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Students take note: These are the best graphing calculators

Whether you're taking algebra, calculus, or anything in between, the best graphing calculators will solve all your problems.
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Written by Hedy Phillips, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Allison Murray

Graphing calculators are an important part of high school (and eventually college). Not only do students need them for most math classes, like Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus, but they're also an important part of standardized testing. Students taking the SAT or the ACT to get into college will need a calculator while sitting for the exam, and while many schools have the option to borrow one to use in class, having your own at home to practice with can mean higher test scores.

For students planning to take advanced math classes in high school or move on to math- or science-based degree programs in college, investing in a good graphing calculator while in high school can mean paying that one expensive price tag and not worrying about it again. While there are basic graphing calculators on the market, some of the more advanced models are better equipped for advanced math that students may encounter in university. These high-quality calculators have everything from touchscreens to 3D color displays. 

Calculators have come a long way in the past few decades and are making it easier and more fun for students to engage in math classes. If you are or have a student who needs a graphing calculator, here are some of the best options currently available.

Specs: 154KB RAM | 7.5 inches | 7 oz| Rechargeable lithium battery | Price: $115

Texas Instruments has been making the graphic calculator for decades, and they're still the best of the best. The TI-84 Plus CE, which is the latest version of what millennials probably used in high school, has a fully backlit color display, comes in a variety of colors to choose from, and is lightweight enough to fit into a backpack or purse easily. 

This calculator has everything students need for class: It's fully loaded with several applications and functions for a variety of math classes and levels. Plus, the battery is rechargeable, so not only are you saving money on constantly replacing batteries, but it's easy enough for students to remember to charge it at the same time as their phones and smartwatches. Best of all, it's PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exam approved.

Pros:

  • Full-color display
  • It comes in a variety of colors
  • Approved for PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams

Cons:

  • A bit on the pricey side

Also: The 7 best calculators for school: Standard, scientific, and graphing

Specs: 7 inches | LR44 battery required | 4.8 oz| Price: $35

If you're on a tighter budget but still need a graphic calculator, the Catiga CS-121 gets the job done. This calculator is under $50 but still has 280 functions available for various math classes in high school and college. It's also available in a few different colors if boring black doesn't suit. 

Though the display isn't in color, it will still give you the functionality of building graphics and crunching numbers. It's also approved for standardized testing, as it's a non-CAS calculator. Though it's classified as a scientific calculator, it has graphing capabilities, which means it doubles as both options. 

Pros:

  • Approved for PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams
  • Variety of colors available
  • 280 functions available

Cons:

  • Primitive display

Specs: 7.2 inches | 4 AA batteries required | 13 oz | Price: $81

The Casio Prizm FX-CG50 is small but mighty (and actually a bit on the hefty size for as small as it is). This graphic calculator comes with a precise and stunning color display, so you can really see your graphs in 3D as you're building them. The button display, however, is on the simple side, making this a great entry-level graphic calculator for students who haven't spent a lot of time working with them before. 

The price tag puts it in the middle of the pack, making this a good all-around choice, especially for younger students. The battery life on this one, though, isn't great, and it does require four AA batteries that could need replaced often. It's not a bad idea to use rechargeable AA batteries to cut down on the cost of replacing them so often.

Pros:

  • Approved for PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams
  • Simple to use
  • 3D color display

Cons:

  • Requires 4 AA batteries, which can get expensive to replace often

Specs: 6.3 inches | Lithium battery required | 8.4 oz | Price: $100

The NumWorks Graphic Calculator is compact, functional, and easy for high school students to toss into their backpacks for class. It has a 320 x 240-pixel color display and can handle most high school-level math and science classes. 

It has a battery that lasts up to 20 hours and can be charged with the included USB cord. This calculator comes with preloaded app functions but doesn't include a lot of bells and whistles -- it's designed for high school students by teachers. 

Pros:

  • Can be charged with a USB cable (included)
  • Simple interface for students
  • Color display

Cons:

  • Not designed for advanced math or science classes

Specs: 7.5 inches | Lithium ion battery required | 12.6 oz | Price: $130

The Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS is one of the most advanced graphing calculators you'll find, so if your student doesn't have a need for advanced functions and geometric animations, go ahead and opt for something simpler. 

For college students who have those higher-level classes, though, this calculator can handle it all. You'll find six graph styles on here as well as a full-color screen that you can coordinate with your equations and functions. The display is also 3D, so your graphs and animations will come to life in front of your eyes while you're doing your homework. 

Pros:

  • CAS functions
  • 3D color display
  • Rechargeable battery option

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • More advanced than most younger students need
  • Not approved for standardized tests

Specs: 7.3 inches | Lithium battery required | 8 oz | Price: $129

What makes the HP Prime Graphing Calculator stand out is its touchscreen. HP is known for its touchscreen electronics; naturally, the brand extended that into the calculator space. This advanced calculator can get students through all their advanced math and science classes (including those that require Computer Algebra System [CAS]). 

