A calculator is one of the most basic apps that you can use on your computer. In a lot of cases, all you need is something to quickly add up some numbers, and the basic calculator settings are perfectly appropriate. However, if you explore the options available to you in the Apple Calculator app on your Mac, you will find that this simple program is actually very advanced! Here are some tips and tricks for the calculator on your Mac to help you get the most out of this app. Make sure you keep reading to find the greatest calculator secret of them all at the end!

There are three modes available to choose from, easily accessible from the View menu:

  • When you have the calculator set to Basic mode, you can perform typical, everyday functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and percentage. It wouldn’t be a very good calculator if it couldn’t do these! This mode is probably sufficient for many people for a lot of the time, and if you didn’t change this setting, the calculator will probably serve your needs perfectly in many situations.
  • When you change to Scientific mode, the calculator extends additional function buttons out to the left. These include many easily recognizable functions, such as square root, trigonometric functions, and the calculator memory keys, among many others. Most of the keys that a typical scientific calculator has can be found in this mode, including the 2nd function button for additional functionality for each key.
  • When you change to Programmer mode, you access more advanced features, not likely to be used by the majority of people. This mode features a binary readout (with display settings for ASCII or Unicode), as well as the hexadecimal digit set (0–9, A-F). It also provides a simple converter to show what your value is in octal, decimal, or hexadecimal notation. A cool feature is that, depending on which of these three modes you are in, the unnecessary digits will be grayed out and unaccessible. If you are a programmer and know how to use this feature set, you likely have a more dedicated programming calculator, though it should be useful to you to know that the simple Apple Calculator app also has some of these functions available to you.

Under the View menu, you can also find a few additional options to customize to your liking. You can show/hide the comma that acts as the thousands separator (ie. 1000 vs 1,000). You can specify how many decimal places to show in calculated results, with the calculator rounding the final digit as necessary. You can also enable RPN mode (Reverse Polish Notation). In RPN mode, the operators come after the operands. As explained on the Wikipedia page for Reverse Polish Notation, to perform the addition of 3 and 4, you would enter into your calculator “3” and then “4+” as opposed to the more tradition “3 + 4”. I’m not going to go into further details about this mode, as the point is simply that RPN mode is available to you in this app.

Under the Convert menu, the Calculator app allows you to perform a wide variety of instant conversions. Say you want to know how many grams are in 7 pounds, you simply enter 7, then go to the Convert menu and choose “Weights and Masses,” and select “From Pounds (US)” and “To Grams” and press Convert. The display will instantly display 3,175.14659 as the number of grams in 7 lbs. Furthermore, if you find that you do the same conversions over and over again, there is also a “Recent Conversions” option at the top of the Convert menu, from which you can choose from one of your recent calculations. Very handy!

The Calculator also has a speech function which will speak out your button presses and results. Under the Speech menu, you can enable/disable in whichever combination you prefer to “Speak Button Pressed” and “Speak Result”. This is a great feature to have enabled when you want a verification of your button presses while working with a lot of data, such as hitting the minus when you meant to hit the plus, or confirming the right digits are used, and then also to have the result read out to you. It might drive those around you crazy though! One small bug that I just realized while preparing this post: as I have the thousands separator turned on, the speech doesn’t actually read past the comma. If I have the number 19,123, the speech reads out “nineteen” as opposed to “nineteen thousand one hundred twenty three.” Not sure if it’s a bug in Calculator, Yosemite, or just my machine. In any case, it’s maybe something to be wary of if you use this options!

Speaking of Yosemite (or possibly Mavericks… can’t quite remember), you can also choose to have the “basic mode” calculator live in your Notification Center on the right side of your screen. This is an amazingly handy way to have quick access to perform some spontaneous, simple calculations. It’s always nearby and ready to go for you! Just slide open the Notification Center panel, make sure you’re on the Today tab, then click the Edit button at the bottom of the screen and then add the calculator. Another Yosemite trick, though not strictly the calculator app but bears mentioning – if you hit Command-space bar to open the Spotlight search, you can enter in you calculation right there to have Spotlight produce your result for you. For simple calculations, this is arguably the fastest way to do it!

Finally, here is the greatest Calculator secret tip of them all, as promised! If you open the Window menu, you will find the option to “Show Paper Tape.” By turning this on, you will open a small text window next to the main calculator app, and it keeps track of all the numbers, calculations, and results that the app shows on its display. As I’m sure you could understand, this is immeasurably useful when you have a long series of calculations to perform, and it makes it super easy to go back and check your work for errors. Some scientific and advanced calculators have a history function, but since they are limited to a single (usually) display line, they are not the most intuitive to decipher. This paper tape clearly lists your calculations and makes it easy to find where you went wrong, or prove that you are right! There’s also a simple Clear button at the bottom for when you want to start a new set of calculations. This trick is probably one of the most useful advanced features that the Apple Calculator can do, and once you start using it, you will quickly wonder why you ever used anything else.

So there you have it – my extensive collection of all kinds of tips and tricks for the calculator on your Mac, to help you get the most out of this simple, yet incredibly powerful little app! Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything, or you have anything else you’d like me to add!

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