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Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
04-03-2021, 09:44 PM
Post: #1
Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
I've been slightly expanding my collection of pocket computers lately, and I've noticed that while most of them are very solid computers, and generally have modes that allow them to be used as calculators, none of them really seem to hit the same ease of use of a programmable calculator for working out problems.

The Casio computers, which are some of my favorites, provide a smart choice of features that make them well suited to portable use, and they have math capabilities on par with most of their early graphing calculators (minus the graphing). Even the simplest, cheapest models generally provide 10 separate program areas to allow for storage of multiple programs without line number conflicts, and programs are allowed to call one another much as in Casio's early graphing calculators.

But the biggest misstep with all the Casios I've used which I feel makes them rather poor calculators is that they have no replay feature. Once you type an expression and press ENTER, that expression is gone, even if you get an error! If you want to correct errors or modify the calculation slightly, you have to retype the whole thing. Some models have a function memory and you can press the IN and OUT keys prior to ENTER so that you can recall the expression afterward, but this is clumsy and unintuitive. For me, this limits the otherwise excellent fx-730P to being useful only for writing/running programs.

The Sharp computers seem to handle calculator use more elegantly, with a replay function that lets you revise your previous entry. And I particularly like the combination of the DEF mode/key and AREAD function to start a labeled program directly from the keyboard and take the current value in the display as input (the Wizard BASIC card lacks this feature for some reason). This allows for very calculator-like usage, as far back as the original PC-1211. The EL-5500 models include a separate CALC mode that behaves a lot like Sharp's algebraic calculators of the time, probably like an early EL-506, however there's no way to run programs in this mode. But it does make for a very nice scientific calculator. The Sharp Wizard BASIC card also offers 20-digit double precision math and variables.

I feel that the Sharp computers suffer a bit on the computer side of things when compared to Casio, as they only provide a single program space (the MERGE command can load multiple programs from cassette, but you can only view/edit the last one loaded, and all the hidden programs have to be called by label). Also, on the models I've used, the PRINT command doesn't let you end the argument list with a semicolon, and INPUT will only accept a single string literal as a prompt, preventing you from including values of variables in your prompts. The Wizard is a bit more flexible here.

And of course there's the HP 71B, which can hardly be called a "pocket" computer. Wink It does a pretty decent job as a calculator, though, and it's got probably the most complete implementation of BASIC seen on a handheld. If you're not running in CALC mode, then you run the risk of your expression being misinterpreted as a line of BASIC code, and it doesn't have anything quite as simple and elegant as Sharp's DEF/AREAD combo, though I suppose one could use a combination of user keys and DISPLAY$/VAL to similar effect. It's got that rather polarizing CALC mode, though like my Sharp EL-5500, you can't run programs in this mode either (user-defied functions are still available).

All of the Casio, Sharp, and HP models I've tried have reasonably good debugging/tracing features, though the HP 71B really shines with the inclusion of SST and TRACE VARS.

Are there any pocket computers that have successfully overcome all of these limitations simultaneously? Honestly, a Casio fx-7700GB with GOSUB, some kind of trace mode, an IF/THEN statement that behaves like BASIC and skips everything else after it on that line, and maybe Sharp's AREAD command would come pretty close.
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04-04-2021, 02:10 AM
Post: #2
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-03-2021 09:44 PM)Dave Britten Wrote:  I feel that the Sharp computers suffer a bit on the computer side of things when compared to Casio, as they only provide a single program space (the MERGE command can load multiple programs from cassette, but you can only view/edit the last one loaded, and all the hidden programs have to be called by label). Also, on the models I've used, the PRINT command doesn't let you end the argument list with a semicolon, and INPUT will only accept a single string literal as a prompt, preventing you from including values of variables in your prompts. The Wizard is a bit more flexible here.

The very early SHARP models have some limitations like you point out, due to limited ROM space and LCD screens (the 16 char LCD machines are even more limited, the 16 char LCD being the main reason even in later models). The later model's BASIC is much better, with the SHARP PC-1475 probably as one of the best BASIC + CALC pocket computers, followed by later models such as the E500(S). Both have a file system to store multiple programs and offer double precision 20 digit calculations. The Wizard BASIC IC is based on the SHARP E500 I believe.

Some SHARP models focus more on "programming" and less on "calc stuff" such as the PC-1350/1360 that have no keys you would typically find on a calculator.

