TI-89 family vs. HP48/49G series

Compiled by Ray Kremer

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I have never used the HP48/49G series myself, so I cannot give a first hand report on the debate, but I can repeat what I've heard about them and quote some comparisons others have written. The contents of this page are pretty old now. The HP49G came out and wasn't the big success HP hoped for, HP dropped out of the graphing calculator business, and then got back in with the HP49G Plus. However, I'm pretty sure most of what was written about the HP48 still applies to its descendants, at least in a general enough sense to help you decide which brand of graphing calculator is better for you.

This first exchange was copied from TI's TI-92 discussion group. Additional comments of mine follow.

[14:39, 8/30/97] TI-92 Vs. HP48G(X) The Verdict is in!! by Keith K.

I am a Calculus student and have concluded an unbiased evaluation of which calculator is the best, a Ti-92 or HP48G(X).

The reference machines I've used were a TI-92 with the standard Motorolla 68000 10 Mhz (more powerful than the CPU of a Sega Genisis) and 70 k of user ram. The HP48GX has a Saturn 4 Mhz Cpu (slightly slower than a ti-82-85 Z80 6 Mhz), and 128k user ram. First off many claim that the HPGX is the most powerful calculator you can buy, and others say the TI-92 is. The HP model has a learning curve of about 5 hours and you can actually get used to the Reverse polish logic. It has a lot of features and it can do 3d graphing. Perhaps the most impressive features are not math oriented though. The hp has the best library of games and even has an internal sound speaker. But the biggest problem I have with the Hp is the speed. The graphing is ridiculously slow, and not as good as the Ti's series. When you custum plot your range it will put the plots in scientific notation, which is mildly annoing. The hp's calculator functions are not as an intutitve as the TI, for instance you have to use a second command for a parenthesis! The Hp main area for calculations are on the slow side too, and would be a disadvantage during a test. After borrowing the HP, I still found myself using my 85 because of the faster output.

Then came the 92. The 92 has a QWERTY keyboard which only disadvantage is that you can't use it on an SAT test. But the only one, because everything else is an advantage, you can write notes in class and use the programming editior with ease. Additionally it helps you with math variables. The 92 looks very complicated but is actually very user friendly you can cut and paste with windows like key functions. The 92 has a learning curve of about 30 minutes and has the same Direct algebraic logic as the other Ti series. Another thing I was very surprised was the graphic display was very crisp and clean and very fast! I loved the instantaneous output that the 92 had but hp lacked. You can do really neat stuff on the 92 like factor and expand in the proper notation, not in a decimal format. The solver on the 92 is as good as the 85, expect you enter it in a bit different, on the 85 you would do X+3=4 than solve and the 92 X+3=4,X and get the answer. But it still works great and fast. After the testing I can clearly say that the 92 won big time. The ease of use, speed, and controls were much better than the HP. I even bought a 92 after the test because It offered so much more functions than even the ti-85.

[15:09, 8/31/97] Re: TI-92 Vs. HP48G(X) The Verdict is in!! by Bryce Royal

What kind of "unbiased" review is this? How can you even compare the speed of the HP's CPU to that of the TI's? If you are basing this on MHz alone then everybody can ignore that statement in your posting. I'm not trying to be cynical here, but there's more to speed than just CPU "speed". When you were talking about graphing on the HP, did you try changing the resolution from 1 to 3? The speed at which the HP graphs is one of the biggest complaints I hear, but once you set the resolution correctly, it will out perform the TI. I do find the TI much easier to use if you have to graph more than one function at once. Also, So what if the parenthesis on the HP are accessed by the 2nd function key, you get both at once.

I have used both the HP and the TI, and I wish there was some hybrid of the two. The HP has by far the most knowledgeable users, and the most programs. Just about anything the 48GX can't do somebody has written a program for. The HP is also built much more rigidly, so it can take the abuse of being shoved in a backpack all day. I do have to give the TI top honors in symbolic manipulation. But this goes without saying for a machine built specifically for that purpose. The TI also has a better hardware/software PC connectivity package. The Graph-Link connects better to the TI, and the software doesn't require as much setup.

[18:47, 8/31/97] Re: TI-92 Vs. HP48G(X) The Verdict is in!! by Keith K.

What kind of "unbiased" review is this? How can you even compare the speed of the HP's CPU to that of the TI's? If you are basing this on MHz alone then everybody can ignore that statement in your posting. I'm not trying to be cynical here, but there's more to speed than just CPU "speed".

