Generic Transparent Credit Card Style Solar Powered Calculator

(Or "See-Through Solar Calculator For You..." as it says on the packaging)

Generic Transparent Calculator General View - Front Right

Generic See-Through Solar Calculator Specifications:

Date introduced: Not Known.

Date discontinued: Not Known - Possibly Still Produced?

Main IC: Not Known.

Display: Reflective Twisted Nematic LCD.  8 Seven-Segment Digits plus Memory, Negative and Error Indicators.

Functions: Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentage, square root.

Memory: 8 Digits.

Digits: 8, Floating Decimal Point.

Keys: 23, pressure sensitive touch panel.

Other controls: None.

Power: Solar only.

Original purchase price: Not known.

Note that larger versions of all photographs on this page can be accessed by clicking on them.


Generic Transparent Calculator Case Marking Detail


Most of the calculators you'll see on here are older and/or ones which are interesting from a technological standpoint in some form.  This one isn't really but I think is still worthy of a place here as we are now very much in the age of the smart phone and as such this sort of device is likely to become extinct at some point.

We're not talking about a high quality desktop calculator here, we're talking about the sort of thing which would be handed out as free gifts at trade shows and the like.  Usually customised by the distributor to have a company logo prominently printed on the front.  This is something which would have been quite a common free gift back around the year 2000...probably filling a similar niche to USB Thumb Drives which seem to be the default freebie these days.




It's a bit of a challenge to place an accurate production date on this given that other than the "solar cell calculator" text below the solar panel and the keypad legends this thing is completely devoid of any markings whatsoever.  You know it's really come from the bottom of the bargain bin when there's not even so much as a "Made in China" label anywhere!  I did have a quick dig around on Google when I was writing this page and most current pages I could find were showing a more modern looking version than this one...which seems to mostly surface in the stocks of surplus warehouses (where my example came from).  So I *think* this style has been discontinued.  I'd be surprised if under the skin the current ones aren't all but identical though.

The little card envelope it comes in doesn't offer any help in this department either.


The card envelope the generic transparent calculator is supplied in


As you can see...No model number, no maker's name nor even a country of origin.  The inside of this card envelope has some very basic operating instructions in a variety of languages...but still nothing to suggest who made it, where or when.


Usage instructions for the generic transparent calculator on the inside of the packaging


My *guess* is that this probably dates from around the year 2000...its launch at least.  It's entirely possible that there's a factory in China somewhere still churning these out today.  2000 though saw a bit of a craze for making anything we possibly could be flat and likewise transparent things were very much in fashion.  That is complete and utter guesswork though based on what I remember seeing on shelves and in corporate catalogues from that period.

The somewhat awkward looking layout on the front face I reckon is because this was largely intended to be a corporate gift, and as such the space immediately below the display was really intended to have a logo of some sort printed there.


General view of the generic transparent calculator, showing large space for corporate branding below display


By far the most interesting feature about this example (and the whole reason it caught my eye on eBay) is that the keypad is transparent.  Other than that there's really nothing to set it aside from the other few billion unbranded credit card sized calculators out there.


Showing both the size of the generic transparent calculator and showcasing the clear keypad


The way this is actually achieved is using two layers of flexible film with conductors printed on them in a transparent material (similar to that used for the conductive traces in LCD displays) spaced apart by little plastic balls.  When you press a "button" it presses these layers together to complete a circuit, thus the calculator registers a key press.  You can see the circuit structure if you hold it in the right light.  The dots are the little posts holding the two layers apart.


Close up with contrast enhanced to show keypad circuitry detail on the generic transparent calculator



Close up with contrast enhanced to show keypad circuitry detail on the generic transparent calculator


It is quite impressively thin too - the lack of physical buttons means that it's even thinner than the majority of "credit card" style calculators.


Showing the thickness of the generic transparent calculator


There's nothing of note on the rear of the case, just a flat bit of plastic.  Being purely solar powered there are no battery access doors or anything to worry about.


Rear of the case of the generic transparent calculator


The keypad layout does seem to suggest that the square root and percentage functions may have been tacked on as something of an afterthought, though equally they may have given though to this layout to tailor the branding space to best suit the needs of their customers.


General closeup of the front of the generic transparent calculator


The quality of the printing of the keypad legends isn't particularly great, and it feels like they are printed on the outside of the plastic so might not prove particularly hard wearing.


Closeup of the keypad on the generic transparent calculator


To be fair IS a cheap product so you get what you pay for.  The little slip wallet it is supplied with kind of gives the impression of how much you've paid!


Detail showing the generic transparent calculator in supplied clear slip case



Detail showing the slip case provided with the generic transparent calculator


For all it's tiny, the display is clear enough and has very good contrast.

Pretty standard arrangement, with all digits fully used and dedicated indicators at the right for negative, memory active and error conditions.  Sorry the display photos aren't great...It's absolutely tiny so was pushing the limits of the macro mode on my camera to the limits to get sharp photos of it.


Detail of the generic transparent calculator display showing normal operation with negative and memory indicators showing


Overflows are shown in a conventional manner - this was a result of 999999999+1.


Detail showing display of generic transparent calculator in an overflow condition


Underflow is shown similarly as you would expect.


Display detail of the generic transparent calculator showing an underflow condition


Arithmetic errors such as dividing by zero or trying to take a square root of a negative number are handled properly it seems and just result in a zero being shown with the error indicator lit.


Display of the generic transparent calculator showing an arithmetic error


In all it seems to actually work fine.  The single biggest drawback with it though is just that it is so TINY.  The keypad is incredibly cramped, as demonstrated here with a very average sized finger for scale.


Showing how tiny the buttons on the generic transparent calculator are


This combined with the lack of any tactile or audible feedback for button presses makes it feel very awkward and error prone to use.  As such it's not something you would ever really want to use in the real world.  The solar panel isn't the best either so it really doesn't like being used in shadows. 

That's really not what it's about's designed to be an eye-catching bit of promotional material to spread out over a stand at a trade show or exhibition - and in that area it scores very well I reckon.

Given that pocket calculators have largely been left behind nowadays as the number of people who have smart phones has soared, this is the sort of trade show freebie which is likely to fade into the past entirely within the next few years.


General closeup of the generic transparent calculator



Weight of the generic transparent calculator (including wallet)


Given that quite a lot of the examples on this page are machines which were very expensive in their day I think it's very much worth having one from the other end of the timeline where they've become so cheap to mass produce as to be viable freebies to give away, that makes it interesting enough in its own right to earn an entry here.


Plus c'mon...Transparent technology is still just as cool now as it was in the 80s if you ask me!


Page created: 25th January 2021.

Page last updated: 30th April 2023.

Back to the Vintage Technology Index

Back to the Homepage