If your job involves lots of mathematics, or if you’re considering enrolling in a math-based course at school or university, the first thing you need is a calculator. Simply put, the one on your phone just isn’t going to cut it, plus you won’t be allowed to take that into exams with you.
Instead, you’ll need a graphing calculator. We’ve done the hard part for you – scouring the market for some of the best graphing calculators around, in the hopes that we can help you find one that you like.
Top 4 Best Graphing Calculator In 2020
In the table below, you’ll find the name of each of our top picks, as well as whether it has a computer algebra system (CAS) support or not.
Don’t rush into a decision just yet, though– we still have a lot to talk about.
|Casio fx-9750GII Graphing Calculator||No|
|Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus (Editors Pick)||Yes|
|HP Prime Graphing Calculator||Yes|
|Texas Instruments Nspire CX Graphing Calculator||Yes|
Now that you know a little more about the products we’ll be reviewing, let’s take a second to go over our methodology.
We’re going to be examining each calculator in turn and highlighting any areas which work well, and any which might need improvement, then at the end, we’ll decide which is the best overall, taking into account all of the variables such as price and performance.
Casio fx-9750GII Graphing Calculator – Best Budget Graphing Calculator
If the last calculator you bought was in high school, you’re probably blown away by how expensive some of the more advanced models are. However, they’re not all that expensive – take, for example, the Casio fx-9750GII. It retails for around 45 USD, and it comes with a whole host of functionality that’ll make your phone’s calculator look like a children’s toy.
It can do just about anything you’d ever ask for. Converting decimals to fractions, using the financial function, generating statistics, you name it. On top of that, it excels at creating graphs quickly – it has 62KB of RAM, which is more than double what some of its Texas Instruments rivals have, and this means that you’ll spend far less time waiting for a graph to be produced.
It can solve simple equations but unfortunately lacks more advanced CAS functionality. That said, you do have the choice of output graphs. Your results can be displayed as a pie chart, line graph, bar graph, or conic sections, which really adds to the versatility of this model. It’s even capable of handling larger, more advanced data structures, with a maximum matrix size of 70×70.
The fx-9750GII can connect to your computer using a USB cable, which allows you to backup your data. You can also attach it to a second calculator and share your results with it – a transfer cable is included, but the USB cable is not, so you’ll have to locate one of those yourself. Because it can’t connect to the internet, it’s permitted for use in various examinations such as the SAT, AP tests, and college entrance exams.
This calculator is 6” tall, 4” wide, and one inch thick. It weighs just 7.5 ounces and requires four AAA batteries to function. The first set of batteries is provided with the product, but you’ll need to buy some more eventually, although each set should last you for about a year. The display offers a higher resolution than most, too, at 128×64 pixels.
This allows you to see graphs more clearly and therefore, better understand where exactly each data point lies. The buttons are clear and well labeled too, so you’ll never have to guess as to what each of them does.
This Casio uses an icon-based menu system, which helps to decrease confusion when switching between modes. This alone doesn’t make the calculator easy to use, though: it has a very clean navigational interface, so it’s very difficult to get lost in the menus when trying out a new function.
This may not be the most expensive calculator out there, and it doesn’t offer the ability to solve algebraic problems like the more advanced ones do, but it’s still extremely powerful. For a general mathematics course, this will be overkill, but it’ll get you through the first couple of years of a college-level program with no problems at all. If you’re on a tight budget but still want a good amount of functionality, the fx-9750GII is one of the best graphing calculators around.
What We Liked
- Easy to use
- Advanced graphing functionality
- Low price
What We Didn’t Like
- Lacks CAS
Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus – Best Graphing Calculator for Beginners
How much can you learn for 60 USD? You could take a couple of driving lessons, maybe, or buy a few books to read. A better investment would be something which gives you the tools you need, and explains how to use them in an easily understandable way, which is exactly what the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus does.
Buying this product instantly gives you access to a wealth of tutorials and webinars which explain the things you’ll need to know in order to use this product to its full potential. If you’re looking for a challenge, they also provide college-level exam questions to test yourself with. Since the TI-84 Plus is approved for use in college exams, it’s the perfect gift for new students.
It comes with an extensive manual and more than a dozen apps built-in. These allow you to do everything from solving simultaneous equations to probability simulations, so the applications of this product really are endless. It has 24KB of RAM, which doesn’t sound like much but is still enough for your calculations to be near-instant.
