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Ancient abacusFor thousands of years, people calculated with their fingers, followed by tools such as an abacus. By the 19th century, mechanical adding machines and slide rules started to appear, however it wasn't until the late 20th century that electronic calculators were developed.

In today's world, consumers have a wealth of calculator choices available, both offline and online. Let's look at some of the options and compare them.

Real-World calculators

Handheld calculatorIn the 1960's, companies like Texas Instruments and Sharp started making calculators following advances in integrated circuit technology. Although these early calculators may seem a little primitive by today's standards, they mark the beginning of the evolution of the modern handheld electronic calculator which we all know and use. Everybody is familiar with these calculators, comprising a hard plastic case supporting a physical keypad with its LED (light-emitting diodes) or LCD (liquid crystal display) screen.

The key to this evolutionary process was the development of the single-chip microprocessor which allowed smaller, portable and inexpensive calculators to be produced. Over time, electronic calculators have evolved from calculating simple arithmetic to performing advanced scientific, financial and graphing functions.

More recently, the arrival of smartphones has largely replaced the use of basic calculators, however you often need to download and install an app to access more advanced functions.

Online calculators

Online calculatorThe growth of the Internet has also led to an explosion in online calculators. Not only do you see calculator-specific sites such as here at Calculator Library, but almost every business web site has a calculator section.

Sites such as banks, real estate, car dealers and stock brokers have online calculators to help you calculate interest rates and payments. Gyms have calculators to help you plan your exercise routines. Weight loss companies have calculators to work out your BMI (body mass index) and calorie requirements. Builders have calculators to help you design your next house. The list is endless.

Comparing calculators

Essentially, online calculators do exactly the same job as real-world handheld calculators. They both solve problems and equations using similar computational processes. However, online calculators have a number of significant advantages over their real-world counterparts.

Access anywhere

With online calculators, you don't need to carry a calculator with you. If you have Internet access, you always have a calculator to suit your needs at your fingertips.

No software needed

Online calculators can be accessed instantly, right in your browser, without downloading or installing any software.

Task specific

Online calculators can be very task-specific. For example, our Bond Calculator is designed specifically to perform bond calculations, nothing else. In the real world, you could use a financial calculator for bond calculations, but that would only be one of many possible calculations. With dozens of buttons, functions and programming options, the learning curve can be much steeper.

Ease of use

As they're often task-specific, online calculators are also very easy to use. In addition, they usually have clear instructions or popup help options for each particular task. It's much easier to build help tools into a web interface, rather than reading the bulky manual for a real-world calculator.


Real-world calculators don't allow you to customize them. You can't add, remove or rearrange the keys. You can't modify the display screen. You can't change the calculation processes unless you have a programmable calculator.

On the other hand, online calculators are simply computer programs, so they can be easily customized in a multitude of ways. They often have switches or toggles to change the layout or function at your command. As a result, there is much greater flexibility.


By running on a website, online calculators can access huge databases of supporting information. In comparison, real-world calculators are limited by internal memory and battery life, so they have much less storage and data capacity.

Processing power

Similar to above, running on a website gives online calculators access to the full power and performance of the web server's CPU. This power can't be matched by the limited resources of a handheld calculator.


Emulators are computer programs that enable one device to operate exactly like another, in other words a virtual simulation of that device. Here at Calculator Library we have several calculator emulators.

Financial Programmable Calculator For example, our Financial Programmable Calculator is a fully functional online version of the famous Hewlett-Packard HP-12C calculator, and simulates the exact look and key functions of the original real-world calculator. By using our site, you can have a virtual HP-12C calculator with you wherever you go.

Made to order

If you need a unique calculator to perform an unusual function, many sites including Calculator Library can design and build a custom calculator to suit your needs. Obviously, real-world calculator makers such as Canon, Casio or Citizen won't build you your own one-off calculator, so online is your only option.

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