This the fourth installment of the calculator roundup. It was intended to be written and published in one single week, but that was a lot less viable than I had imagined. I hope I can publish the last part tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, let’s see what gCalc! has to offer.
Not much, if you’re in a hurry. Personally, I was as disappointed at this calculator as I was at BKGcalc, perhaps even more. While gCalc! can plot a chart and the other calculators I have reviewed can’t, that is not a useful feature to me and the other features were not really exciting. Let’s see all the details then you can agree with me or not.
The name of the application is gCalc! Like Yahoo! or Wham! The first nag I had with this app was the installation. As you can see here, what you donwload and install is rather a “suite” called gWhiz and comprised of two quite unrelated apps in my opinion: gCalc! and gFlash+. Incidentally, you might also find it amusing that all the text in that page is actually composed of images, not text. Not one single word is text! Go figure… But I digress. The problem is you get the two applications even if you just want one. And no, you can’t uninstall one and leave the other. You’re stuck with either both or none. I think that is a little rude, but I admit I am a bit finicky. This review is about calculators, so I won’t mention gFlash+ in this article anymore. We might review it on another occasion. For now, I’ll just say it’s pretty interesting and definitely worth a look.
The second nag is launching the calculator. Calculators should be available and operative fast. Like drawing a gun in a duel: just whip it and there you go. But gWhiz LLC, in their infinite wisdom, decided it would be a good idea to hot-iron their brand on our brains with a flashy startup screen.
Surely I’m going to take at least 0.5 point from my final rating because of that. That screen is shown for 2 seconds only, but I still find it unacceptable.
When the startup screen goes away, we get this:
There is the gCalc! calculator’s most prominent feature in all its glory. The feature that no other calculator for the Blackberry platform has. A big plotting chart. A blessing and a curse. This is probably when you decide whether you like this calculator or not: when you discover that the big chart will be always there no matter what. There is no option to hide it or turn it off.
There was a time when I took engineering in college and had to study a lot of calculus and integrals and limits and the HP 48G, brand new, was all the rage among students because we had to plot charts all the time. And I am sure a few professionals out there will find the chart very useful at times. But I think that is a pretty narrow audience, and even that audience would probably love to get rid of the chart most of the time if they could. It is too small and too big at the same time. Being too small is not its fault, a mobile phone screen is small, even if the Blackberry Curve’s screen is one of the best out there. But couldn’t that chart take the whole screen, look bigger, then be dismissed in favor of other uses of precious screen space? Instead, it just sits there forever and takes a huge portion of the screen. It’s big enough to make everything else look pitifully crammed under a huge block of concrete. My point is: this UI has remarkably poor design. This calculator simply loses a great chance to score high in the data display section of my rating. Even if it has a chart, the chart is not quite welcome the way it is.
The interface and documentation both indicate that you can send these plotted charts by e-mail, but that feature is not available to the Blackberry OS that I use.
Also note that gCalc! has no financial functions, so don’t you get excited about plotting financial trends and forecasts in that chart. It’s for purely mathematical functions only.
Speaking of functions, gCalc! is pretty shy in that department. OK, it has quite a handful of functions, but all the other apps of this calculator roundup have a lot more, including common financial calculations and measurement conversions. Just like BizMathica and BKGcalc, gCalc! has a pretty good reference page where you can check all the supported functions.
Typing those functions is not hard at all. You can pick them in a menu or just type them away if you’re good at memorizing that kind of stuff. Symbols are typed immediately as long as they are available in the keyboard, you won’t have to be pressing the Alt key all the time, something that only BKGcalc forces you to do. If any given symbol is not available in the keyboard, however, forget it. The Blackberry’s own Symbol key in gCalc! will give you nothing but “equals” and “power”.
I was also underwhelmed, to say the least, by the number of constants and/or variables available: only two constants and no variables. You can’t edit (replace, so to speak) the existing constants or add new ones. You’re stuck with pi and Euler.
The application also offers four shortcuts. Better than nothing, but also pretty scant.
What I really can’t get over about gCalc! is the chart and the whole interface, actually. Having a “ticker tape” history of my previous expressions is an important feature to me, and that is lacking in gCalc! The chart is like a big unwanted obstacle stealing precious space most of the time. You can scroll up those shy crammed four lines of history and copy a previous expression very easily to the expression field, but that is not very useful. Ability to copy several lines of history to be pasted into another application (note or e-mail) would be a lot more useful. And what is the deal with that blue background? Doesn’t that pattern reek of those big “3D” buttons that plagued Web pages all over circa 1996? And the cursor is also blue, so good luck trying to go back and edit your expression before hitting Enter. The cursor is almost invisible against that blue backdrop. I hate the interface. I really do.
On a positive note, I like that gCalc! applies the correct operation precedence to the expressions. I mean, both 22*16+4*2 and (22*16)+(4*2) equal 360. You may want to enclose certain operations in parentheses, but it’s not necessary most of the time.
The last item in my list of complaints about gCalc! is the absence of integrated documentation. There is a “Calculator Help” entry in its menu, but that will simply launch your default browser and send you to that reference page I mentioned earlier. I find that lazy and bad taste. That’s what desktop application developers do when they want to save the trouble of including and updating the documentation in every release of the software: just send you to a Web page. That is a lot worse in a mobile device. Fetching an online page is slow and not everyone has data available all the time or unlimited plans etc. Some people don’t even have a data plan. They upload applications via USB and just use the phone and whatever application that is good enough and doesn’t require a data plan, like pretty much any calculator application on the face of the Earth. Then again, most of the other calculators have very little built-in documentation or no documentation at all. Bunch of lazy calculator developers, all of you! Well, I kid. But these apps really should have more built-in documentation. I should have mentioned that when I reviewed the other calculators.
This calculator loses quite a few points in UI design, data display, auxiliary functions and all points in measurement conversion, so the end score is not good. At least, gCalc! is free. You can always get another calculator for the more frequent and/or heavy-duty stuff and keep gCalc! around in case you need to plot charts.
Pros: unmatched plotting chart, no other calculator has it; easy straightforward access to all functions; 100% free application.
Cons: the big giant chart can’t be turned off; poor UI design; rather small collection of functions; no measurement conversion at all.
Still applying that one single comparison method for this roundup of calculators:
0 = absent
1 = present, but couldn’t be worse
5 = pass
9 = very close to perfect
10 = stellar
|Look and feel:||6||(typing flows very well, but the display is ugly and a little clunky)|
|Ease of use:||10||(this calculator is indeed very easy to use)|
|Math functions:||6||(remarkably fewer than all the other calculators reviewed so far)|
|Data display:||6||(it’s good to have a chart, but the overall result is not good)|
|Measurement conversion:||0||(this feature is absent)|
|Average:||(6+10+6+6+0=28) / 5 = 5.6|