07 December 2018

Review: Radio Shack EC-21

Happy Friday! Today is another Facebook review day, and since my reviews there got better, it means less work for me! I mean, I still did the work, but I don't have to do it now, and present me is happy about that.

Once again, the context of this Facebook review has been lost a bit, but I'm going to leave it as it was.
Radio Shack EC-21.
Eventually, I knew I was going to have to repeat companies with these reviews. I wanted to put it off for as long as possible, but then I realized if I kept doing that, I'd just be reviewing the same three companies' calculators for weeks. So this is my first repeat company, but I made sure to pick something interesting to distract from that.

The appropriately named Radio Shack EC-21 is more than just a calculator. If you've already looked at the images, this build up is pointless, but if you haven't, then you'll be stunned when you learn that this is also a gaming machine! The EC-21 not only handles basic calculations, but can also play rounds of Blackjack.

Fancy leather cover.
Before I get into the game play of the Blackjack, I want to give credit to the construction of this calculator. It feels like a solid block of aluminum- sturdy, but lightweight. The buttons are clicky and responsive, and don't have that remote-control squishy feel most calculators tend to have.

To play, simply slide the left slider to GAME and 0 will begin blinking. It's asking you to place a bet. You can bet however much you want, so I like to pretend I'm rich and bet $5. Press the bet button, and you'll be dealt cards represented by a single digit. It plays like any electronic game of Blackjack, but can be a nice distraction from a long day of math homework.

The one flaw that I didn't notice until I spent a few minutes with regular calculator use is the positioning of the equals button. Most calculators place this in the bottom right, but for some reason Radio Shack put it at the top, and not even in the right-most position. I found myself pressing the ( ) button, which is useless for most basic operations, and I had to clear the screen to try again.

The EC-21 was built in 1978 and runs on three AAA batteries. It comes with a nice leather case that also houses the manual. Nothing about it is complicated enough to warrant the need for the manual, but it's a nice touch. With its brushed aluminum exterior, It's a beautiful calculator, even without the case. I found it at Goodwill for probably $3.
Back, outside cover.

Back, batteries removed.

Front and back components separated.

Motherboard partially removed. Wires left intact.
Better view of motherboard.

View beneath motherboard.

To view the manual, click here.

05 December 2018

Review: Produx Original

I haven't said this for a few reviews, so it's time I say it again: thank you so much to everyone following these calculator reviews. I've loved the pictures and comments people have sent me. If you have a calculator you think is interesting, please send me a tweet or something. I'm also interested in any other vintage technology you'd like to share, so send me pictures of that stuff too. In the near future, I'd like to create a second blog specifically for old, forgotten technology, but calculators will remain my priority, of course.

Produx Original Calculator.
The Produx Original comes from West Germany some time between 1940 and 1960. This is just one of many mathematical devices from Produx, and since it doesn't seem like the company is around anymore, finding details is challenging.

Calling this device a machine is a stretch because the only moving parts are controlled entirely by using the stylus. I can't get inside the Produx Original without destroying it, but I can safely assume that there are no gears, levers, or mechanical mechanisms inside other than the sliding numerical parts.

So if everything's done manually, you'd think that means this is no less difficult than doing adding or subtracting by hand. And you'd be very wrong. With only a few minutes of practice, I was able to figure out how to quickly add and subtract large numbers without the aid of a manual or guide.

Green leather case for calculator and stylus.
The video review shows the process to perform operations, but it's little more than a matter of inputting an initial number, then inputting a second number that you want to add or subtract. For addition, you use the lower portion of the device, and for subtraction, use the upper. To clear the numbers back to zero, you simply pull up on the handle at the top of the calculator. There are a few tricks that might take a minute or so to learn, but overall the Produx Original is very intuitive.

Considering this device is over fifty years old, it's in fantastic condition. Even the leather case looks great. This is a calculator that was designed to last as it's made entirely of metal. It's definitely not cheap metal either because it's very difficult to bend (not that I tried that hard).

