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The HP49G’s
Crummy Rubber Keys

by Joe Horn

Take a good look at this SPACE key on my HP49G.  The “SPC” printed on it looks the same as it did when the calculator was brand new: bold, solid white, with only a few microscopic chunks missing.

The ALPHA key also looks good. But the same cannot be said of many other keys. Just look how worn the following keys have become.

If you look carefully at the bottom of my ENTER key, slightly to right of center, you can see that the key is smooth there, whereas the rest of the key has a texture. The texture is NOT part of the rubber key; it’s a “special coating” applied AFTER the keys are printed. HP claimed that this special coating is so tough that it would withstand at least a million keypresses. What nonsense! It wears down in less than a year of regular use, and as it goes, so does the printing below it. Notice the second E in ENTER; it’s almost gone, even though some of the “special coating” is still there!

We told them this would happen... but NO, they preferred to believe some fast-talking keyboard salesman and outsource the whole job, rather than listen to our many years of experience ... or even listen to blindingly obvious common sense.

’Tis strange how my backspace key is wearing out; instead of coming off in chunks, the top layer of paint has worn off evenly, revealing thread-like artifacts of the printing process. Instead of a bold white arrow, it’s now a faint gray arrow. Next stop: the twilight zone.

Like the ENTER key, my F1 key is wearing smooth, and it’s easy to see how the paint is wearing off where the “special coating” is gone. At least the alpha “A” is readable.

Not so the alpha “F” on my F6 key! It is so worn that it has become totally unrecognizable. Compare the green alpha blob on the two above keys; the whole upper right corner of this one has worn off!

The shift keys are color coded, thank goodness, since this left-shift arrow is starting to wear thin.

The right-shift key, however, is faring even worse. Its arrow is starting to look positively ghostly.

Finally, the often-pressed ON key is also rapidly fading into the west.

All the keys above are on a single off-the-shelf HP49G, used only by me.

Unfortunately, this kind of self-destruction of the HP49G crummy rubber keyboard is not covered by the warranty, because it is common to every HP49G by design. Can you say, “planned obsolescence”? Is it any surprise that this keyboard was not designed by HP but was designed by the same company than designs most cellular telephone keypads? What’s the average age of an HP calculator, vs. the average age of a cell phone? Did HP screw up MASSIVELY with this design decision? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear make HP49G’s in the woods?

Disclaimer: I do not work for HP or anybody else.

“Truth is just truth; you can’t have opinions about truth.” -- Peter Schikele

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