The 10 Best Graphing Calculators
10. NumWorks 100
- supports five languages
- can run python scripts
- secondary key functions hard to see
|Rating||3.6 / 5.0|
9. Casio Prizm
- vibrant display shows 65000 colors
- 140 hours of use on 4 aaa batteries
- missing some calculus functions
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
8. TI 84 Plus CE
- adds grid lines to display
- charts can be color-coded
- can be slow to display graphics
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
7. Casio FX
- intuitive design and software
- great value for the price
- may not be approved for all tests
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
6. Casio Color
- natural textbook display
- picture plot technology
- finds intersections automatically
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
5. TI 89 Titanium
- supports euler angles
- full statistical regression
- folder-based organization system
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
4. TI 84 Plus C
- import and use images
- rechargeable battery included
- deep sleep mode for idle periods
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
3. HP Prime
- approved for standardized test use
- plots boolean graphics
- expandable application library
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
2. TI Nspire CAS
- overlay and color-coded graphs
- chart and rotate functions
- can transfer work to a computer
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
1. Casio Touch
- clutter-free interface
- latch mechanism for stylus storage
- nearly 5-inch display
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
The Advent Of Graphing Calculator
The first graphing calculator designed for commercial sale was the Casio fx-7000G, which was released in 1985. The advent of the graphing calculator was a significant leap forward in technology over all previous calculator models. Up until then, calculators could only process a single calculation at a time, but the Casio fx-7000G could perform a series of calculations based on formulas or functions that the user had input. In addition, it could store the results of the calculations in its internal memory. The Casio fx-7000G was also the first calculator that could be programmed by the user.
For a graphing calculator to not only plot points on a graph, but also display them for the user to see, it required a more powerful display than what previous versions offered. To combat this, Casio integrated a 96x64 dot matrix screen allowing it to plot out bar graphs, algebraic graphs, regression lines, and normal distribution curves.
When Casio first introduced the graphing calculator, they created it with a custom designed processor based on the popular Z80, which is what was used to power home desktop computers of the day. As computers of the time were relatively basic themselves, graphing calculators were capable of many of the same functions, making them essentially handheld computers.
Once Casio opened the doors to the market of graphing calculators, other companies soon followed. In 1987, HP released the HP-28 series, which was the first calculator capable of solving equations symbolically. It was available in two models: the HP-28C and the HP-28S. Both models had a flip-open case with an alphabetic keyboard on the left side and a standard scientific keyboard layout on the right. They also had a 137×32 LCD dot matrix screen.
The HP-28C was the first graphing calculator that had a Computer Algebra System (CAS) and it came with 2KB of RAM. In 1988, the HP-28S model was released, which had a stunning 32KB of RAM and a Saturn processor running at 1 MHz, giving it the same specs as desktop computers from just one year earlier.
Choosing A Graphing Calculator
Graphing calculators can be had for as little as $25 or as much as $200+, so before buying one, it's a good idea to decide which features you need and which you don't. This will prevent you from spending more than needed on a tool that you might only use for a semester or two.
Nearly any student can benefit from a graphing calculator that has Natural Math Display. This allows it to display equations and formulas in exactly the same way as you would write them on a piece of paper; meaning fractions look like fractions and you can use full sized symbols. Having this will make reading a graphing calculator considerably easier, which is especially useful for those new to using them.
CAS makes using a graphing calculator quicker and more efficient. Instead of having to give a numerical definition to each and every variable, you can just perform algebra symbolically. This is an absolute necessity for complex calculations, which not only makes your life easier, but also allows the graphing calculator to solve equations with a higher number of unknown variables.
Only the most expensive models are available with full color screens, and some even are touchscreens. A full color screen will make navigating menus easier and graphs easier to read. Those with a class load heavily focused on mathematics should certainly consider one, but for those who are just taking the bare minimum of math and science classes, it is probably best to choose a less costly model without a color screen.
3D graphing is another feature that is only useful for particular classes. 3D graphing allows a calculator to plot multivariable functions over the x, y, and z planes, as opposed to standard graphing which only plots on the x and y planes. If you are just taking basic algebra and precalculus classes, it's more of a luxury than an essential feature, whereas those taking non-linear algebra and multivariate calculus will find it invaluable.
Two Common Questions About Graphic Calculators
One of the foremost questions parents and students have about graphing calculators is "What classes use them?" Graphing calculators are a vital tool in a number of science and math classes. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a student can expect to use a graphing calculator in algebra classes of all levels; geometry, precalculus and calculus, trigonometry, biology, physics, chemistry, business and finance, and statistics.
Another common question is whether to purchase one with a rechargeable battery or one that uses standard alkaline batteries. While many people these days prefer rechargeable devices, buying one that requires alkaline batteries may be a better choice for those who will be using their graphing calculator for tests.
If a student accidentally forgets to charge their device before a big test, there is nothing they can do about it and will either have to take the test without their graphing calculator, or rush out to a store to buy one that takes alkaline batteries. Even if charged, their is always the risk of it dying during class or a test. Models that take alkaline batteries will always be ready to use as long as a student makes it a habit to keep a few extra batteries in their bag at all times.