The HP 35s Calculator: a revised review

The HP 35s Programmable Calculator

A while ago, I wrote a blog article on a different blog regarding the HP 35s programmable calculator. Depending on where you buy it, it could cost anywhere from $55 to $98 to buy.

I have heard in other places about the plastic used to make this calculator. It is indeed cheap plastic. It certainly feels hollow when you hold it. It belies the amount of memory and the increased calculating power that lies inside. The calculator has two calculation modes: ALG mode (algebraic mode) to resemble conventional calculators, and RPN mode (reverse-Polish notation), which, for those who do long calculations, provides a way to avoid parentheses, but requires getting used to stacks.

As far as RPN mode goes, only four numbers can be pushed on to the stack at maximum for this calculator. I have read other reviews for other HP calculators where the stack can be much larger. The numbers push to the bottom of the stack as you enter new numbers, and as you enter them, the “bottom” of the stack actually moves “up” on the display. It makes it difficult to discuss how it implements this data structure because the numbers scroll in the opposite direction. The theory goes that you “push” data to the top of the stack, and you “pop” data off the top of the stack. This is a LIFO data structure (LIFO = “last in, first out”). To see the HP25s implementation, you apparently “push” data to the bottom of the stack, numbers “above” it move upward, and then you “pop” data off the bottom of the stack. It actually amounts to the same thing in the end. It is still a LIFO data structure. Pushing a fifth number on to the stack will cause the first number to disappear, so you can only work with four numbers at a time.

So, let’s say that you have the following stack:

a: 8
b: 7
c: 6
d: 5

The last two numbers entered are the numbers “6” and “5” in memory locations “c” and “d” respectively. Operations will be done on the last two numbers entered. So, if I now press the operator “+”, it will add 6 to 5 and pop both of these numbers off of the stack.

a: 0 (empty)
b: 8
c: 7
d: 11

The stack rotates down, the “bottom” (location “a”) of the stack becomes empty, and the “11”, the result of the calculation replaces both 6 and 5.

Some operators are unary, so pressing the square root will perform an operation on only the last number (location “d”), and replace the result back into location “d”, eliminating the number 11.

a: 0 (empty)
b: 8
c: 7
d: 3.31662479036

Well, there is also the programmability of the calculator. There are many commands available, and one pet peeve is how you are only allowed to assign a single letter to name a program.