This is a blog post about calculators. Wait wait! Don’t go just yet. These are interesting calculators – I promise. And there’s a game inside, too. If there’s one thing in common to all three tools I’ll show you today, is that they show human creativity can be extended to anything – even that humblest and most utilitarian of utilities, the calculator. I mean, how could you possibly improve the average modern calculator? It gets the job done and stays out of the way.
As it turns out, the traditional calculator may not always be the best tool for the job – and a spreadsheet may often be overkill.
CalcTape: Between a Spreadsheet & a Calculator
A regular calculator is great for quickly figuring something out. But I sometimes need to do a long string of simple calculations, like the one shown above. Each of these operations is very simple on its own (addition and division, in this case). No square roots or anything fancy – but every number has its own significance. A “1,000” isn’t just a number – it’s the monthly rent.
CalcTape is a brilliant free Android calculator app that lets me make exactly this type of calculations. Not only can you attach a significance to every line, but you can also edit the numbers after the fact and see the totals update in real-time. For example, if I bump the rent by $500, all subsequent numbers are updated accordingly:
This screenshot also shows the other keyboard CalcTape includes: You get a built-in number keypad (so you don’t have to futz with trying to enter numbers using your text keyboard), and when the time comes to annotate your numbers, you can use your favorite Android keyboard (SwiftKey, in my case, winner of my Best Android Keyboard post).
MyScript Calculator: Handwriting Recognition Meets Math
If CalcTape is all about day-to-day simple arithmetic, MyScript Calculator is about making complicated formulas simple to calculate. Actually, every calculator makes them simple to calculate – but MyScript Calculator is unique in that it makes them easy to express. This video explains it quite nicely:
MyScript Calculator includes a simple tutorial to get you started, listing all of the various symbols and constants it knows:
In actual use, I found its handwriting recognition to be quite good. Where it sometimes falls short, at least on my device, is with the placement of the numbers and symbols: When I amend an existing calculation or add to it, the new numbers and symbols I draw don’t always go where I wanted them to go. This may be due to the fact my device is a phone (a Galaxy S III) rather than a tablet, so MyScript Calculator doesn’t have as many pixels to work with.
I don’t have much use for advanced math in my daily routine, but MyScript Calculator strikes me as a very natural way to teach math. When it works, it’s very close to working with paper – only the paper is smart enough to actually give you the answers you’re after. It complements Wolfram Alpha for Android quite well: Alpha has advanced graphing abilities and a huge host of facts, but doesn’t have MyScript’s handwriting chops.
Quento: For Keeping Your Mental Arithmetic Skills Sharp
One criticism often leveled at calculators (especially when used for simple daily tasks) is that they dull your mental math skills, or, in other word, they make you stupid about numbers. Without getting into this argument (maybe they do, maybe they don’t), I can offer one game that helps keep you sharp even if you do use calculators: Quento.
It is very Holo-looking, with an angular, simple aesthetic – at least as nice as these three gorgeous Android calculator apps I’ve previously featured:
It couldn’t be simpler to play. You get a 3×3 grid with five numbers and four symbols. You have to use the grid to create certain results using a preset number of adjacent tiles. That sounds complicated, so let’s try an example: In the screenshot above, you’re supposed to create the result 12 using three numbers (and two symbols, of course). They have to be adjacent. So, start with the 7 – tap that, then tap the + directly under it, then 8. 7+8 makes 15. Then tap the – above the 8, and finally, the 3. The final calculation is 7+8-3 – and that indeed equals 12, and uses three numbers.
That sounds really simple, but really, it does take a little bit of thought. Of course, you get better over time – which is why the game works for keeping you sharp.
If you don’t like the number constraint in the normal mode, you can always opt for Free Play by swiping the whole board to the right:
Here, you only need to make 11 – it doesn’t matter how many tiles you use to get there. In both modes, if you can’t get the result you need, you can just shake the device to get anew challenge.
Quento is lots of fun, whether you’re a parent looking for an educational game for your kids, or just a regular user trying to keep your mental arithmetic skills sharp.
Did you come across an Android app that makes creative use of numbers? A funky calculator or a great numbers game I may not have heard of? Let me know in the comments!