Calculators save us time and help minimize mathematical errors. But a scientific calculator can only do so much. If you need to chart curves or perform complex trigonometry calculations, you need a graphing calculator. These feature-rich machines can solve complex problems with ease, but some are more user-friendly than others.
The right graphing calculator for your needs depends on several factors, including your intended use for the calculator. Here's a brief guide to graphing calculators to help you choose the model that best suits your needs. Our favorite is packed with features but won't break the bank - check it out here.
Considerations when choosing graphing calculators
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what kinds of calculations you need your graphing calculator to be able to perform. If you need the calculator for a high school or college math course, the instructor may have some suggestions as to which model you should choose. If not, then consider the types of calculations you may be asked to perform. Most graphing calculators are capable of performing everything from pre-algebra graphing functions all the way up to complex calculus and statistics problems.
You'll also need to decide between computer algebra system (CAS) and non-CAS calculators. CAS calculators tend to be pricier, but they do more of the work for the student. This is not always ideal when you need to show how you solved a problem. In this case, a non-CAS calculator is probably a better fit.
Features on each graphing calculator model vary, and it helps to be aware of some general factors to help assess which calculator would best fulfill your needs.
Check with the manufacturer to see what the battery life is. If you're concerned about your calculator dying quickly, you may want to keep a spare set of batteries on hand.
Graphing calculators enable you to store functions and apps so you can access them later. The memory will vary depending on the model you choose. Not everyone will need to use this feature, but it can save you some time retyping functions.
Graphing calculator processor speeds are measured in megahertz (MHz). The larger the number, the faster the calculator will be at solving problems.
Screen size varies from one graphing calculator to the next, and this can impact how easy it is to read the results. Some calculators also have color screens, which is useful if you want to color-code certain information.
Graphing calculators range in price from $60 to $300. High school students can probably get by with an inexpensive calculator that's $125 or less. Mid-range models costing $125 to $150 are best for advanced high school and college courses. Professionals who need to perform complex calculations regularly may want to invest in a high-end model costing $150 or more.
Q. Will a graphing calculator do all the work for me?
A. It will do some of the work for you, and it will speed up some of your calculations, but you still need to understand the principles behind what you're doing in order to use the graphing calculator correctly.
Q. Do I really need a graphing calculator?
A. Graphing calculators are capable of performing more advanced functions than scientific calculators, and they can display the solutions visually. You may be able to do the calculations without a scientific calculator, but it will take more time and effort on your part.
Graphing calculators we recommend
Best of the best: Texas Instruments Nspire CX
Our take: The feature-rich Nspire calculator has a bounty of valuable tools.
What we like: This graphing calculator has a long battery life and a crisp, color display.
What we dislike: Some find the buttons to be too small and awkward to press.
Best bang for your buck: HP Prime Graphing Calculator
Our take: The competitive price and powerful apps have solidified this as one of the most popular graphing calculators on the market.
What we like: It has a large color display that's easy to read. It performs calculations quickly and accurately and offers apps for all types of calculations.
What we dislike: You'll need to read through the owner's manual in order to take full advantage of all the complex features of this calculator.
Choice 3: Casio PRIZM Color Graphing Calculator
Our take: Novices will appreciate how easy this graphing calculator is to use. Experienced users will love the variety of functions it can perform.
What we like: This calculator has a color display and USB connectivity. There's also a joystick for easy navigation through all of the calculator's programs.
What we dislike: Users have complained that the battery drains quickly, so you may want to purchase a power adapter as well.
Kailey Fralick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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