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.