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A calculator is a device for performing numerical calculations. It should not be confused with a calculating machine. Nowadays many people have a calculator with them as part of their mobile phone and/or personal digital assistant. Engineers and accountants make use of calculators for problems where a computation is not complex enough to demand the use of a general-purpose computer. Students use calculators for schoolwork. Also, some wrist watches contain a calculator (although this was more a fad of the 1980s).

Today calculators are electronic, and are made by numerous manufacturers, in countless shapes and sizes varying from cheap, give-away, credit-card sized models to more sturdy adding machine-like models with built-in printers. Only a very few companies develop and make modern professional engineering and finance calculators; the most well-known are Casio, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Texas Instruments (TI). Such calculators are good examples of embedded systems.

In the past, mechanical and clerical aids such as abaci, comptometers, Napier's bones, books of mathematical tables, slide rules, adding machines, were used for serious numeric work, and the word "calculator" denoted a person (most often female) who did such work for a living using such aids as well as pen and paper. This semi-manual process of calculation was tedious and error-prone.

Electronic calculators

Today most calculators are handheld microelectronic devices, but in the past some calculators were as large as today's computers. The first mechanical calculators were mechanical desktop devices, which were soon replaced by electromechanical desktop calculators, and then by electronic devices using first thermionic valves, then transistors, then hard-wired integrated circuit logic.

A pocket calculator is a small battery-powered or solar powered electronic digital computer made possible by integrated circuit and semiconductor technology. Typically they are limited to an 8-10 digit single-number display and a few basic functions of arithmetic, but some modern ones have more of the features of a general-purpose computer. Pocket calculators rendered the slide rule obsolete.

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