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Texas Instruments Calculator's Review: TI 84, 83 or 89?

Freshmen in college are familiar with this scene. They start school in the fall and start gathering all the necessary stuff, from high priced textbooks to all sorts of helpful devices, which they will presumably need during the course of the school year. Around the beginning of the second semester or so, the question of which graphic calculator arises. It is actually a good time to be wondering about that, since you might consider asking for one for Christmas (Pro tip: TI calculators are a bit pricey but well worth every dollar). So, now that you have signed up for a Computer Science major, a BA course which includes advanced math or physics, enrolled in a Tech Math course, or signed on for Calculus and/or Differential Equations, in comes the question which is the focus of this review. Which of the many Texas Instruments Calculators should you use? The TI84, which seems to be the more popular choice, the allegedly somewhat outdated TI 83, or the more sophisticated TI 89?

The above question can become even more complicated if you have never actually owned a scientific graph calculator before. There are several editions available on the market for all of the above TI calculators: the TI-83 and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, the TI-89 Titanium, and many more. And then there is also the TI Nspire but by the time you start reading up on this other model, chances are you are feeling too overwhelmed already.

So, thinking of just buying the first of the TI calculators that you come across, or whatever you or your family can afford? Before you completely give up on trying to understand the often subtle differences between the many available models, check out our comparative review below. As a preview, the TI-83, TI-84, and TI-89 are all solid graphic calculators, but they are all suitable for different needs and budgets. We will assist to determine which one best suits you and then take an informed decision, rather than just a semi-educated guess.

Comparison of the 3 most popular Texas Instruments calculators

TI-83

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 6 MHz

RAM: 32 KB of RAM

Display size: 96x64px; 16 x 8 characters

Physical size: 7.3 x 3.5 x 1.0in

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly (native)

Link ports:  I/O Port

Released: 1996

Initial suggested retail price: $125. Product has been discontinued.

TI-84 Plus

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 15 MHz / 15 MHz

RAM: 128/48 KB of RAM (of which 24 KB are accessible to the user); 1 MB of Flash ROM (of which 480 KB are accessible to the user)

Display size: 96 x 64px, 16 x 8 characters

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port, Mini-USB Port

Released: 2004

 

TI-83 Plus      

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 6 MHz

RAM: 32 KB of RAM (of which 24 KB are accessible to the user); 512 KB of Flash ROM (of which 160 KB are accessible to the user)

Display size: 96 x 64px; 16 x 8 characters

Physical size: 7.3 x 3.5 x 1.0in

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port

Released: 1999

Initial suggested retail price: $104.99

 

TI-84 Plus Silver Edition

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 15 MHz

RAM: 128/48 KB of RAM (of which 24 KB are accessible to the user); 2 MB of Flash ROM (of which 1.5 MB are accessible to the user)

Display size: 96 x 64px, 16 x 8 characters

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port, Mini-USB Port

Released: 2004

 

TI-83 Silver Edition

 

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 6 MHz / 15 MHz (Dual Speed)

RAM: 128 KB of RAM (of which 24 KB are accessible to the user); 2 MB of Flash ROM (of which 1.5 MB are accessible to the user)

Display size: 96 x 64px, 16 x 8 characters

Physical size: 7.3 x 3.5 x 1.0in

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port

Released: 2001

Initial suggested retail price: $129.95. Product has been discontinued.

 

TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

 

CPU: Zilog Z80 @ 15 MHz

RAM: 128/48 KB of RAM (of which 21 KB are accessible to the user); 4 MB of Flash ROM (of which 3.5 MB are accessible to the user)

Display size: 320 x 240px, 26 x 10 characters

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port, Mini-USB Port

Released: 2013

Initial suggested retail price: $150

 

The TI-83 Plus is the last one in this product range that is still being manufactured today. If you are stuck trying to decide whether you want the 83, 84, or 89, the most important thing to remember is that the TI-83 is numeric, while the TI-84 is symbolic. In other words, the TI-84/TI-84+/TI-84+SE can also solve algebra problems and integrals. Also, since the TI-83 Plus is a comparatively older model, it moves a bit slower (though not necessarily noticeably so) than the TI-84. One interesting advantage of the TI-83 (the initial model) over the newer, more powerful, and more sophisticated TI-89 is that, as many users have noted, the former tends to plot regular plots faster than the latter. Presumably, though, the plots produced by the TI-89 are likely to be more accurate.

