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It’s been over a year since the public first got a chance to see the full color, TI-Nspire CX in action. In June, the newest TI-Nspire got its first major upgrade with OS 3.2, an upgrade that was made available to not just the CX models, but also older TI-Nspires. With a new operating system and new school year, it seemed like a good time to update my TI-Nspire CX review to reflect what’s new with Texas Instruments’ top of the line calculator. This post is both a TI-Nspire CX review and TI-Nspire CX CAS review, although you’ll see while reading it, the two models have more in common than they do differences.
What’s Happening With the TI-Nspire Platform?
It’s first important to understand that Texas Instruments is continuing to support and even manufacture (for now) the older TI-Nspire “grayscale” models. So when the new operating system, OS 3.2, was released for the TI-Nspire CX, it was also made available for the TI-Nspire graycale models like the clickpad and touchpad. That means that from a software standpoint, anything you can do on on the TI-Nspire CX, you can do on a TI-Nspire grayscale. I don’t see this changing any time soon, if ever. Texas Instruments has been really great about supporting schools and students that adopted the TI-Nspire platform a couple of years ago.
Even before the updates of the last couple of years, I had felt that from an educational standpoint, the TI-Nspire operating system is superior to any other TI product (such as the TI-84 or TI-89). I like the fact that it uses the types of interface that kids who have grown up in the internet era are familiar with. That means it has drop down menus, the ability to open multiple tabs like a browser, a drag and drop interface, and a file and folder system that’s just like using a computer. Graphing calculations have been much simpler, not requiring much button pressing beyond the trace feature because the Nspire automatically detects max and min values and intercepts while using trace. It’s also easy to type in your calculations using mathematical symbols so that they appear just like a student would see them in a book or write them in their homework, so there’s pretty much no code to learn. What really sets the Nspire apart has always been its dynamic properties. On one screen, you could have a graph, an equation, and a table of values. Grab the graph and drag it into a different shape, and all three adjust simultaneously.
With the OS 3.2 update, Texas Instruments has continued to give teachers and students the features that they have been asking for. There are some really awesome new features for the TI-Nspire CX, but as I explained before, these features are now available on the older TI-Nspire models with a free software update from Texas Instruments. The biggest upgrades with OS 3.2 were graphing features. Owners of any up-to-date Nspire now have the ability to graphing conic sections and any equation written in “x=” form. This is something Texas Instruments users have wanted for years.
What’s Different About the TI-Nspire CX?
The TI-Nspire CX will always be known as Texas Instruments’ first color graphing calculator, and an improved design came with it. It’s a much thinner, lighter design that we’ve seen from TI in the past–more like the thickness of a standard scientific calculator than previous graphing calculators. The odd “wings” of previous TI-Nspire models are gone. The screen is gorgeous. The resolution is good, the colors are bright, and the display is easy to read. You won’t mistake it for an iPhone, but it’s better than any display I’ve ever seen on a graphing calculator, including the Casio Prizm (review), despite my love for the Prizm. As I type this, the backlighting is bright enough to read easily from my deck in the shade, although not in direct sunlight. However, I don’t know anyone who would uses their graphing calculator in direct sunlight.
I’ve tried the image features on both the TI-Nspire CX models and the TI-Nspire graycale. You have the capability to load any JPG, BMP, or PNG file onto the device and curve fit graphs right on top. It certainly works on both color and grayscale models; I’ve even posted pictures of the grayscale pictures on the Nspire already. However, I think the screen captures are a little deceiving. While the pictures look great on the computer screen in both color and grayscale, in some cases they’re actually kind of hard to make out the the Nspire grayscale. No worries if you are on a TI-Nspire CX; images look great on the handheld.
I can also tell you that the buttons are “snappier” and more responsive than previous TI-Nspire models. When I inquired about this, Dale Philbrick, Texas Instruments Marketing Segment Manager for Mathematics, told me that this has been accomplished by a combination of hardware and software upgrades. TI-Nspire grayscale users should also see a modest improvement if they have a current version of the OS, but that won’t give their buttons that nice, snappy feel that the TI-Nspire CX models have.
