Long ago and far away (in the year 2010), I did a review of the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator. Things have changed quite a bit during that time for Texas Instruments calculators in general and for the TI-84 Plus platform in specific. Most importantly, TI released a major new upgrade to the TI-84 Plus family, the TI-84 Plus CE, a full color display edition of the calculator designed to bring the TI-84 Plus into the next decade. However, the black and white version of the TI-84 Plus remains hugely popular, and is often the top selling graphing calculator on Amazon. That means it’s time to re-examine the TI-84 Plus from a 2016 perspective and see how it holds up.
I’ve had a ton of experience working with students on the TI-84 Plus, from the classroom to math team to ACT test prep. Although it’s no longer TI’s cutting edge calculator–that label goes to the TI-Nspire CX (review)–it’s still a strong calculator. I can’t really understate the stranglehold this line of calculators has had on the math education community. There’s no doubt that part of the reason that schools were initially slow to the adopt the Nspire is because the TI-84 has just been so wildly popular and schools have invested in TI-84 software, teacher training, and classroom sets of the calculators.
Who is the TI-84 designed for?
No doubt, the TI-84 plus is designed with the high school student in mind. Additionally, many, many college students use a TI-84 as their calculator of choice. It’s accepted on almost every standardized test, including the ACT, which won’t accept calculators with computer algebra systems like the TI-89 Titanium or TI-Nspire CX CAS.
What is TI-84 OS 2.53 MP?
In the spring of 2010, Texas Instruments came out with 2.53 MP, an operating system that finally gave the TI-84 “mathprint.” This means that fractions look like fractions, exponents look like exponents, and far more. A lot of new templates that make advanced algebra and calculus a lot easier were added too like non-base 10 logs, summations, integrals, etc. It also allowed users to scroll up to previous calculations to edit them and enabled a series of “pop up” windows accessible via the F1-F4 keys. This is a big update and one that was sorely needed. The TI-84 plus was getting passed up by rival calculators from Casio and HP before this update. I was really excited by this update and almost felt like my students were getting a new calculator for free. About a year later, 2.55 MP was issued, that continued to improve usability. Sadly, the TI-83 Plus didn’t get either update, something you can read more about in my TI-83 Plus review. Should anyone try to tell you that the TI-83 Plus and the TI-84 Plus are identical calculators, just smile politely and walk away. We haven’t seen any updates to the black and white TI-84 Plus operating system since 2011. Will we see any updates issued in the years to come? I wouldn’t guess so, but I’ve learned to never say never with Texas Instruments as they can sometimes have something up their sleeves when you least expect it.
Why buy the TI-84 plus?
That’s an easy one to answer. The TI-84 Plus has nearly 100% acceptance in the educational community, or at least it did at one point. More schools are embracing or requiring the TI-Nspire CX all the time, so you should check with your school, but in the 30 or so years of graphing calculators in schools, there has never been a calculator more accepted by teachers, schools, and standardized tests than the TI-84 plus. Just about every math teacher knows how to use it and teach with it. If your teacher doesn’t, you’ll have no problem finding books or videos (including my own) to help you along the way. Many high school textbooks are even written with TI-84 directions right in the text.
TI-84 Plus vs. TI-84 Plus CE
But here’s the rub. The newer color, TI-84 Plus CE that was recently released is awesome, a much bigger improvement on the black and white screen TI-84 Plus models than I would have ever expected. The button layout is identical, and the menus are 99% similar, so if you’re coming from an older model, you’ll have no problem learning how to use the color TI-84 Plus CE. However, the TI-84+C is has a much higher resolution screen, making it easier to read and making it possible for Texas Instruments programmers to better organize more information on the screen at one time. The display is backlit and color, making that information easier to interpret. It’s also much lighter, at least in part due to its rechargeable battery.
When comparing screen captures side by side, it really is amazing to see how much clearer and easier to read the newer color model is. Just to show you how dramatic that difference is, check out a screen capture of each calculator finding a zero of the same function side by side:
I think that picture should pretty much speak for itself. The CE is also quite a bit slimmer, offers the ability to graph on photos, and has a rechargeable battery that can stay fully charged all summer in sleep mode. If you’re in the market to buy a TI-84 Plus CE, I’d really encourage you to look at two pages:
- My TI-84 Plus CE Review
- The cost difference between the black and white TI-84 Plus and the TI-84 Plus CE on Amazon. It fluctuates. Recently, the 84 Plus CE has been around $15-$20. If you plan on using it for 4 years, it’s worth $4-$5 more per year to have the 84 Plus C. (I’ve got a page that helps you compare and track these graphing calculator price differences over time as well.
Bottom line TI-84 review:
The TI-84 Plus isn’t the cutting edge technology it once was, but it’s still a good calculator. If you are buying new, I would definitely recommend the TI-84 Plus CE on Amazon. It is worth the extra few dollars. However, as is often the case when Texas Instruments releases a new model, the old model’s value starts to fall on eBay. If money is tight and you are patient, you should be able to find a used TI-84 Plus on eBay for half the cost of a new one. That’s not a bad strategy at all. Texas Instruments built the TI-84 Plus like a tank, so as long as you buy from a reputable seller, you should be able to upgrade the operating system and have a graphing calculator that’ll meet your needs for years to come.
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