Best Graphing Calculator

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

2021-02-06 If you buying a Graphing Calculator, Hp Prime is better than TI-Nspire, and Casio is even better.

Am a fan of calculators. My fond memory is HP-28S that i bought in 1991 for some $250, and wrote my first program to solve the 8-queens problem without knowing anything about programing. And also wrote a large program to play any musical chords and scales.

But that calculator is basically my last one as well. Mathematica and computer took over. [see Wolfram Language in Depth] Since the HP-28, the next generation the HP-48 came along, but i never got into it (and am out of college as well). However, now and then i look at the calculator scene as a arm-chair philosopher. Checking their current capabilities, their design, placement of buttons, symbols on the keys [see Unicode: Math Symbols ∑ ∫ π² ∞] , user interface, and muse over the issues of tech advance, education, futurism.

Casio fx-300W Calculator

The only calc i currently own, but basically never use, is Casio fx-300w.

What Would Euler, Gauss, Think?

Been always fascinated by calculators. You know how in scientific calculators there's these buttons {sin, cos, log}? Seeing them, around age 11, my thought was that they are very advanced things, that to know what they are would mean something like a rocket scientist.

While in college, i have this fantasy of bringing a basic scientific calculator and show it to Euler, Gauss, them 1700s guys. I would tell them, “Look at this! you see this sin log buttons?” and they would go “huh? what?”. Then i would proceed to explain the magic on my hand.

Latest and Greatest

Today i took a hour to gander at today's calculator scene. Here's some summary.

The HP calculators, once was the love of true tech geeks since 1970s, but from about 2000 to 2010 they have degraded so badly to universal bad reviews. The series during this time is HP-49 series, but not worth your money. Lousy buttons, lousy features, slow, lousy look.

HP-50g calculator 2014-08-07
HP-50g calculator. Year 2004. Buy at amazon (photo by [Nathan Campos])

HP Prime Graphing Calculator

HP revived their calculator department with the HP Prime. This is much better than the compitition of similar category the TI-nspire.

HP Prime graphing calculator 2013
HP Prime graphing calculator, year 2013 to 2015. (photo by [Jonathan Cameron])

Current version is, HP Prime graphing calculator II, model 2AP18AA#ABA, year 2019. Buy at amazon

As of 2021-02-18, the HP Prime is much better than the TI graphing calculators. Significantly faster, and the buttons are better quality, doesn't wiggle. The TI's buttons wiggles.

Texas Instruments Calculators

The TI calculators, became a strong player in calculators starting in early 1990s, and just gets better. Then it became a required item in USA colleges, and it became fat and lazy, and stagnated, and became much worse and more expensive than competitions.

TI-Nspire CX II CAS Calculator 9NtYs
Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator with Student Software (PC/Mac). year 2019. Buy at amazon
TI-84 Plus CE yY2Ts
TI-84 Plus CE yY2Ts

TI-84 Plus CE Buy at amazon

The TI-Nspire, as of 2021, is worse than similarly priced HP Prime, and worse than Casio that's $60 cheaper.


What about Casio? They are the best. The latest model, is a touch-screen based Casio ClassPad 300. According to some reviewers at amazon who owns all the HP and TI ones, they say this is the best, beats TI-Nspire. I tend to believe it.


The CASIO PRIZM FX-CG50 is faster and better than TI's graphing calculators, plus, the Casio is about $60 cheaper. But it is is slower than the HP Prime, well, it's also $50 cheaper.

CASIO PRIZM FX-CG50 Buy at amazon
Casio fx-CG500 calculator 42nWp
Casio Touchscreen with Stylus Graphing Calculator, 4.8 inch touch screen. (fx-CG500) year 2017. Buy at amazon

Wait, I Want My sin Button Back!

Where did the sin button go?

I want lots physical buttons with weird symbols on them. Physical buttons give me a sense of math, the esoterism, and offers fast direct access than screen menus. You know? kinda like old fashioned rocket scientist who prefer intricacies of mechanical devices than digital stuff that you can't see and touch (how ironic).

Is Calculator Going the Ways of Dinosaur?

Calculators are going the ways of the dinosaur. These days, mobile phone stuff are all just unified hand-held little computers. It can play video, music, take photo, as telephone, connects to the internet, GPS, and thousands of applications. Who needs a single-purpose gadget to carry around?

xiaomi phone

If you look at the classroom situation, calculators are good. Because, it's easier for students to learn and teachers to teach of a single-purpose device. And there are even lots of textbooks written for calculators.

But if you look at calculators as a tool in general, it's probably heading towards the grave. A roughly same sized and same priced smart phone, can run math applications that makes it more powerful than dedicated calculators, then it can do hundred other things. In the same way, computers replaced dedicated word processors in the 1980s.

If you let students use mobile phone in classroom instead of calculators, it becomes a problem because: (1) How do you know students are not playing games or chatting to friends on it? (2) How do you know they are not running cheat-sheets during exams? (3) How do you teach them to solve a equation with calculator when everyone is running a different application?

Calculators are good basically just in classrooms, or for engineers on the field. Though, i wonder how many more years they'll last.