TI-Nspire CX Review

By Tech Powered Dad | May 22, 2018

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What is the TI-Nspire CX?

The TI-Nspire CX is Texas Instruments’ flagship calculator. It has a 320x240 color display, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a modern menu system, and the best graphing calculator software on the market. In this TI-Nspire CX review, I’ll explain why it was my top choice in my list of the best graphing calculators for school.

TI-Nspire CX review

Over my many years teaching in the high school math classroom, I spent more time working with the TI-Nspire than any other calculator, and it became my favorite graphing calculator platform. I’ve become something of an evangelist for the TI-Nspire CX, and that’s because I saw so many places where it benefited students. High achieving students, lesser achieving students, the ACT, SAT and AP tests, math team, when students are paired with a TI-Nspire CX and a little bit of instruction on how to use it, the learning that goes on is incredible. 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. Let me go into why the TI-Nspire CX has topped my list of the best graphing calculators several years running.

What’s New With the TI-Nspire?

Texas Instruments continues to regularly churn out updates to the TI-Nspire operating system. Most years see a couple of updates, making it a great choice as a model that you know will be supported. That said, since OS 3.9, the older grayscale models have not gotten the latest updates. I wouldn’t recommend them at this point anyway. While it can seem thrifty to pick one up on eBay, they now lack the latest software from Texas Instruments. They are not as reliable as you would want at this point in their lifespans and are not under warranty. You don’t want to be in the situation the night before a test where your 8 year old calculator dies on you and you’re scrambling to find a replacement.

That caveat issued, I will say that the TI-Nspire continues to be the most complete platform for students and teachers of mathematics at the high school and early undergraduate level. A few years back, we saw the release of the TI-Nspire iPad app (review). I was very impressed with this app and do recommend it. However, you should keep in mind that it’s simply not a replacement for a TI-Nspire CX handheld since it’s not allowed on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT.

The latest version of the operating system as of Spring 2018 is OS 4.5. With each upgrade, Texas Instruments continues to make improvements that teachers and students are asking for. Sometimes these are minor like a tweak to the way a spreadsheet is displayed to make it more readable. Other times it could be a major overhaul of the menu system that completely changes the look and feel of the TI-Nspire. Just one example, the latest version of the the operating system gave the TI-Nspire CX the ability to interact with its new robotic TI Innovator Rover.

I will say that even before the updates of the last couple of years, I had felt that from an educational standpoint, the TI-Nspire operating system was superior to any other TI product (such as the TI-84 or TI-89). I like the fact that it uses the type 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.

TI-Nspire OS 4.0 TI-Nspire OS 4.0 brought improved geometry and graphing capabilities

In addition to software upgrades, Texas Instruments has made some minor hardware upgrades over the years as well. Since 2014, the latest TI-Nspire CX model has had an improved battery design. Previously, if you were having battery issues with your TI-Nspire CX, the battery was wired into the Nspire, and there was always a “hold your breath” moment of disconnecting that wire. The new battery is smaller and connected by a compression contacts like a cell phone battery. It pops in and out very easily. This isn’t an issue that comes up very often since the CX has a rechargeable battery, but I’m still glad to see it addressed.

Texas Instruments continues to be extremely active in teaching teachers how to teach with their TI-Nspire platform as well. “Get Nspired” is more than a catch phrase. They hold webinars demonstrating engaging ways to use the Nspire CX that are of extremely high quality. Additionally, the last couple of years, they’ve started a series of initiatives STEM Behind Hollywood, STEM Behind HealthmISSion imaginaTIon, partnerships with powerful groups like the entertainment industry and NASA to show students how mathematics and science can be applied in exciting fields, all of course, with your TI-Nspire graphing calculator.

What Makes the TI-Nspire CX Special?

TI-Nspire CX NTCM The new design for the TI-Nspire CX is very thin

So that’s what’s happening with the TI-Nspire platform lately, but what made the TI-Nspire CX such a hit in the first place? The TI-Nspire CX will always be known as Texas Instruments’ first color graphing calculator, and an improved design came with it. When first released, it was 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 , 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.

TI-Nspire CX new battery The 2014 redesign brought a better battery design

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 graph functions 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. Back when I first asked him about this, Dale Philbrick, Texas Instruments Marketing Segment Manager for Mathematics, told me that this was accomplished by a combination of hardware and software upgrades.

Along with this change, there are no more interchangeable keypads. That means you can’t use the TI-Nspire CX as a TI-84 like older Nspire models. When Philbrick and I talked about this back at the time of the Nspire CX release, he said, “We felt like it was time for people to start using the Nspire as an Nspire.” No argument here. In the early Nspire days, I used to be 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.

What Is the TI-Nspire CX CAS?

When comparing the TI-Nspire CX vs. TI-Nspire CX CAS, the difference is that TI-Nspire CX CAS has a computer algebra system (CAS), meaning it can do algebraic operations, while the TI-Nspire CX does not. This means the TI-Nspire CX CAS is not legal for the ACT test.

TI-Nspire CX vs. TI-Nspire CX CAS TI-Nspire CX CAS vs. TI-Nspire CX

Let me explain that in more detail. 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 variables, 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. Since OS 3.0, differential equations and a host of advanced calculus features have been included for all TI-Nspire models.

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 has 3D graphing for a couple years now, a drawback that was a problem when the series was first launched, but no more. Click here to buy your TI-Nspire CX CAS Graphing Calculator on Amazon .

Is the TI-Nspire CX allowed on the ACT / SAT?

The TI-Nspire CX is allowed on most standardized tests, including:

  • PreACT
  • PSAT
  • ACT
  • SAT
  • AP Biology
  • AP Calculus
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Statistics
  • AP Physics

The TI-Nspire CX CAS is NOT allowed on the ACT or PreACT. The limitations tend to be a little stricter with the CAS calculators, but the TI-Nspire CX CAS is allowed on test run by the College Board, which include the SAT and AP tests.

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.

Is the TI-Nspire CX Worth the Money?

The TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS are not the cheapest graphing calculators available today, but they are well worth the price. 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. From remedial Algebra through AP Calculus and my 2012 Illinois state championship math team, the TI-Nspire CX is my top choice for my students.

With the Nspire series, my students spent less time learning calculator code and more time learning math. Since the release of the TI-Nspire CX and continued OS upgrades, 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 is TI’s platform of the next decade.

Click here to see the TI-Nspire CX price on Amazon.

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