5 Best Graphing Calculators for Work and Study | Buyer’s Guide

Dr.Anatom
Dr.Anatom  |  Updated 10/19/2018
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If you’ve considered buying a graphic calculator, but not sure where to begin or what the market has to offer, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll cover how graphic calculators work, different types of calculators, and what to look for when shopping. We’ll look at the TOP 5 best graphic calculators along with their differentiating features to give you a clear idea of what to look for.

What You Will Learn from This Guide:

If you do math or science calculations, you either have or need a graphing calculator. Graphing calculators are a vital tool for students and professionals alike. If you perform simultaneous equations, regressions, or ratios, you want to have a graphing calculator in your pocket to quickly provide a visual representation of your results.

Graphing calculators are essentially handheld computers, although they may also be connected to programmable devices such as gaming units or laboratory equipment.

Today’s graphing calculators expand the single (pre-programmed) calculation process used in the mid-1980s. They allow you to input, calculate, and store formulas and functions with great ease and accuracy. Points are plotted and the graphs, lines, bell-curves, or other results are quickly and clearly displayed.

Display screens have gotten bigger and have higher resolution to accommodate dot matrix read outs. Processors are more powerful to allow quicker calculating. Memory has also expanded to run and store more complex programs, apps, functions, and results.

How Does a Graphing Calculator Work?

A graphing calculator helps students visualize mathematical results and concepts. It also provides a technical check on the accuracy of hand-calculated computations.

They solve simultaneous equations. Results are graphically plotted and appear on the calculator’s display screen. Like basic calculators, there are numerous buttons and function keys that allow you to run a variety of programs and, depending on the model, perform a variety of functions. The more advanced the graphing calculator is, the more complex programs or apps and advanced calculations may be input, stored, and performed.

Different Types of Graphing Calculators

Graphing calculators are versatile units. They may be used individually or connected to devices such as laboratory equipment, weather gauges, thermometers, etc. They may be used for math-based games or programmable learning tools.

CAS (Computer Algebra System) Calculators

CAS calculators generally perform more efficiently and provide results faster because algebra, for example, is performed symbolically rather than assigning each variable a numerical code. CAS graphing calculators are necessary for symbolic math and complex calculations with a number of unknown variables. They manipulate and solve variables and equations, and factors. They find a function’s min. max., and zero by expanding and resolving expressions.

Make sure CAS calculators are approved for use during standardized exams before purchasing one since CAS graphing calculators automatically simplify and perform equations without showing the work. Some CAS calculators are not approved due to their extensive features and function capabilities.

Non-CAS (Non- Computer Algebra System) Calculators

Non-CAS graphing calculators provide all calculations needed by most math/science students. Decimal and fractional results are created through numerical equations, which require students to show their work. As a result, these calculators are generally approved for use during standardized testing. Advanced college or grad students and professionals require greater CAS calculator capabilities.

What to Look For When Buying a Graphing Calculator

  • Cost

Expect to pay more for a graphing calculator ($60 - $300) than a basic one. Graphing calculators are more powerful with more memory, displays typically have a higher resolution, and their processors are faster. You may resell your calculator and recoup some of your initial cost if you take care of it.

There are less expensive ($60 - $125), name-brand, basic graphing calculators that are suitable for high school students. They do not have high-end display screens, but they have functions necessary to complete basic calculations.

Mid-range graphing calculators ($125 - $150) have more features advanced high school and beginning college students need.

High-end graphing calculators ($150 - $300) have high resolution color screens and offer a variety of basic and complex features and functions. These are best-suited for advanced academics and professionals.

  • Battery

Most graphing calculators run on alkaline batteries. If you intend to use it daily for many hours, you may want one that has rechargeable batteries that save you money in the long term.

  • Display

High-end, expensive graphing calculator models have larger, full-color screens that make navigating and menus easier/faster. Some are touchscreens. These are especially helpful if you are heavily-focused on mathematics. Otherwise, a less costly model with the standard monochrome screen will suffice.

  • Natural Display

Graphing calculators with a “natural display” screen show equations and formulas exactly the way you type them. These calculators are easier to use for new users because fractions appear as fractions rather than as decimals and symbols are full-sized.

  • Memory

Manufacturers program a calculator’s read-only (ROM) memory. The more ROM the calculator has, the more versatile the tool is and features/functions it can capably perform.

