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Site Admin

Joined: 14 Mar 2005
Posts: 59685

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 05:28:12 pm    Post subject: Back-to-School 2014: What Graphing Calculator Should I Buy?

Four years in a row, Cemetech has brought you Back to School guides, helping you figure out the best graphing calculator to get for school and how to use it. In 2011 and 2012, we published trios of guides, showing you which calculator to buy, how to get programs and games onto your calculator, and how to learn to program your calculator. In 2013, we held your hand through Which Graphing Calculator Should I Buy?. This year, we are starting out with a guide to selecting from the baffling array of graphing calculators now available to high school and college students. We'll help you figure out which calculator is right for elementary school, high school, or college students, whether for yourself, your child, or your students.

Texas Instruments currently leads the United States graphing calculator market, and has the most widely-recognized lines of graphing calculators. Casio and HP also offer strong options. I'll take you through five popular models of calculators that you might be interested in getting: the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, the Casio Prizm, the TI-Nspire CX, the TI-Nspire CX CAS, and the HP Prime. All five of these calculators are accepted on standardized tests like the SAT; the non-CAS calculators are allowed on the ACT. All five are powerful, modern graphing calculators, and with a few small caveats, all would be appropriate for the average student. However, even among these top contenders, the playing field is hardly level. A note: for the first time, we will not be recommending the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition and the TI-89. Although both are still superb calculators, they are being phased out, and the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition and TI-Nspire CX CAS would be the best TI substitutes, respectively.

<div style="float:right; padding-left: 8px;">
</div>:: The brand-new TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition is TI's newest entry to the 15-year-old TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus line, offering a bright color screen and a rechargeable battery. First revealed to exist by Cemetech in November 2012, this graphing calculator presents an interface very similar to the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, but with a higher-resolution color screen that can fit more math and more detailed graphs. The color screen makes it easier to graph and explore multiple functions, and it introduces a few new statistics features (as detailed in chapter 12 of "Using the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus"). Its greatest strengths lie in how it reinforces already-proven TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus features, since the underlying CPU and memory do not improve significantly on the older calculators. Cemetech and community leader ticalc.org's download statistics indicate that most students buying new calculators have welcomed the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition with open arms, and we recommend that you do too. The TI-84+CSE has a 15MHz z80 processor, 23KB of user-accessible RAM, 3.5MB of user-accessible Flash memory, a 10-hour rechargeable battery, and a $125 price tag. The quintessential calculator for high school (and some college) math and science, now updated with a high-resolution color screen and a rechargeable battery.
<div style="width: 100%;"><table style="margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; margin-top: 3px; margin-bottom: 3px; border: 0px; width: 60%; border: 1px solid #aaa; background-color: #bbb; padding: 3px;"><tr><td><img src="/img/book2/threedee_tiny.png" height="78" /></td><td style="text-align: center;">Learn to use your TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, TI-83 Plus, or TI-84 Plus with Using the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus, from math and graphing to statistics and programming. Learn to program your calculator with Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus.</td><td><img src="/img/book/threedee_tiny.png" height="78" /></td></tr></table></div>
<div style="float:left; padding-right: 8px;">
</div>:: The first semi-modern, color screen graphing calculator was the Casio Prizm, now about two and a half years old. The Prizm, also known as the Casio fxCG-10 (in North America) or fxCG-20 (in Europe), has a fairly capable processor, generous RAM, and a wide 384 x 216-pixel LCD. Its specifications would make it a powerful contender for high school and some college math, although a lack of improvements and professional development from Casio have kept it from being widely adopted in the US. The Prizm has a feature similar to the TI-84 Plus's MathPrint; it can solve equations, do trig and algebra, graph 2D and 3D equations, manipulate spreadsheets, and investigate geometric relationships. The Prizm and the TI-84+CSE both let you plot a series of points over a photograph and fit a line to the points, revealing the math of the real world. The Prizm excels more as a programming tool than a math tool, offering BASIC, unrestricted C programming, and a Lua interpreter. It costs about $120 to $130, and is a solid choice for high school students and college students willing to experiment to figure out poorly-documented features as well as for enthusiastic programmers. Thanks to the efforts of Cemetech member gbl08ma, there's even a symbolic CAS called Eigenmath that gives the Prizm features akin to the TI-89 and TI-Nspire CX CAS. A simple, modern color-screen graphing calculator for high school students and especially programmers.