Yes of course there is, does a Pentium 200 provide the same speed of a Pentium Pro? Of course not, many other factors determine CPU throughput. HP choose a proprietary solution which would give HP a CPU to fit their end user's needs.

I'm in no way comparing the mhz of the Proprietary "Saturn" CPU as the main speed of the unit. From what an HP specialist told me, if he had to guess the TI-85 would offer better FPU performance. There are no "offical" benchmarks, but the user does feel that the TI's provide better performance on the same operations.

As for changing the resolution of the graphing on the HP, it does improve the speed slightly but then the curve looks a lot more blocky, and your sacrificing accuracy. But still exiting menus and changing resolutions takes time not well spent.

Is HP a bad calculator? Of course not, but when your comparing it to a TI-92, the Ti simply blows it away.

With Fargo (TI-92 Assembly shell) the programs and game software surpass even the HPGX, and its growing everyday while the HP is slowing down. On top of that there will be a rom upgrade for TI-92 users that will provide 198k user memory and 80% speed improvement on an already speedy calculator.

Further analysis:

Neither person above mentioned the HP48GX's infrared link or its expansion card slots. However, the Flash ROM of the TI-89 Flash family seems to balance the advantage given to the HP by the slots, and I've heard that the cards are very expensive and the IR port has a very small range anyway. The TI-89 (Titanium) contains the 92 Plus/Voyage 200 software and Flash ROM, but it is cheaper and has a vertical style keyboard, removing two more potential advantages of the HP48.

The HP48/49 stores recent answers in its stack for use in calculations, but the 89 family has a history area that keeps previous expression/answer pairs which can be recalled to the entry line, edited, and reused. The HP48/49 also has a large library of equations built in, but even those are merely high school level equations, and equations can be put into the 89 family easily. Both calculators allow folders for sorting files, though you can only go one folder level deep on the 89 family. The HP48/49 does indeed have a few unique abilities in certain areas (though not necessarily ones that will get used by more than a handful of people) and has more flexible programming languages, but the TI-89 family is still much better (for students especially) as far as speed and usability goes. The symbolic manipulation abilities of the 89 family are generally considered superior. People who prefer Reverse Polish Notation might still want to give the HP48/49 a second look (the HP49 can also accept algebraic notation like the TI calculators), though a third party RPN program for the 89 Flash family diminishes this advantage. The HP48/49 also has a larger existing program base, since the HP48 has been out much longer than the TIs. This exchange, taken from TI's TI-89/92 Plus discussion group, demonstrates all this.

[16:00, 7/22/98] Re: hp48gx vs ti-89, *again*!! by SDMatteson

I own and use both the 48GX and the 92+. The 92+ is far and away better for grad and undergrad mathematics courses. The 48 is better when you have to deal with formulas and are concerned only with the " answer ". The 48 uses directories and folders to store variables making it easier to access them. RPN is a hoot once you get used to it. The 92 or 92+ is faster and will do things the 48 can't in algebra ,trig and calculus. If I could only have one it would be the 92+ but I would miss the heck out of the 48GX .

[19:05, 7/22/98] Re: hp48gx vs ti-89, *again*!! by Ray Kremer

Since you said that the 92 is way better for students, would you say the HP48 is better for working engineers? A few of them have made remarks to that effect, but I've also heard an engineer or two who prefer the 92.

[21:34, 7/22/98] Re: hp48gx vs ti-89, *again*!! by SDMatteson

The 48 is a down and dirty number cruncher. If you use formulas as a means to a single end (I mean lots of formulas) the 48 is more convenient to use because of the way it stores data, in directories and folders that are a key-stroke away. Believe it or not , RPN is faster once you get used to it. So, in essence, the 48 is better for engineering "work". College is another matter because higher math as well as technical courses are mixed and if you can't have both the 92+ is a nobrainer.

The HP49G(+):

The HP49G can best be described as an HP48 with all the good parts of the TI-89 added on. It is thought to be HP's bid to recapture some market share from TI. The HP49G doesn't have the IR port or card slots of its predecessor, but it does have Flash ROM. Also added on are several programs that were originally made by third parties for the 48 series years ago. For example, the HP49G has a Computer Algebra System out of the box, whereas you had you download the program to get the same on the HP48. This CAS is comparable to TI's in most situations, and it allows for step by step solving of problems, something TI's CAS won't do. (Though TI's Symbolic Math Guide Flash Application comes close.) HP highlights the HP49G's advantages over the TI-89 in this file. Steen Schmidt compared the TI-89 and HP49G with a stopwatch [PDF file]. He admits to a slight bias, but the numbers do speak for themselves. Tim Wessman wrote a comparison of the TI-89 and HP49G, it's available as a pdf file or an html file. Alistair Borowski wrote a comparison of the TI-89 and the more recent HP49G+.

