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Some Thoughts on Buying Graphing Calculators

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DISCLAIMER:  The ideas on this web site reflect the writer's subjective opinion and observations. What appears here should be considered only as another source of information.  The writer is not endorsing any particular brand or model of the calculators mentioned or any particular store or shop. The writer does not warrant the accuracy of this information.  Any calculator mentioned may not be a representative sample of what is on the market, and the manufacturers may change their products or specifications without my knowing about it.    

Caveat:  The following is an attempt to give some help to  those who are unfamiliar with the capabilities of  graphing calculators and how their capabilities relate to courses of study.  It is not intended as  definitive advice on what a particular student should buy.  I would appreciate knowing of any disagreements you have with me.  Send me an e-mail at the address listed elsewhere.

 Bottom LineTalk with the teachers of the classes you're going to be taking.  Buy the calculator that they're going to be using in their instructions if you can afford it and don't already have another type.
       GuidelinesIf the teachers don't use calculators, or if you're enrolled in a distance course or some other situation prevents your consulting the teachers, here are some guidelines.  Please realize that it's ultimately up to you to make the decision based on what information you collect.  This is only one source of information.  So, the following is a set of guidelines based on the level of math you might be taking.
General Discussion: If you're a real math and calculator geek and money is not a problem, you'd probably be happier with the TI-89 Titanium. If you are mainly interested in a tool to do your math in the most efficient way, then a TI-83 Plus would be entirely sufficient for courses that don't include functions of more than one variable. That unusually comes in second semester calculus. The TI-83 Plus is simple to use and fairly versatile.  The best buy on that calculator is to buy a used one.  The TI-84 is replacing the TI-83 Plus in many schools.
   I would point out that it is possible to graph functions of more than one variable on a TI-83 Plus, but you have to hold all but one variable constant. For example, if you want to graph e^-(x +y), you could replace y with A, and supply constant values of A from the home screen to get a family of curves. I understand that TI is developing a set of applications that will give the TI-83 Plus some of the capability of the TI-89. If you buy the TI-83 Plus, you get the GraphLink or Connect software  that allows you to download applications from the Internet to your calculator.
   For finding  antiderivatives, partial fractions,  vectors and other somewhat more sophisticated math operations, I would suggest a TI-89, or if you have the money a TI-89 Titanium.   The TI-89 can be a little intimidating to some students. I happen to think that the TI-89 Titanium is somewhat simpler.  It does, however, cost more. I have a User Guide for the TI-89 Titanium on this Website that might simplify using the TI-89 Titanium for you.
  And Now:  The following is an attempt to give some idea of what calculator might be needed for a particular set of courses of study. 
      High School:  I don't have contact with high school students, so I don't have a good feel for their needs.  Generally, I would think that if you're not planning to take  Pre-calculus or AP Calculus, a good scientific calculator would be entirely satisfactory.  (See the Scientific Calculator link on the HOT STUFF Link on the home page.)  But be sure to check with some of the teachers to see if they might use graphing calculators for doing graphs is Algebra II.  Incidentally, scientific calculators are sometimes more efficient and easier to use than graphing calculators.
      If you plan to take Pre-calculus or AP Calculus, and especially if you're planning to major in engineering, science, or math in college; then you probably should buy a graphing calculator if the cost is not a primary consideration with you.  A TI-83Plus or a Casio Cfx-9850GB would be sufficient, but I would be remiss if I didn't say that the TI-83Plus or one of the TI-84 Plus models is more often the choice among college students.  See the information of the TI-84 Plus series at the end of this topic.  Be cautious about buying a TI-86 or TI-89.  Although these are excellent for those who have a more than average interest in math, many students never really learn to use these calculators with anything like their potential.
     Some schools are migrating to the TI-84 Plus regular or Silver Edition.  The major difference between these calculators and the TI-83 Plus is that the newer versions are faster and have more memory, and have more applications loaded.  Frankly, you might not notice the speed unless you're a gamer or running some long programs.  But you should bear in mind that the TI-83 Plus probably won't be produced much longer.  In fact, it may be out of production when you read this. The TI-84 Plus series also have more applications loaded, but you can download some of these free for the TI-83 Plus.  There are also a couple of new statistics functions is the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. These are as follows:  Manual Fit under the STAT>Calc menu; X2 GOF-Test (X 2 means Chi-squared); and InvT under DISTR.  .  If you're into games or you plan to use your calculator for many years, and if you're not on a tight budget,  you might want to consider one of these calculators. 
       Developmental Math:  For Basic Math and Beginning Algebra, Elementary Algebra, or whatever your school calls it, you can get by with a good scientific calculator.  Don't buy one of those six-or eight-function calculators with a one-line display.  They're not worth taking home.  Don't pay more than $14.95 if you're on a tight budget.  (Again, see the HOT STUFF link on the home page for more information on buying a scientific calculator.)
     For Intermediate Algebra, you may need a graphing calculator depending on whether your school uses one.  In any case, it would be nice to have one to check your answers.  Make your decision based on your major as listed in the categories below.
     Elementary School Teacher, Nursing, Liberal Arts, Communications:    I'm assuming you're going to take College Algebra and either Elementary Calculus or something like Foundations of Mathematics or Finite Math.  Unless you're some kind of calculator guru, don't buy one of the heavy hitters like a TI-89.  Chances are you'll never learn how to use most its power.  Instead, buy a TI-83 Plus or a Casio CFX-9850GB Plus.  You can get by with a TI-82 if you'll enter my program for doing rref and ref on augmented matrices and, for finite math,  the program for doing the simplex method.  Otherwise you're going to be left out when you get to doing augmented matrices or simplex.  The Casio has a program that you'll need to activate for doing rref, or you could use my program for rrefref for the Casio.  That'll give you both ref and rref.  If your teacher is one of those who gives you a lot of augmented matrix work to do by hand, you might find my matrix row operations program helpful for both the TI and the Casio.
    Suppose you absolutely can't afford any graphing calculator.  Hang in there and get you a good scientific for no more than $17.95.  Go to the Tutoring Lab, Learning Center, Academic Assistance Center or whatever your school (community colleges) calls it and use their calculator to do your homework.  They may even have one you can check out and take to do tests. You might also ask your professor about one of the cheaper Casios: FX-7400G Plus or FX-9750 Plus.  I have an older FX-9750, and I worked some with an older FX-7400, but I am not familiar enough with the newer versions of these calculator to give advice on them.  Read my notes below on the Durabrand that has recently appeared at Wal-Mart for $19.95.  Finally, though I'm not endorsing the morality of pawn shops, you can get some good buys on used Graphing Calculators there.  I bought a TI-83 Plus for $30 and a TI-89 Titanium for $40 including the obscene 9.25% sales tax we have here. 
     Economics and Heavy Business Courses:  I'm assuming you'll take Calculus I and Finite Mathematics with some other financial courses.  The finite math may be heavy in linear programming and the Simplex method.  Be sure to find out if your teacher uses one of those special financial calculators in your class.  Otherwise, you can use a TI-83 Plus or a Casio CFX-9850GB Plus.  The Casio has a program called LINPROG that needs to be activated for doing simplex.  You can use my program called LINPRG2 for the TI-83 Plus to do the Simplex method.  Both of these calculators have functions for doing amortization, different types of interest, and other financial functions.
    Chemistry:  You guys probably know what you need.  If you're going to take Calc I and II and no differential equations you probably could get by with a TI-83 Plus, TI-84, or a Casio CFX-9850GB Plus.  If you're going to take higher math, buy one of the heavy hitters like a TI-89 or TI-89 Titanium.
    Electrical Engineers & Physicists:  You guys know what you need.  If you don't, talk with your professors.  My inclination:  Don't buy one of the simpler graphing calculators.  Buy one a TI-89 Titanium.  You need the best tools you can get.
    Where to buy:  I'm not going to tell you where to buy; I'm going to tell you some places they're available.  Wal-Mart, Best Buys, Home Depot, Office Depot, Target (I believe Target still has them.), and others that may be specific to your area.  If you want to save money, watch the advertising inserts to your local newspaper about the time the fall semester starts.  Many stores have significant savings at that time.  Call around and see who has the best price, and don't neglect to call the office supply stores such as Home Depot, Office Max, and Staples.
    Now, here's something that may seem a little weird to you, but it works for many of the students who come to me and are pressed for money.  I send them to pawn shops.  Many pawn shops in this area have used TI-83 Plus calculators  for $30 to $43 dollars.  I tell the students to make the pawn shop dealer agree to take the calculator back for a couple days or so, until they come in and have me check it out.  You might also try to bargain a little by telling the dealer that the TI-83 Plus is now two versions out of date.  Now, let me give you a little hint on getting a calculator from the pawn shop:  Turn the calculator on; press 2nd, MEM, ENTER.  In the middle of the screen, right below the TI-83Plus will be an entry such as 1.19.  This is the version of the operating system and may tell you  indirectly  how old the calculator is.  (I say "may" because someone like me may have upgraded the operating system.)  The higher the number, the newer, with 1.19 being the highest as of 6/1/08.  If the pawn shop has several calculators, try them all, and get the one with the latest version unless you have to pay considerably more. Try to get one with 1.15 or higher.  If you must settle for a lower number, tell the dealer that it's old and he should give you a price break on it.  If you have a friend with Connect or GraphLink installed, you can upgrade the operating system. 
Now, how about the Durabrand calculator that has recently appeared at Wal-Mart for $19.95?  Here's what little preliminary information I have on it.  (Please read the DISCLAIMER at the start of these FAQs)

