5 Best Graphing Calculators for Engineers & Students (2020)

About the Author: Chris is a university professor with a PhD in education. He has published over 25 articles in scholarly journals and taught in universities for over 10 years. Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

After reviewing the top 5 graphing calculators on the market for this product review, we determined that the best graphing calculator for engineers and 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.

Of the remaining calculators we reviewed, we landed on the CATIGA CS121 Calculator for an acceptable cheap option. It’s very affordable, but you’ll sacrifice user experience, speed and quality. It’ll probably get the job done for an undergraduate college course, but not much more.

Here are the five graphing calculators we evaluated in this study:

Best Graphing Calculators for Engineers to Buy

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Graphing Calculator for Engineers

Quick Review

Our Rating

1. Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator Get this calculator if you one that’s fast, has color display, and is user-friendly. It’s my favorite by far. (Check the Price on Amazon)

9.5/10

2. Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium Graphing Calculator This is the best graphing calculator for engineers who are regularly doing differential equations. (Check the Price on Amazon)

9/10

3. Casio FX-CG500 Touchscreen Stylus Graphing Calculator Get this calculator if you’re a big fan of large touch-screen calculators. (Check the Price on Amazon)

8.5/10

4. Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE Graphing Calculator The upshot of this model is that there are a lot of training videos to ease the learning curve. (Check the Price on Amazon)

7.5/10

5. CATIGA CS121 Scientific and Engineering Graphing Calculator Get this calculator if you want a cheap choice that might get you through undergrad college courses. (Check the Price on Amazon)

6.5/10

1. Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS Color Graphing Calculator

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. Run time between charges is up to 2 weeks. A solid calculator!


Best for: engineering students, professionals and postdocs.

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. The color-coded tabs on the screen and animated graphing really enhance the user experience.

Prof Chris Says: “I’ve been impressed by the speed and user experience of the second generation TI-Nspire. It’s so easy and comfortable to use that I choose this model as the best graphing calculator for engineers and engineering students.”

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 can totally kill my thinking and flow in the middle of a complex calculation . I think the Texas Instruments-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.

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

Why This Graphing Calculator

Keep in Mind

Great Screen Quality: The color screen and visual display really enhances user experience.High Speed: It’s fast – in fact, it’s 30% faster than the older TI-Nspire model.

Long Charge: Holds its charge for up to 2 weeks (depending how often you use it)

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.

Costly: Some undergraduate students who only need a graphing calculator for one semester might prefer to go cheap. But, cheaper products lead to a frustrating experience.

2.  Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium Graphing Calculator for Engineers

Quick Review: 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.


Best for: Engineering students, professionals and postdocs.

What I like about this one is that it does everything. You won’t need to buy another one any time soon, as this one will do everything for all your needs. 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.

I also really like the 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 most spaced-out keypad out there!

Prof Chris Says: “Finally – a graphing calculator that saves your past few calculations! I’d rate this as my top graphing calculator except for one thing: it’s advanced. So advanced that there’s a big learning curve when you first get it.”

The other great aspect is that you can easily scroll back to past calculations which saves a ton of time and effort. It’s pretty standard among calculators that past calculations get deleted from memory pretty quickly, which I hate. I’m always wanting to go back to my past 5 calculations to see what I did. With this model, you can do just that.

Why This Graphing Calculator

Keep in Mind

Does all the Tasks: This one does just about any task you’d want from a graphing calculator with a great range of built-in functions.Nice Keypad Layout: The keys are really well spaced out.

Saves Past Calculations: love that it saves your past few calculations so you can go back and review.

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.

Black and White Screen: It’s not a color screen.

Overkill for Lower-Level Physics Courses: 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 FX-CG500 Graphing Calculator for Engineers – Touchscreen with Stylus

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.


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.

Graphing calculators are notoriously hard to navigate. But Casio went back to the drawing board and created a really intuitive calculator from scratch. This one’s a real disruptor in a market traditionally dominated by Texas Instruments.

I’m always drawn to a quality screen on a graphing calculator. No other graphing calculator compares to this one in terms of screen size and quality. It’s great for someone who’s used to working on a smart phone or their computer screen as it has a similar feel. It even has a drag and drop feature. Just use the stylus pen (included) to drag information from one representation to the next. This gives the this graphing calculator a much more intuitive feel than many competitors.

Prof Chris Says: “This is a really nice graphing calculator for visual learners, but be aware that you may not be allowed to use it in exams.”

The two major downsides is that it is a little slow to load at times (perhaps due to the big load the screen puts on the processor) and, of course, stylus pens are often not allowed in exams.

Why This Graphing Calculator

Keep in Mind

Big Touch Screen: The color touch screen is awesome and really helps visual learners.Drag and Drop Features: This is an innovative feature that makes it feel like a smart phone or padlet.

Intuitive Design: There isn’t another calculator with quite as intuitive and innovative a design.

A Bit Slow: The speed leaves a little to be desired.Can’t be used in Many Exams: Most formal exams like the SAT, PSAT and AP Math exams do not allow stylus pen calculators.

4. Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE Graphing Calculator for Engineers

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.


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

This is the most popular and widely used scientific and graphing calculator on the market today. You’ll find many of your teachers and friends will be using this calculator. This 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.

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. It’s also slimmer and lighter than its predecessors.

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.

Why This Graphing Calculator

Keep in Mind

Great Support and Resources: There’s no other calculator with as much information on forums and YouTube to help you learn how to use it.Color Screen: This newer version has a great color screen.

Test Compatible: This is one of the calculators that is widely used in the SAT and PSAT exams.

Lightweight: The newer version is thin and lightweight.

Not the N-Inspire: It’s improved, but it’s still not got the processing power of its bigger brother, the TI N-Inspire.

5. CATIGA CS121 Graphing Calculator for Engineers – 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.


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

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. It’s also super 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.

I also like how no-fuss this model is. 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.

Prof Chris Says: “If you’re strapped for cash and living off ramen noodles, then this one will get you by in a high school class – but you’ll be frustrated at how few functions it allows.”

But there are some big limitations of this model too. 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. It’s also pretty easy to break. Don’t drop it.

Why This Graphing Calculator

Keep in Mind

Cheap: It’s a lot cheaper than more professional products with more functions.Easy to Learn: Because there are so few functions, there isn’t a huge learning curve. Very Limited Capacity: It only allows 2 functions to be plotted at a time.Fragile: Don’t drop it.

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



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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Chris Drew, PhD (aka The Helpful Professor)