By Tech Powered Dad | July 15, 2018
What are the Best Graphing Calculators?
Here’s my list of the 6 best graphing calculators for school this 2018-19 school year:
Based on their ease of use and features for learning in the classroom, and my experience using and teaching with these graphing calculators, these are my picks for the best graphing calculators of 2018-19. Read on to learn why these models take the prize.
Which Calculator is Best for You?
Once again, it’s time to update my calculator recommendations for the 2018-19 school year. Each year around back to school time, I try to create a list to reflect the changes that have happened with new models and new operating systems and share my thoughts as a long time teacher about what the best graphing calculators are in a classroom setting. This year, I’m doing this list a little differently, with specific categories of calculators and winners in each.
Before I talk about the winners, I suggest you first decide whether you need a CAS or non-CAS graphing calculator. Let’s review the differences between these two.
CAS Calculator vs. Non-CAS Calculator
So what is a 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. My list includes both kinds of calculators.
For several years, I’ve just named a “best graphing calculator for school,” and it had been the TI-Nspire CX several years running. Texas Instruments just really brought graphing calculators into the 21st century with this family of calculators. While I still love the TI-Nspire CX, I’ve come to realize that based on your use case, it makes sense to break this out a bit further.
For example, if you know your situation involves the ACT or non-calculus classes like AP Statistics or Algebra II, the TI-Nspire CX is where it is at. 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. The screen resolution is also high, making it easy to see the math operations that look exactly like they do in your textbook. I love the features its statistics and geometry software offer, and feel they enhanced my classes greatly. As a long time teacher, I also feel like recent TI-Nspire OS updates (released about once a year) brought this calculator to another level, giving it the ability to graph equations written in “x=” form from simple lines to advanced conic sections. Am I biased? Sure! Can you blame me? My students used the TI-Nspire on their way to the Illinois state math team championship and while putting up AP Statistics that dramatically exceeded the national average.
There are additional features on the TI-Nspire CX CAS that will make you want it for the SAT or AP Calculus. This calculator has a computer algebra system, so it can do symbolic integration and differentiation. It has the ability to factor find summations algebraically and much more. While these features aren’t allowed on the ACT, they are perfect for the SAT and AP Calculus.
Texas Instruments continues to update their most popular graphing calculator of all time, the TI-84 Plus. The newest model, the TI-84 Plus CE, gives the Nspire a run for its money with a very thin, light design, a color screen, and a battery than can literally go for months without charging when in “sleep” mode. Like many of the models on this list, the new TI-84 Plus CE can now graph on images as well. It is a big step up from older, black and white versions of the TI-84 Plus, and it doesn’t cost much more. Texas Instruments has introduced many fun new colors for the TI-84 Plus CE that are available on Amazon.
While I still consider the TI-Nspire CX models to be the premiere graphing calculators made by Texas Instruments, the TI-84 Plus CE is a big improvement over older models in the series. And here’s a big consideration: Many teachers have been teaching on this ever evolving family of calculators (TI-82, TI-83, TI-84, etc) for 20 years or more. If your school or teacher is a long time TI-84 fan, then they’ll be able to give quicker assistance on it when things get tricky.
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.
This calculator is usually more affordable on Amazon than its rivals from Texas Instruments and Casio, and yet it’s still incredibly capable. One piece of advice: Casio switched over from an older version of the Prizm, the fx-CG10 to a newer version, the fx-CG50, which brings some nice enhancements like 3D graphing and a more modern look and feel. You’ll want to make sure you are picking up the latest model (the link below will take you to the right model). If you’re looking for a cheap graphing calculator but still want a top level feature set, the Casio Prizm is the way to go.
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 the first ever touch screen calculator allowed on important standardized exams like the SAT, AP Calculus, and AP Statistics tests. Keep in mind, it won’t be allowed on the ACT, however. It offers a variety of powerful graphing features, including “pinch to zoom,” 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.
I’d recommend the HP Prime for tech savvy students who want the “gee whiz” of the touch screen and are willing to put in the time to overcome the initial learning curve to take advantage of all the Prime has to offer.
Although it’s not a graphing calculator, the TI-30 XS Multiview has some great features that make it a perfect fit for middle school students. It moves easily between fractions and decimals. It displays exponents, fractions, even pi the same way that students see it in a textbook. It’s also very affordable, so when a student inevitably comes home and says that they lost it at some point during their middle school years, it’s not a tragedy to replace it.
Many of the advantages I describe above are NOT available in the very similar sounding TI-30X IIS. While you can save a few extra dollars to pick that up, I would strongly recommend against it. There’s more information in my TI-30XS Multiview review about while, but it’s a penny wise, pound foolish decision.
Comparing the Best Graphing Calculators
Here’s a quick summary of some of most frequently asked questions about these graphing calculators. It’s far from all-inclusive. If you want a more in-depth analysis, I suggest reading my reviews for the individual calculators.
|Calculator||TI-84 Plus CE||TI-Nspire CX||TI-Nspire CAS CX||Casio_Prizm||HP Prime|
|Battery||Rechargeable Li-ion||Rechargeable Li-ion||Rechargeable Li-ion||4 AA Batteries||Rechargeable Li-ion|
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