Best Graphing Calculators Similar to the TI-84 Plus
When students need to buy a graphing calculator, they usually pick a Texas Instruments 80-something model such as the TI-84 or TI-84 Plus. However, there are other graphing calculators on the market similar to the TI-84 with all the same capabilities, and in a similar price range. The TI-84 Plus is one of the best calculators you can buy for college higher math and science, but some of its competitors are also worth a look. If you are curious about similar alternatives to the TI-84 graphing calculators you should check out the HP 50g and Casio fx-9860GII. Both of these programmable graphing calculators are actually cheaper than the comparable TI-84, yet have all the same features you need, whether you are a student or teacher in the classroom, or professional working in the field.
For graphing calculator alternatives that are different from the TI-84 Plus, see the companion article Best TI-84 Plus Alternatives.
Hewlitt Packard 50g Graphing Calculator
One of the main differences between the HP 50g and TI-84 Plus (and all TI models) is the mode of entry for mathematical expressions. TI models use algebraic notation, which uses nested parenthesis and mimics the way functions are written in the standard mathematical notation found in textbooks. For example, an arithmetic expression written like this:
But the HP 50g gives you the option of entering expressions in Reverse Polish Notation, RPN for short, which places operators behind the numbers and dispenses with parenthesis and saves you several keystrokes. The expression above written in RPN looks like this:
5 6 1 + / 7 3 + 2 + *
RPN is useful in recalling numbers from the stack, another extra feature the TI-84 lacks. The stack is a list of stored values you can recall easily to rework and play with computations.
Programming the HP 50g is as easy as programming a TI calculator, except the language is different. Texas Instruments calculators us TI-BASIC, but Hewlett-Packard calculators use RPL, (ROM-based procedural language, or Reverse Polish Lisp). If you are mostly used to the former programming language, the HP 50g comes with enough documentation so that you can easily pick up the latter.
The HP 50g allows for graphing functions in rectangular, polar, and parametric coordinates, and also has a mode to view 3-D graphs of two-variable functions f(x, y), something that is not available on the TI-84 Plus. Like the TI-84 Plus, it also handles advanced statistical analysis of data lists, matrices, numerical integration and differentiation, and numerical equation solving. It also has an impressive 2,300 built-in functions, including functions for financial math.
The calculator comes with batteries, USB cable, CD, and user manual. There's also a slot for an SD card so you can expand the calculator's memory. But for many buyers, the biggest selling point is the price -- the HP 50g only costs $85 - $90 compared to the $105 - $110 you'd pay for the TI-84 Plus, a savings of about $20.
Casio fx-9860GII Graphing Calculator
This is another great bargain among graphing calculators, priced around $70 - $75. The Casio fx-9860GII has a backlit LCD screen so you can use the calculator in dimly lit conditions, which is an advantage over its competitors. It also has a beautiful natural textbook display with subscripts and superscripts, making outputs easier to read. Here are some of its other key features.
Graphing: The Casio model graphs in rectangular, polar, and parametric coordinates, and also allows functions of the form x = g(y). This is great for analyzing inverse functions. One particularly useful feature of the Casio fx-9860GII is that it can plot two different graphs on a split screen, meaning you can look at two functions plotted side by side rather than superimposed on each other. And like the TI-84 models, it can also plot statistical data and regression curves, as well as recursively defined functions.
Programming: Casio graphing calculator programs are written in a BASIC-like language, so if you are proficient in programming on a TI, you will have no trouble programming on this model.
Statistics and Data Analysis: You can create spreadsheets to analyze data just as you would with MS Excel, and you can save the spreadsheets for later reference. The statistical analysis tools of the Casio fx-9860GII are comparable to that of the TI-84 Plus, and it has built-in probability distributions and hypothesis testing functions. For regression, the Casio offers all the same regression curve equations that the TI-84 offers plus logistic regression. (For what it's worth, you can simply write your own logistical regression program for the TI-84 if you really need one.) All in all, the statistical analysis features built-in to the Casio are more comprehensive that what is built-into the TI-84.
Financial Math: The Casio has built-in functions for the most commonly used financial math formulas including amortization, days and dates, bonds, depreciation, and more. (Again, even though these are not built-into the TI-84 you can always write programs to do these calculations.)
Other functions include matrices, metric conversions, numerical integration and differentiation, and numerical equation solving/root finding. The Casio fx-9860GII is a great all-around graphing calculator for high school calculus and AP stats, college calculus and advanced math, engineering, and the sciences.
Should You Buy the TI-84 (Plus) or One of Its Competitors?
Most people end up buying the TI-84 or TI-84 Plus since it's the graphing calculator model recommended by their teachers, who are more familiar with how it operates compared to other brands. Class demonstrations for writing graphing calculator programs usually assume students have a TI model. And of course, there are tons of games you can download for TI graphing calculators!
But, if you can write your own programs and learn how to operate a graphing calculator on your own, and you don't need the calculator for games, there's no reason why you shouldn't opt for a cheaper model that has all the important features of the TI-84 series.