It's comfortable to hold and looks stunning. Despite it clearly looking like something decades old, there's hardly a scuff on the front of it. The previous owner(s) must have taken good care of this calculator and I hope they can rest easy knowing it's in good hands now.

I purchased this Produx on Ebay for $11.
Back of Produx Original.

Reset handle in use. Sets all values to 0.

03 December 2018

Review: LeWORLD W2099 Scientific Calculator

The LeWORLD W2099 Scientific Calculator feels like the product (haha) of a company that just doesn't care. Yes, it is a budget calculator, and yes, I don't purchase such things with high expectations or standards. The thing is, they know people need calculators, and they know people will often just look for the lowest cost for the functionality they need. So they produce a cheap calculator that doesn't just look and feel cheap, but is also borderline useless.

LeWORLD W2099 Scientific Calculator.
I found this calculator at Ollie's for $2.99, and honestly I was pretty excited about it. In the packaging, it looked like a solid device, so I left it in its packaging until I made the video review to let me give my unscripted initial reaction. I was expecting to review a decent calculator and admire that a company would make a quality device for those on a budget.

Rough edges make a crummy calculator even crummier.
But alas, the moment I took it out, I realized I was in for a disappointment. Wow does this thing feel cheap. I mean cheaper than even lower-priced calculators. It features a swinging cover that looks awesome, but its design prevents it from closing securely. This wouldn't be a terrible thing if the screen wasn't made of super thin, easily-bent plastic, or if this ran on solar cells. I wouldn't feel safe tossing this in my backpack for fear that it might accidentally get turned on and waste battery life or have its screen damaged.

Another problem is the battery situation. It runs on two LR1130 batteries that are concealed by a panel on the back. I actually love when a calculator does this. It's supposed to make the battery easy to access, but for some reason LeWORLD decided to use a screw to hold the battery cover in place. The screw doesn't tighten completely, and is a pain to remove, so what could have been major points for convenience ended up just being one of the device's many flaws.

What makes this so disappointing is that this calculator looks great- from a distance. The color scheme is great, utilizing different shades of blue with nice contrasting colors used for text. This is on top of a slightly shiny silver plastic that almost looks metallic. In fact, if this thing was made of aluminum (made well, I mean), it would be among my favorite calculators.

Back, battery cover and batteries removed.
Functionally, it's also pretty great. Ten digits, lots of possible operations, and solid programming behind the plastic show that at least some employees of LeWORLD cared about this device. The buttons don't feel special, but they work just fine.

Finding information about this calculator proved difficult, but I managed to get in contact with the manufacturer and found out this model was started in the 1990s. The person who responded to me couldn't give me a better estimate than that. My guess is it was mid-to-late 90s, and this is purely based on its style. It looks like something that would have come out during this time frame. The W2099 is no longer in production.

I feel a bit bad about writing such a harsh review when the company got back to my inquiry so quickly, but I have to stay honest with these calculator reviews. For what it's worth, I appreciate the gesture.

Original packing - front.
Original packaging - back.
Inside look reveals that cardboard makes up the support structure.
This was not built to last.
Extremely fragile components inside.
Another look at the cheap components within.
Buttons removed from face plate.
Manual - click to enlarge.

30 November 2018

Review: Sharp Compet VX-2126A

It's Friday again already so that means another Facebook review. I've still got quite a few of these so this tradition will last a while. Unlike the previous remakes of Facebook reviews, this one had enough thought put into it to simply be copied to this site. The first few Facebook reviews had very little content, but later ones were much better. 

So I'm proud to say I put minimal effort into this Facebook Friday Calculator Review.

Sharp Compet VX-2126A.
Every morning* since I've started on this quest to review all of my calculators, I get out of bed, open the blinds for my pet to look outside, pour myself an iced coffee, and then return to the bedroom to select a calculator from the shelf. I look forward to this, even when I don't particularly care for the calculator of the day. But today is special. Today, I share with you the...