Other changes from previous TI-Nspire models include saying goodbye to AAA batteries. The TI-Nspire CX comes with an internal, rechargeable battery. There’s a battery meter to let you know if you’re getting close to needing a charge. You can charge it up via a standard mini-USB cord by using the included wall charger or by hooking it into your computer.
Along with this change, there are no more interchangeable keypads. That means you can’t use the TI-Nspire CX as a TI-84. When I asked Philbrick about this, he said, “We felt like it was time for people to start using the Nspire as an Nspire.” No argument here. I have found myself frustrated with the occasional student who refuses to give up their Nspire’s TI-84 keypad but then makes mistakes on problems that are so much easier with the Nspire, such as secant, cosecant, and cotangent (which can’t be found directly on the TI-84). With each new TI-Nspire OS, the TI-84 just feels more and more outdated.
TI-Nspire CX CAS Review
Judging based on polls I’ve run in the past on Tech Powered Math, I’ve found that there’s actually more interest among TPM readers in the TI-Nspire CX CAS than there is in the TI-Nspire CX. If you’re unaware of what a CAS calculator is, it is a Computer Algebra System calculator. This means the calculator has the ability to do algebraic manipulations on variable, such as x + x = 2x. This is a great thing if you plan to take the SAT or AP Calculus, where this type of calculator is encouraged, but not so great if you are taking the ACT, where it is banned.
The TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS have most of their hardware and functions in common. They’re so similar, it’d be easy to mistake one for the other, even after playing with it for a bit. However, the CAS version has a number of menus and submenus tucked away that you won’t find in the non-CAS version. In the past, the questions I’ve received about the Nspire CAS tend to be from TI-89 users wary of the the advanced calculus capabilities of the Nspire CAS. With OS 3.0, differential equations are included for all TI-Nspire models. Rather than try to answer questions about every individual advanced calculus feature, here’s a list of the functions included in the calculus submenu:
Derivative, Derivative at a Point, Integral, Limit, Sum, Product, Function Minimum, Function Maximum, Tangent Line, Normal Line, Arc Length, Series (Taylor Polynomial, Generalized Series, and Dominant Term), Differential Equation Solver, Implicit Differentiation, and Numerical Calculations (Numerical Derivative at a Point, Central Difference Quotient with Step, Numerical Integral, Numerical Function Minimum, and Numerical Function Maximum).
Whew! I have received many questions about that, so I hope the list helps. While I’ve taken math courses all the way to a graduate level, my teaching experience only goes through second semester college calculus, so I can really only speak to classes at that level and below. In those classes, I’d much prefer the TI-Nspire CX CAS to a TI-89 Titanium. Even though the TI-89 Titanium (review) is an excellent calculator, the Nspire CX CAS is easier to work with on conics, has a much nicer UI, is easier for graphing, and now has 3D graphing, the biggest previous drawback of the Nspire series vs. the TI-89.
Getting Started With Your TI-Nspire
If you find that you need a little help learning how to use your TI-Nspire, I recently started a line of books designed to help students and teachers learn how to use the calculator. TI-Nspire Tutorials Volume 1 is the TI-Nspire for Beginners, that helps you navigate all of the basic features of the calculator. TI-Nspire Tutorials Volume 2 is Using CAS Features Like a Champion, and will get CAS users started with those features only found on the CAS. Both books are currently available in Kindle format for the iPad, iPhone, Android, PC, and Mac, and will be available in print within the next couple of weeks.
Bottom Line TI-Nspire CX Review
At around $150, the TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS are among the more expensive calculators available today, but they are well worth the price, only a small increase over the TI-Nspire grayscale models. When Texas Instruments debuted the TI-Nspire line a few years ago, it had a few warts, but with each year, they’ve continued to make massive improvements to both the hardware and software. Even at the beginning, I was impressed with how much faster kids caught on to features like fractions, graphing, and tables on the TI-Nspire than they did on the TI-84. With the Nspire series, my students spend less time learning calculator code and more time learning math. Now with the release of the CX series and OS 3.2, the series even another giant step forward, this is a fully mature platform. No longer can Texas Instruments users cling to the good old days of the TI-84 and TI-89 and feel like they honestly have the best the market has to offer. The future has arrived. The TI-Nspire CX will be TI’s platform of the next decade.
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