What happened to HP calculators?

Summary:I have to go buy a new calculator for my combinatorics class, as well as for the physics classes I'm teaching next year. While my old HP 48G still works, it lacks the connectivity options I need for in-class demos and it's painfully slow.

I have to go buy a new calculator for my combinatorics class, as well as for the physics classes I'm teaching next year. While my old HP 48G still works, it lacks the connectivity options I need for in-class demos and it's painfully slow. To HP's credit, it is almost 20 years old and was one of the original graphing calculators. It has served me well over the years and, since my first calculator ever was my dad's ancient HP, I find myself stumbling without the joys of reverse Polish notation to keep track of my calculations.

Fast-forward to 2007, however, and most textbooks (especially at the high school level) have exercises specifically for Texas Instruments calculators. Every other student in my masters classes has a TI and our school has a few boxes of TI-83s. While my students know that I eschew calculators whenever possible, there are many times when they can be useful for demonstration purposes in class, for visualization, or for eliminating tedious work to better focus on concepts. Computer applications like Mathematica and Sketchpad are great, too, but you can't beat a calculator that slips into your pocket.

So why doesn't anyone use HPs anymore? HP's latest and greatest graphing calculator is available on their website for $149.99 and includes all of the bells and whistles you could imagine (and some that only a tiny fraction of the world's population might ever need). TI's latest, the TI-89 Titanium, retails at Staples for $168.99, although I've seen it on sale for $140 before. It has similar bells and whistles, but lacks my beloved reverse Polish notation.

I know that for a while, HP calculators were on the pricey side. However, even comparing the mid-range offerings from both companies, pricing is fairly comparable, while HP's seem to have the advantage in terms of features. You don't often see some grizzled engineer banging away on his old TI...I see a lot of old HPs on the desks of professors in the Math and Engineering departments at WPI.

The HPs are even allowed on the Advanced Placement tests, so what's the deal? I'm afraid I'm doomed to spend a piece of my next student loan on a TI so that I can be compatible with my students and countless textbooks. Anyone out there with some insight, talk back below.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard

About

Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust Microsoft, coffeeshops owned by something other than Starbucks, and really loud, inarticulate music. He escaped to the right coast in the early 90's and received a degree in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University. While there, he began a career in health a... Full Bio

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