Sharp Compet VX-2126A. This thing has a MASSIVE 12-digit LED screen, capable of handling any number between 0 and one less than a trillion with ease. Worried you need to work with numbers bigger than that? Well stop worrying, because this beast also lets you use exponents.

The Compet VX-2126A is solidly constructed with a combination of metal and plastic. Even a firm grip on any two points (including the screen) doesn't feel like it's going to hurt this thing. It features a hinged stand to increase the viewing angle on a desk that would also take a lot of pressure to break off. As far as I can tell, this was constructed in Japan ca 1983.

But none of that is what makes this calculator special. I told that story at the beginning because, since I've owned this calculator, every morning I see this beast chugging along. You see, this calculator *never* turns off as long as it has even the tiniest amount of light. This is by far the most reliable calculator I have ever owned.

The Compet VX-2126A uses no batteries. It's beautiful, sturdy, and has more functionality than I would expect from a purely solar calculator. I found it at Goodwill for like $1.99.
Disassembled, front and back.
* I no longer write these the morning they are posted, so this routine no longer applies to my calculator reviews. I considered removing this no-longer-true statement, but it would affect the flow and themes of the review negatively. It would require considerably more effort to restructure the review than to explain myself here. Thank you for your understanding.

Internal components exposed.
Internal components removed.

28 November 2018

Review: Staples BD-6108 Scientific Calculator

I often ponder the development cycle for a calculator. Every product is created to fill some need, and for the past decade or two, it could be argued that calculator innovation hasn't exactly been booming. A lot of the devices in my collection do the same things, so what inspires a company to put forth the time and resources to create a new model? This is the question that today's calculator raised for me.

Staples BD-6108 Scientific Calculator
The Staples BD-6108 Scientific Calculator is ugly. It's thinner than many scientific calculators, sure, but what were the designers thinking when they decided to go with a clear button scheme? Taking a step back, the black back plate and white face plate is a bold choice, and I don't know of another device that uses this level of contrast. With just the red Staples label, this could have been a bold calculator that would look awesome on any desk.

But they went with clear buttons. This design not only annihilates the aesthetic, but makes finding the button you need a chore. Black buttons with white text would have looked outstanding and make this easier on the eyes.

I'd have been happier with this calculator if they'd decided to go with bright, obnoxious colors and made it absolutely hideous. At least then it would be interesting. As I keep taking glances at the device while writing this, I just get more annoyed with it. I don't like it.

The display isn't particularly great either. Any time light hits it directly, or it's tilted just slightly too far, the digits become unreadable. This might be useful to keep someone sitting next to you from cheating, but why would anyone bother if they saw you using this thing?

Then Staples had the nerve- the NERVE- to forgo a solar panel and use a non-standard battery type (CR2025) with a pain-in-the-ass series of screws to get inside this calculator to change said battery.

They still sell this on their Canadian website for $7. Who is the market for this calculator? With so many other great- even crappy- calculators, why on Earth would anyone bother with the BD-6108?

Fortunately, I didn't pay much for my BD-6108. It was $3 at a used book store, and I can totally see why its previous owner ditched it. As a calculator collector, I will keep and care for this device, but that won't stop me from giving it dirty looks whenever I see it.

Internal components.

26 November 2018

Review: Texas Instruments 1000

So begins another week of calculator reviews. Giving myself more time for each review has allowed me to improve the videos and the posts, as well as create additional content such as Obsolete Technology and The Calculator Repair. The response I've received for these has been just as positive as the calculator reviews.

Since it's Monday, I also get to pick the Comment of the Week, so here it is:

I didn't get any comments last week...

Last week I reviewed the APF Mark 65 and mentioned that there were other calculators with a similar aesthetic that were far superior. The one I had in mind was this Texas Instruments 1000 calculator. Personally, I prefer this color scheme as it's more consistent and elegant, but the TI-1000 beats the Mark 65 in several other categories.

