The 10 Best Scientific Calculators
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in January of 2017. Knowing how to find the correct answer is often just as important as actually reaching it. During everyday classes, standardized testing, and specialized engineering projects, the right scientific calculator enables complex computations, as long as you are sufficiently well-versed in its use. From seasoned professionals to young students, there's a model to suit everyone's needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
September 09, 2020:
As you might expect, there's not a ton of modern innovation in the field of calculators. In fact, there's not even much refinement; the whole point of many of these is to accompany students and professionals who already have a significant grasp of certain subject matters.
As such, the TI-36X Pro remains the top choice for standard scientific endeavors, and the TI-84 Plus CE is still the calculator to use for students who need advanced, yet still test-approved, graphing functions. If you're not concerned about proctored tests, the Texas Instruments Nspire CX II and TI NSpire CAS are both highly advanced options that boast significantly more complex processing systems and displays than many others.
Alternatively, there are some old releases, albeit with a few modern upgrades, that are worth considering. The HP 35S and HP 12C Platinum are decidedly classic options that will still last for many years. On the other hand, the Casio FX-260 is one of the most affordable choices out there, and for trained mathematicians or simple equations, it might be all that's needed. The Casio FX-9750 GII, meanwhile, is similarly affordable, yet has a highly useful two-line display that's also compatible with sub- and superscript output.
August 14, 2019:
It's been said that that there are 10 kinds of people in this world: those who understand binary, and those who don't. Whether you're already in the first group or you're on your way there, the calculator world definitely has a ton of options for you to choose from. If you'll be using it on standardized testing, the TI-36X and Casio FX-115ES are worth a look because they're reliable and relatively inexpensive. The HP Prime and 35S are similar, though they are a little heavier and have a bit more of a professional feel; they're also a touch more expensive. If you'll be using it mostly to tabulate budgets and payroll at the office, the 12C Platinum may be your best bet; its reverse Polish notation is often considered the easiest for computing long financial records.
Then there are graphing calculators. Many tests don't allow these, but for some they're explicitly required. Do be aware that the TI NSpire CAS is definitely not allowed on many of those tests, in part because it's practically a pocket computer (its CAS computation method can do much of the important work for you, which of course flies in the face of testing). The NSpire CX II and iconic TI 84 Plus are two of the top choices in the graphing calculator realm. Also keep in mind the Casio FX-9750, which offers nearly all of the functionality of TI's top offerings, but costs far less and comes in multiple colors to help differentiate yours from the rest of the class's calculators.
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What Exactly Is A Scientific Calculator?
Most are programmable, as well, meaning that the user can create custom programs perfectly suited to their specific needs.
Scientific calculators, much like traditional calculators, are used to help solve problems that would be difficult and time consuming to do manually. Traditional calculators have very limited functionality, though, usually relegated to the basic arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Scientific calculators feature much more advanced functionality that makes them capable of solving mathematics, science, and engineering problems that are far beyond the basic operations of a traditional model.
One of the first things you might notice when looking at a scientific calculator is that it has significantly more buttons than the traditional calculators you have probably been using since you were a child. While this may make them appear somewhat intimidating at first, once you learn what each of these buttons does, and how to use them, you will find a scientific calculator to be an indispensable tool in trigonometry, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and more.
Some examples of buttons found on scientific calculators that may not be found on traditional models include the parenthesis buttons, which tells the calculator in what order you want your equation solved, and the exponent button, which automatically adds the multiplication by 10 to a specified exponent value. They also have dedicated trigonometry and logarithmic buttons. Rather than spending time pouring over mathematical tables and using slide rulers to find the answers you need, you can simple press the sinh, sin, cosh, cos, tanh, or tan button, and have the answer you need in a fraction of a second.
Despite some similarities, scientific calculators should not be confused with graphing calculators. Graphing calculators contain a superset of scientific calculator functionality, in addition to having the ability to plot graphs. Most are programmable, as well, meaning that the user can create custom programs perfectly suited to their specific needs. For these reasons, a graphing calculator can be fully capable replacement for a scientific calculator in all applications, but not vice versa.
The History Of Scientific Calculators
Depending on how you choose to categorize it, it can be said that the first scientific calculator was the Mathatronics Mathatron 8-48M Mod II, developed from 1962 to 1965. Though not as full-featured as the models we use today, it was capable of trigonometric functions, logarithms, and exponential calculations. The Wang LOCI-1 and LOCI-2, released in late 1964 and early 1965, were also capable of some logarithms and trigonometric functions. Because of the limited functionality of these early models, some historians don't consider them scientific calculators. Rather, they are just identified as having some features of scientific calculators, but not actually being them.
Because of the large size of all of these early models though, they can truly just as easily be thought of as early desktop computers instead of calculators.
The first definitive scientific calculator capable of the majority of the functions of modern day models was the Hewlett-Packard HP-9100A. It was built entirely using discrete transistor logic and had no integrated circuits. The HP-9100A was the first personal computing device to use the the CORDIC algorithm, as well as the first model to use the Reverse Polish Notation format, which HP still uses in many of their scientific, graphing, and financial calculators.
Because of the large size of all of these early models though, they can truly just as easily be thought of as early desktop computers instead of calculators. So, in 1970, Bill Hewlett challenged his employees to create a pocket-sized version of the HP-9100A capable of all the same trigonometric functions. Thomas M. Whitney, leading a team of engineers, rose to the challenge, producing the HP-35, which went into commercial production in 1972. The HP-35 was so named due to the 35 buttons on its keyboard.
Texas Instruments released the second handheld scientific calculator in early 1974, the SR-50. Along with Casio, who released their first desktop scientific calculator in 1972, Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard are still the three most popular scientific calculator brands.
Determining What Kind Of Calculator You Need
The first step in buying a calculator to aid in solving complex equations is to determine your needs, and what type of calculator best suits them: basic, scientific, graphing, or financial.
Some may be able to calculate square roots and percentages, as well, but in truth, these are just applications of a combination of some the four basic functions.
Basic calculators, as mentioned previously, are generally only capable of four functions, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some may be able to calculate square roots and percentages, as well, but in truth, these are just applications of a combination of some the four basic functions. If your mathematics needs don't extend beyond these functions, then there is no reason to spend more money on one of the more advanced calculator types. Since basic calculators have a very limited functionality, they can be quite compact and lightweight too, as they don't require too many buttons, making them very easy to transport.
Scientific calculators are intended for students who need to solve more advanced mathematics problems. If you are enrolled to start a trigonometry, chemistry, or physics class soon, it is almost guaranteed that you will need a scientific calculator as an aid. Some algebra classes may also require the use of a scientific calculator.
Graphing calculators are useful for anybody who needs to be able to program customized functionality into their device, or for anyone who needs to be able to plot points on a graph. This includes engineering majors, as well as those taking geometry or calculus classes. While it may seem like a no brainer to just skip past a scientific calculator and buy a graphing model since they are capable of all the same functions and then some, it may not be worth spending the extra money if you won't need the advanced functionality. Graphic calculators are significantly more expensive than scientific models. It is also worth noting that there may be classes or tests in which a scientific calculator is allowed, but a graphing one is not.
As you may have guessed by the name, financial calculators are ideal for many financial applications, such as calculating payments, figuring out the future value of a loan or annuity, or determining interest rates. Some may allow the user to add customized functionality, but they are still best for solely business and commercial applications, and wouldn't be of much help in advanced level mathematics, science, or engineering classes.