|Forgotten Fundamentals: the HP-33S|
Message #1 Posted by Karl Schneider on 20 Aug 2004, 2:07 a.m.
Forum readers --
This post could be considered tardy, but it's one that's been rattling around a while with me.
I bought a new HP-33S from a retailer for $50 after the April NCEES exam cycle, with its related profiteering, was over. I didn't want to compete with those who needed an RPN calc for the exams, and wasn't about to pay an inflated price from a gouger. In fact, I wasn't even eager to buy one, having seen the photos of its warped chevron-style keyboard. However, the 33S would be useful as a calc without RAM limits that allowed development of programs for my 32SII, so I got one.
Verdict: Quite frankly, I would have been more pleased with a 32SII improved only by 2-4 kB of additional RAM. Although the 33S includes several new and helpful features, it exhibits apalling inattention to HP's time-honored fundamentals of calculator design. It's as though KinHPo "started from scratch" without examining the many other Pioneer models which offered the features added to the 33S.
Consider what was added to the 33S that the 32SII lacked, but other Pioneer models already had:
Two-line display: 42S
AOS with precedence: 20S, 21S, 22S, 27S
RPN/AOS dual mode: 17BII
Or, what could have been added:
Ins/del equation-editing: 27S, 17B, 17BII
Complete complex functions: 42S
One-line complex display: 42S
Any of these models could have served as good examples of thoughtful design.
What's good or "right" about the 33S?
- Unshifted x2 key (usually omitted from RPN calcs)
- "INTG" (round to nearest integer) function
- Scalable ENG display mode (Casios have had it for years)
- Physical constant list
What's wrong about the 33S? Let us count the ways:
- Rigorous testing methods were not applied.
- The "chevron" design degrades ergonomics, with irregularly-shaped, misaligned keys that don't fit the fingertips naturally. Keys in the middle column are larger than the others, for no practical reason.
- The four silver, raised keys that are labeled are awkward to press, being irregular and angled.
- Tiny, virtually-indistinguishable decimal point and comma. Inexcusable!
- Shadowing when viewed at a sharp angle.
- Glary, reflective screen. (The 1990 Pioneer upgrades addressed that one.)
- Tiny, hard-to-read annunciators on the upper part of the display, in the shadows
- The display instantly changes to name of function when a key is pressed, instead of after a time delay when the key is held down, as on the 32S, 32SII, and 42S. It is disconcerting to watch the display flash each time an operation is performed.
- The two "shift" colors contrast nicely with the faceplate, but not with each other. This causes me (and others, I presume) to make more mistakes by using the wrong shift key.
- Poor spacing and cluttered detail -- exacerbated by the crooked layout -- make it sometimes difficult to determine what imprint belongs to which key.
- Remarkable illogic in placement of functions. This aspect of design was carefully planned in HP's masterful Voyagers. There was also a coherent concept in the fully menu-based 32S that was degraded in the partially menu-based 32SII, and has become haphazard in the 33S:
- Why isn't "HYP" adjacent to SIN/COS/TAN?
- Why are "RPN" and "ALG" buried in the keyboard, and not under the "MODES" menu, as on the HP-17BII?
- Why isn't Roll Down" adjacent to x<>y?
- Why aren't the probability functions (seed, rand, nCr, nPr) grouped together under a menu, as they were on the 32SII?
- Why aren't ABS, IP, FP, RND, and INTG consolidated under a menu named "PARTS" (32S/32SII) or "CONVERT" (42S)?
- There's a special "ENG/<-ENG" key. Why retain "ENG" under the "DISPLAY" menu? FIX/SCI/ALL can be used to set precision (the way Casio does it). Then, "." and "," could be moved to the "DISPLAY" menu, thus making room for "RPN" and "ALG" under the "MODES" menu.
On the 33S menus: The 2-line display made possible more selections (as "pick-a-number" or "cursor-and-enter") in the menus, but I prefer the "press-the-softkey" system of the Pioneers, in both 1-line and 2-line displays.
I've noted that I spend considerable time hunting for functions on the 33S, for the reasons listed above -- clutter, visual indistiguishability, haphazard arrangement. The hard-to-read numerical display is a disqualifying offense.
When I eventually take the PE exam, I'm bringing the 32SII. I have also lobbied NCEES to explicitly approve the 11C, 15C, and 20S -- all of which are better-designed computational tools.
Edited: 20 Aug 2004, 2:27 a.m.