Get your sums on with these superb calculators for Apple devices
Today, Apple kit represents the pinnacle of mobile computing, but once it was the humble calculator that wowed the world. During the 1970s, rapid advances in affordable technology suddenly made programmable calculators far more accessible. In terms of sheer power and scope, these were soon eclipsed by home computers; even so, most desks for a number of years still had a calculator lurking in a corner.
The advent of the mobile phone gradually eroded the standalone calculator’s reason to exist. These days, they’re effectively relegated to apps – a mere spot on your Home screen. But that doesn’t mean all calculators are created equal.
In this round-up, we take a look at Apple’s own Calculator, and then our three favorite alternatives for iPhone and iPad, designed to make calculations quicker, easier, and even fun.
Calculator – the default option (on iPhone)
Free • v1.2.1 • 716.8 KB • By Apple
Apple’s own Calculator app comes built into your iPhone, and it’s – for the most part – a perfectly decent option if you want to tap out some basic sums. The big, round buttons are very usable, and operators are brightly colored to make them easy to spot. Tap-hold a result at the top of the screen and it can be copied elsewhere.
Turn your iPhone on its side and you gain access to buttons that let you make more advanced calculations. However, this feels more like lip service than a full-on scientific calculator. Some button choices are curious, there’s only a single memory slot, and these extra buttons aren’t available in portrait, which is how a lot of people like to use their phones.
You’ll also notice we’ve so far referred to iPhone throughout. That’s because, bafflingly, Apple has yet to port Calculator to iPad. For some reason, iPad users are by default stuck with using Siri to perform basic calculations, or must head to the App Store. (Hint: PCalc Lite is your friend, if you want a superb freebie calculator.)
Apple also rather entertainingly broke Calculator quite badly in iOS 11.1. The animations were so sluggish that it couldn’t keep up. That’s since been fixed, but it highlights that Apple seemingly doesn’t care too much about this app.
Still, if your demands are slight, you only do calculations on an iPhone, and you also want something you can quickly get at from Control Center, Calculator does the job.
PCalc – best scientific calculator
$10/£10 • v3.7.7 • 92.3 MB • By TLA Systems Ltd.
PCalc is a name that’s synonymous with high-quality calculator apps. On iOS, it’s far from the cheapest example, but if you want a traditional and feature-packed scientific calculator, you won’t find anything better on the platform.
To be fair, though, PCalc isn’t just aimed at professionals, students, and scientists. Even if your needs are quite basic, it remains usable. The keys are responsive, there’s a powerful built-in conversion tool for the likes of currency and measurements, and if you have an Apple Watch, PCalc’s watchOS app is the best around.
But this is also an app that reveals new things the more you dig into it. There’s a multi-line display option, a paper tape, engineering and scientific notation, and an RPN mode. It makes good use of the taller iPhone X, adding more scientific buttons to the keyboard.
If you’re not keen on what’s provided, you can edit the calculator’s entire layout. That doesn’t just mean the buttons you see, but also their positions and sizes, and even the entire visual theme. It’s almost absurdly flexible, and a rare example of an app you can make feel your own.
For many users, it’ll perhaps be overkill. But that also means if you later have a need for a feature, chances are it’ll be there. And as an added bonus, there’s a bonkers (and entertainingly out of character) hidden AR game where you can hurl infinite bananas into the room, if you know where to look.
Soulver – best notepad calculator
$3/£3 • v2.7.0 • 9.5 MB • By Acqualia
The thinking behind Soulver largely stems from calculators having moved on relatively little from the 1970s. Despite its clear quality, even the likes of PCalc has a foot firmly rooted in the past, when it comes to interface design. Soulver dares to think very differently.
Instead of offering a typical calculator interface, it’s more akin to a notepad. You can type out sums, but also add inline context. For example, if you were adding up some expenses, you might write the line: Hotel: 3 nights at $149. Soulver would then intelligently extract the numbers and give you a total.
The app’s smarts don’t stop there. Line endings can be inserted in subsequent lines. Imagine expanding out the previous example to an ongoing expenses list, with lines for hotels, taxis, and food. This could all be totted up as part of a dynamic document. The sub-total could then have further calculations done on it, such as a currency conversion. At all times, everything remains live and editable.
Soulver rarely falters. If you want a scientific calculator, it’s perhaps not the best option, given that you need to flip back and forth between alternate keyboards. For any other calculations – and especially ones that remind you what you’re calculating – it’s a boon. And that’s even the case when sending content to other people, given that documents can be saved for later editing, and also exported in a range of formats.
Calzy – best calculator app for the rest of us
$3/£3 • v3.0.7 • 63.9 MB • By WapleStuff
To a great extent, PCalc and Soulver check all the boxes when it comes to iOS calculators. One is a near-perfect example of a traditional calculator, and the other tries something innovative, by fusing a notepad and a basic spreadsheet together. But we still argue there’s room for Calzy 3.
Calzy 3 comes across like a friendly PCalc, and feels like a good bet for people who don’t need that app’s sheer level of bells and whistles. It’s also a rare example of a calculator that’s fun to use, with odd little sound effects (which can be disabled if you hate them) that play as you tap its keys.
But where Calzy 3 really excels is in thinking about what most people want from a calculator, and then imagining how to achieve that on touchscreen devices. Figures can be dragged to a memory area for later use. A live ticker of your sum sits beneath the main display; any element within can be tap-held to edit the ongoing sum.
Buttons at the foot of the screen open up the app further, with varying degrees of success. A scrollable scientific buttons area is really only suited to very occasional use. But an option to quickly set rounding is very smart.
The history tab is a success, too, enabling you to add titles to answers, bookmark them for later perusal, and even lock everything down so calculations require Touch ID/Face ID to access.
Free • v3.7.7 • 95 MB • By TLA Systems Ltd.
Essentially a stripped-back PCalc for people who don’t want to spend money, PCalc’s also the best bet for anyone who fancies a freebie calculator for an iPad, or a better one for the Apple Watch. If you need new features, you can pick and mix via IAP too.
$2/£2 • v1.6 • 13.3 MB • By Tydlig Software AB
Like Soulver, Tydlig reasons calculators should no longer be restricted by the conventions of the 1970s. Its canvas is rather more freeform in nature, which adds flexibility – albeit at the expense of immediacy. The graphing and linking functions are great; the single-page only limitation is not. (C’mon, guys – just add documents!)
Free + IAP • v1.4 • 114 MB • By Apalon Apps
The idea behind this app is that it does your calculations for you. Snap a picture of a math problem and the answer is displayed right on the screen. During testing, it was accurate with algebra and calculus. Note, though, that you need monthly IAP to keep the app alive.
$3/£3 • v2.0.5 • 15.3 MB • By MyScript
For people wedded to paper, and used to scribbling out calculations, MyScript Calculator is an excellent choice. It intelligently interprets your numerals and symbols, and feels very natural to work with. The interface is particularly effective on an iPad when you’re armed with an Apple Pencil.
$3/£3 • v4.8.3 • 84.3 MB • Incpt.Mobis
Graphic calculators are something of a niche in the real world, and so it’s perhaps not surprising few mainstream apps offer such functionality. But Calculator ∞ is an affordable alternative to physical graphing calculators – ideal for students, programmers, and engineers.