30 January 2019

Review: Pro 600 Gaming System (TM)

Monday's calculator review was about a gimmicky device, and I believe I've made my stance on gimmicky calculators quite clear by this point. Normally I only do one of these at most per week, but for some reason I decided to review two of these sorts of calculators this week.

Pro 600 Gaming System (TM).
The Pro 600 Gaming System (TM) is in fact two devices in one block of plastic. They each have their own set of keys and batteries, and honestly I don't understand the point of this thing. It's a calculator and a handheld gaming console, yet it sucks at being either of those.

The calculator portion.
The calculator portion is entirely unremarkable. Buttons are squishy but responsive enough. The most unique thing about this calculator is that it has an off button. That's nice for battery life, since this calculator only runs on battery, but there just isn't a whole lot else to say about it.

So primarily this is a gaming device. It alleges 600 games, but there is absolutely no way I'm going to try them all out. The buttons that control the games are horribly unresponsive and squishy. Yet that's not even the worst part about it. All of the graphics are these little identical squares that do not do an okay job at showing what things are supposed to be. It's often difficult to tell which game I'm playing, let alone which block or set of blocks are mine to control.

To call them "graphics" is incredibly generous of me. I've played some of the very first video game consoles ever created and those graphics look lifelike compared to this garbage.

Still, the worst part of this device is the sound. It's obnoxious and loud and awful and I hate it. It plays songs whenever the batteries are inserted, when the on button is pressed, when a "game" is loaded, and it all sounds terrible.

Despite all of this, I do kind of like the overall design of the device. The colors do a fine job, and it's contoured well enough for hands to hold comfortably. The clam shell layout is surprisingly sturdy so there's little risk of this thing breaking easily. It looks and feels pretty solid.

I don't recommend the Pro 600 Gaming System for anyone. There are countless other devices that are much cheaper than the $14 I paid for this on Ebay. It runs on two AA batteries for the gaming portion and a single AG10 battery for the calculator. Either part can run without the batteries installed for the other.
Closed clam shell.
Bottom of the device.
Main game display component exposed.
Corrosion inside caused the wires to break easily, so this was repaired with a bit of electrical tape.

28 January 2019

Review: 10 Digits Phone-Shaped Calculator

The slogan for my YouTube channel is "I review calculators so you don't have to." I thought it was funny, but now I realize its importance. I don't want people to buy bad calculators, so I put myself at the front lines and sacrifice my time and money to get the word out about what's worth getting. It's impossible for me to warn against every bad calculator out there, but I hope that with enough reviews, people can search for a device that suits their needs.

10 Digits Phone-Shaped Calculator.
This 10 Digits Phone-Shaped Calculator (PSC) has an interesting gimmick: it's trying to look vaguely like a cell phone. I don't know why anyone would want this, but I was intrigued enough to purchase one on Ebay for $4. Of course I wasn't expecting to get the best device ever. I just liked the gimmick.

The PSC looks very sleek, and has a great black and silver color scheme. The buttons are all flat, but separated just enough to prevent accidental pushes. They aren't clicky, and that's okay. 

The LED display is quite large for such a small device, and does indeed fit 10 digits. There's plenty of contrast to make things easy to see. 

So far, the PSC seems like a pretty solid calculator. I thought I was going to be writing a fairly positive review when I was expecting something terrible.

It even has fake buttons to make it look like a phone.
And there is something terrible. See, I disassemble every calculator for reviews, if possible. This device only had two visible screws, so I figured getting some internal photos and checking out the battery situation would be a trivial task. To a point, it was. The screws came out easily, and I began to pry the device apart until I hit a snag. The top portion felt very tight, so I used a piece of plastic to wedge it apart. Finally, it came apart...

It turns out this device was never meant to be disassembled, which is baffling considering it runs entirely on battery power. This is a huge red flag. Getting to the battery requires removing eight screws and breaking plastic, as well as separating every single component. 

That puts the PSC into my least favorite category of calculators: disposable. I shudder every time I think of this concept because it shouldn't be a thing. There is no reason anyone should buy a calculator and not be able to use it indefinitely. 

For that, I simply cannot recommend this device to anyone. It could have been a cute thing to have, but I'm just disgusted by it.

What the back looks like.
Back plate removed.
Entire plastic shell disassembled.
Inside the key assembly.

25 January 2019

Review: Credit Card-Sized Calculator

After this week, I only have one more review I can copy from Facebook to this blog. We're almost in unknown territory here! This review was slightly edited.