RAM (random access memory) saves and stores complex programs, apps, and functions. Advanced and more complex calculations require more RAM. The more RAM the calculator has, the longer your information may be safely stored.

  • Processor

Your calculator’s processor speed determines how fast you can perform your calculations. It is measures in megahertz (MHz). Professionals and exam-takers may want a faster processor to quickly complete their decision-making calculations.

TOP 5 Best Graphing Calculators

Sharp Calculators EL-W516TBSL Advanced Scientific Calculator

Sharp Calculators EL-W516TBSL: photo

Sharp’s EL-W516TBSL is an inexpensive, durable, solar-powered advanced scientific calculator that has a large, 16-digit, WriteView screen that displays fractions, symbols, etc. in textbook form.

This graphing calculator has seven operation modes (Normal, Complex, Stat, Drill, List, Matrix, and Equation). It offers 640 functions, memory keys (8 temp, 4 formula, 4 definable), and a Home refresh key. You can perform advanced scientific calculations, quadratic, cubic, and linear equations as well as variable statistics. “It stores up to 14 previous operations, and has 9 assignable variables.”

The downside is that this graphing calculator is not programmable. It is not approved for ACT exams. It also cannot solve inequities/system of inequities or matrix calculations. Also be aware that WriteView only functions in Normal mode.

Recommendations:

This graphing calculator is intended for professionals and math, science, and engineering students. It is standardized testing-approved for SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and Mach IC & IIC exams. A 1-yr. warranty and protective hard case are included.

Casio fx-9750GII Graphing Calculator – Best Basic Graphing Calculator Value

Casio fx-9750GII Graphing Calculator: photo

The Casio fx-9750GII is an affordable, basic, entry-level graphing calculator. Although it is not a professional-grade graphing calculator, it has enough features, functions, and an easy-to-navigate icon-based menu. It features a high-resolution LCD display. It also has a built-in USB data-sharing port and intuitive design and software.

The high-speed 62KB CPU rapidly and accurately processes complex calculations and graphs. It requires four AAA batteries to run, which provides approximately 200+ hrs. of overall battery life. The high-resolution LCD display has enhanced dot area technology which produces sharper lines and clearer images.

The downside of this graphing calculator is that the batteries are non-rechargeable. Additionally, the PC Program Link software to connect it to other devices is not included (sold separately). It also carries a California Proposition 65 Warning.

Recommendations:

This graphing calculator is designed with high school students in mind. It is intended to assist with math studies, from pre-algebra and geometry to calculus and statistics. This graphing calculator is also endorsed and permitted for use by PSAT, SAT, and ACT college entrance exam and AP test companies. A hard slide-on protective cover is included.

Texas Instruments Ti-84 Plus Graphing Calculator – Basic & Inexpensive Graphing Calculator

Texas Instruments Ti-84 Plus: photo

Texas Instrument’s Ti-84 Plus Graphing Calculator is an inexpensive, math/science graphing calculator that calculates to 14-digit accuracy and displays 10 digits with 2-digit exponents. The MathPrint screen displays fractions, symbols, etc. in textbook form. It has pull-down display menus and (vertical and horizontal) split screen options. It has an I/O port to communicate with other TI products. It runs on four AAA batteries. A lithium backup battery protects its RAM memory.

This graphing calculator has pre-loaded function and interactive apps including geometry, inequality graphing, and real-world data analysis. Operation modes include Normal, List, Sequence, Matrix, Equation, and Interactive functions. You can perform advanced scientific calculations, quadratic, cubic, and linear equations as well as variable statistics and matrices.

The downside is that this Ti-84 Plus graphing calculator model does not have a color display.

Recommendations:

This graphing calculator is intended for middle school - college students. Although the Ti-84 Plus is not endorsed by college entrance exam companies, it is permitted for use during SAT, PSAT, ACT, IB, and AP exams. Product tutorials, webinars, and college exam practice questions for your Ti-84 Plus are available online.

HP Prime Graphing Calculator – Best Touch-Screen Graphing Calculator

HP Prime Graphing Calculator: photo

The HP Prime Graphing Calculator is a powerful, high-end, 16-bit touch-screen, personal-assistant graphing calculator. The 400 MHz ARM9 processor is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable battery. It is fast and versatile and accurately plots Boolean graphics. It has an easy-to-read color, icon graphic display menu and simple keyboard. It also has a USB port for communicating with other devices. It incorporates power-off memory protection.