This is a CAS calculator, so it can handle difficult algebraic problems without breaking a sweat. You can even closely examine graphs and navigate them by entering a position. Supported graphs include scatter, histogram, and probability plots, so there’s a range of types here that lower-budget calculators just don’t have. You can even view an equation, the corresponding graph and the current coordinates all on one screen, which is great for the more advanced problems.
This calculator is aimed at higher education students, as high schoolers won’t have much use for most of the technical functions. The good news is that there’s very little that this product can’t do, so once you buy it, you’ll never need another – math doesn’t really change, after all.
As with the last product we saw, this one has USB connectivity so that you can transfer saved data to your PC for safekeeping. It’s 7.8” tall, 6.1” wide and 1.3” thick, plus it weighs 10.2 ounces, so it’s a little bulkier, but not by much.
The transfer cable is included, as are the four AAA batteries needed to run the calculator. You don’t have to worry about it dying mid-use, though – the batteries are estimated to last about four months, and there’s an additional silver oxide battery just in case. You’ll also get a free shock-resistant case, and one year’s limited warranty, which is nice to have.
There are a whole host of reasons to like this calculator. It does just about everything you’d ever need it to, plus, at 60 USD, it won’t break the bank. We really liked the in-depth graph functionality, and the statistical simulations could come in very handy in certain situations. This product is perfect for people who don’t mind paying a little more money for something they’ll never need to replace – it really is the best you can get in this price range.
What We Liked
- Supports algebraic functions
- Relatively inexpensive
- Includes access to extensive online tutorials
What We Didn’t Like
- A little bulky
HP Prime Graphing Calculator – Best Graphing Calculator for Teachers
So far, the graphing calculators have been focused upon students, but there’s another side to that story. With more and more classrooms embracing fully connected, tech-assisted learning, teachers need a way to implement this in mathematics, and the HP Prime Graphing Calculator is a great place to start.
It weighs eight ounces and measures 7.2” tall, 3.4” wide and a little over half an inch thick. This product costs around 100 USD and comes with a 3.5” color LCD display. This display is a touchscreen and can handle multiple touches at once. This touch capability might seem like a gimmick, but it’s actually very beneficial – you can change a function by clicking on it, and it makes it easier to navigate large graphs.
The products above had USB connectivity, sure, but nothing on the level of the HP Prime. Once you connect this calculator to your PC, you can see every other calculator on the network. From here, you can send out quizzes or polls, distribute apps or start exam mode on them. As an added bonus, they don’t use traditional replaceable batteries. Rather, they charge using a simple 5V charger – similar to the one used to charge cell phones. If you have enough for a class, they can be charged overnight, ready for lessons in the morning.
Yes, exam mode. As calculators get more advanced, students have been finding clever new ways to store data on them which could be used during an exam. This mode allows the teacher to disable certain functionality and change the viewing angle for a limited period of time – plus, it’s password-protected, so there’s no way of turning it off prematurely without authorization.
It comes with twelve apps preinstalled, but that isn’t the limit of its function. You can actually create new applications using a simple scripting language. It’s very easy – there’s no need to memorize long strings of code because it’s a simple matter of selecting functions on a virtual calculator screen and choosing when to execute them. This could be an interesting segue into the world of computer programming as well, so it’s really a dual-function educational tool.
You won’t be short of options either. This calculator has functions for dynamic geometry, advanced graphing, spreadsheets, and algebra. You can change between graphical, numerical and symbolic table views at the touch of a button, and even set your own custom background image.
We know that at 100 USD each, it’s not going to be easy to fit several of these into the budget. That said, if you do find a way, you’ll notice a significant improvement in participation in maths class. The ability to add custom apps is invaluable – think about it. You could create problems for the class to solve without using the most obvious method, thereby increasing their problem-solving skills.
Considering that these calculators are cheat-proof and accepted for use during major examinations, they’re practically perfect.
What We Liked
- Rechargeable battery
- High level of customization
- Exam mode makes it perfect for classroom use
What We Didn’t Like
- Pretty expensive
Texas Instruments Nspire CX Graphing Calculator – Best High-End Graphing Calculator
At a little over 140 USD, this calculator isn’t going to be for everyone. The Texas Instruments Nspire CX has a lot of functionality that helps to justify its higher price, though, and for the hardest levels of mathematics, there’s little better out there.
