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PCalc for macOS (pcalc.com)
161 points by Arubis 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

PCalc is a work of art. I can't personally speak to the developer's philosophy here, but it feels like they sat down and asked themselves how they could make the best possible app in this very specific domain, then doubled back and added an extra 10x attention to detail on top.

A calculator app might seem like a very small thing, but the availability of PCalc is literally one of the handful of items I have in my "pros/cons" list of using iPhone vs. an Android phone.

It is indeed fantastic. I think it's partially an effect of how long the author has been working on it.

Per https://www.pcalc.com/mac/twenty.html, PCalc is 28 years old. That's a lot of time to get feedback, refine your design and add features, and repeat.

You’ve gotta love a calculator app that (at least on iOS) includes a driving game and an AR playground that allows you to festoon your living room with piles of calculators — all of which actually work!

May I ask what's your use case? A basic calculator covers about 95% of my needs especially on a phone.

In contrast with the built-in iOS calculator? RPN and unit conversions, primarily, but also occasionally other functions like exponentiation, etc.

My question was more 'what are you doing that need complex calculations?'

I don't know what RPN is btw.

"Reverse Polish Notation"[0], commonly used on Hewlett-Packard calculators, and considered a superior means of entering calculations on a calculator versus the way most calculators work. Considered by many to be reason enough to switch calculators.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_Polish_notation


The built in iOS calculator does have exponentiation (in landscape mode), FYI.

A great application from a great developer. You’re right, it does not do everything, but does what it’s good it really well. I’ve been using it since the Mac OS 8 days.

I was quite satisfied with Realcalc when I used Android. It does RPN and basically all functions I need.

I still find it very strange for calculator software to mimic a physical calculator.

This[1] is a wonderful calculator for mac if you don't need the scientific bits.

I like Numi so much that I made a slightly worse, open source, mutliplatform version of it[2], that I use often.

[1] https://numi.app

[2] https://github.com/filipesabella/CalcPad

Up to Catalina, macOS used to have the overpowered Emacs calculator[0] preinstalled. Default keybinding to activate it in Emacs is C-x * *. I especially like how it uses RPN but also has an algebraic mode, so one can use whichever is more convenient. There's several other features that I use quite often, such as

- symbolic differentiation/integration

- conversion between units

- solving equations

- working with matrices

- rewrite systems

[0] https://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_mono/calc.htm...

Well "bc" is still included with macOS. "bc -l" to start it in a useful mode. It's slightly quirky, but very powerful.

For example, "4*a(1)" to calculate pi.

I don’t really understand how you could read the parent comment and then suggest bc as a reasonable equivalent. For one thing I find interacting with bc to not be so interactive as gnu calc—you have to type one line at a time and it is hard to see intermediate results or make modifications. For a second thing, I don’t think bc includes:

- differentiation

- symbolic/numeric integration

- equation solving/manipulation

- unit conversion

- graphing

- vectors and matrices

- functional array operations like map/reduce

- statistical operations

- a detailed manual

Personally my main use of bc is:

  ... | paste -s -d+ | bc

I often just:

    $ python
    from math import *
When you have a hammer...

And dc (the original desk calculator) if you want RPN. I pretty much always have a terminal window with dc running for quick math. It's good for doing base conversions too.

how do you use this function? I am aware that Emacs keybinding (C-n, C-p, C-M-f) can be used in macOS' text inputs, but I somehow cannot trigger C-x to work

This keybinding is meant to be used inside Emacs.

I see...

I get your previous comment wrong then

I get almost all of my calculator needs on the mac via spotlight. cmd-space and then type whatever I need to calculate. The only thing I don't get that I'd like is the ability to do things like "34 days from today" or "days since 15 Feb 2019"

Soulver does that, from memory, and has an Alfred integration. Agreed, useful.

I'm also usually happy with these kind of tools that alloy you to do quick one liners (even google search itself can do a lot!). But sometimes I need multiple expressions. Keeping track of what I wrote already, some variables perhaps etc

Spotlight is sadly really annoying to do math in these days, since it'll spin up multiple cores trying to do useless work :/

I came to the comments to shill for Numi, which is my favorite app for quick calculations. (I don't personally understand why tiled number buttons would ever be desirable for a non-touchscreen GUI app—I much prefer typing equations in.) And I love Numi's variables which you can update and automatically propagate the changes through downstream calculations.

I came to the comments to shill for http://calca.io . For the most part has just worked and have used it in training videos, client emails, rough math sketches, etc. And the output is just markdown-formatted plaintext so you can still use it for reading purposes without the app.

From their website

> Functions can also be inverted so that you can solve for their parameters. Note how we were able to use the one equation for Fahrenheit temperatures f to calculate a Celsius temperature c.

This looks really cool. Thanks for the recommendation

Same here - my co-founder suggested that I use Numi one day, and I haven't looked back since.

Numi is cool. Use it mostly when with teams and I kept my personal that I started with -- Soulver[1] -- another interesting calculator.

1. https://soulver.com

you made numi? that things is awesome! for that kind of thing, I use Calca [1] but I admit, I have numi on my mac just because I think it's adorable. I also have the alfred plugin but it's disabled cause i dont think i figured out how to use it well on alfred.

[1] http://calca.io/

Oh I definitely didn't! Apologies if my wording implied so, I've edited it to make it clearer.

I just made the open source knock-off, as I use linux as well and wanted it on there too.

So far, I've always used MathPad for these kind of things (not the MathPad currently in the App Store, but the one written by Mark Widholm). That's an ancient application: first version was 1993, the latest version (3.0.4) dates from 2012, but it still runs on Catalina. It doesn't have the "English-ish" features of numi, but for simple, sequential calculations, it looks very similar. Apart from that, it can read files, plot in 2D and 3D, and read files.

But I'm definitely going to take a look of the two you mentioned.

Thanks for the Numi clone, I can start converting all my linux buddies!

Thanks for the recommendations! How do they compare to Soulver?

Oh my, I've been looking for that for years, and could never find it. I must have used it over 10 years ago.

To my knowledge Soulver was the first one to apply this concept, but I haven't used it in so many years I wouldn't know how it compares to Numi, although it does seem to have more features.

PCalc on macOS has been available for years... what's new is that the latest version is a universal app compatible with MacBooks with Apple Silicon ARM processors.

PCalc has been my go to calculator for years and I didn't mind paying separately for iOS and MacOS. I use it mainly as a programmer calculator.

I also use Soulver which has reimagined the calculator interface...you can just use it as a quick calculator, or do more complex calculations when a spreadsheet is too heavyweight, and then go back and edit prior entries.

And of course on the Mac you can do calculations right in spotlight (cmd-space 5 + 4) which is pretty low friction.

Anyone interested in a good calculator for iOS might also want to check out Tydlig



The coolest thing about Tydlig is that it shows the history and you can reference results from calculations by touch and drag, and then you can change the values used in past calculations and the calculations that depend on the values of those update. Kind of like a spreadsheet but without cells. I use it a lot.

After all these years I still can't find anything as usable as SpeedCrunch on pretty much any platform

I use [Free42](https://thomasokken.com/free42/) on all my platforms. Launches in an instant and has RPN.

Free42 is my favorite calculator on Windows, especially since I've long used HP's physical calculators. (Droid48 is also great if you're on Android.) But I still prefer PCalc on the Mac, because it's rather cumbersome to use a push-button calculator UI on a desktop computer with a mouse, and PCalc fits perfectly into the Mac user interface.

free42 is available for android as well

Qalculate (https://qalculate.github.io/) is quite good for linux/bsd

Indeed. Its command-line program (libqalculate, as qalc) also stands on its own, with comprehensive unit support and clear output.

I love that it has an easy "solve for x" function! I miss that from my good old TI-89.

IPython + qtconsole (https://qtconsole.readthedocs.io/en/stable/), with a config file that autoruns 'from math import *' on init.

That's alright too, but SpeedCrunch is much faster for simpler workflows

If only speedcrunch supported currencies :/

I generally just write "100 USD in EUR" in google or macos finder...

Qalculate! is great too


Thanks for that - Qalculate appears to resolve the problem I was having, finding a decent calc, similar to PCalc, but for Windows and Linux.

Love it! Thanks again.

I always love PCalc on my iPhone, just bought it for the macOS and I was totally blown away by the "About PCalc" "app"....

I’ve been using PCalc for a couple of decades.

I was very happy, when they released an iOS version.

There’s also a Watch version (https://www.pcalc.com/ios/), so you can have a wrist calculator, like those old Casio watches.

The author of PCalc ( James Thomson ) also did Dragthing - my favourite app launcher from way back - pre-MacOS X and the dock.


How well are the keyboard mappings handled? Can I map any key sequence to any command? Can I easily see the current set of mappings? That would make me want to use a GUI calculator as opposed to a command-line one.

One of the nice things about having a first-class keyboard with a mouse for the iPad is the more "serious" apps take care to have reasonable keyboard bindings and mouse support.

PCalc is in that category. I can't speak for everything, but what I try to do when I use it on my iPad just works, so I've never thought about it. At least on the iPad, the list of keybindings are a tap or two away. I don't see an obvious way to change keys around, though you can move the buttons around.

(Don't take this as granted, of course, there are still iPad apps that are actively being updated that ignore the keyboard .. if everything that plays video would treat the spacebar as play/pause, I'd be much happier)

PCalc also added a new menu bar widget in Big Sur, which is unexpectedly nifty.

Fun fact, this is the same widget that used to be available on iOS before Apple killed old-style widgets in iOS 14.

Well, deprecated that specific API and hid widgets that use it away in a kind of ghetto at the bottom of the Today view. I still have the PCalc widget on my phone and iPad running 14.2 where it shall remain until James Thomson pulls it or Apple removes its ability to run.

Use the new widget for non-rpn calc and the full as RPN need to go to setting.

I've been using Soulver for years, it's really helpful.

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