What Graphing Calculator Should I Get? 2022 Back to School Guide
Published by KermMartian 1 year, 11 months ago (2022-08-14T13:43:59+00:00) | Discuss this article

We're back with the latest guide to what graphing calculator to get for Back to School 2022. Since we first started producing this guide in 2011, the world of graphing calculators has evolved from simpler handhelds with black-and-white screens powered by AAA batteries, to color-screen devices with more powerful software, rechargeable batteries, and more. Building on our past guides, this year we once again present a guide helping you select from the baffling array of graphing calculators now available to high school and college students. We'll help you figure out which calculator is right for primary school, high school, or college students, whether you're buying for yourself, your child, or researching for your students.

We'll be covering five main calculators in this guide:

The advice in this guide is a combination of our own editorial expertise and expert feedback from our community of graphing calculator users and hackers. As you'll see in the discussion below, our top pick for most students is Texas Instruments' TI-84 Plus CE. If you need a more powerful calculator for college or engineering, the HP Prime or the TI-Nspire CX II CAS are the best options.

All three of these calculators are accepted on the SAT, but of these three, only the TI-84 Plus CE is allowed on the ACT. Although we don't actively recommend it, if you still have a TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, don't throw it out: it does 95% of the math the TI-84 Plus CE can do, and while graphing is less user-friendly on its black-and-white screen, it's still a good calculator. Finally, while the TI-Nspire CX II is a fairly popular high school math and science calculator, we feel that the TI-84 Plus CE is a better, easier-to-use choice, and the general student, teacher, and programmer consensus appears to overwhelmingly agree.

:: Math and Science: The TI-84 Plus CE remains TI's latest entry to the decades-old TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus line, offering a bright color screen and a rechargeable battery. Introduced in early 2015, the keystrokes and interface are extremely similar to the older black-and-white-screen calculators, but the processor is faster, the RAM is larger, the case is slimmer and lighter, and most importantly, its higher-resolution color screen that can fit more math and higher detailed graphs. Beyond color graphing, it introduces a few new statistics features (as detailed in Chapter 12 of "Using the TI-84 Plus"). Because the keystrokes to do math on the TI-84 Plus CE are generally identical to the older calculators, teachers' existing knowledge of TI calculators, plus existing videos, tutorials, and books, all apply to the TI-84 Plus CE. If you want to go beyond math and science, the TI-84 Plus CE is a great coding/STEM tool: it can be programmed in TI-BASIC, and with jailbreaking, C and assembly, and there's a currently unavailable variant called the TI-84 Plus CE Python Edition that, unsurprisingly, can be programmed in Python. The TI-84+CE has a 48MHz ez80 processor, 154KB of user-accessible RAM, 3.0MB of user-accessible Flash memory, a 10-hour rechargeable battery, and an MSRP of $129 (plus, it currently comes in 10 fun colors). To recap, the TI-84+CE is the quintessential calculator for high school (and some college) math and science, updated with better specs, a high-resolution color screen, a slim, light case in a range of colors, and a rechargeable battery. And once you have one, there are plenty of programs and games to let your TI-84 Plus CE do even more.

Learn to use your TI-84 Plus CE with Using the TI-84 Plus, from math and graphing to statistics and programming. Learn to program your calculator with Programming the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus.

:: College (CAS): The TI-Nspire CX II CAS has a color screen equal in size to that of the TI-84 Plus CE, a mouse-based interface, and support for Lua programs. The TI-Nspire's operating system is based around the idea of documents, in which you type calculations, enter equations, and draw graphs. It has templates for linear, parabolic, circular, elliptical, and hyperbolic equations in which you can enter coefficients and graph the result. Although some (including me) criticize the document-based interface as needlessly clunky, the OS has "Scratchpads" for quick calculations and graphing that ameliorate that drawback. The version without "CAS" in its name works for similar math and science classes as the TI-84 Plus CE (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, pre-calculus, some calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry); the version with "CAS" has a Computer Algebra System: it can perform symbolic math such as simplifying equations and performing symbolic integration and differentiation. The TI-Nspire CX II normally retails for about $160 or $130, for the CAS or non-CAS models respectively, although the CAS model appears more expensive right now. Both the TI-Nspire CX and the TI-Nspire CX CAS are allowed on the SAT, while the non-CAS model is permitted on the ACT, but some teachers will not allow a CAS calculator to be used on school exams. To summarize, the TI-Nspire CX CAS is a computer-like color-screen calculator with a symbolic CAS. Good for some high school students and for college students, especially STEM majors.