Another popular feature of the HP49G is the equation writer, which allows you to input problems in a way that looks like what you would do on paper, instead of all on one line. Not to be outdone, a third party EQW program has been created for the TI-89 Flash family.

The following is a quick rundown of some pros and cons of each calculator that was posted in TI's TI-89/92 Plus discussion group during a time when the HP49G was new and much talked about. To see a much more thorough list written by the same guy, go to his webpage, Techno-Plaza.

[23:38, 8/27/99] Re: Which is better? by John David Ratliff

There really isn't a better, it's a matter of taste.

Let's just go over a few major issues.

1) HP 49G (there is no GX right now) has RPN entry.

2) The TI-89 has a MUCH MUCH more helpful manual.

3) The 49G has an xroot key and a log button.

4) the TI-89 has a nicer keyboard which is easier to press.

5) the 49G has more memory, almost 3 times the capacity of the TI-89.

6) the TI-89 is faster in a LOT of cases where general things are being done.

7) The 49G supports many versions of compiled code and supports OPEN standards to aid developers.

8) The TI-89 has a MUCH better support team. If you ask them questions, they respond to you. HP won't even acknowledge your emails and their web site is little more than an online AD with BASIC product overviews. [editor's note: Another user points out that several HP49G developers attend the comp.sys.hp48 newsgroup. John agrees on this point, while noting that the feedback form on HP's website is ignored by HP.]

9) The 49G has a better keyboard layout when using alpha-lock. You can type numbers AND letters without changing the alpha-lock status.

10) The TI-89 has a sequence grapher.

11) the 49G has conic graphs and bar graphs. (maybe the 89 too has bar graphs, histograms?)

12) the 89, being a more abundant product has many resources that HP does not. Classrooms will have more of them (your fellow students, teachers, etc), more resources on the internet, and an online user discussion group provided by TI.

13) the 49G has a speaker, a clock, and an alarm! Just think of the COOL game possibilities! :)

Well, there're many more things, but I can't think of any more right now.

If you have any questions about the HP 49G, go to http://hp49g.cjb.net. [editor's note: This is the HP49G discussion page that John set up]

John David Ratliff

Some more posts, this time from the Graphing Calculator Comparisons discussion group, that do a nice job of summing up the issue.

[8:48, 1/8/00] Re: HP 49G vs. TI-92 plus by Doug Burkett

I had been an HP user for many years. I have owned & used the HP41CX, 28S, 16C, 48SX, 48GX and the TI92 w/Plus module. I bought a 49G, but I don't use it. For simple by-hand calculations I use my 48GX, and for more complex CAS and programming problems I use the 92+. For me, the most significant advantages of the 49G over the 92+ are

- RPN (a BIG one for me)
- equation writer
- units conversion/handling
- the lack of many annoying inconsistencies in programming and data handling.

The advantages of the 92+ are

- can solve for multiple simultaneous non-linear equations in several unknowns
- qwerty keyboard
- larger display
- faster response in normal operation
- much better tactile feel of the keys

There are a lot more engineering/math/science programs available for the 48/49 than the 89/92+. Further, there is an active (hyperactive?) usenet newsgroup for the 48/49.

The 49G is still under development, and many improvements, bug fixes and added features and functions are constantly being added. If you read the 49G newsgroup, you will see a lot of talk about bugs, but most of these bugs are obscure and don't affect 99% of the users in 99% of the applications.

More memory is always better, but whether it affects you or not depends on how you really use the calculator.

You will see comments from both camps to the effect that one calculator is faster, or one calculator has a better symbolic algebra system. The ugly reality is that the speed depends on what you are doing; each calculator has areas in which it is faster. As far as the CAS goes, it is a trivial exercise to find specific problems that one CAS has trouble with, but the other doesn't.

My final *highly* subjective comment is that both the 89/92+ and the HP49G are great calculators, and either one will do the job. I just can't take those 49G keys, and I have become quite used to the 92+ alpha keyboard and larger display.

