdy enough to withstand a youngster lifestyle, thanks to its gorilla glass screen and sturdy plastic cover; and its keyboard is very responsive, with good feedback. He will enjoy learning maths with it!

For professors: it has also an exam mode, where you can de-activate the features you want in an specific menu. With specific hardware, it can be done centrally. And you can prepare the classes with it - and your students will be able to follow you through your explanation, at their own rhythm, while you see their screen in your computer (but that’s a feature to be introduced beginning 2014). If I had to give a gift to a maths professor, it would be the HP Prime.

It has the advantage that the firmware can be upgraded through the connectivity kit and a normal USB cable. There have been already a couple of upgrades, and there are plans to greatly improve the functionality

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A nice collection of HP12c in the web

Please take a look to Keith Midson's HP12c collection.

A nice HP12c collection

It also includes the 12c version of the DM15cc project:

Picture of DM12CC

I am not inserting it since it is copyrighted!


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More comments on the HP12c keyboards

If you remember our previous post, we were talking about the different keyboards in HP12c's of late. Seems that it is due to products from different factories - the big % sign coming from the Invertec factory and the small % coming from Kinpo.


Here you see the codes on the back of the unit: IN04 and KN05.


Now, all the new 12cs I am receiving belong to the "big %" type...except the new HP12c Anniversary (due in Europe from next week on!)


(By the way, the HP15c Limited Edition comes as well from the same factory, and you should expect the same quality - I can attest it!)

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Different keyboards in new HP12c

I was surprised when one of my customers told me that I had sent a calculator with a sub-par keyboard. He sent pictures to me showing very different % keys, and others as well. Here are pictures of the "expected" keyboard and the "received" one:

Expected (and this is the one I am accustomed to see)


Received. Main differences: the % keys; the printing seems sharper; the numbers are clearly bigger in size but seem thinner:


My customer told me that he has heard that this keyboard is clearly worse in key feel than the other.

Here are both side by side:


Once received the sample, the keys were found to be equal to the "desired" keyboard, but it surely looks different!

In contact with my sources, it seems that most recent samples are of the "left" design, as opposed to "right", older one.

Of course, both of them are of the ARM variety.

Surprisingly, the anniversary version comes with the "old" keyboard.

No difference as well from the back:


(Same order)

Any knowledge to share on this?

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Más sobre: HP12+, HP12c
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New video tutorials for HP50g, HP12c

We have started to include video tutorials for some of the most frequently sold calculators.

These videos have not been created by me. I have selected them from a surprising amount of information that can be found in the usual video sites.

A video tutorial is no substitute for a proper read of a proper Hewlett Packard manual, but helps when you just have received the calculator and want to get started with minimum fuss.

Here are the 2 first pages that sport video tutorials;

HP 50g Tutorial videos - English

HP 12c Tutorial Videos

It is interesting the introduction made on RPN. Here is preaching the convert, but in the wild, it may help to convert some. It is just question of getting hooked!

We hope to introduce many more in due time...

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New flashing service

Today I have received a USB to com adaptor. Since most of our computers are laptops and quite new, we did not have serial adapters. I have then proceeded to update a 12c+ with the latest available software. In this particular case, it did not increase speed (it was already 150 times faster, so I am not deceived), but it corrected a number of issues compared with the original firmware.

We have decided to offer firmware flashing as a service for our purchases of a calculator. It will have a 10 € charge. The rules:

  • Calculators elegible for firmware flashing are HP10bII+, HP20b, HP30b, HP12c (ARM version)
  • The customer supplies the firmware through email.
  • The calculator to be flashed will be a new, out-of-the-box (or plastic package!). The serial number and proof of purchase bits of the packaging will be included in the shipping to the customer. (It is the customer decision to register the calculator in HP's website). Sorry, we will not flash calculators not brand new!

One of the most exciting projects is the repurposing of the hp20b and hp30b financial calculators with ultra-slick scientific firmware. The project is called wp34s and is run by Marcus von Cube, Walter Bonin and Paul Dale (in no specific order!).

You can find it on

There have been a number of releases (build number was 800 at the time of writing), and you can check whether you like the software by running the included .exe file and testing the features. The .exe file has the advantage of having the right labels on the keys!

I have not yet tested the flasher cable and software on a HP30b but I plan to do it shortly. I will then report on the results!

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