I'd like to address the bizarre numbering system Texas Instruments uses for their devices. I don't get it. The TI-1000 is the third generation, starting with the TI-2500 and then the TI-1200. I have no idea why they went backward with the numbers, or why even later models used only two digits. Nothing about it makes any sense.

The TI-1000 doesn't try to impress anyone, but it succeeds in doing so. It features a gorgeous red fluorescent display behind a crisp brushed aluminum face plate. It's a little heavier than it looks, and the device feels very sturdy when held. The functionality is about as basic as you can get with a calculator and yet that somehow makes it even better. The operations work, and that should be all that matters.

Back view.
Well, they mostly work. I've actually purchased two TI-1000s and both of them have had issues. The first one I bought had a messed up display, so I attempted to fix it and found that the ribbon inside was slightly torn. This seemed like an easy fix, but the ribbon was so brittle that my attempt to fix it made it much, much worse. I ended up rendering the device completely useless and disposed of the internals. Later, I bought a second one and this one's display works perfectly. However, it has an annoying habit of inputting a digit twice when a button is pressed once. There may be a way to fix this, but I'd have to get under the buttons and this would mean manipulating the ribbon again, and I just don't trust myself to not screw it up again.

So the TI-1000 does have problems, and for that I can't bring myself to recommend this as more than a display calculator. It looks (and feels) amazing, and it's clear that Texas Instruments put a lot of love into it. But sadly, time has been a brutal enemy to this calculator. The internals have become so frail that it's risky to even take the device apart.

This calculator runs on a single 9 volt battery hidden by a panel that feels just as sturdy as the rest of the device. I found the first one at Goodwill for about $3, then ordered the currently working one on Ebay for $8.

Back view, battery removed.

Back of front plate.

Internal components not removed due to fragility.

23 November 2018

Review: APF Mark 65

It's Friday, so that means another calculator reviewed on Facebook! As always, I will post the original review below this one if you're interested in seeing whether my opinion changed.
APF Mark 65

As my calculator collection has grown and I've taken them apart, cleaned them, and even repaired a few, my tastes in specific features become more refined. Some calculators are absolutely fantastic and others only exist in my collection because I refuse to just throw them away. Then there are the ones like today's calculator. I don't really know what to make of it.

The Al & Phil Friedman (APF) Mark 65 was released no later than 1977, and, like most electronics from that decade, looks like it was made in that decade. While Wednesday's HP 10bII review mentioned it went for this aesthetic, the Mark 65 didn't even have to try. It just is 1970s.

I mean, look at it. The brushed aluminum face plate, the weird combination of white, orange, and not-so-brown buttons, and the care-free use of a different font for everything- it was a different time, man.

But also check out that bulk. You just don't see that in a modern calculator. This was to accommodate a beautiful-as-always teal-greenish-blue fluorescent display and thick pinches of solder all over the main board. And of course this runs on three AAA batteries and I should feel lucky it doesn't require more.

I want to love this calculator, I really do. But sadly, it only looks great. It feels miserable. Every component of the device is made of cheap material and it feels way lighter than it looks. The buttons and switch feel fine, but without a weighty feel to the rest of it, I'm just disappointed.
Cheap materials are easily ruined.

The cheap plastic is most evident in the battery cover. I feel like I'm going to snap it in half every time I try to put it back in place. This plastic is the type that will break into sharp pieces if dropped onto a hard surface. It's a shame, really.

This is the kind of calculator that looks great on display next to other vintage devices. There's no doubt it belongs among them. But my dream calculator museum would place this calculator behind glass not to protect it from patrons, but to protect the patrons from knowing how crappy this thing actually feels.

I found this calculator at Goodwill for like $3.99. As someone who has had hands-on experience with many devices, I can assure you that the APF Mark 65 is not worth seeking out. If you're sold entirely on how it looks, just wait for an upcoming review of a similar, but far superior device.

Internal Components

I wanted to completely disassemble this device, but screws beneath soldered components prevented this.

Here's the original Facebook review: