Ditch Your PC’s Calculator App and Use a Real One Instead

Handheld calculators don’t get as much love as they once did. That’s a damn shame, because they can be way more convenient than the calculator app on your computer.

I frequently keep a hard look at my finances, and use quite a few spreadsheets to keep track of our budget and bank accounts. While you can tap in a lot of different formulas to automatically do the math for you, there are still many things I like to calculate manually—it makes me more aware of our spending habits. Because of this (and because of my lack of math skills), I use a calculator a lot.

At first, I relied on the calculator app on my Mac, and even though I had enough screen real estate to have the spreadsheet and calculator side by side, it was still frustrating to have to click back and forth between them. Plus, my keyboard doesn’t have a numeric keypad, so entering numbers was just slow in general, almost like using one of those rotary dial phones—that top row of numbers on my keyboard just isn’t made for calculator use.

Granted, I still have to use that top row to enter in numbers into the spreadsheet, but it’s hardly a big deal compared to adding a ton of numbers together.

In any case, I soon upgraded to using the Alfred search bar as my calculator, which was a bit faster since I could instantly copy the result to my clipboard and paste it into the spreadsheet. However, I had to summon Alfred each and every time I needed to calculate something, by hitting Cmd+Space. And I was still stuck using the number row at the top of my keyboard.

“Gee, Craig, here’s an idea: Just get a keyboard with a numpad!” That is a great idea, except that a) most laptops don’t have numpads, b) numpads are actually ergonomically inferior to “tenkeyless” keyboards (since you have to reach your hand farther to use the mouse), and c) I’m just very picky about keyboards (not to mention left-handed). I suppose you could buy a separate USB numpad, but that’s clunky. There’s a better solution: a regular, physical calculator.

Seriously, you probably have a calculator lying around somewhere anyway, most likely in a junk drawer next to the D batteries and some dull, orange-handled scissors. And if not, they’re dirt cheap. This one is four lousy dollars—that’s the cost of one of those fancy espresso milkshakes at your local coffee establishment.

The best part about having a real calculator is that I can make it as ergonomic as I need to—I have it sitting right next to the mouse, which makes going back and forth between calculator input and spreadsheet input super quick and easy. Plus, I can use my left hand for calculator input and my right hand for spreadsheet input, and when my left hand isn’t tapping in calculations, it’s using the mouse to click on spreadsheet cells.

“Why not just use your phone’s calculator, Craig? It can do exactly this.” That’s true. My phon’e calculator is just as mobile as the real calculator sitting next to it, but there’s nothing more annoying than being fully engaged in an intense spreadsheet session and getting a phone call or a text message on the same device I’m trying to do calculations on.

Plus, the physical buttons on a real calculator make entering in calculations so much more tactile than using a touch screen. It’s the same feeling when trying to play a first-person shooter on your phone using the touch screen controls—it just doesn’t work all that great, and it has you wishing you were using a gamepad with real buttons.

Now, I’m not saying that you should start using a real calculator for everything—the calculator app on your phone is super handy, and it’s great to have in a pinch when you’re extreme couponing at the grocery store or calculating the tip at a restaurant. But a real calculator is one device that you should at least keep handy at your desk, because it’s more convenient than you think.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.