I honestly thought [last week's] abacus review would have been controversial due to it not being an electronic device. It turned out to be one of my most liked reviews though [on Facebook]! I do have some other devices that aren't technically calculators, so I may add them to the stack.

Credit Card-Sized Calculator.
What is most definitely a calculator is this thing. As far as I can tell, it's actually a Nestler-matho 700, but there are enough subtle differences to lead me to believe it's not. I've included an image of one of those for you to make comparisons.

This is currently the smallest calculator that I own, only the size of a credit card (and barely thicker than one too), and considering its size, it has decent functionality. The inclusion of square root is impressive. Each button works just fine*, and the digital display is crisp- most of the time.

This calculator runs entirely on light. The moment it doesn't have a bright source, the screen fades out. It's kind of neat to watch, so I've included a gif of this happening. It came with a plastic sleeve that actually reduces the light source enough to make the device extremely unreliable when it's in there, so I don't know why they bothered to make it clear.

Its size is really the only thing that makes this calculator special. The Ft. Detrick logo is kind of ugly and tacky, and I could probably break the thing if I sat on it. But as long as it's got a decent light source, it works fine. This calculator was found at Goodwill in a bag with other calculators for $1.50.

* actually, the buttons are terrible. They have no tactile feedback whatsoever and it's very easy to press the wrong button.

The back of it.
With its fake leather and plastic sleeve.

23 January 2019

Review: Omron 88M

Omron 88M
I wish I could own every calculator ever. I'd love to be able to review all of them and maybe make the world a better place. But sadly that is probably an impossible task because my home is small and I'm not rich. I have to be selective when calculator shopping now, so that means purchasing devices that stand out in some way. I've got plenty of boring calculators in my collection already.

The Omron 88M came from Japan way back in 1975. It runs on two AA batteries to power its green LED display. It has fairly basic functionality, with a floating point switch that allows the user to quickly and easily switch to financial calculations or avoid decimals completely.

I would never have guessed that this device was released in 1975. If I had to guess, I would have assumed early to mid 1980s, but that's when the LCD display became popular. This device looks and feels like something from an alternate timeline because I've never seen anything quite like it.

The peculiar design makes it fit comfortably in the palm of a hand and reminds me of those scanning devices from Star Trek. I wouldn't be surprised if the design of the 88M was inspired by the original series. By placing the batteries at the bottom, this device is perfectly weighted and clearly designed to be carried around.

The rough black faceplate was an odd but not unwelcome choice. It makes the calculator look and feel rugged, like something designed to be taken on an adventure. That may explain the keychain attachment, if that's what that is.

Each button sticks out prominently and is easy to press, with instantaneous response on the display. This is an easy device to use one-handed, and fits nicely in a pocket thanks to the strange profile.

Functionally, the 88M is nothing special. It works great, but I could say that about many other devices. It's the strange design that made me want this calculator. I found it on Ebay for about $9.

Back, batteries removed.
Faceplate and backplate separated.
Electronic components separated.
Face plate internals.

Some buttons removed. They look like buttons!

21 January 2019

Review: TI-55

I had this review planned for the day after Christmas, but due to my hiatus, it has been delayed until today. But hey, Christmas starts earlier every year, so why not start in January?

When I ask people about calculators they remember fondly, almost every one of them begin with the letters "TI". Texas Instruments has been designing and refining calculators since 1973, and even in their early days they were absolutely killing it. Vintage TI devices have become collectibles for people like myself while newer devices still reign supreme in various markets.

The TI-55 was released in 1977, back when it was still cool to use LEDs. Later variants of the TI-55 used boring LCD displays. This was probably to preserve battery life, but I'll take a gorgeous display over longevity any day.

Speaking of batteries, the TI-55 had its own rechargeable battery pack. This might seem great until you remember this was way back in the 70s, before lithium ion batteries were a thing. Because of this, no stock TI-55 currently works today. Thankfully, this battery pack is fairly easy to remove and can be replaced with a standard 9 volt battery. The video review goes into a bit more detail about this, and there are guides online that explain why this works. It's just awesome that this calculator can be made to work these days.