I don't know for sure, but CASIO may have followed SHARP's models and added some improvements they say, though the PB-700 was earlier with the 4 line LCD, shortly followed in a couple of months by SHARP PC-1350 with 4 line LCD. So that is a CASIO win, but one that I know of. SHARP offered so many models (I mean, look at this list!), so it is not always easy to compare. I agree that CASIO's program space P0-P9 is nice. A file system is better, since you can store data too. The DEF-key method is really handy, and TRS-80 books with applications for TRS-80 machines (the SHARP rebranded ones) heavily rely on this feature.

- Rob

HP 71B,Prime G2;Ti VOY200,Nspire CXII CAS;Casio fx-CG50,fx-115ES+2;Sharp PC-G850VS,E500S,1475,1450,1360,1350,2500,1262,1500A
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04-04-2021, 07:10 AM (This post was last modified: 04-04-2021 07:11 AM by rawi.)
Post: #3
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
I would suggest the TI voyage 200 being the best BASIC pocket computer. It has a very powerful basic (including integral, solve, matrix operations, graphic capabilities) and it has a 8-line screen, which is very helpful when programming. Of course you can handle multiple programs and multiple directories. Which makes sense because it has 188 KB ROM and 2.7 MB Flash memory accessible for the user.
It includes as well a very powerful calculator. You can edit your input, if you made a mistake, you have graphic power + CAS and of course you have a qwerty-keyboard. Addititonally you can transfer data and programs from and to your PC.
I think it is far superior to the Casios and Sharps and even the HP71B, but of course this is due to the fact that it is not from the 1980s but from 2002.
It is the most powerful pocket computer / calculator combination I know of and - sadly - it is the last one. I would not call the TI Nspire a pocket computer even if it has the tiny Alpha-Keys.
Best
Raimund
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04-04-2021, 12:19 PM
Post: #4
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
Hello!

(04-04-2021 07:10 AM)rawi Wrote:  I would suggest the TI voyage 200 being the best BASIC pocket computer.

This one gets my vote also.

Regards
Max
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04-04-2021, 12:33 PM
Post: #5
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
The Voyage 200 and it's predecessor the TI-92+ are both extremely nice. The 89 would be nice if the keyboard layout and screen weren't so awful. Wink

There are a couple of things that hold the Voyage 200 back a bit, but overall I really like it:

It's not as big as an HP 71B, but it's definitely not pocket-sized.

It has the best version of TI Basic, but you still have to define a local subroutine or function to replicate a simple GOSUB, and there's still no tracing or step-by-step debugging.

Simple terminal-style I/O via Disp and Input is a little rough looking, and Output is pixel-addressable rather than having fixed character cells. They no doubt had to do this because of the "pretty-print" output not conforming to a character grid. And it's at least a lot more than what the Prime offers.
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04-04-2021, 12:57 PM (This post was last modified: 04-04-2021 12:58 PM by Maximilian Hohmann.)
Post: #6
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
For me, a Basic programmable calculator needs a decent QWERTY keyboard. Having to enter letters with alpha-shifted A-Z sorted keys is just too tedious for my taste. This is the big mistake (or rather one of many big mistakes) that HP made with the Prime as opposed to the Ti Nspire.

But in order to be a good calculator for manual calculations also, there has to be a dedicated keyboard for that as well. This is what HP did not get entirely right with the 71B unfortunately. It's keyboard is outstanding qualtity wise, but there are no unshifted mathematical functions. The Ti 92 and Voyage 200 show how it can be done. Sharp made some calculators like this (e.g. the PC-1402), but the keys are way too small and the display is one short line only.
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04-04-2021, 01:54 PM
Post: #7
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 12:57 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  For me, a Basic programmable calculator needs a decent QWERTY keyboard. Having to enter letters with alpha-shifted A-Z sorted keys is just too tedious for my taste. This is the big mistake (or rather one of many big mistakes) that HP made with the Prime as opposed to the Ti Nspire.

This doesn't look like a decent QWERTY keyboard.
[Image: tinspirecxcas_3_7_6_1_4_2_1_4_1.jpg]

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04-04-2021, 02:01 PM
Post: #8
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 01:54 PM)Massimo Gnerucci Wrote:  This doesn't look like a decent QWERTY keyboard.

OK, you are right :-) But at least it is a dedicated keyboard with no shift and alpha requirement. Like the HP-28C and the other "clamshells". A lot better than nothing.
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04-04-2021, 02:10 PM
Post: #9
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 02:01 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  
(04-04-2021 01:54 PM)Massimo Gnerucci Wrote:  This doesn't look like a decent QWERTY keyboard.

