For the seventh year in a row, Cemetech is excited to bring you a Back to School guide, helping you figure out the best graphing calculator to get for school and how to use it. In both 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 through 2016, we held your hand through Which Graphing Calculator Should I Buy?. This year, we once again present 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 primary school, high school, or college students, whether you're buying for yourself, your child, or researching for your students.

The landscape of available graphing calculators in 2017 is largely the same as in the prior two years, so we based our selections on the same democratic vote we conducted in 2015, tempered with our two decades of graphing calculator experience. In that poll, we asked our members to vote on the best calculators in three categories: (1) High School Math and Science; (2) CAS (College); (3) Programming. As you'll see in the discussion below, the TI-84 Plus CE released in 2015 (and updated in gold, white, gray, mint, coral, and blue in the last year) was a very popular contender. The TI-Nspire CX CAS and HP Prime also earned high marks. All three of these calculators are accepted on standardized tests like the SAT, and of these three, only the TI-84 Plus CE is allowed on the ACT. We stopped recommending the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition in 2015, as both of which have been effectively made obsolete by the TI-84+CE (although each is a great calculator by itself). In addition, although the TI-Nspire CX is a fairly popular high school math and science calculator, we feel that the TI-84 Plus CE is a better, easier-to-use choice, and the general student, teacher, and programmer consensus appears to increasingly overwhelmingly agree.

:: Math and Science: The TI-84 Plus CE remains TI's latest entry to the 18-year-old TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus line, offering a bright color screen and a rechargeable battery. Introduced early in 2015, the interface is nearly identical to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition released two years earlier, but the processor is faster, the RAM is larger, and the case is slimmer and lighter. The interface is also 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-84 Plus"). Its greatest strengths lie in how it reinforces already-proven TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus features, but its underlying CPU and memory do improve significantly on the older calculators, giving programmers more flexibility to create powerful programs and games. Cemetech and community leader's download statistics (along with the number of emails we've received asking why Doors CE for the TI-84 Plus CE still does not exist yet) indicate that most students buying new calculators have welcomed the TI-84 Plus CE with open arms, and we recommend that you do too. The TI-84+CE has a 48MHz z80 processor, 154KB of user-accessible RAM, 3.0MB of user-accessible Flash memory, a 10-hour rechargeable battery, and a $129 price tag (plus, it comes in 8 fun colors). Later this year, we also expect a TI-84 Plus CE OS update that will make it even easier to use and to program. To recap, the TI-84+CE is the quintessential calculator for high school (and some college) math and science, updated with better specs, a high-resolution color screen, a slim, light case in fun colors, and a rechargeable battery.

Learn to use your TI-84 Plus CE with Using the 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.

:: College (CAS): The TI-Nspire CX CAS has a color screen equal in size to that of the TI-84 Plus CE, a 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 CX is $150 or $130, for the CAS or non-CAS models respectively. If you have an iPad, consider the TI-Nspire Apps for iPad, an App version of this calculator. 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. To summarize, the TI-Nspire CX CAS is a computer-like color-screen calculator with a symbolic CAS. Good for some high school students and for college students, especially STEM majors.

The HP Prime is also a very powerful CAS calculator, albeit with a few growing pains like a smaller support community. It 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 substantially improved in the interim, and 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. In short, the HP-Prime is a sleek, powerful, and improving touch-screen calculator with a symbolic CAS that makes it a great choice for college students, especially STEM majors, and for professionals.

:: Programming: For the third year in a row, we are recommending the TI-84 Plus CE for programming as well as for high school math and science. In the past, we have recommended the Casio Prizm as our top pick for programming: it offers a BASIC language and can be programmed in C. However, C, ez80 ASM, and TI-BASIC are all now possible on the TI-84 Plus CE, with its 48MHz ez80 processor and 154KB of RAM. While we can't create Apps on the TI-84 Plus CE, the available C SDK/toolchain in its many forms, including online in the SourceCoder 3 IDE, has grown rapidly. In 2015, the tools for TI-84 Plus CE were less complete than the tools for the Casio Prizm, but C programming for the TI-84 Plus CE continues to get even easier since we upgraded to the latest SDK a couple weeks back.

The Final Verdict:
Now that the three major graphing calculator companies 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. If you need a new calculator, here's what you should consider:
  • If you (or your child) are a middle or high school student, your teachers may recommend a TI-84 Plus CE or a TI-Nspire CX, in which case you should follow their advice. For high school students getting a new calculator, the TI-84 Plus CE is our favorite choice.
  • If you're looking to take college classes in higher math, science, or engineering, the TI-Nspire CX CAS or the HP Prime are the calculator for you.
  • If you're a programmer, or you want to encourage your student to be a programmer, the TI-84 Plus CE is the best option. It allows BASIC, ez80 ASM, and C programming. The HP Prime also has a very fast BASIC language, and the Casio Prizm (fx-CG20 and fx-CG50) was the original C-programmable calculator.
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.

Notes about the ACT:
Remember, all models mentioned herein are accepted on the SAT, and most on the ACT, so there are no winners or losers on that count. Don't forget to double-check the SAT calculator policu or the ACT calculator policy to ensure your calculator is permitted! In particular, note that the TI-Nspire CX CAS is not allowed while the non-CAS version is acceptable.

