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The most popular graphing calculator model line ever, the TI-84 Plus, continues to evolve for the 2015-16 school year. Barely one year after the TI-84 Plus C brought color to the 84 family, Texas Instruments has rebooted the color line with the all new TI-84 Plus CE. The new CE has new hardware and a new look, but much in common with its predecessor. So how does this new model stack up? Let’s take a look.
What’s the Same About the TI-84 Plus CE?
Actually, a lot has stayed exactly the same between the TI-84 Plus CE and older 84 models, specifically the 84 C. If you have owned an older TI-84 or need to get help from a tutor, sibling, or teacher that is used to working with the TI-84 family, they will be able to jump right in on this model with no problems. The arrangement of physical buttons is the same, the menu system is virtually identical, and the you get the same great color screen that the TI-84 Plus C had.
Truthfully, the biggest selling point for the TI-84 Plus CE is for long time users to pick up a familiar calculator and jump right in with a familiar interface, but getting to do so with 2015 hardware.
What’s New About the TI-84 Plus CE?
The biggest change you’re going to notice with this model is the size. Officially, Texas Instruments says it is 30% lighter and slimmer than previous generations of the TI-84 Plus. However, I can tell you that the difference when you hold it in your hand feels even more significant. I’ve been calling it the “TI-84 Air.” The CE is the right size and weight to stuff into a book bag or purse without feeling like you are being burdened down by it. I’m a long time user of the TI-Nspire family as well, and it felt to me like the TI-84 Plus CE was even lighter than my TI-Nspire CX. To be sure, I threw it on my kitchen scale. Sure enough, it weighed in at 7.0 oz. My TI-Nspire CX was 10.0 oz.
While the physical location of buttons is identical to that of older TI-84 models, the buttons themselves are smaller and rectangles, rather than rounded. This looks more like the TI-Nspire buttons and gives the CE buttons a modern look.
The CE has its own new operating system. While it is nearly identical to previous TI-84 models, an important difference is that you can’t transfer apps from older models to a CE. To remedy this, Texas Instruments is issuing new versions of all its most popular apps via their website. In fact, my CE review unit shipped with many popular apps like Finance, Conics, PlySmlt2, and Transfrm. Looking at the official TI app website for the TI-84 Plus CE, the CE already has a couple of extra apps that the TI-84 Plus C hasn’t received.
Comparing the TI-84 Plus C to the TI-84 Plus CE, you’ll be hard pressed to find many changes. I explored various menus, apps, etc. and noticed only a few extremely minor differences. For example, when exploring the “MODE” menu, a couple of options have changed. Here you can select what language localization you want if you are not a native English speaker, as opposed to going through apps. Additionally, while the 84 Plus C gives 3 options for the format of answers: “AUTO”, “DEC” (decimal), and “FRAC-APPROX”, the last option is eliminated for the CE. I’m not sure what the rationale is here, but it means you cannot select a mode that automatically converts all answer from decimals back to fractions with the CE.
Additionally, there are a few visual tweaks with the PlySmlt2 app that I like. Rather than enter coefficients in a matrix for a system or list below the equation for a polynomial, the app now allows students to enter the coefficients right next to the variables. I think this will really help them understand what the app is doing. PlySmlt2 has always been one of my favorite apps for the TI-84 family, and this is a small but thoughtful touch that shows TI is still thinking about how students use these apps.
The TI-84 Plus CE has a “deep sleep” mode that allows it to hibernate while preserving battery if it’s not used for several days at a time. With regular use, it can run a month on a single charge, but in deep sleep mode, it should be able to stay charge up over summer break.
Additionally, Texas Instruments took a page out of another update they recently made to the TI-Nspire line of calculators. Older TI-Nspire CX calculators and the TI-84 Plus C all had batteries that had a wired connection. The new Nspire CX and the TI-84 Plus CE does not use this wiring, but instead just uses the sort of contacts you’d find in a cell phone with a removable battery. As a person who has had to remove the battery from literally hundreds of student Nspire CX’s, let me tell you that TI-84 Plus CE users will appreciate this new battery design if they ever find they need to replace their battery. Replacing the old wired battery was a bit harrowing for the uninitiated, as it often felt like you might damage the calculator or battery during the replacement process.
Rainbow of Colors
Texas Instruments has definitely picked up on the fact that color sells and even has a website designed to help you pick your ideal TI-84 Plus CE color. The CE comes in red, pink, plum, black, gray, and 2 shades of blue. The preview model Texas Instruments provided me with is gray, which looks a lot like the older TI-84 Plus Silver Edition.
Both of the blue models look particularly enticing to me, but I can see the appeal to any one of these models. Don’t be surprised if some of these colors are in short supply during the back to school rush.
While the TI-84 Plus CE is a substantial upgrade to the 84 Plus C, there are a couple of minor issues I didn’t care for. The first was the changed location of the USB port, from top to side. I know from experience that students sometimes use their calculators while charging them. It seems like it would be easier to hold the CE and continue working with it if the USB port was still on top.
The second was a bit of “light leak” that I experienced around the corners of the display. I’ve never experienced this on any of the color TI models before including the 84 Plus C or the Nspire CX. I asked TI about this. They had an engineering team investigate it and reported back that they were confident it was because my review unit was a pre-production model. It’s a fairly minor irritation and very uncharacteristic of a TI product, but I feel obligated to point it out until I’m able to see a retail unit.
Timeline and Cost
We’ll have to wait until the CE is officially out in retail locations to know for sure, but Texas Instruments says they don’t expect to see a noticeable different in cost between the CE and last year’s TI-84 Plus C. That model is selling for around $125 on Amazon as of the time I wrote this for the black face plate model. However, as with many Amazon products, there are wide price fluctuations, especially with regards to color. Don’t be surprised if some online retailers take advantage of a particularly popular TI-84 Plus CE color by cranking up the price.
Texas Instruments is saying that the CE should be out by May 2015, or a matter of weeks from the time I’m writing this. In my experience, their products tend to trickle out rather than flood into stores. You can probably expect wide availability by the time you are doing your back to school shopping, at least at online retailers like Amazon and eBay.
Bottom Line TI-84 Plus CE Review
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I’ll assume you are a buyer that is serious about the TI-84 family rather than the TI-Nspire (review) family, which is the other serious contender from TI and still my favorite, despite the fact that I’m impressed with the new CE. With Texas Instruments discontinuing the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition and the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, buyers will soon have just two choices in the TI-84 family:
- TI-84 Plus CE
- TI-84 Plus (black edition)
Lets briefly compare the TI-84 Plus CE vs. TI-84 Plus. Prices will fluctuate, but I my best guess is that there will be about a $25-$30 difference between these models. There is no question that I’d pay that little bit extra to get the TI-84 Plus CE as the CE makes the gap between color and black & white models even wider than it was with the TI-84 Plus C.
- The TI-84 Plus CE color screen is ridiculously better than the older black and white screen.
- The high resolution display is easier to read and fits more options on the screen at one time without scrolling.
- It is much smaller and lighter.
- For me, the rechargeable battery is a selling point.
If you can afford it, pick up a TI-84 Plus CE on Amazon and don’t look back. It’s the best TI-84 yet in a family of calculators that is widely known, understood, and loved by students and teachers alike and worth the extra few bucks. If you really can’t afford the upgrade, an alternative is getting a used TI-84 Plus on eBay (they are built like tanks and last a really long time).