[6:40, 1/9/00] Re: HP 49G vs. TI-92 plus by T.H

As both a TI92+ and HP49G user i should say that your comparaison is quite fair.
To your comparaison i could add some TI92+ advantages:
-A better units system besides conversion handling
-A much better documentation
-A better catalog
-Twice faster wire port
-Much better simplified results
-Faster numeric integrations
-Data editor

As well as some HP49 advantages:
-More powerful text editor
-Extreme customability: keyboard, graph screen virtual size, fonts, menu system, etc...
-Better third party support from HP
-Faster viewer for pretty expressions
-More linear algebra functions
-Very powerful files manager
-Much better custom menu system
-No automatic simplication
-Much faster numeric matrix computations
-Better matrix writer
-Better memory system

Here's one in response to a mother who wanted to know what to buy for her high school son that he could still use when he goes to college.

[21:44, 9/9/00] Re: Recommendation Needed for College! by Doug Burkett

Here's the quick answer: TI89, or Hewlett Packard 49G. The TI92+ has the same functionality as the TI89, but it is larger, heavier, and not allowed on the SAT. The 92+ has a full qwerty keyboard (all the alphabetic character keys) and a larger display. For some (including me) it's worth it, but I'm an engineer, not a student. The vast majority of users prefer the 89.

Here are some other considerations:

- Some schools require a specific calculator and disallow other specific calculators. So, check with the school. Even if the school allows anything, consider that some students are better off using what their classmates are using, to get help from the teacher & other students, and not be distracted by trying to 'translate' from one calculator to another. However, your son sounds bright and ambitious enough that this would not be a problem for him.

- The 89 and 49G are both powerful calculators, and adequate for any high school and college work. The 49G primarily uses a different kind of entry system called RPN, although it also has an 'algebraic' mode. Most people can learn RPN in a couple of hours, at most. RPN is much more keystroke-efficient than algebraic. There is a third-party RPN interface for the 89, anyway.

- There is a rivalry between the users of the TI and HP calculators, the intensity of which is hard to believe unless you are actually involved in it. Some users from each camp will claim that their choice is superior in some absolute sense. Ignore all this noise; they are both great calculators.

- There is more engineering software available for the 49G than for the 89. None of these programs are absolutely necessary, particularly for high school.

- The 49G is more expensive, at about $160 (?), at least. The 89 is about $130.

- Each calculator has some features which the other lacks. For example, the 49G has some matrix algebra functions, and what are called 'advanced' functions. Some of these can be done on the 89 with user-written programs. The 89 can solve multiple non-linear equations in multiple unknowns, again, there is a user-written program to do this on the 49G.

- The documentation (user manuals) for the 89 are more complete and more detailed than those for the 49G. However, the 49G has an active, helpful newsgroup at comp.sys.hp48. And the 89 has an active, helpful discussion group as well.

- The 49G has more memory than the 89, but both have so much memory that it isn't a limitation for most users.

- The 89 is faster for common operations that the 49G. Some recent benchmark results show that the 89 is significantly faster the 49G in symbolically solving some integrals and limits. Some 49G users claim that the 49G is faster at some floating-point ('numeric') calculations, and there is a little data to back this up. But: *both* calculators are 'fast enough' for most problems.

- In terms of functionality and capability, the two calculators are more the same than they are different. Both have a computer algebra system, both have all the basic scientific functions. The differences are, to be blunt, subtle points that enthusiasts argue about. And, of course, the enthusiasts will loudly deny that the differences are 'subtle'. To us, anyway.

These are the high points as far as I am concerned. Hopefully, others will post with what I have forgotten. Also, some users believe that *both* the 89 and 49G are overkill for high school, and I can agree with that. But, if you want one calculator for both high school and college, either the 49G or the 89 will handle it all.

Ideally, your son should really try out both calculators in a store to get an idea of which one he likes better. This can be misleading, because the 49G can take a bit longer to get familiar with.

As if this post isn't long enough already: both calculators will do the job. Your son will be satisfied with either one. Not much help, is it?

Yet another comparison from Doug Burkett:

[21:49, 6/25/01] Re: Why is the 49g so good? by Doug Burkett

I was just wondering, why do so many people proclaim the 49G to be much better than the TI-89?

I don't pretend to speak for any 49G users, but here's my opinions:

- Many more advanced math functions built-in (doesn't matter if you don't need'em).

- RPL (programming language) is much more symmetrical than TI-Basic. Also it is much easier to access simple system functions.

- 49G has far more customization options, both for the user interface and for the CAS.

- 49G has more RAM & flash.

- 49G CAS is more a collection of tools than canned applications. This is a double-edged sword: nice if you really know what you're doing, frustrating if you're still learning.