Finally, if you prefer this information in visual form with some calming narration, here's our Back to School Graphing Calculator Guide as a video, with everything you need to know to select your first (or next) graphing calculator:
Buy a calculator on sale!
Week of August 6th:
    Target has the best sale when it comes to the TI-84+CE. At 89.99. Which is an incredibly amazing deal as they are offering the TI-84+ (Black and White, Grayscale, Non-color) for $97. So you basically get a 3 year old calculator for $7 cheaper than the 18 year old version.
    They do not sell any of the other calculators on our list.

    Best Buy offers the TI-84+CE for $120 and they do price match. So if you prefer to shop at Best Buy, just price match with Target! They offer the following colors:
    • Black
    • Gold
    • Blue
    • Pink
    Since all 4 colors are under one product, follow this link to purchase and select your color. Just be careful, Best Buy may not match the price of the pink color to Target as they don't sell the Pink. Additionally, price matches are almost always an in-store offer. So go in to a store and show them or a Target ad.

    Staples also lists the TI-84+CE at $120. They carry four colors:
    • Black
    • Pink
    • Red
    • White
    They also carry a special ten pack that is gray and yellow and marketed towards teachers, this costs $1519.99, or roughly $151 per calculator. But it's out of stock. Click here to visit Staples and select your color! Keep in mind Staples may price match as well if you purchase inside a store!

    Walmart is the most expensive for the TI-84+CE at $130. But only in two colors:
    • Mint
    • Space Gray
    Follow this link to select a color and purchase on Walmart. Again, Walmart does price match but since none of these colors are sold at the two sites above you may not succeed in receiving a price match.

As far as sales on the other calculators go, there isn't much luck. Best Buy offers a sale on the TI-Nspire CAS CX but not the TI-Nspire CX, making the CAS option cheaper by $7 for the time being. Lastly, Amazon offers some really small discounts, around $140, at the moment.

Feel free to share any retail locations I may have missed if they are having sales. I'll do my best to keep tabs and report on new sales through the next few weeks!
In 2014 I purchased an HP Prime. I particularly liked its form factor as compared to the TI-Nspire CX CAS, which I also owned. Then one day as I am sitting in a calc II refresher class, I entered some calculations and the Prime produced incorrect answers. After trying various options, it still produced incorrect answers. I called HP and gave them the information. Hopefully, what bugs were in the algorithms were corrected. I sold my HP and went back to using my TI Npire.

The point here is that other factors should be taken into consideration when buying upper end calculators. One of the first considerations is support, especially in the area of how-to's. Sadly, HP does not offer much; both TI and Casio have large numbers of videos and pdf how-to's, and have much larger followings than HP. The HP Prime is a fine CAS calculator, but you are kind of on your own.

Perhaps the next consideration is to get CAS or Non CAS. I suggest getting the CAS. The latest TI and Casio CAS models have an exam mode where certain CAS features can be shut off during the exam, so they should be allowed on pretty much any exam you need to take.

So you have decided to get a CAS calculator - which of the three manufacturers has the right one for you? The first step is to put brand preference aside. What I did is spend a lot of time going through posts on sites such as this one; visit manufacture websites, and watch hours of YouTube videos comparing and contrasting CAS calculators.

My results were surprising, and I'll get to them in a moment. I have been a TI CAS user for the last 20 years. Earlier this year I purchased the TI-Nspire CX ii CAS and a TI-84 Plus CE. Why both? I wanted a non document-centric calculator, because I am not a big fan of the Nspire's document features. Secondly, I often use two calculators when solving involved problems. Two big cons popped up with my choices: 1) The TI-Nspire CX ii CAS eats through its battery charge about three times faster than its predecessor did. I am guessing that it is because TI put in a faster processor. And the handful of extra features decreased the available user memory by 10mb. 2) My biggest complaint with the TI-84 Plus CE is its cost! It's about double over what it should cost. Secondly, it has what looks like a new larger display, but it still displays graphs in the same smaller size that is used on the earlier TI-84 models.

Let's get back to the results of searching/reviewing on the Internet, especially YouTube. The absolute clear winner is the Casio fx-CG500 for the CAS machine, and the fx-CG50 blows the TI-84 Plus CE right out of the water, especially when it come to statistics, and with an added bonus that both calculators cost significantly less than the equivalent TI calculators. Choices like this tend to be subjective, so if you own a TI Nspire CX CAS or non CAS, go to Charlie Watson's website and view some of his how-to videos on the CG500. They are all pretty short, but you will see in the first dozen or so videos how much easier it is to do math on the Casio, and what's more, the Casio has several higher math functions that are not in the TI. The same is true for the CG50 as compared to the TI-84, and it uses all of the display and is much easier to read.

Closing notes: Both Casio calculators use 4 AAA batteries, while both TI calculators have rechargeable batteries.

Final thought - If you just need a graphing calculator to make it through algebra, geometry, and maybe a bit of trig, and you don't want to spend big bucks on a grapher, then consider getting a used one on eBay. The TI-83 Plus is a good choice and costs about $25. As for AAA batteries, I highly recommend Energizer Ultimate Lithium. I get about 30% more time than with Duracell Max.
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