"It seems crazy to say this, but it's the only calculator on the market conceived for people of the 21st century," the creator and head of Numworks, Romain Goyet, tells Engadget. As such, the team steered clear of existing calculators, and instead looked at game consoles, smartphones and other modern devices for inspiration.
Physically, Numworks is much smaller than most scientific calculators, weighing just 5.9 ounces with a thickness of 10 millimeters (0.4 inches). It's rechargeable via a micro USB port (a cable, but not a charger, is included), and can go 20 hours between charges under normal operation. When not in use, it can hold a charge for "years" in deep sleep mode. The 2.8-inch diagonal (2.2 x 1.7 inch) screen can display over 262,000 colors.
Goyet says he and Paris-based industrial designer Alexandre Morronoz wanted a clean, Apple-like design. They succeeded in that regard -- the look is about as far from the nerdcore models of TI and Casio as you can get. That choice is deliberate, so as not to distract from its main purpose, says Goyet. "We deliberately avoided complexity in order to make something simple and logical that students will want to use," he says.
The keyboard is split into three distinct areas: navigation, advanced calculations and a numeric keypad with widely spaced keys to reduce entry errors. There's also a home, back, and standard On/Off button.
There's no touchscreen, as with the pricey Casio FX-CP400 and similar models. Rather, navigation is done with arrow keys placed on the left of the device, opposite to most other graphing calculators. That's not an accident: It's designed to match the position of the navigation keys on gamepads. "We examined controllers from Sony and others to compare the layouts, buttons, etc. to see what made them efficient," Goyet explains.
There are six applications to choose from: calculations, functions, sequences, statistics, probability and regression. (There's also a Python interpreter that's in beta.) Calculations are entered much as you'd see on paper, using numbers, operators and brackets, followed by "Exe" to get the answer. Students learning chalkboard algebraic notation will be at ease: If you tap 8π(25+6), for instance, it knows you mean 8*π*(25+6).
Functions are entered the same way, and let you see a graph and table of possible solutions (x, y and other variables are entered by selecting the "alpha" key first). The same logic is used for statistics, regression and other calculations. The suite of applications was developed in collaboration with teachers and professors to cover all of a student's needs for high school and early college math and science.
The other main idea behind Numworks is the transparency and open source nature of the design. "When you use an iPad, you don't really know how it works or what's inside. We publish all our plans," says Goyet. "How we do the plastic pieces, how we make the electronic circuits, how we write the software."
Studying those plans and manuals could help students gain an understanding of coding and electronics, for one thing. But it also means that the product is expandable in the future. For instance, Goyet's team added the aforementioned Python interpreter so that students can learn or test code.