Experiencing the Casio S100

I have a modest collection of calculators – mostly HP, with a few other curiosities thrown in. Some of these have come with not-insignificant price tags attached, due to rarity, collectibility/desirability, present-day usefulness1, &c. Yet, despite a strong desire for Casio’s 2015 release, ‘The Special One’ (models S100 and S200), I could never justify importing one for the ~$300 asking price.

The S1002 is an incredibly simple calculator; it does basic arithmetic, percents, square root, basic memory functions, and some financial bits like rate exchange, tax calculation, and grand total accumulation. Sliders select decimal point fixing and rounding rules. It is, seemingly, functionally identical to the ~$40 heavy-duty Casio JS-20B. Physically, the two share some properties as well – doubleshot keys with ergonomic curvature, three-key rollover, dual solar/battery power, 12-digit display. So… why $300?

The S100 is a showpiece, plain and simple. A 50th-anniversary tribute to the Casio 001, an early desktop calculator with memory3, and the beginning of Casio’s electronic4 calculator business. On the S100’s website, Casio calls out other notable calculators from their history: the compact 6-digit Mini from 1972, and the 0.8mm thick SL-800 from 1983. The S100 is a celebration of decades worth of innovations. Yet it celebrates not by innovating itself, but by refining. It’s an extravagant, luxury version of a product that Casio has been optimizing for half a century.

To this end, the S100 is made in Casio’s control factory in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. In keeping with the purpose of this factory, assembly and inspection are largely done by hand. Casio brags about the double-sided anti-reflective coating on an FSTN display. The keys are comparable to well-designed laptop keys, with a ‘V-shaped gear link structure.’ The chassis is machined from a single bit of aluminum. It’s all very excessive for a calculator that doesn’t even have trig functions.

I wouldn’t be writing all of this if I hadn’t actually acquired one, right? Certainly, I still paid too much for something so silly, but I did finally find a good deal on a used S100 in black. So is it, in Casio’s words, ‘breathtaking, unsurpassed elegance?’ I mean… it is quite nice. It’s worth noting that I don’t have any experience with Casio’s similar-yet-priced-for-humans-to-actually-use calculators. But I can say that the display is the finest basic seven-segment LCD that I’ve seen. The keys feel great, and the tactility combined with the overall layout make for the ability to calculate very quickly5. It has a satisfying heft about it, and it’s clear that a lot of attention-to-detail went into it6.

But… let’s say you really were considering plonking down $300 on this thing. Any number of classic HPs can be acquired for less (and they all have better key-feel): a 41C/CX/CV or 42S, a 71B, a 15C, an oddity like the 22S. You could get a Compucorp 324G. Any number of exotic slide rules. My point is, $300 will buy you a lot of cool calculating history… or one incredibly fancy showpiece. I guess I’m glad they made it, and I guess I’m glad I own one. But it’d be hard to recommend one as an acquisition to all but the most intense calculator nerds.

  1. I know most people just call up a calculator on their computer or phone. I constantly use my HP-16C at work for radix conversion. Even advanced soft calculators like PCalc fail to optimize this task as well as the decades-old HP. And the immediacy of a dedicated machine certainly doesn’t hurt. ↩︎
  2. The series includes the S100 and S200. The S100 is available in black or blue, the S200 is gold. They are otherwise identical, and I will be referring solely to the S100 throughout the post. ↩︎
  3. Casio claims the 001 was the first desktop calculator with ‘a memory function,’ but… the Friden EC-130 had memory two years earlier. ↩︎
  4. Casio previously had made relay-based calculators; the mid-‘60s was the beginning of the end for that tech. ↩︎
  5. I mean, I’m still incredibly slow at it because it isn’t RPN. But what I’m attempting to do? I’m quick at. ↩︎
  6. The rubber on the back has two little square bits that pop out to reveal the screws for replacing the battery. Feels very old-school, but achieves an admirable aesthetic goal. ↩︎