By Tech Powered Dad | January 9, 2020
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What are the Best Graphing Calculators of 2020?
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 2020. Read on to learn why these models take the prize.
- Best Calculator for the ACT: TI-Nspire CX II
- Best Calculator for the SAT: TI-Nspire CX II CAS
- Best Calculator for Calculus: TI-Nspire CX II CAS
- Most Popular High School Calculator: TI-84 Plus CE
- Most Popular College Calculator: TI-89 Titanium
- Best Affordable Graphing Calculator: Casio Prizm
- Best Touch Screen Calculator: HP Prime
- Best Calculator for Middle School: TI-30 XS Multiview
What is the Top Calculator for You?
Once again, it’s time to update my calculator recommendations for the 2020 school year. Each year, I try to create a list to reflect the changes that have happened with new models and new operating systems. This lets me 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. Nowadays, I have several different categories of “best calculator,” but as my personal favorite, the TI-Nspire always seems to find itself getting the first mention. This year, Texas Instruments brought a hardware and software update to the table with their new TI-Nspire CX II. The new model brings a faster processor as well as new software features including tick-mark labels when graphing, animated path plotting, and dynamic coefficient values.
Why do I love the TI-Nspire so much? There are many situations where it really shines. For example, if you know your situation involves the ACT or non-calculus classes like AP Statistics or Algebra II, the TI-Nspire CX II 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 platform 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 II 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.
Keep in mind, that if you see the slightly older TI-Nspire CX models out there without the “II” on Amazon or other retailers, while they are still great calculators, it looks like they won’t be getting any more software support. Texas Instruments has released Nspire OS version 5.0 and 5.1 for the CX II already, and neither one has come to the older CX. I’d definitely recommend picking up a CX II.
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 II 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 TI-84 family continues to be a very popular model in high schools across the country.
The TI-89 Titanium has been around for a long time. It predates the TI-Nspire line by many years and is a rock solid calculator. For many years this was my favorite graphing calculator. It has an intuitive menu system, 3D graphing, the ability to add apps, a CAS. It has been a “go to” for calculus students and SAT students for more than 10 years. In recent years the TI-Nspire CX CAS has passed it up for me as my favorite overall calculator. However, the TI-89 Titanium still has wide acceptance in many college math departments, and you want to pick a calculator that your professors are going to be on board with.
A word to the savvy shopper: Be sure you are getting the TI-89 Titanium, NOT the original TI-89. That is a much older relic and does not keep pace. It does not have some of the nicer features that the Titanium model has like the ability to add official apps from the Texas Instruments website and MathprintTM. On the TI-89 Titanium, Mathprint will reformat your calculator code after you press enter to look like a math equation in a text book. Without it, it is harder to know if you have entered your calculations correctly.
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.
Texas Instruments is the most popular and trusted brand for graphing calculators. Here’s a quick comparison of some of the most frequently asked questions about the best graphing calculators from Texas Instruments. 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 II||TI-Nspire CX II CAS||TI-89 Titanium|
|Battery||Rechargeable Li-ion||Rechargeable Li-ion||Rechargeable Li-ion||4 AA Batteries|