Aside from the outstanding display, the TI-55 has a great color scheme and overall design. Sitting at a desk and looking down at it, you can see that this was designed to be viewed from an angle. This makes it ideal for school work, especially since it's fairly weighty and has rubber feet to keep it still on a flat surface. However, when viewed from directly above, the display is blocked. This may have been to prevent onlookers from seeing operations. Great care was taken in this calculator's design.
Slightly different angle shows display obscured.
Of course, this is The Calculator Review, so you know I'm going to talk about the button feel. Considering this device could technically be considered a pocket calculator, I am blown away by how amazing these buttons feel. They're clicky and responsive, and perfectly debounced to prevent accidental double-presses. I have no idea why Texas Instruments didn't choose to stick with this button design with later models because it's incredible.

It's a shame, really, that the LCD has become so ubiquitous in pocket calculators. From a technical perspective, it makes perfect sense, as it paved the way for solar and dual powered devices. But from an aesthetic perspective, it's disappointing. The TI-55 is a marvel of engineering and design. It looks beautiful in my collection.

Back of calculator.
Original battery compartment disassembled. 
Each button was taken out to be cleaned. This was a huge pain to put back together.
Calculator completely disassembled.
Foam removed. It crumbled at the slightest touch, so it couldn't be reinstalled.
Duct tape used in place of the foam. Slightly alters the feel of the buttons, but still works just fine.
Red goes to black and black goes to red. It's annoying, but that's how this calculator does it.
New 9 volt battery adapter installed.
Electrical tape used to hold things in place.
Testing the new battery setup to make sure everything's working just fine.
The battery is loose without the cover, but with the cover it's held comfortably in place.
Complete calculator with its leather case.

18 January 2019

Review: Japanese Soroban Abacus

Let's say you go on a balloon ride around the world. Obviously you bring your calculator collection in case of emergency. Then an emergency happens. The balloon starts to rapidly lose altitude over the ocean. You grab the first calculator you get your hands on because there's no time to make a decision, and calculate that there's an island ahead. You land on the island safely, but the balloon is badly damaged and won't ever fly again.

Days pass, then weeks, and every calculator that uses batteries eventually stops working. But it's okay, because you also have your solar calculators. Well, it was okay until winter comes. See, you're in the Arctic circle, and nights can last more than twenty-four hours. Now you're going long periods of time with no access to an electronic calculator. Are you screwed?

The Japanese Soroban Abacus
Of course not! Because within your collection is the Japanese soroban abacus. It requires no electricity at all, and is just as effective as a calculator with basic functionality. I won't be one of those purists who claims an abacus is more effective than anything from Radio Shack, but it'll get the job done.

Even though it's built from wood with lots of open areas, the soroban is solid and sturdy. The beads slide smoothly over their individual dowels. Unfortunately, they slide a little too well, so this thing has to be operated on a flat surface for accuracy.

There's a plunger on the top left that resets the abacus. It never ceases to be satisfying, so I included a gif of this in action for you to enjoy.

I have no idea when this particular soroban was built or even what company made it. It's a beautiful device that I was excited to find at Goodwill for 99 cents.
Back of abacus, button not pressed.

Back of abacus, button pressed.

16 January 2019

Review: Clip Calculator with Magnet 2606

Novelty calculators are generally terrible, especially novelty calculators ordered on Ebay for about a dollar from China. I have yet to find myself happy with a single purchase of this type, but as a calculator collector and reviewer, I have to let the people know about them. The calculator reviewed today is no exception. It's terrible.

Clip Calculator with Magnet 2606.
The Clip Calculator with Magnet 2606 (I'm just going to call it the 2606 from now on) is a calculator, a magnet, and a clip, but is only decent at being one of those things.

The magnet is incredibly weak, probably only strong enough to support the device on a refrigerator. I suppose you could hang a sheet of paper or two with it, but you likely have other, much better magnets already.

The clip is strong. It'll hold a bag of chips shut. That's the one positive thing I have to say about this device.

Here's a picture of the calculator not working.
And finally, the calculator doesn't work. The battery is probably dead, but I only ever turned this device on once, shortly after it arrived in the mail. To get to the battery, I had to disassemble everything and that's when I found out I didn't have a battery that would fit in it. That was disappointing.

When the calculator did work, for my brief test upon receiving it, I felt nothing. I had in my hand a calculator that could keep a bag of chips closed. The buttons were too small to use comfortably, and the LCD screen was utterly unremarkable. It could do the things a simple calculator is supposed to do, and nothing more.

So that's my review of the 2606. Don't buy one.

Strong clip spring.
Clip spring removed to access internal components.

Internal components accessed.

Complete disassembly.