Which Calculator is Best for You?
It’s time to update my calculator recommendations for the 2013 school year. Each year I try to update this post to reflect the changes that have happened with new models and new operating systems. There are fewer new models this year, but there are a couple of new models that aren’t yet available I’ll explain at the end of this article. As always, I suggest you first decide whether you need a CAS or non-CAS graphing calculator. Before I give you my 2013 recommendations, let’s review the differences between these two.
CAS Calculator vs. Non-CAS Calculator
A CAS is a computer algebra system. CAS calculators can solve equations, manipulate variables, factor, and more. Basically, these calculators are capable of solving problems with x and y, like x + x = 2x. Once you get into sophisticated calculations involving variables, this is a lot of power. They are welcomed in some circles, such as AP calculus, the SAT, and many high school and college classrooms. However, they are banned by the ACT and some teachers who feel they can do a little too much. Consider your college testing plans and your school’s math department policies before deciding on a CAS vs. non-CAS calculator. Since most students still select non-CAS calculators, you’ll only see one CAS calculator on this list.
Without further delay, here are my picks for the best calculators for the 2013 school year.
Best Graphing Calculator for Students
The calculator of this decade is the TI-Nspire CX, and it’s easy to see why. Texas Instruments brought graphing calculators into the 21st century with this one. It has computer like features including drop down menus, point and click interface, and file/folder features. Graphing features were tremendously simplified over most other graphing calculators, and the resolution is high, making it easy to see the math operations that look exactly like they do in your textbook. As a teacher, I feel like the TI-Nspire OS 3.2 has really taken this calculator to another level, giving it the ability to graph equations written in “x=” form from simple lines to advanced conic sections. And, oh yeah, did I mention it’s in color? Texas Instruments has continued to evolved the platform. Earlier this year, they even released a TI-Nspire app for the iPad. I recommend buying your TI-Nspire CX on eBay to get the best price and free shipping.
Others Graphing Calculators to Consider
Texas Instruments recently updated their most popular graphing calculator of all time, the TI-84 Plus. They gave it a new high resolution, full color screen with a backlit display and a rechargeable battery. The new TI-84 Plus C is can now graph on images as well. While I don’t put it on par with the TI-Nspire CX, it is a big step up from older, black and white versions of the TI-84 Plus, and it doesn’t cost much more. If you are going to buy a TI-84, I’d strongly recommend going ahead and paying the extra $10 or so to get the color edition. You can get the best price on an 84 C here at eBay.
The Casio Prizm continues to be the most underrated graphing calculator on the market today. I consider it the easiest graphing calculator to use. This non-CAS calculator offers a lot of easy to use features that you won’t find in most other non-CAS graphing calculators. It simplifies radicals, finds exact trig values, and uses textbook format for it’s math symbols, meaning you don’t waste a lot of time learning calculator syntax. It’s graphing features are also very cool, as the Prizm will find y-intercepts, solve for x values given a y value, even integrate between two curves. Much like the TI-Nspire CX, the Prizm has a full color screen and the ability to load images. Casio has also been good about issuing OS updates, including a recent one that gave the Prizm the ability to do the periodic table of elements. Since it doesn’t have a CAS, it’s also a terrific calculator for the ACT. It’s also affordable, and you can often buy it on eBay for $30 or so less than the TI-Nspire CX.
The Delayed Models That Show Promise
There are a couple of big name new calculators were announced by Casio and HP earlier this year. Both have color displays and both have touch screens. I had hoped to review both in anticipation of this list, but haven’t had a chance to see either product in person yet.
The Casio ClassPad 400 was announced many months ago as an update to the ClassPad 330. I’ve reached out to Casio about it a couple of times about it this summer but haven’t received a response. The ClassPad 400 product page is still up and claims you can order one, but the link is a dead end, leading to a “product not found” message.
HP has been a little more communicative with me about their new HP Prime, announced just this spring. Review units were originally supposed to be out to reviewers in July. Since it’s July 31, that’s clearly not going to happen. However, I have been in touch with HP about the Prime in the last few weeks, so I’m hopeful that the Prime is just experiencing some minor delays.
As of today, it doesn’t look very likely that either of those two models will be available for North American classrooms for back to school shopping in 2013-14. If I am able to obtain a review model soon for either of these new calculators, I will update you as soon as I can. Of course, you can follow Tech Powered Math on Facebook, Twitter, or email to stay up to date.