5 Best Graphing Calculators for Engineering Students (2020)

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The best graphing calculator for engineering students is the Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color.

It’s fast, holds charge for ages so it won’t fail you in your exams, and has a modern display feel. Jump over to Amazon to check the price of the TI-Nspire CX II now.

I did my research on the main competitors on the market this year before making the decision to get the TI-Nspire CX II.

Here is my shortlist of the best graphing calculators for engineering students:

  • Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color (best quality)
  • Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium
  • Casio Touchscreen fx-CG500
  • CATIGA CS121 Scientific and Engineering Calculator (most affordable)
  • Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

Looking for the Most Affordable Graphing Calculator?

If you’re low on funds, jump to the CATIGA CS121 Calculator Review below. It’s very affordable. You’ll sacrifice a bit of speed and quality, but it’ll get the job done.

Best Graphing Calculators for Engineers

1. Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color (Top Pick)

Quick Review: It’s fast. That’s so important to me when it’s crunch time during exams. I also love the color display quality and resolution. Charge time is up to 2 weeks. A solid calculator!


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What I Like:

Screen Quality: No one wants a graphing calculator with a display that looks like it’s straight out of the 1980s. You’ll want one that’s clear, crisp and … well, colorful! The TI-Nspire CX II CAS nails it with its on-screen display quality.

Color coded tabs and animated graphing really enhance the user experience.

Speed: The other thing I love about this one is the speed. Some older models (including this one’s predecessor) calculate too slowly when you throw complex Polynomials at them. Slow processing speeds totally killing your thinking and flow. I think theTI-Nspire CX II CAS is a big step-up in speed (up to 3x faster processing speed than the original) so you can stay in a flow state during your exams.

Charge: The battery life is very good. The manufacturer claims that the rechargeable battery can last up to two weeks.

Approved for SAT: It’s currently an approved calculator for SAT tests. I’d recommend checking here in case the approvals list has changed since publication of this review article. Note that it is not approved for ACT tests.

Best For:

Engineering students, professionals and postdocs.

2.  Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium

Quick Review: Did someone say differential equations? You’ll need this one if you want to do differential equations with ease (It’s a step up from the TI-84 for this purpose). This is one of the most popular calculators for engineers on the market today.


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What I Like:

It does Everything: You won’t need to buy another one any time soon, as this one does it all.

This is a blessing and a curse. It’ll be your catch-all graphing calculator for years to come. But, because it does so much, there’s a learning curve for navigating all the functionalities.

Nice Keypad Layout: There’s nothing worse than a calculator with buttons too close together, fragile buttons, or sticky buttons. I think the TI-89 has the best keypad out there!

Saves Past Calculations: I like that you can easily scroll back to past calculations which saves a ton of time and effort.

Approved for SAT: It’s currently an approved calculator for SAT tests. I’d recommend checking here in case the approvals list has changed since publication of this review article. Note that it is not approved for ACT tests..

Best For:

Engineering students, professionals and postdocs. I wouldn’t recommend this one for lower-level physics courses as you could get simpler calculators that’d be easier to use for lower-end calculations (such as the TI-85 below).

3. Casio Touchscreen with Stylus (fx-CG500)

Quick Review: The big drawing card of this one is the huge touchscreen to give you a great user experience. If making use of a big screen is important to you, this one is a no-brainer.


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What I Like:

Big Touch Screen: I’m always convinced by a quality screen on a graphing calculator. No other graphing calculator compares to this one in terms of screen size and quality.

Drag and Drop: I love that you can use the pen to drag and drop information from one representation to the next. This gives the this graphing calculator a much more intuitive feel than many competitors.

Design Focused: Graphing calculators are notoriously hard to navigate. I like that Casio went back to the drawing board and created a more intuitive calculator from scratch. This one’s a real disruptor in a market traditionally dominated by Texas Instruments.

Best For:

Visual Learners. If you’re a visual learner or like drag and drop functions, this one might be the best option for you.

4. CATIGA CS121 Scientific and Engineering Calculator (Very Affordable)

Quick Review: If you’re strapped for cash, this is the one for you. It’s affordable and does the job, but you’ll sacrifice a little quality.


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What I Like:

Affordability: The biggest drawing factor of the CS121 is its price point. It is much more affordable than the competition and still gets the job done without much fuss.

Easy to Learn: The manual is very clear and walks you through all the steps really well. I had a play around with regression lines on it, and I learned how to use it very quickly.

No Fuss: I find some graphing calculators have so many different functions and capabilities that you’ll never use. They get in the way of the user experience. This one doesn’t have that trouble – it’s got the basics and presents them in a no fuss way.

What I don’t Like:

Limited Capacity: It only allows 2 functions to be plotted at a time, so you’re going to be at a disadvantage in the exam compared to others who are rocking a higher quality calculator.

Fragile: Don’t drop it.

Best For:

Beginners or cash strapped college students, but it’ll still get the job done.

5. Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

Quick Review: The classic TI-84 is wildly popular among engineers and engineering students. There are many YouTube videos to help teach you the steps and you’re sure to have classmates with this model so you’ll feel supported along the way.


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What I Like:

Popularity: Its popularity means that there is a ton of support out there for this model. Graphing calculators always have a steep learning curve, so this extra support out there (such as on YouTube) comes in really handy in the early days and makes your experience much less stressful.

Color Screen: The TI-80 models have been around for decades, but this newer model is a big step up with a clear color screen which dramatically improves the user experience.

Design: It’s slimmer and lighter than many other graphing calculators, including its own predecessors.

Test Compatibility: At the time of writing this review, this piece is approved for ACT tests (make sure you do your own checks before buying). Not all calculators on this list are ACT test approved – so take care.

Best For:

It’s a good undergrad graphing calculator, but will last you throughout your degree and into your career.

Buyers Guide

Brand

Texas Instruments has a stranglehold on this niche, and rightly so. They have a long history of producing quality calculators for engineers and college students.

Other top brands for engineering calculators include Casio and HP. I do like that Casio has recently tried to go against the trends and create more visually appealing touch-screen calculators.

However, I don’t think anyone’s knocked Texas Industries off their perch as most respected brand just yet.

Price

It’s hard to find a graphing calculator under $100, and once you dip under that pricepoint it’s likely that you’ll be sacrificing quality. The first thing to go will be the durability of the hardware itself – so if you go cheap, be careful to protect your calculator from drops.

If you’re really low on cash, try the CATIGA CS121 above.

Screen Quality

When thinking about screen quality, you’re looking at: color vs. monochrome, resolution, and size.

Color: I prefer color screens 9 times out of 10. Monochrome of course still gets the job done, but there’s just something far more visually appealing to me about color screens. Furthermore, I think they’re great for my ‘visual mind’ to help sort ideas in my head.

Resolution: In terms of resolution, make sure the screens aren’t pixelated too much. I particularly like the large-screen Casio on this list for its good resolution.

Size: Lastly, size. I love the Casio’s large touch screen. Most of the calculators on this list, though, are of a decent enough size.

Keypad Quality

I can’t stand keypads where the keys are squeezed together too much. Maybe I just have fat fingers? But, really, it does bother me a lot.

My personal keypad preference is the TI-89 Titanium Graphing Calculator. The keys are spaced well enough but there are also plenty of keys on the keypad.

Capabilities

Graphing calculators are more advanced than many others – and you may need the capabilities of graphing calculators to get through your degree. So, I’d caution you to explicitly get a calculator that’s advertised as either an engineering or graphing calculator.

Make sure you also get a calculator that is programmable. This means you’ll be able to download apps and upgrades and customize it for yourself.

Speed

Not all are equal in terms of speed. The top two on this list are lightning fast (and much faster than their predecessors). Compare that to the Casio and CATIGA on this list, which I have read can be slightly slower than other engineering calculators out there on the market today.

Speed will be important so you don’t lose your train of thought. You’ll also want a speedy calculator when you’re under pressure in a timed exam – so keep this in mind!

Rechargeable Battery

Some calculators still require that you buy disposable AA batteries. Still others don’t even come with a battery and you have to buy it separately.

I much prefer calculators with rechargeable batteries.

You’ll also want to keep in mind battery life. The TI-Nspire CX II CAS has a great battery life of up to 2 weeks – which is a great benchmark for quality.

SAT Test Approval

Not all calculators are approved for SAT tests. If you’re intending on using your calculator for the SAT test, make sure you check out this list of approved SAT test calculators.

At the time of writing, the SAT test approved calculators from the 5 above are:

  • TI-84 Plus CE
  • TI-Nspire CX II CAS
  • Casio FX-CG500 (as long as you leave the pen / stylus at home)
  • TI-89 Titanium

ACT Test Approval

Similarly, if you’re taking the ACT test, check the rules. The best advice I could find online states that the following calculators are not approved:

  • TI-Nspire CX II CAS
  • Casio FX-CG500 (it states pen input devices are not acceptable)
  • TI-89 Titanium

Also Consider

Check the price
on Amazon.

Also consider this travel case to keep your new calculator protected, clean and safe and preserve its lifetime value.

How to Master the Learning Curve

There’s a huge learning curve for figuring out how to use your calculator. These are complicated little pieces of machinery!

My recommendation is to may close attention to the manuals or watch plenty of YouTube videos on how to use your chosen calculator.

I’ve found that the TI-84 has a lot of support videos out there. That’s probably because it’s one of the most popular calculators on the market today.

Related: Best Financial Calculator for CFA Exams

Final Thoughts

I found that getting the best graphing calculator for engineers is a more complex buying decision than I first thought. But, after hours of research, I do think I managed to nail down the best ones out there.

So long as you read the reviews on Amazon and make sure there are a lot of really good reviews from fellow engineering students or practitioners, you’ll probably be on the right track.

When you get the calculator, don’t stress if it’s hard to get your head around at first. Make the most of YouTube to learn how to use it until you’re comfortable … then practice, practice, practice before your exams.

Oh … and please don’t forget to fully charge your calculator before walking into the exam room.

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