Let’s be real, graphing calculators are expensive. It is important to find the right one that suits your needs in the classroom or at your workplace as an engineer.
This article will highlight what the most important features in a graphing calculator are, and help you determine the best calculator for your specific needs.
Here are the best graphing calculators to consider as an engineer or engineering student:
Summary: The TI-84 CE is our pick for the best overall graphing calculator because of its robust software and reasonable price point. The CE is a more modern take on the older TI-84 editions, but with better processing speed (2.5x faster), battery life, screen resolution, and an overall sleeker and compact look.
Summary: The CASIO fx-9750GII is a clear winner for the cheapest graphing calculator with the best technical specifications. Coming in at a low price under ~$70, this is one of the least expensive graphing calculators on the market.
This calculator allows for programming in Python. Given the programming language’s popularity in almost all engineering disciplines, this is definitely a stand out feature at the calculator’s price point.
One of the biggest advantages is how user friendly it is, which is partly due to its lack of fancy features that most people will probably never use (i.e. 3D graphing, spreadsheets, periodic tables).
Summary: The TI-Nspire CX CAS is a whole different beast of a machine. Weighing in at an impressively light weight of 242 grams, this calculator has an insane 132 MHz processing speed, which for reference is almost 9 times more than the classic TI-84. This is what will give you an incredibly fast graphing time with absolutely no lag. You will also get pristine image quality with the high pixel density which is very helpful when plotting multiple curves or complex models.
With an impressive 64 MB of RAM and 100 MB of flash ROM, this beauty will be able to save anything from multiple graphing functions, to TI-Nspire documents . If money is no object, or you require high functionality and a wide range of applications, then the TI-Nspire CX CAS is the calculator for you.
Summary: In a world where almost every handheld device features a touch screen, this calculator sets itself apart from the other point and click calculators. This calculator is very comparable to the TI-Nspire CX in terms of both design and software. The high processing speed, durable metal build, and touch screen are all great features that create a much better experience for the user.
Oh, and one other cool feature is its dark mode which we have not seen on any other calculator; definitely great for the eyes on those long nights alone with your calculator.
There are 6 main considerations that need to be taken into account when purchasing a graphing calculator:
Most calculators typically cost more than $100. Although graphing calculators are technology from the early 2000s, the supply and demand dynamics work in its favor and are a huge influence on its high price point.
That being said, the best way to look at buying a graphing calculator is as an investment for your academic and professional engineering career.
Just like any investment, you want the best value for your money. Whilst cheaper calculators provide the functionality one needs for most engineering courses, they usually lack in hardware quality and are more prone to damage.
We also recommend purchasing a calculator case to preserve the longevity of your investment.
There are two leading brands in the graphing calculator game; Texas Instruments and Casio. Both companies have been manufacturing and marketing their graphing calculators for over 30 years.
Leading brands can be trusted. It is a much safer investment to purchase a calculator from a company with years of experience and product expertise under its belt. Most of the calculator models sold by both Casio and Texas Instruments have undergone several iterations and have optimized functionalities to deal with visualizing complicated functions and problems you will encounter in your engineering career.
Memory on graphing calculators exists in RAM (Random Access Memory) and FlashROM (Read Only Memory). RAM is the fastest of both memories and is used when programs are being run but gets cleared easily after crashes. Flash ROM is more reliable in the long term and is commonly referred to as archive memory.
You want to be rest assured that your calculator has sufficient RAM storage to allow you to perform computations stress-free during a test and enough Flash ROM to recover your saved applications and programs.
All graphing calculators are not created equal. Some come with batteries and others require a purchase of batteries. Some have inbuilt batteries that are rechargeable.
From our personal use and experience, we have found that graphing calculators that require batteries are typically more reliable, especially in exam scenarios. With normal use, calculators like the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE Graphing Calculator tend to last for about a year with their backup batteries typically lasting 2 to 5 years which eliminates any immediate worry.
That being said, rechargeable graphing calculators typically require approximately 4 hours to fully charge their batteries but a fully charged calculator like the TI-Nspire CX typically lasts for about 2 weeks on full charge. In fact, the TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator is provided with two weeks worth of charge!
There are three things to consider in relation to screen quality
We favor colored screens over the more common monochromatic LCD. It makes learning more visually stimulating. On a more scientific note, our brain uses color to develop pattern recognition, memory and absorbing information. Imagine how helpful this could be during those extended late night study sessions!
Most colored screen calculators typically have a higher resolution of about 360 x 240 px compared to their monochromatic non-lit counterparts. This means calculators like the TI-Nspire CX or the TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator would be ideal choices if you are looking to optimize resolution as a consideration.
There is a reason why screen sizes for most handheld devices have increased over the years. We want to see more and quite literally, get the bigger picture. This is why screen size is an important consideration when buying a graphing calculator.
A smaller screen size will pose a difficulty in deciphering intersection points on plotted functions or may cause the program menu to appear too condensed.
Most CAS calculators offer a larger screen size to optimize the display of the wide array of functions they have. If you consider screen size an important factor in your decision making process, we would recommend the HP Prime G2 Graphing Calculator. Its 3.5-inch/8.9 cm diagonal coupled with its impressively responsive touchscreen display only make the user experience more satisfying!
Our recommendation would be to opt for a graphing calculator with inbuilt rechargeable batteries like the TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator, as AAA or AA batteries tend to add a little extra weight to a calculator.
The last thing you want to happen is to buy a graphing calculator for the upcoming school year and realize that you cannot take advantage of any of its unique features.
Although most of the common graphing calculators are permitted at a high school level in SAT, PSAT, ACT, AP and IB exams. At a university level, it is best to confirm you are allowed to use these calculators with your professors before the school year for courses like Linear Algebra, Calculus I and II, Numerical Methods etc.
Graphing calculators allow us to plot functions which are the building blocks of modelling these phenomena. Engineering by nature is all about utilizing models to understand and control aspects of the natural world.
Here are some great ways to take advantage of the full functionality of your graphing calculator:
Our favorite channel for the Texas Instruments is called Texas Instruments Education.
You can find these manuals on the official website of your specific calculator model. They offer an in depth guide to your calculators functions and abilities.
There are a whole host of websites (i.e. dummies.com, sciencing.com) that provide great resources and cheat sheets on how to use your calculator.
Yes. Graphing calculators can be very helpful as a working engineer, but this is very dependent on the type of work you are doing. Many companies utilize enterprise level software for advanced modelling and calculations (Minitab, Python, Excel), however it is always safe to have your own robust graphing calculator to perform any necessary verifications.
Calculators are an investment that require deliberation before making a purchase. Do your research and follow our guide to find the perfect match for you.
This is such a helpful article! I have been trying to find the best calculator to get for my classes this coming semester since they all have a heavy graphing component to them. This article gave me all the details I needed.
I’m surprised that you didn’t include the Casio Prizm FX-CG50 in your list. It has both a color screen and python programming for a low price. (Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/CASIO-PRIZM-FX-CG50-Graphing-Calculator/dp/B0711D5RNZ/ref=psdc_172518_t1_B0727XX94K)
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