The HP Prime is also a very powerful CAS calculator, albeit with a few growing pains like a smaller support community. It offers a multitouch screen, and extensive graphing features that expose more options that the TI-Nspire CX II CAS (once you learn to use them), and CAS features similar to those on the TI-Nspire CX II CAS. The HP Prime's OS was polished over several versions from a slightly rocky start, and with a beautiful design, powerful hardware, and an extremely fast BASIC programming language, the Prime is our favorite tool for college students and professional engineers. Given the traction that the HP Prime has gained in our community, we were surprised that our members voted the TI-Nspire CX CAS as the superior calculator for engineering and college. In short, the HP Prime is a sleek, powerful, and improving touch-screen calculator with a symbolic CAS that makes it a great choice for college students, especially STEM majors, and for professionals.

:: Coding/STEM: After seven years, we continue to recommend the TI-84 Plus CE for programming as well as for high school math and science. In the past, we have recommended the Casio Prizm fx-CG50 as our top pick for programming: it offers a BASIC language and can be programmed in C. However, C, ez80 ASM, and TI-BASIC are all now possible on the TI-84 Plus CE (C and ASM with jailbreaking, plus Python with the TI-84 Plus CE Python Edition), which offers a 48MHz ez80 processor and 154KB of RAM. The available C SDK/toolchain in its many forms has grown rapidly, and there's a still-active community of hobbyists and hackers who are happy to help.

The Final Verdict:
If you need a new calculator, here's our advice:

  • If you (or your child) are a middle or high school student, your teachers may recommend a TI-84 Plus CE or a TI-Nspire CX (or very similar TI-Nspire CX II), in which case you should follow their advice. For high school students getting a new calculator, the TI-84 Plus CE (currently $105 at Amazon) is our favorite choice, combining well-documented math and graphing features with a slim case and a color screen.
  • If you're looking to take college classes in higher math, science, or engineering, the HP Prime (currently $129 at Amazon) is our favorite choice, with the TI-Nspire CX II CAS (currently overpriced at $202 at Amazon) a close second.
  • If you're a programmer, or you want to encourage your student to learn programming and STEM skills, the TI-84 Plus CE is the best option. Every TI-84 Plus CE has TI-BASIC, the TI-84 Plus CE Python Edition has Python, and if you jailbreak the calculator, you can also write ez80 ASM and C. The HP Prime also has a very fast BASIC language, and the Casio Prizm fx-CG50 (on sale for $80 at Amazon) was the original C-programmable calculator.

Good luck with the hectic rush that is Back to School, and I hope this guide helped make at least one decision easier. If you need help picking a calculator, getting games and educational programs for your calculator and onto the device, or you want to learn to program, just stop by Cemetech and chat with us. We're always happy to help. Finally, if you prefer this information in visual form with some calming narration, here's our Back to School Graphing Calculator Guide 2022 as a video, with everything you need to know to select your first (or next) graphing calculator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtWZqrmbKD0.

Notes about the ACT:
Remember, all models mentioned herein are accepted on the SAT, and most on the ACT, so there are no winners or losers on that count. Don't forget to double-check the SAT calculator policy or the ACT calculator policy to ensure your calculator is permitted! In particular, note that the TI-Nspire CX CAS is not allowed while the non-CAS version is acceptable.

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