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It is quite remarkable how much the price of basic consumer electronics has fallen over the last few years. This calculator is, at least at first glance, a good example of this trend. It is available in a number of places, including from several sellers on Amazon, but I picked mine up from Poundland. Yes, that's right: this is a fully featured scientific calculator for a mere hundred pennies. It may not look very classy (especially the utterly bizarre spider's web of a rubber grip on the back) but still, a pound! On the face of it that's an incredible bargain. In reality, however, deciding on a verdict is not quite so simple...
The Slimline (as I shall call it, in the absence of any obvious proper branding) is indeed quite a compact little thing. It's actually not that much larger than the average basic calculator, and it's much smaller than something like the Casio fx-83GT that you see all over the place these days. That titchiness has both benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side it means it's very portable: you can get a lot of processing power into even a trouser pocket with ease. The flip side of the coin is that the buttons, especially those for the scientific features, are pretty small, and those with larger fingers may find them annoyingly fiddly.
That wouldn't be too dreadful a problem, except that the keys are pretty poorly designed. They're made of soft rubber rather than the more usual hard plastic, but that in itself I don't mind. What I *do* mind is that they're horribly spongy, and so need a firm and definite press to register anything. For those whose memories stretch that far back, the general feel is a bit like the keyboard of an original Sinclair ZX Spectrum! This sponginess means that the Slimline is not a calculator on which you can let your fingers fly over the buttons; a slower, more precise action is necessary.
It's not short of features, however. As well as the usual things you'd expect to find on any scientific calculator (trigonometrical functions, logarithms and so on) there's the facility for using binary, octal or hexadecimal numbers, statistical data handling, the option to display a fixed number of decimal places, a random number generator and even a complex number mode. The display is of the old-fashioned one-line, eight-segment LCD type and is not huge, but it is quite clear, and it's nice to have ten digits (or eight plus a two-digit exponent) to play with.
But here we hit another problem, which is that the documentation for the Slimline is a joke. It's a single folded piece of paper covered in tiny print, just like the ones you used to get with cheap electronics a quarter of a century ago. It's also horribly incomplete: it tells me that the "CPLX" key will activate the complex number mode, for example, but then makes no attempt to tell me how I can actually *use* it! I was also hoping to find out what the double-headed vertical arrow on the shifted left bracket key meant, but again no joy.
This calculator is powered exclusively by its (included) batteries, which is hardly surprising in such a cheap model. It takes a pair of AG13 button cells, which are pretty easy to find and very inexpensive. The battery compartment is reasonably accessible, although removing its cover does require the removal of a couple of very small cross-head screws. As I am still on the original pair of batteries, I can't really say much about battery life other than that it's not completely terrible! The only other thing of note about the Slimline's design is that it comes with a rather flimsy clip/slide-on plastic cover.
Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, when you consider the amazingly low price I paid for this calculator, it is hard to see the Slimline as anything other than a bargain. Indeed, were it not for the poor feel to the keys and the awful documentation I might even have given it five stars, given that it does the job it's supposed to do - actually calculating things - efficiently and without fuss. As it is, it's a three-and-a-half star machine. I'm giving it a (slightly harsh) three because the sponginess of the keys really is very irritating, but you really won't get more features than this for a pound.
Office / Handheld electronic calculator.