<div style="float:right; padding-left: 8px;"></div>:: The TI-Nspire CX is the latest in TI's Nspire product line. The TI-Nspire CX has a color screen equal in size to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition's LCD, a new mouse-based interface, and support for Lua programs. The TI-Nspire's operating system is based around the idea of Documents, in which you type calculations, enter equations, and draw graphs. It has templates for linear, parabolic, circular, elliptical, and hyperbolic equations in which you can enter coefficients and graph the result. The OS has a "Scratchpad" for quick calculations, and like the TI-84 Plus series, variables are shared between the calculation and graph modes. It can perform all of the trig functions you need for math classes. You can name your own variables, and are thus not limited to the A-Z variables of the TI-84 Plus, and variables are "linked" with graphs so that when you change a variable, a graph that uses the variable will be updated as well. The TI-Nspire is between $160 and $180, depending on whether you get the CAS or non-CAS model. If you have an iPad, consider the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad, an App version of this calculator. A computer-like color screen calculator centered around the idea of "Documents". Good for high school math and science, some college students, and aspiring Lua programmers.

<div style="float:left; padding-right: 8px;"></div>:: The TI-Nspire CX CAS is physically identical to the non-CAS model, but allows students to perform symbolic computations, great for calculus, physics, and other advanced courses. With the CAS, you can integrate, differentiate, and simplify symbolic expressions. The TI-Nspire CX CAS has a Document-based interface, like its non-CAS sibling, and is generally available for about $10 to $20 more. Both the TI-Nspire CX and the TI-Nspire CX CAS are allowed on the SAT, while the non-CAS model is permitted on the ACT, but some teachers will not allow a CAS calculator to be used on school exams. A computer-like color screen calculator with a symbolic CAS. Good for some high school students and for college students.

<div style="float:right; padding-left: 8px;"></div>:: HP has finally thrown its hat into the color-screen graphing calculator ring with the HP Prime. First introduced last year and reviewed here on Cemetech, the Prime offers a multitouch screen, a very powerful arbitrary graphing features, and CAS features similar to those on the TI-Nspire CX CAS. When it was first released, the Prime's OS was buggy, but has been improved in the interim. Certain promised hardware and software has yet to appear, but with a beautiful design, powerful hardware, and an extremely fast BASIC programming language, the HP Prime promises to continue to improve into a great tool for college students and professional engineers. A sleek, powerful, improving touch-screen calculator with a symbolic CAS for college students and professionals.

The Final Verdict:
Now that the three major graphing calculator companeis all offer color-screen calculators, the quiet disappearance of the battery-conserving black-and-white graphing calculator seems inevitable to us here at Cemetech. We therefore are no longer recommending the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition and the TI-89 Titanium, as much as we respect those erstwhile models. Of course, if you already have a TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus (or Silver Edition) or a TI-89, you don't need to upgrade to a color calculator yet. If you need a new calculator, here's what you should consider:
  • If you (or your child) are an elementary or high school student, your teachers may recommend a TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition or a TI-Nspire CX, in which case you should follow their advice. Remember, all five models mentioned herein are accepted on the SAT, and most on the ACT, so none win or lose big on that count. For high school students getting a new calculator, the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition is our favorite choice, while the TI-Nspire CX is also a solid contender. The Casio Prizm is capable calculator with the simplicity of the TI-84 Plus, but lack of support unfortunately makes it a better choice for programmers than for students who simply want to use it for math and science. The TI-Nspire is backed by powerful hardware and extensive support from Texas Instruments, although some teachers and students remain critical of the interface, and some programmers would prefer C/C++ to Lua.
  • If you're looking to take college classes in higher math, science, or engineering, the HP Prime or the TI-Nspire CX CAS are the calculator for you. The Casio Prizm may also be useful, as a symbolic CAS is available, but it is primarily designed as a peer to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition and TI-Nspire CX.
  • If you're a programmer, or you want to encourage your student to be a programmer, the Casio Prizm, TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, or HP Prime are the best options. All three allow BASIC programming, while the TI-84+CSE also offers assembly, and the Prizm permits native C programs and Lua programs.
Good luck with the hectic rush that is Back to School, and I hope this guide helped make at least one decision easier. If you need help picking a calculator, getting games and educational programs for your calculator and onto the device, or you want to learn to program, just stop by Cemetech and chat with us. We're always happy to help.

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Joined: 23 Jun 2012
Posts: 350
Location: UK

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 11:36:20 am    Post subject:

As I've probably said in the past, tracking down graphing calculators in the UK can be quite hard. One of my friends is particularly interested in purchasing one and when we were looking at calculators from UK vendors, we noticed that the TI-84+ SE wasn't on the list, but the standard 84+ was. Do you think TI are phasing it out?
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Site Admin

Joined: 14 Mar 2005
Posts: 59685

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 11:39:31 am    Post subject:

There are perennial rumors about the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition getting discontinued, most recently in September of 2010. While I'm sure the market will gradually shift over to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, a trend that is already heavily underway based on Cemetech's and ticalc.org's download statistics for recent months, I don't know of any particular plans to discontinue the monochrome calculators, especially since they still have a strong following in many school districts.

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