OK, you are right :-) But at least it is a dedicated keyboard with no shift and alpha requirement. Like the HP-28C and the other "clamshells". A lot better than nothing.

Well *this* is a much better QWERTY keyboard! :)
[Image: 71.jpg]

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    Massimo

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04-04-2021, 03:40 PM
Post: #10
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
I have a Casio FX-730p and Tandy PC-6 (clone of Casio FX-790p). The BASIC in these computers is identical. However the PC-6 is a clamshell design having 83 keys compared to the flat FX-730p with 59 keys.

The keyboard in the lower half of the PC-6 has numerics keys and maths functions which, when shifted, give the inverse or related function. This make the PC-6 very usable as a calculator compared to the FX-730p. It still suffers from the lack of a recall of last entry. The clamshell design make the PC-6 much smaller (when folded) and so fits in smaller pockets.

The keyboard in the upper half has alpha, BASIC commands and other characters. Unfortunately it is a membrane design which is not as nice as hard keys.

In summary the PC-6 is much better if you want to use the computer as a calculator.
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04-04-2021, 03:58 PM
Post: #11
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 03:40 PM)Hollerith Wrote:  I have a Casio FX-730p and Tandy PC-6 (clone of Casio FX-790p). The BASIC in these computers is identical. However the PC-6 is a clamshell design having 83 keys compared to the flat FX-730p with 59 keys.

The keyboard in the lower half of the PC-6 has numerics keys and maths functions which, when shifted, give the inverse or related function. This make the PC-6 very usable as a calculator compared to the FX-730p. It still suffers from the lack of a recall of last entry. The clamshell design make the PC-6 much smaller (when folded) and so fits in smaller pockets.

The keyboard in the upper half has alpha, BASIC commands and other characters. Unfortunately it is a membrane design which is not as nice as hard keys.

In summary the PC-6 is much better if you want to use the computer as a calculator.

I've got a PC-6 too, and aside from the questionable durability (mine's a bit flaky on the screen connection) and the membrane keyboard that I'm not in love with, it's a nice upgrade from the fx-730P. Conveniently, both of these models can use the same memory modules. The PC-6 also has that strange assembler with simulated CPU, though I don't know how much practical value it adds. And like other Casios, it's still lacking the replay feature as you mentioned. It's nice and pocketable, though.
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04-04-2021, 04:55 PM
Post: #12
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 07:10 AM)rawi Wrote:  I would suggest the TI voyage 200 being the best BASIC pocket computer.

As nice as the Voyage 200 is, are you Captain Kangaroo? (an American children's show in which the star wore a jacket with huge pockets) You must have Brobdingnagian pockets to call it a pocket computer!

Tom L
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04-04-2021, 06:15 PM
Post: #13
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
Hello!

(04-04-2021 04:55 PM)toml_12953 Wrote:  You must have Brobdingnagian pockets to call it a pocket computer!

Well, it will not fit in a shirt or jeans pocket, but if the pockets of a jacket or coat (do you have coats in Australia at all?) count also, then it must be a pocket calculator :-)
Anyway my beloved Ti59 or even the HP-35 does not fit in a normal pocket either, so the whole "pocket" thing is dubious. And I never have carried any of my calculator (or mobile phone or even wallet) in my pocket.

One series of ecellent BASIC programmable calculators that has not been mentioned yet are the Sharp PC-E500 series. In principle they have all that one could wish for, decent alpha keybord, excellent calculator keyboard, large display, an enormous catalog of functions, units, matrices. But the build quality is abysmal, the display is really bad, and the rubber keys plain su**. This is a calculator that would be a super-classic if it had been built to the HP standards of it's time.

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Max
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04-04-2021, 06:44 PM
Post: #14
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 06:15 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  One series of ecellent BASIC programmable calculators that has not been mentioned yet are the Sharp PC-E500 series. In principle they have all that one could wish for, decent alpha keybord, excellent calculator keyboard, large display, an enormous catalog of functions, units, matrices. But the build quality is abysmal, the display is really bad, and the rubber keys plain su**. This is a calculator that would be a super-classic if it had been built to the HP standards of it's time.

I mostly agree with Max! These machines include great program features, good calculator key assignments, and while my screen and overall build are fine, the rubber keys kill it for me. I lobbied hard at Sharp US to have it sold here in US, but they wanted to focus on the Wizard and Zaurus PDA lines. "Wizards include a calculator" was a common reply, clearly from people that don't use calculators.

But I still like the 71B better... Smile

--Bob Prosperi
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04-04-2021, 07:18 PM
Post: #15
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
toml_12953 wrote:
Quote:As nice as the Voyage 200 is, are you Captain Kangaroo? (an American children's show in which the star wore a jacket with huge pockets) You must have Brobdingnagian pockets to call it a pocket computer!

OK, you are right, you indeed need big pockets to store a voyage 200. But if you use the limits of normal pockets not so much pocket computers will be left, certainly not the HP 71B and not the HP 75C. Even my beloved HP 41 looks a little bit strange when I put it in a pocket. And which of the Casios and Sharps really fit in a pocket?

So I thought it OK to include as well devices that better might be called handheld computers.
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04-04-2021, 08:13 PM
Post: #16
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 06:15 PM)Maximilian Hohmann Wrote:  One series of ecellent BASIC programmable calculators that has not been mentioned yet are the Sharp PC-E500 series. In principle they have all that one could wish for, decent alpha keybord, excellent calculator keyboard, large display, an enormous catalog of functions, units, matrices. But the build quality is abysmal, the display is really bad, and the rubber keys plain su**. This is a calculator that would be a super-classic if it had been built to the HP standards of it's time.

This super-classic calculator exists, it's the Sharp PC-E500S. Wink
It is an improved version of the PC-E500, with solid plastic keys, high contrast screen, and four additional instructions for structured programming (IF…THEN…ELSE…ENDIF, REPEAT…UNTIL, WHILE…WEND, SWITCH…CASE…DEFAULT…ENDSWITCH).
Its drawback is a huge size. Also, like the PC-E500, it doesn’t have the AREAD instruction.

Jean-Charles
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04-04-2021, 08:32 PM
Post: #17
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
(04-04-2021 07:18 PM)rawi Wrote:  toml_12953 wrote:
Quote:As nice as the Voyage 200 is, are you Captain Kangaroo? (an American children's show in which the star wore a jacket with huge pockets) You must have Brobdingnagian pockets to call it a pocket computer!

OK, you are right, you indeed need big pockets to store a voyage 200. But if you use the limits of normal pockets not so much pocket computers will be left, certainly not the HP 71B and not the HP 75C. Even my beloved HP 41 looks a little bit strange when I put it in a pocket. And which of the Casios and Sharps really fit in a pocket?

So I thought it OK to include as well devices that better might be called handheld computers.

True. The 200 is one of the best IMHO.

Tom L
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04-04-2021, 09:37 PM
Post: #18
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
"Pocket computer" is sometimes simply a marketing label (look at the PC-1500/PC-2 for instance), though if you can fit it in a pocket comfortably (PC-1250/PC-3 takes the crown here), even better!
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04-04-2021, 10:09 PM (This post was last modified: 04-04-2021 10:11 PM by StephenG1CMZ.)
Post: #19
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
WS
(04-04-2021 07:18 PM)rawi Wrote:  toml_12953 wrote:
Quote:As nice as the Voyage 200 is, are you Captain Kangaroo? (an American children's show in which the star wore a jacket with huge pockets) You must have Brobdingnagian pockets to call it a pocket computer!

OK, you are right, you indeed need big pockets to store a voyage 200. But if you use the limits of normal pockets not so much pocket computers will be left, certainly not the HP 71B and not the HP 75C. Even my beloved HP 41 looks a little bit strange when I put it in a pocket. And which of the Casios and Sharps really fit in a pocket?

So I thought it OK to include as well devices that better might be called handheld computers.

If you include handheld Computers, I wonder whether one might consider the Raspberry Pi (together with portable screen and USB power pack)?
Perhaps not quite a calculator and not quite so portable... But it can run BBC Basic, Mathematica and full Python. I'd love to see that packaged ready to use portable.

Stephen Lewkowicz (G1CMZ)
ANDROID HP Prime App is back
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04-05-2021, 05:54 AM
Post: #20
RE: Which BASIC pocket computers make the best calculators?
StephenG1CMZ wrote;
Quote: I wonder whether one might consider the Raspberyy PI

The Raspberry PI is a fascinating machine but I do not think that it can be addressed as a pocket or handheld computer. I think there are two important differences:
First it is not a system that can be handheld with computer + keyboard + battery + screen in one integrated device. And second there is no well defined software that comes with the system and which is ready to be used as soon as you switch it on.
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