     *  Has a 50-key keyboard that appears to be fairly well arranged except, possibly for the SHIFT key.
     *  Has fraction and Ans keys.
     *  Has sufficient memories for most any purpose - 26.
     *  Has about any of the standard algebraic and trig functions that you would want - including one- and two-variable
    *  Algebraic entry of formulas.
    *  Easily obtained battery - CR2032.  This is the same as the battery used for the memory of some other calculators.
    *  Has some limited programming ability.
    *  The display for the graph is very small, 35 x 23 pixels.  The full-screen display on the TI-83 Plus is 62 x 94  and the split-
        screen G-T display is 50 x 46.
   *  As far as I can see, there is no equivalent of the ENTRY function on the TI-83 Plus.  This is very useful when you need to use
       a long expression and only edit a number or maybe two.
   *  Programming is limited to 400 steps divided among ten pre-designated programs.  Gamers, forget about it. 
        Don't let the small number of cons lead you to believe this is equivalent to the TI-83 Plus or the Casio CFX-9850 series.  This is more on the order of the old Casio 7000G Graphic calculator.  This is merely my opinion, but if you want a sophisticated graphing calculator,  I'd try to come up with 15 to 20 dollars more money and look hard for a used TI-83 Plus or equivalent. 

Activation Date: 8/30/09
Revision Date: