I recently completed Casio's ClassPad training program, and throughout the program, got a good feel for the ClassPad 330 graphing calculator via the company's emulator. Now that I have a physical ClassPad in my hand, I'd like to share a few thoughts about this calculator, CAS calculators in general, and how it fares compared to the TI-Nspire and the TI-89.
If (like me) you are or were not that familiar with Casio's offerings, having been brainwashed by decades of Texas Instruments' PR, the ClassPad is a touchscreen CAS graphing calculator. This means it can perform symbolic math, taking equations and simplifying them without needing numeric values for variables. It has a stylus for its vertically-oriented (portrait) monochrome LCD, although you can also use your finger. It can do symbolic integration and differentiation, just like the TI-89 and the TI-Nspire CX CAS, and as befits a graphing calculator, can breeze through 2D and 3D graphing. Casio Education is particularly proud of their eActivity feature, which lets you combine notes, math, geometry, graphs, and other pieces together in a single document. I suspect, in fact, that their eActivity format might easily have been the inspiration for Texas Instruments' document-centric design for the TI-Nspire. As far as the ClassPad's features, the single feature that blew me away the most was the 3D graphing application. It clearly has a huge amount of work put into it, and can graph cartesian, spherical, cylindrical, and even parametric 3D equations with ease. As I mentioned, the ClassPad has a touchscreen and a stylus, so you can full-screen a 3D graph and drag it with your finger or the stylus to rotate it. I'm a bit surprised that it needs to spend a few seconds calculating the points of the graph before displaying it, but I'll chalk that up to the complexity of their CAS.
From a teacher point of view, I like that I could put together eActivities to match up to lessons I was teaching; from a student point of view, I believe the ClassPad at least equals the TI-89 in symbolic CAS capabilities. For an "underdog" device, I find it to be surprisingly polished. If I had to come up with some criticisms, I might say that the abbreviated physical keypad with lack of QWERTY keys is unfortunate, especially since the touchscreen already disqualifies it from standardized testing and a QWERTY keyboard therefore wouldn't be a big deal. Of course, if there was a keyboard, it would have to be tiny, or the excellently massive screen would have to be cut down a bit. As a programmer, I find the built-in BASIC language very easy to learn, and it certainly doesn't start out as a crippled device. It takes two too many clicks to run a program from the editor, but that's a minor complaint. Since the calculator I received had been pre-loaded with two extra Add-Ins, one of which is a game, I can only assume that given enough programmers looking to work with the ClassPad, a C/C++ toolchain could easily be written, if it hasn't already. The bottom line is that I am quite impressed with the ClassPad as a general-purpose calculator and teaching tool, despite a few scattered flaws, and am frankly surprised that it hasn't gained more inroads into classrooms. I suppose a combination of TI marketing and market presence and a lot of focus on using calculators for standardized testing explains much of that.
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