For a third consecutive year, Cemetech is here to help you figure out what you need to know to be prepared for Back to School with a new graphing calculator. In 2012, we presented three separate articles: Part 1: which calculator to buy, Part 2: how to get games and programs on your calculator, and Part 3: learning to program your graphing calculator. 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. What calculator should you get, and what accessories will you need to help you get the most from your purchase? Don't worry, as Cemetech has you covered. I'll help you pick the best calculator for yourself, your child, or your students.

As you may know, Texas Instruments currently holds the lion's share of the United States graphing calculator market, and has the most widely-recognized lines of graphing calculators. Casio fills in as the second-place contender, with HP weighing in in third place. I'll take you through five majority categories of calculators that you might be interested in getting: the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, the TI-89, the Casio Prizm, and the TI-Nspire CX. All five of these calculators are accepted on standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT (with one exception). All five are powerful, (relatively) 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.

:: The erstwhile TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, often written TI-84+SE, is the direct successor to the TI-83, TI-83+, TI-83+SE, and TI-84+ graphing calculators. Among TI's black-and-white graphing calculators aimed at high school students, it is the top of the heap. It offers a 15MHz processor, 24KB of RAM, and 2MB of Flash ROM (1.5MB of which is available to you). The TI-83+ / TI-84+ series (or TI-83 Plus / TI-84 Plus series, if you prefer) is inarguably the most-used set of graphing calculators around. Most high school teachers recommend it, and even many college professors prefer it over alternatives. It has a large body of guidebooks, math textbooks, tutorials, and programming guides backing it, not to mention that teachers and many students are already very familiar with the calculator. When in doubt, especially if you or your child is a high school student (or even younger), the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition is the way to go. If its roughly $110 price tag is too dear for you, you can find the TI-83 Plus for as little as $80 or $90 with sales, and it omits very few of the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition's features. The main exception is the ability to run Texas Instruments' new MathPrint (MP) operating systems, which though useful for visualizing math have been roundly criticized for being rushed and buggy. The quintessential calculator for high school math and science, still applicable in many college courses. If you have a few dollars to spare, go for the color-screen version (below).

:: The brand-new TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition is TI's newest (surprise) entry to the TI-83+/TI-84+ line, offering a bright color screen and a rechargeable battery. First revealed to exist by Cemetech in November 2012, this new graphing calculator presents an interface very similar to the TI-84+SE, but with a higher-resolution color screen that can fit more math and more detailed (color) graphs. It introduces a few new statistics and graphing features (as detailed in chapter 12 of "Using the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus"), but its greatest strengths lie in how it reinforces already-proven TI-83+/84+ features. Cemetech and community leader's download statistics for August indicate that a significant fraction of 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 the same processor and RAM as the TI-84+SE, with 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.

:: For more advanced math, the TI-89 Titanium is a good choice. If you or your student is interested in math, science, or engineering, or is entering a math-heavy college major, this is probably the right calculator for him or her. While the TI-83 Plus / TI-84 Plus series can solve numerical expressions and do 2D graphing, the TI-89 can solve symbolic expressions and do 3D graphing. It can do symbolic differentiation and integration, both important features for many higher math and engineering courses where the ability to memorize differentials and integrals is no longer the focus. While its features are applicable to any level of math, its power and sophistication are likely to make high school teachers hesitant to accept it in classes and exams. Caveat: The ACT exam inexplicably does not allow the TI-89 series. The SAT allows it. The TI-89 Titanium runs between $120 and $140. Perfect for higher-level college math, science, and engineering courses.

:: 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 powerful processor, lots of RAM, and a widescreen 384 x 216-pixel LCD. It is good for high school and some college math. The Prizm has a feature similar to the TI-84 Plus's MathPrint to display equations closer to how a textbook might print them. It can solve equations, do trig and algebra, graph 2D and 3D equations, manipulate spreadsheets, and investigate geometric relationships. Casio is particularly proud of its Picture Plot function, which lets 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 is particularly excellent for students looking to learn programming, offering BASIC, open C programming, and a Lua interpreter. It runs about $120 to $130, and is a great choice for high school students, some college students, and especially programmers. Thanks to the efforts of a Cemetech member, there's even a symbolic CAS coming soon 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 programmers.

:: Last of all, the TI-Nspire CX is the latest in TI's Nspire product line. The TI-Nspire and TI-Nspire CAS had 4-bit grayscale screens, while the TI-Nspire CX and the TI-Nspire CX CAS have color screens, like the Casio Prizm. The CAS varieties have symbolic Computer Algebra Systems, like the TI-89, while the non-CAS versions are more like the TI-84+SE in terms of features and target audience. 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 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 Nspire tries to emulate computer interfaces in that, for example, ctrl-C copies text. 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 late entry to the graphing calculator race, a color screen calculator centered around the idea of "Documents". Good for some high school students.

The Final Verdict:
With more graphing calculator choices appearing and more options available to consumers, a better but more confusing selection now confronts students, parents, and even teachers. The bottom line is that if you already have a TI-83 Plus or TI-84 Plus (or Silver Edition), there are very few reasons to trade up to a more expensive calculator. It's still sufficiently feature-filled for all but the highest math classes, for which you might want a TI-89 Titanium (or an HP Prime, which at the time of writing we have not yet gotten our hands on).

If you are looking to get a new calculator, your or your child's 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 four models mentioned herein are accepted on the SAT and ACT tests, so none win or lose on that count. For high school students getting a new calculator, the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition is the best choice, while the Casio Prizm and the TI-Nspire CX are secondary options. The Casio Prizm is a modern color screen calculator with the simplicity of the TI-84 Plus, while the TI-Nspire goes off in a new direction with its interface. As it has locked-down programming features, we in the programming community often criticize it, but it is a powerful math tool. Both the Nspire and the Prizm have color 2D and 3D graphs, algebra, trig, and geometry features.

If you're looking to take college higher math, science, or engineering classes, the TI-89 Titanium or the TI-Nspire CX CAS are the calculator for you. The Casio Prizm may also be useful, as the community is working on building symbolic CAS features, but such features are currently incomplete. The HP Prime may also be a powerful contender, but we haven't yet tried out the device. Finally, if you're a programmer, or you want to encourage your student to be a programmer, the Casio Prizm or the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition are the best options. Both allow BASIC and assembly programming, while the Prizm also allows open 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.
I think you should also mention ndless for the Nspire (and give a warning for the recent lock-down hardware 'upgrade' TI released)
aeTIos wrote:
I think you should also mention ndless for the Nspire (and give a warning for the recent lock-down hardware 'upgrade' TI released)
Well, I have never really thought of ndless as a solution for the "mainstream" student calculator user, just as I don't think of gCn as something most students will understand. Both require technical expertise or at least the ability to follow technical instructions that I think Joe Student lacks these days. Therefore, I didn't think it was relevant in an overview for students looking to choose a math calculator that ndless exists and is now less useful on new calculators. Smile
No 50g, or for European/Asian users, 39gII?

(I mean, the classic high-end battle was TI-68k vs. HP Saturn/ARM RPL machines... and the 39gII is a worthy competitor to the TI-Z80 stuff...)
Register to Join the Conversation
Have your own thoughts to add to this or any other topic? Want to ask a question, offer a suggestion, share your own programs and projects, upload a file to the file archives, get help with calculator and computer programming, or simply chat with like-minded coders and tech and calculator enthusiasts via the site-wide AJAX SAX widget? Registration for a free Cemetech account only takes a minute.

» Go to Registration page
Page 1 of 1
» All times are UTC - 5 Hours
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum