Best TI-84 Alternatives
Choosing the best alternative to the TI-84 or TI-84 Plus graphing calculator depends on what features you desire in a calculator and your needs as a student, teacher, researcher or professional.
If you want a graphing calculator that goes beyond the capabilities of the TI-84, then you should consider the Texas Instruments Nspire CX CAS, which has a computer algebra system to handle symbolic operations. It also plots in 3-D and has expanded statistical and matrix analysis functions. If you want a cheaper calculator that basically does everything but graph functions (but can still integrate, solve equations, and store statistical data, etc.) then you should consider the Casio fx-115ES Plus. The Casio fx-115ES Plus is one of the most advanced scientific calculators on the market and is permissible on most exams because it's not programmable.
For a comparison of graphing calculator alternatives that are similar to the TI-84 Plus, see my review of the the HP 50g and Casio fx-9860GII.
TI Nspire CX CAS
The "CAS" in the name stands for "computer algebra system," which means it can work with symbolic expressions and perform abstract calculations. Some of its CAS features include finding expressions for derivatives. For example if you enter f(x) = (x^4)e^(sin(3x)) it will not only evaluate the numerical value of a derivative at a given point, but output the general expression for f'(x). It can also reduce irrational forms. For example, if the value of a definite integral is 2/π it will output the answer symbolically as 2/π, rather than as the decimal 0.636619772. And there are many more ways the CAS performs advanced mathematical analysis.
Another upgrade from the TI-84 Plus is that the TI Nspire CX CAS has spreadsheets for more advanced data analysis. It has all of the same statistics tools as the regular graphing calculator models, but with enhanced regression analysis features and more ways to input and study data. It also includes hypothesis testing functions and 18 built-in probability distributions.
Perhaps the most important upgrade is the graphic display. The TI Nspire not only has a full-color display but can also display 3-D graphs for functions of the form z = f(x, y). Along with that comes more features for analyzing functions of two variables, which makes this an ideal calculator for multivariable calculus (Calc III).
Other Functions: ChemBox feature for entering chemical equations in standard form, eigenvalues and eigenvectors of matrices, evaluation of limits numerically and symbolically, qwerty keypad, full programmability, and much more.
This is an ideal calculator for college students taking advanced math, science, and engineering courses. It's also a useful tool for instructors, professional engineers, and people who need to do data analysis in the field.
Casio fx-115ES Plus
If you want a calculator that does calculus and statistics, but you don't want to pay $100 + for a graphing calculator, then what you need is a high-end scientific calculator. Scientific calculators have come a long way, and today's most advanced models can do pretty much everything but graph and execute user-written programs. The Casio fx-115ES Plus is a favorite of engineers, teachers, and students because it's easy and intuitive to use, and has a beautiful multi-line natural textbook display.
Besides computing integrals and derivatives numerically, the Casio fx115-ES Plus also has statistical tools comparable to that of the TI-84 Plus. Like a graphing calculator, the Casio lets you store lists of data, fit regression curves, and see 1- and 2-variable stats. It even does a few things that the TI-84 doesn't do, such as finding the inverse regression equation A + B/x for paired (x, y) data.
Another thing the Casio fx-115ES Plus has that the TI-84 doesn't is native support for calculations in binary, octal, and hexadecimal. To do this on the TI-84 you would need to download or write your own program, but still the interface would not be as clean as it is on the Casio.
You can scroll up to see your previous entries, and modify them to perform repeat calculations without having to re-enter the expressions. The display uses math-type with subscripts and superscripts, so it's easier to read than the TI-84 display, which is linear.
More useful built-in functions include matrix analysis, solving 2-variable linear systems, 3-variable linear systems, quadratic equations, and cubic equations. Answers are displayed in exact form like "x = 1 + √2" rather than "x = 2.41423" so you can better understand the solutions.
Which Calculator Should You Buy?
The TI Nspire CX CAS costs $135 - $140, while the TI-84 Plus costs $105 - $110, so for about $30 more you get a much more powerful calculator that works like a handheld version of Mathematica or Wolfram Alpha. If you're already prepared to spend over $100 for a calculator, you might as well get the model that does everything.
The Casio fx-115ES Plus is a steal at $15 - $18, and is the best calculator you can buy for under $20. If you're on a tight budget and you can do without the graphing utility and programmability, this is the model for you. And since there are so many free online graphing calculator websites anyway, you won't be at a disadvantage when doing your calculus homework if you need to see the plot of a function.
More Reviews of Calculators and Books
Are you registering for a math class or doing an independent study course in calculus, alegbra, or statistics? Here are some more helpful reviews and comparison guides for essential books and tools.
- Best Books to Teach Yourself Calculus
- Best Calculators for College Algebra
- Best Calculators for Calc I and Calc II