Graphing calculators are an indispensable tool for students and scientists due to their ability to perform complex calculations in a matter of seconds. There are many on the market, however, which can make purchasing the right one a tough choice.
In a hurry?
In our and many others opinion there are three brands that you should stick to and by purchasing one of their models you can’t really go wrong. The best graphing calculators are made by Texas Instruments, Casio and HP. We have included six of the best by these brands.
You may also be interested in our Buyers Guide, so you know what features to look out for and can make an informed decision instead of purchasing the first popular and well-reviewed model you come across.
- 1 Graphing Calculator Comparison Table
- 2 Graphing Calculator Reviews
- 3 Graphing Calculator Buyers Guide
Graphing Calculator Comparison Table
Graphing Calculator Reviews
Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus
By far the most popular model and found in classes all across the country is the TI-84 Plus. The TI-84 Plus is the improved version of the TI-83 Plus, which is the best-selling calculator of all time. Therefore, you just know that it is good. Let’s take a closer look at its features, however, to see what has been improved upon.
The two main differences are that the TI-84 Plus predecessor’s User Available Memory stands at 160KB ROM/24K RAM compared to 480KB ROM/24K RAM, thereby making the newer model much more efficient, and the TI-84 Plus can also be used for Geometry, Pre-Calculus, College Math, and Linear Algebra.
The TI-84 Plus comes packed with more than a dozen applications that are already preloaded. It is also certainly a model that teachers will appreciate, as it encourages students to enter various equations and fractions in correct notation, so students get into the right habits from the very start.
As good as this calculator is it wouldn’t be much use if it wasn’t allowed to be used in during exams. Thankfully, it is approved for use on the SAT, PSAT, IB and AP tests, and ACT college entrance exams.
It’s also worth noting that purchase of this model gives you access to tutorials, webinars and college exam prep resources, which is a nice touch, particularly as the information is of high quality.
4 AAA batteries are needed for the TI-84 Plus to function, although a silver oxide battery is also included for backup purposes. An impact-resistant protective slide case and TI connectivity/USB cable are also included in the box.
Texas Instruments Nspire CX CAS
Another great calculator from Texas Instruments we recommend is the Nspire CX CAS. It has plenty going for it, and not just aesthetically speaking.
This calculator features one of the highest quality and brightest displays around (there are 10 brightness levels) and has the benefit of being full-color, particularly when you take into account its price. This makes it easy to see each and every line, variable and exponent clearly.
It is also very sleek, light and thin – in fact it still is one of the thinnest and lightest models around despite having been release a few years ago. We really like how 3D graphing is supported too, with both manual and automatic functions, which is always a plus.
Other features include the ability to transfer data to your computer, and the sheer number of templates built-in that makes solving integrals and equations a far simpler process if you ever get stuck.
It is powered by a rechargeable battery, which lasts up to two weeks on a single charge and is comparable to similarly priced models. Therefore, keep in mind that alkaline batteries can’t be used with this model.
If you’re on a tight budget yet are still looking for one of the best graphing calculators this model from Casio is certainly the one we recommend. It may not look as pretty as other models, but it certainly gets the job done.
The Casio fx-9750GII is decently fast with its 62KB RAM, especially for the price the calculator retails at, allowing you to perform lengthy calculations and complex graphics relatively quickly. The 64 x 128 dot LCD display is also designed well enough to make everything easy to read and ensure everything is displayed sharply. As you may expect at this price, the display isn’t colored.
Even though this model is more inexpensive than many others, a large number of people feel it is better designed and more intuitive to use compared to Texas Instruments models, which comes as a surprise, but we’re certainly not complaining.
The calculator is powered by four AAA batteries that come included in the box. A protective hard case and USB cable for sharing data to other calculators and computers are also included.
The Casio fx-9750GII can be used on AP tests, as well as on the PSAT/ NMSQT, SAT and ACT exams no problem.
Casio FX-CG10 PRIZM
This calculator from Casio is another well-priced model and also has the benefit of featuring a full-color LCD screen that measures 3.7” and contains over 82,000 pixels so all data can be seen very clearly with just a quick glance.
The calculator is quite fast – 3-5X faster than conventional models with its 62KB RAM – so complex graphics and lengthy calculations are performed quickly. There is also 1.5 MB of flash memory.
Like many other Casio models, the FX-CG10 can be used for AP tests, SAT and ACT college entrance exams, and on the PSAT/NMSQT. This model is also intuitive and easy to use – something that Casio is well-known for and something you would expect.
4 AAA batteries are required for power, there is USB connectivity, and the calculator comes packed with all of the software you need to get the job done, including Picture Plot Technology, Dynamic Graphing, a Built-in Spreadsheet Application, In-Depth Conics application, and much more.
The HP 50g may not be quite as inexpensive as the Casio fx-9750GII, but for $20 or so more it makes a great contender as the best graphing calculator on a budget, particularly if you’re looking for something faster.