This graphing calculator offers CAS, advanced graphing, dynamic geometry, and spreadsheet applications. It also offers graphing, math, scientific, and statistical functions. It has 256 MB of memory storage and expandable application library.

The downside is this graphing calculator’s complexity!

Recommendations:

This graphing calculator is designed for high school – college students, as well as engineering/surveying and math/science professionals. It is permitted for use during PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT, IB, and AP standardized exams. HP has a 30-day return policy and offers a 1-yr. warranty.

Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CE Graphing Calculator – Best High School Graphing Calculator

Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CE: photo

Texas Instrument’s Ti-84 Plus CE is a durable, lightweight, thin-design graphing calculator. It features a high-resolution, full-color backlit display. The MathPrint screen displays color-coded equations, plots, fractions, symbols, etc. in textbook form. It is powered by a TI lithium ion rechargeable battery. It has an I/O port to import and use images. It incorporates a “deep sleep” mode for idle period memory protection.

This graphing calculator has pre-loaded inequality graphing, data collection, and correct math notation applications. You can perform advanced scientific calculations, quadratic, cubic, and linear equations as well as variable statistics and matrices.

The downside is that this Ti-84 Plus CE graphing calculator model appears to be less durable than its competition. It also tends to quickly drain its battery.

Recommendations:

This graphing calculator is intended for middle – high school and college students. It is approved for use during PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP exams.

What First-Time Graphing Calculator Users Should Know

Purchase a less expensive graphing calculator that has features and functions relevant to your immediate classroom, exams, or office needs. Model upgrades frequently occur and most graphing calculators are within an affordable range that allows you to comfortably upgrade as your needs and level of expertise change.

FAQ – People are asking:

Can you use a graphing calculator on the PSAT or on the SAT?
Ans: Not all graphing calculator brands and/or models are approved by the standardization Board(s) for use during PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP exams. Before purchasing, be sure your brand and model of calculator is endorsed for use by the standardized testing companies.

Which is better, a graphing calculator or a phone app?
Ans: A graphing calculator is a handheld computer with specific menus and pre-loaded app, functions, and spreadsheet applications. The pixel display is made to be larger and clearer on a graphing calculator.

How do you reset a graphing calculator? Ans: Many graphing calculators reset the screen from a central Home refresh key.

Can I solve equations on a graphing calculator?
Ans: Different models offer different computation levels. All graphing calculators perform basic math and scientific calculations such as quadratic, cubic, and linear equations and statistics.

What is the best graphing calculator for high school?
Ans: There are many inexpensive, basic and entry-level graphing calculator models. Select one that has clearly-marked buttons and function keys and the displayed results are easy to see and understand.

Which graphing calculator is best for calculus? Ans: A mid-level/medium-priced graphing calculator will adequately perform pre-calculus, calculus, geometry, trigonometry.

Product Comparison – At a Glance

Product Features Price

Sharp

Sharp Calculators EL-W516TBSL min: photo

  • Power: Solar w/Battery Backup
  • Display: WriteView 4-Line
  • Memory: n/a
$18.92

Casio

Casio fx-9750GII Graphing Calculator min: photo

  • Power: (4) AAA Alkaline Batteries
  • Display: High-Resolution LCD
  • Memory: 26KB Flash
$42.99

Texas Instruments Ti-84 Plus

Texas Instruments Ti-84 Plus min: photo

  • Power: (4) AAA Alkaline Batteries; Lithium Battery Backup
  • Display: Monochrome
  • Memory: 480KB ROM / 24K RAM
$109.98

HP

HP Prime Graphing Calculator min: photo

  • Power: Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
  • Display: TFT - Icon Display Menu
  • Memory: 32 MB mDDR / 256K Flash
$113.00

Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CE

Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CE min: photo

  • Power: Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
  • Display: Full-Color High-Resolution Backlit
  • Memory: 3.0MB ROM / 154K RAM
$128.99

Conclusion

Graphing calculators are essentially handheld computers. The more advanced the graphing calculator is, the more complex programs or apps and advanced calculations may be input, stored, and performed.

They are typically used individually, but many also connect to and interact with other PC, laboratory, and professional devices and instruments.

Basic and mid-level graphing calculators are designed for students (middle – high school and college) as well as professionals. Various models may not be endorsed by standardized testing companies, but they are approved for use by the individual taking any of the standardized (PSAT, SAT, ACT, IB, and AP) exams.

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