The touchscreen also allows for even more functionality while crunching numbers and watching the shapes unfold on the screen. This calculator should suit pretty much any student and is a solid investment for high schoolers who will take more advanced college classes. 

Pros:

  • Touchscreen technology
  • Rechargeable battery option
  • Approved for IB, SAT, AP, ACT, and AP exams

Cons:

  • Pricey

What is the best graphing calculator?

The best graphing calculator is the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE based on price, reviews, skill level, and features. 

Graphing Calculator

Price

Size

Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

$115

7 inches and 7 ounces

Catiga CS-121

$35

7 inches and 4.8 ounces

Casio Prizm FX-CG50

$81

7.2 inches and 13 ounces

NumWorks Graphic Calculator

$100

6.3 inches and 8.4 ounces

Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS

$130

7.5 inches and 12.6 ounces

HP Prime Graphing Calculator

$129

7.3 inches and 8 ounces

Which graphing calculator is right for you?

Graphing calculators, for the most part, are an expensive part of school supplies shopping. Because it's a high-priced item, making the right selection for the school year is important. For younger students who may not continue on with advanced math and science classes, a more budget-friendly graphing calculator that gets the job done (with no extra bells and whistles) will do just fine. 

However, if you're shopping for your high school student who will likely go into college to study a math- or science-based major, investing in a high-quality graphing calculator that can handle advanced math functions in high school isn't a bad idea. What you need to keep in mind also, though, is that -- just like other technology -- companies release upgraded models every few years. So even if you're investing in a graphing calculator now, there might be a better one on the market by the time your student gets to college, and you might find yourself buying another one. If a quality calculator is in the budget now, though, it's a good product for students to have. Just remember, though, that any of these graphing calculators recommended here are great picks -- no matter the price.

Choose this graphing calculator...

If you want...

Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

The best overall option. 

Catiga CS-121

A budget-friendly graphing calculator for school. 

Casio Prizm FX-CG50

A graphing calculator with a 3D color display. 

NumWorks Graphic Calculator

A graphing calculator perfect for high school students.

Texas Instruments TI-Nspire CX II CAS

A graphing calculator for college students. 

HP Prime Graphing Calculator

A graphing calculator with a touchscreen.

How did we choose these graphing calculators?

The calculators chosen here provide a variety of price points and needs for parents and students to choose from. We took a look at the various specs for each calculator and compared them to what functionality the calculators have. We also determined the brands' price and reputation when selecting the graphing calculators to recommend. Each selection is also well-reviewed by online shoppers.

What is a graphing calculator?

A graphing calculator is exactly what it sounds like -- it's a calculator that has the functionality to build graphs, which is what many advanced math or science classes will require. These are commonplace in high school and college math classes that require students to understand equations, geometry, and plotting points on a graph. Unlike a basic calculator, these machines have a larger display so users can see the equations and numbers in picture form as they're solving problems.

What's the best graphic calculator brand?

Texas Instruments is often viewed as the top brand for graphic calculators, but other brands are competitive. Casio has several top-notch graphic calculators. HP is also competitive. However, you can't go wrong with getting a Texas Instruments calculator.

How do I know which graphic calculator to get?

The most important factor in choosing a graphic calculator is knowing what classes you'll be using it for. High school students taking Algebra and Geometry may not need a calculator as advanced as a college student taking Calculus and Trigonometry. When in doubt, check with the teachers for their recommendations and then take a look at your budget.

Is a color display important in a graphic calculator?

The color display certainly makes it easier to see the graphs you're building in the calculator, but less-advanced calculators with black-and-white screens will still get the job done. If you're comparing two calculators that are the same price and only one has color, it's probably the better option simply for ease of use.

What's the difference between a CAS calculator and a non-CAS calculator?

CAS stands for computer algebra systems. The CAS-enabled calculators are more advanced and are good for algebra-based classes because they're designed for variables and equations. Non-CAS calculators, on the other hand, are lower-level calculators that don't quite have the functionality but are still just as useful.

Are all graphing calculators approved for standardized tests?

No, not all graphing calculators can be used on the SAT, ACT, or other standardized tests. Your best bet is to check the guidelines before testing to see what calculators are OK to use, but in general, CAS calculators are not always approved, and calculators with stored memory are usually not approved.

Are there alternative graphing calculators worth considering?

Texas Instruments and Casio both have several graphing calculators to choose from, and you can't go wrong with any of them. Some of them are more advanced than others (as evidenced by the higher price tag), while some are a little more basic. Any of these are still great options for a variety of students. If you've picked up one of these in the store, just read through the specs to make sure it can handle the classes they're needed for.

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