- 49G has a standard RS-232 serial port, not some odd, cheap proprietary protocol.

- Fixes and added features for the 49G are implemented much more quickly for the 49G, but these are contributed by unpaid end users, not HP-the-company.

- 49G has a piezo buzzer.

- 49G native interface is RPN, not algebraic. (But a delightful RPN interface is available for the 89/92+)

- 49G has built-in equation writer app (but equivalent app is available for the 89/92+).

- 49G has a built-in timer, as well as date/time/clock functions.

- 49G can be programmed in RPL (high-level LISP-like language (right, Steen?), SysRPL (intermediate) and Saturn assembler; development tools are free. But the 89/92+ can also be programmed in C (no real C for the 49G) and 68K assembler. 89/92+ beta development tools are free, final versions may not be. Rumors abound.

- The most important advantage the 49G has over the 89/92+ is that there is no contrived hardware protection for the 49G.

Some of these reasons are trivial, and some matter more than others.

Now, (flamethrowers ON!), here are some untrue claimed advantages of the 49G:

- More accurate floating-point results. Fundamentally not true: the 89/92+ carry 14 significant digits (but only normally display 12), and small calculations can be accomplished (in C or asm) completely in 16-digit registers. HOWEVER: some specific algorithms on the 49G return more accurate results in for some problems.

- Faster plotting speed. The 49G appears to plot faster than the 89/92+ simply because the screen resolution is worse, and there are fewer points to plot. I have yet to see a true benchmark for both calculators, for a simple function, in pixels/second.

- More powerful symbolic integration. This seems to be a wash, from what I've seen. There are some integrals neither calculator can do, and some that one can & the other can't.

In spite of all this, and considering I have a 49G, I still use my 92+, instead, because:

- 49G tactile key feedback is miserable; others say it "gets better" or disagree outright.

- 92+ has better screen resolution.

- Bashing simple programs together in TIBasic is much faster than I could ever program in RPL, and I did a fair amount of it for the 48-series.

- The auto-simplification on the 89/92+ usually gives me exactly the form I want. But when it doesn't, it *is* frustrating.

- 49G documentation is incomplete, non-existent or not in english. Some 49G users claim the documentation has improved; probably so, but why are the 48 manuals still so frequently recommended for beginners?

The 89/92+ and the 49G are aimed a two different markets. The 89/92+ are clearly and ruthlessly designed and developed for the US student market. The 49G is designed for ... well ... I'm not really sure, but it turned out pretty good, anyway.

And that's what makes the 89/92+ so frustrating to me. They've got 95% of what a serious user needs, but that last 5% is annoying. And we'll never get that last 5%, because the US school market doesn't need it.

This one is a wonderful analogy from a post by beezaur that points out how the tool must fit the job:

Think of it in terms of cars: a hot rod vs. a HummVee. One is fun to drive, fast, and great for and going where you normally go. The other is a difficult beast in the city and only comes into its own in really rough terrain, but there it shines.

I'm not saying the TI-89 is ineadequate - far from it. But the HP has many, many advanced features that are seldom understood.

The final word:

In the end, both brands have good calculators, each with dedicated followings. It depends on where your math skills stand and what you will use it for as to which you should get, since each has strengths in different areas. However, since the largest market for graphing calculators is students, the TI models do seem to be favored. For industry use, the HP48G was the early favorite as it came out several years before the TI-92. This will likely change as students using mainly TI models move out into industry.

Usability and power aside, it should be said that another argument for the TI-92 family for students is that Texas Instrument calculators seem to have become the standard in American schools. Teachers these days are trained in, ask for, and teach with the TI-83 family and TI-89 family. While the required supplies lists that specify these calculators often say "or equivalent", it can be confusing to have a different calculator than the one the teacher is using to demonstrate, especially a different brand of calculator entirely. (Not to say it can't be done. Students dedicated enough to read the owner's manual and also understand it can use any calculator they want. I speak about the average student, who is not inclined to bother with the manual.)

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Try before you buy:

Want to compare more before you decide which to get? HP made an HP49G emulator available, and you can get the manual on-line. As for TI, they've got the manuals on-line too, and the Flash ROM file is available on their site. Third party emulators such as Virtual TI are freely available. I'll let you put two and two together for this one since TI probably doesn't look too kindly on this sort of thing. At any rate, please don't hang onto an emulated TI for too long unless you buy a real version. Emulated calculators aren't very portable anyway.