This is Texas Instruments’ lightest and thinnest graphing calculator, weighing just 12.8 ounces, and measuring 10.8” tall, 7.6” wide and 2” thick. It is a fair bit chunkier than any of the others we’ve seen, but dimensions aside, it remains competitive. It has a backlit, high-resolution color display, and a rechargeable battery which lasts for up to two weeks on a single charge. The Nspire CX comes with a charging cable, but it uses the same micro USB charger as your cell phone, so even if you lose it, you don’t have to spend money on a replacement.
For the most part, this calculator is easy to use. It has dedicated alphabet keys so you can enter text very quickly, and the menu structure is simple and easy to navigate. The only real issue we have with it is its arrow keys. These are very sensitive, and it’s easy to overshoot the option you meant to select.
As you might expect, this calculator can handle graphing, geometric problems, spreadsheets, and statistics. On top of all this, it also lets you write notes right next to the calculations. This means that you’ll never forget the steps needed to solve a tricky equation, and since you can color code all the different lines on a graph, it’s unlikely that you’ll get confused and have to start over partway through.
As well as all of this, this model allows you to graph and rotate 3d functions, and displays each calculation in multiple forms: numerical, algebraic, and graph. This gives the user a better understanding of the logic behind the process and enhances their learning overall. You can even store images and place functions on top of them. This is really innovative and useful – in a classroom setting, the teacher could use this to provide specific images and have the students work out the angle of an object in the image, for example.
The advanced functionality of this model is both a blessing and a curse. Because it can do so many different things, it’s very useful in a classroom, but for the same reason, it’s not allowed to be used during some exams. This is a real shame, but it’s understandable since there’s no way for it to limit its functionality like the HP Prime can.
If you have a little more money in the budget, this calculator will ensure that you never end up stuck on a problem again. We really wish Texas Instruments had included some kind of functionality limiter since this would allow it to be used in an exam room, but even without, it’s a solid product.
What We Liked
- Rechargable battery
- Very advanced functionality
- Dedicated alphabet keys
What We Didn’t Like
- Not allowed in some exams
- Arrow keys are very sensitive
Which Graphing Calculator Is Right For Me?
Half of the reason why it’s so hard to compare graphing calculators is that mathematics is difficult for the layman to understand. Don’t worry, though – we’ve created a short guide that will let you know which features to look for in order to find a graphing calculator that fits your needs perfectly.
The functionality you need is heavily dependent on what you plan to use the calculator for. If you just want to do simple calculations, you don’t need a graphing calculator. On the other hand, if you’re starting a financial subject, you’ll need a calculator which can do financial conversions. If you’re studying advanced mathematics, you should be looking for a calculator that can create the largest range of graphs.
If you have closed book exams at any point, you’ll have to make sure that you can take your purchase in with you. Most exams will provide you with a list of suitable calculators beforehand, but you can check which types are allowed on your college’s website. Some calculators will not be allowed, and the reason for this is simple: the examiners only want you to be able to use certain functions. That means no internet access, no storing notes (unless otherwise permitted), and no functions which automatically calculate the answer for you.
Check what kind of battery the calculator has. There’s little worse or more embarrassing than running out of charge in the middle of an exam! Most lower-end calculators will use AAA batteries, and these last for a very long time, but you can also find models that have their own rechargeable batteries instead. Neither is inherently better, but at least you’ll have a rough idea of when the rechargeable battery needs charging up again.
Computer Algebra System
The more advanced calculators include something called a computer algebra system, or CAS. This is incredibly useful because it allows you to enter values for variables. Given an equation, the CAS will solve it for you, and some models even show you the steps so that you can do it yourself next time. That’s the basic idea anyway, but if you’re interested in finding out how they work, you can check the Wikipedia entry here.
These systems are intended for people who use algebra a lot, not high school students. They’re invaluable in machine learning, for example, since it’s an incredibly dense and mathematical field which frequently deals with algebraic equations.
As you’ve seen, we’ve got a graphing calculator for every need and every budget. We’ve come to the difficult part – choosing a favorite. After careful consideration, we’ve decided that the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus is the best overall.
It’s a very powerful calculator that can handle most college-level applications.
The fact that it’s only 60 USD and comes with a whole range of tutorials and guides is incredible – too often, teaching yourself the finer points of mathematics involves reading pages and pages of complex equations, but Texas Instruments have illustrated them in a way that allows you to try out new functions as you progress, which is great.
With a bit of luck, you’ve found a graphing calculator that you like. If you have, we hope that you’ll remember us the next time you’re having trouble choosing a product. Feel free to leave a rating or comment below, and we’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.