It features a few key improvements over its predecessor – the 49G – such as a 30% increase in usable space. It is also faster with its 512 KB RAM and 2 MB ROM. The equation library is bigger than ever with 2,300 built-in functions too.
Memory stands at 2.5 MB, although there is a slot for a SD card, which is much appreciated if there has ever been a time where you have had to frantically try to make space for data when it was running out.
Some of the HP 50g’s tools include built-in graphing functions, constants, and applications; step-by-step problem solving examples; and the choice between Textbook, RPN, or Algebraic data.
4 AAA batteries are required, which are included along with a USB cable, connectivity software, and a pouch.
Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX
The first thing you should know about this calculator from Texas Instruments is that it is Non-CAS. So if you need a Non-CAS model then this is the best one graphing calculators there is and it can do a whole lot in its sleek and light design, displaying all data in full-color.
This includes calculations for Pre-Algebra, and Algebra I & II that some models are unable to do so. Keep in mind that it is not suitable for electrical engineering.
The memory on this calculator is fantastic, standing at 100MB. The device allows you to do things like import digital images (including your own) and overlay graphs and equations on them; enter values in proper notation; use 3D graphing capabilities; and use a drop-down menu to navigate through all of the options very intuitively. Things that many other models simply can’t do, particularly the ability to utilize images.
A rechargeable battery instead of alkaline batteries is used, which lasts for approximately two weeks after a single charge. Connectivity software and a USB cable are also included.
This model is permitted for SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, ACT, AP and exam IB exams, in addition to some state exams.
Graphing Calculator Buyers Guide
What is a Graphing Calculator?
A graphing calculator may look similar to a regular calculator, but it can perform much more advanced calculations. While a regular model may only be able to perform simple functions like addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication, these calculators enable you to also plot graph data, and calculate formulas and equations with variables, among other things.
Why Buy a Graphing Calculator?
If you’re in high school or college and are in an advanced class that contains calculus, geometry and algebra modules, then it’s likely that you’ve been asked to purchase one of these calculators. If you’re in a math-heavy profession you are likely already familiar with them too.
You need to own a graphing calculator because they allow you to calculate things that a regular calculator simply cannot. They also have the benefit of being of very fast and efficient, enable you to check calculations performed on paper, and work with other instruments like light meters, for example.
Different Types of Graphing Calculators
There are two types of calculators – CAS and Non-CAS.
CAS stands for Computer Algebra System. These calculators enable you to perform complex calculations that involve manipulating variables, solving equations, factoring, and so on. These models are certainly hugely beneficial for advanced math classes and for scientists.
Non-CAS models, on the other hand, also feature a graphic display screen, but do not allow you to perform complex calculations and stick to just performing basic calculations. Why would anyone opt for a Non-CAS model, you may ask? Well, sometimes CAS calculators aren’t permitted to be used and they also tend to be more expensive.
Factors to Consider
There are several factors to consider before you make your choice. Some factors can be considered to be more important than others, but you should take all into account so you can get the whole picture and be happy with your choice, even if your classes get more advanced and newer models become available.
They vary quite substantially in price. There are a few good models that retail at around $50 – and we have even included a couple above, as we know that some people are operating under a budget – but be prepared to pay over $100 if you really want one of the very best graphing calculators.
As mentioned above, there are CAS and Non-CAS models. You should always opt to use a CAS model if you can, and you are usually able to for the SAT, AP calculus, and in many high schools and colleges. However, some models are banned by the ACT and some teachers feel that they help too much so they may also not permit students to use them.
It’s always a good idea to look for a model that has a high resolution display, particularly because under time-sensitive conditions, such as for exams, you need to be able to perform calculations as efficiently as possible. It’s also a good idea to purchase a model that comes with a full-color display, although these tend to be more expensive.
Some of the best models allow you to connect them to a laptop via a USB cord to perform important updates and maintain programming whereas others do not.
2D vs. 3D Graphing
Older models tend to feature 2D graphing capabilities instead of 3D capabilities because the technology just wasn’t there and/or it would have been expensive to include at the time. So decide which one you would prefer. Is the higher cost for 3D graphing justifiable to you?
4 AAA alkaline batteries are often required to function, but some models also feature backup batteries built into their design, such as CR1616, CR1620, and SR44SW batteries, or even use rechargeable batteries. Therefore, consider your power needs before you purchase a model.
While it may be costly to keep on replacing batteries, rechargeable batteries may die on you if you forget to charge them before a big exam, which will drastically affect your score. This is definitely something that you need to take into account.
Anything electronic can eventually fail, even if you treat it with the utmost care. Therefore, be on the lookout for calculators that come with generous warranties, so you don’t end up wasting your money and having to purchase a new model. In general, the better the warranty the more expensive and one of the best graphing calculators it usually is. We don’t want to worry you, as failure is usually quite rare, but it’s still something to keep in mind.