The HP-15C was reissued at long last!

It is strange no one seems to have picked up the news yet, but HP has reissued the legendary HP-15C in a special “30th anniversary limited edition”, and it became available for purchase last week.

HP-15C Limited Edition

The new HP-15C is not strictly speaking a reissue but a replica, as it does not use the original’s Saturn processor, but instead an emulation thereof running on an ARM CPU. Even emulated, it should be much faster than the original 640 kilohertz processor. I ordered two, and received them today.

As expected, the quality is in line with the current HP-12C, i.e. not as good as the 1980s models in terms of key feel, but still leagues ahead of any competing product. The originals used a special 47-point bonding process to ensure the utmost in rigidity and reliability, I doubt the current model had as much attention paid to detail. It is made in China, obviously, the Corvallis facility is long gone. The slipcover fits very poorly (too tight, and the seams are not trimmed properly) and feels thinner and outright cheap compared to the original. The labels on the keys are accurately positioned, at least, unlike the train wreck that was the HP-12C Platinum. The cheat sheet in the back is a garish black on silver as on the 35S, instead of the original’s silver on black. It also uses two 3V CR2032 batteries instead of the 3 button cells in  the original.

Speed-wise, the Limited Edition integrates the normal distribution nearly instantly, when that test that took 34 seconds on the original.

In short: not as good as the original, but still an excellent calculator for those who prize ergonomics.

30 years after, the king of calculators rides again

In 1986, I purchased a Hewlett-Packard HP-15C scientific programmable calculator, for $120 or so. That was a lot of money back then, specially for a penniless high school student, but worth every penny. I lived in France at the time, and HP calculators cost roughly double the price there, so I waited for a vacation visit to my aunt in Los Angeles to get it. HP calculators are professional tools for engineers and you couldn’t find them at the local department store like TI trash, so I asked my aunt to mail order it for me prior to my visit. I still remember the excitement at finally getting it and putting it through its paces.

The HP-15C is long discontinued but I still keep mine as a prized heirloom, even though I have owned far more capable HPs over time (the HP-28C, HP-48SX, HP-200LX and more recently HP-35S and HP-33S) and given most of these away. The HP-15C’s financial cousin, the HP-12C is still in production today and has a tremendous cult following.

The reason for the HP Voyager series’ lasting power is many-fold:

  • Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), HP’s distinctive way of entering calculations. For instance, to calculate the area of a 2m radius circle, you would type 2 x2 π x instead of the more common algebraic (AOS) notation on TI or Casio calculators π x 2 x2 =. With practice, RPN is much more natural and efficient than algebraic notation. When I went from high school to college, the number of RPN users went from 2 (myself and a classmate who owned a HP-11C) to over 50%.
  • The ergonomics of the calculators are top-notch, from the landscape orientation to the inimitable HP keyboards with their firm and positive response.
  • They offered far superior functionality, like the HP-15C’s built-in integrator, equation solver, matrix and complex algebra, or the HP-12C’s financial equation solver.

The HP-15C offers the right balance of power and usability. The HP-48SX was far more powerful, but if you stopped using it for more than a couple months, you would completely forget how to use it. The more advanced functionality like symbolic integration is better performed on a Mac or PC using Mathematica or the like, in any case.

Unfortunately, Carly Fiorina gutted the HP calculator department in one of the more egregious of her blunders during her disastrous tenure as CEO of HP, outsourcing R&D and manufacturing from Corvallis, Oregon to China. HP has been trying to regain lost ground, but it is an uphill battle as TI has had ample time to entrench itself.

All this long exposition leads to the news HP has released an app (and for other models like the HP-12C)


I benchmarked it by integrating the normal distribution (f LBL A x2 CHS ex 2 ENTER π x √x / RTN) between -3 and +3. On the original HP-15C, this takes about 34 seconds. On the iPhone emulator, it is near instantaneous. On the nonpareil emulator running on my octo-core Mac Pro, it’s more like a minute…


Breakfast of Popes

When I was a kid living in the forsaken wasteland that is Saudi Arabia, my father’s company would pay for one trip back to France each year. One treat my parents would give us on those trips back home, my brother and I, would be to take us to a café and get us each one of those old-fashioned teardrop-shaped bottles of Orangina. To this day, I still associate it with the taste of home.

At one point ten years ago, the owners of Orangina had agreed to sell it to Coca-Cola. This naturally raised an uproar and the deal was axed on antitrust grounds. Unfortunately, the brand has not been very well managed or marketed since and has lost much of its market share in France.

The chief quality of Orangina is that it is made with 14% fruit, unlike the synthetic garbage Coca-Cola or Pepsi sell, e.g. Fanta. It is interesting to note that in Italy, all fruit sodas are required by law to have at least 12.5% fruit content, so even Fanta is actually drinkable there.

One Italian resident who was a fan of Orangina is Mgr Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI. At the end of his day’s work, prior to being elevated as Pope, he used to walk back home, stopping for the odd photo pose at the request of passing tourists, return to his apartment, enjoy a glass of Orangina and play Mozart on the piano for half an hour.