Which Calculator is Best for You?
Once again, it’s time to update my calculator recommendations for the 2014-15 school year. Each year around back to school time, I try to update this post to reflect the changes that have happened with new models and new operating systems. It’s amazing to see how this list has changed in just the 4 years since I started Tech Powered Math. Back then, there were no calculators with full color screens. Today, I don’t have any calculators on my list without a full color screen.
As always, I suggest you first decide whether you need a CAS or non-CAS graphing calculator. Before I give you my 2014 calculator 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.
Without further delay, here are my picks for the best calculators for the 2014 school year.
Best Graphing Calculator for Students
For me, 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 brought this calculator to another level, giving it the ability to graph equations written in “x=” form from simple lines to advanced conic sections. Texas Instruments has continued to evolve the platform, releasing regular updates to the operating system as recently as June of 2014 (3.9). I recommend buying your TI-Nspire CX on Amazon to get the best price and free shipping.
Others Great Graphing Calculators to Consider
A year ago, Texas Instruments 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 Amazon.
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 Amazon for $30 or so less than the TI-Nspire CX.
Interested in a touch screen calculator that is legal on College Board’s SAT exam? Then you’ve basically got a single choice, the HP Prime. This CAS calculator is about to celebrate its first birthday by being widely available during back to school shopping for the first time ever in 2014. It offers a variety of powerful graphing features, and while it’s not quite as intuitive as the others on this list, is far more user friendly than HP models of old. It will certainly appeal to HP’s hard core fan base. Click here to get the HP Prime on Amazon.