Engineers love their tools, in the 60’s an engineer may love a slide-rule, the 70s to 80s a PC or perhaps an LED calculator, to most engineers of my era (college in the early 90’s) the graphing calculator is the tool to love. My HP 48GX saw me thru 3 years of undergrad and 5+ years of graduate engineering work. I can’t imagine the number of calculations performed on it’s keys. The HP 48 Series was around from 1990 until 2003. In those days the Ford vs Chevy, or Nikon vs Canon, or Mac vs Windows of many engineers was HP vs TI. It seems that HP made poor marketing or other choices and lost out to TI in the late 90s and 00s in the education market, with the TI calculators being approved for critical exams and the HPs not. Nonetheless I loved the Reverse Polish Notation of the 48 (earlier and later HP calculators support this as well in one way or another).
Rose colored glasses aside the HP48 lacks a lot of modern features. The processor was slow, I mean that it takes 15 seconds to plot even simple functions. The screen was black & white with no color, which made it difficult to graph several functions on the same axis. So I started to look for something new…
I got an HP Prime calculator for Christmas. Initially I was hesitant to use it over my trusted 48GX. After all I had been using it for 20+ years, all of the keys are burned into my mind such that I can square root, X^y, etc without looking at the pad at all. After a few months of use though I’m really happy with the Prime. After I learned the keys and went thru the 50 page “quick” start manual, I had a good idea of how the calculator worked and I’m using it as my primary calculator at work and home. I really like the key feel, the travel is slightly less than the 48, but much better than the squishy 49 series. All of the functions seem speedy, and the menu system is nicely laid out for chosing different features.
The HP Prime uses an “app” construct where you choose an “app” for the main kind of thing you’ll be doing, finance, stats, graphing, trig, etc and then the menus are tailored for that application. I imagine this would be useful in taking those classes. At any time you can hit ‘esc’ and return to the classic stack view. Of course it also supports ‘textbook’ or algebraic data entry in addition to RPN. Given the higher resolution of the screen it will show formulas like f(x) = x 2 properly vs f(x) =x^2 in nearly every case. This makes equations with many components look much cleaner. (The 48 series supported this in its equation editor mode, but it was even slower and I rarely used it, the Prime uses it by default everywhere I’ve tested)
Please check out my video for my hands on results with both calculators side by side.
My comparison video that shows some features and the speed difference.
Try it for free:
HP provides an App for Android and iOS devices. There is a free version that has much of the capability, and a $20 version that provides all the capability. I recommend trying out the free one (Search “HP Prime” in your app store) to get a feel. Of course it doesn’t have the tactile feedback keys, but it will give you an idea of the layout. Also if you are an RPN person, hit shift-“home symbol” for settings to change it from the default.
The HP Prime is the update you would expect over 20 years. It’s better in nearly every way, 1,000x faster in anything other than 4 function math. The newer functions add some utility, although I’m likely to use few of the apps to their limit now that I’m not longer in school, the ones I do use are fast and fun.
HP Prime Pros:
- Color Screen is nicer to view.
- Multiple graphs on the same screen much nicer
- Keys have a solid feel
- a ‘click’ when you press them gives you haptic feedback without looking
- Price is $200 less than my original HP48!
- Rechargeable battery lasts a long time
- recharging with ‘standard’ microUSB means a charger is likely always nearby
- Backlit screen makes is usable in low light situations.
- The keys aren’t the layout I’m used to
- LCD screen doesn’t have as wide a viewing angle.
- Can looked washed out when you are sitting back from a desk.
- Battery life probably not as good, HP48GX lasted a year on 3 AAA batteries, even under heavy use
- That being said, HP Prime has never shown even one notch down from full, even after 2 months light use
I bought my HP Prime from Amazon here for around $125. It is also available directly from HP. There are two versions, one with and one without wireless support. So if that’s important to you be sure to get the correct one!
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