Since the TI-83 can only solve numeric operations, students may find that this instrument is accepted in classes, or at schools, which do not allow the use of TI-89 devices.

 

The TI-84/TI-84+/TI-84+ SE series is possibly the most popular one out there and it can even be successfully used by high-school students taking calculus, AP Physics, AP Math, or preparing for a Computer Science college BS. As is the case with all graphic calculators, it does take some getting used to at first, but it is essentially rather straightforward, in terms of user interface friendliness. It usually comes in the color blue, but also yellow, for free to borrow calculators handed out to schools. In case you are wondering where to buy it, since the TI 84 Plus range is not as old as the 83, it is far more readily available at major retailers, such as Amazon.

While many students at prestigious schools report that the use of graph calculators is forbidden during tests, exams, and class quizzes, the devices still remain useful for homework help. However, even though this rule sometimes extends to the TI-84 Plus range, you might find that your school actually allows this model. This, even at schools which frown upon use of the TI-89 in class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TI-89

CPU: Motorola 68000 @ 10 MHz / 12 MHz nominal

RAM: 256 KiB of RAM (of which 188 KB are accessible to the user); 2 MiB of Flash ROM

Display size: 160 x 100px

Physical size: 7.3 x 3.5 x 1.0in

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port

Released: 1998

Initial suggested retail price: $159.99. Product has been discontinued.

 

TI-89 Titanium

 

CPU: Motorola 68000 @ </= 16 MHz

RAM: 256 KiB of RAM (of which 188 KB are accessible to the user); 2.7 MB of Flash ROM

Display size: 160 x 100px

Programming languages: TI-BASIC, Assembly, Flash Apps

Link ports: I/O Port, Mini-USB Port

Released: 2004

Initial suggested retail price: $149.99

 

The TI-89 range has been repeatedly described as very different from its precursors (from the TI-83 through the TI86 and TI-84 Plus Silver).  As such, users who have become familiar with the other models might find it a bit difficult to use at first. However, once you get acquainted with it, it all turns into an intuitive experience. Since it is one of the more complex ranges of graphic TI calculators out there, it can also be described as a comprehensive device, which will save you from ever needing another calculator throughout your studies.

Bear in mind that certain schools do not allow the use of TI-89/ TI-89 Titanium calculators during tests; however, it is just as important to note that the same schools would likely prohibit the use of the TI-83 and 86, as well. The TI-89 is recommended for CS students, who might also take an interest in the way in which its interface is articulated. While the TI-89 is more expensive, it also has the most powerful processor (for the Titanium version). Yet, while we do find strength in numbers, it is important to understand that the difference in computing speed is not likely something you will notice while you are using any of the above-mentioned devices.

Possibly the most important advantage of the TI 89 series, then, lies in its functionality, not its actual specs. To put it in plain English, the 89 can do a lot more than the 83 or 86. It can take integrals, partial fractions, derivatives, factoring of real and complex polynomials, limits, sum evaluations, plus operations with vectors and complex numbers. One type of operation which it mysteriously will not touch, though, is cubic equations.

By and large, users with more complex needs should probably opt for the TI-89 Titanium. Not only does it display equations very clearly, without the use of multiple nested parentheses, but it also has a lot more features than its predecessors. The TI-89 Titanium, for instance, is the only one which can take explicit differentiation functions (available with specific software versions only). It comes equipped with ten times more graphing functions, and multi-variable differentiation. In terms of hands-on user-experience, it can also be customized with numerous plugins.

 

 

What about the TI Nspire?

 

All of the above is well and good, as well as documented and applicable, but if you really want the best of the best, in terms of TI calculators, we suggest you opt for the new TI Nspire CX CAS. It is the latest and most professional graph calculator from Texas Instruments, and it basically compiles and improves upon all the features offered by the previous models. It is got a glide touchpad, which works much like a mouse on a desktop computer, a scratch pad area on the display, the largest display available, a lot of RAM (16 MB) and storage space (20 MB), a 320 x 240px resolution, a rechargeable battery, and it allows you to switch keypads. It is ACT- and SAT-compatible and lets you download preparation questions and manuals right onto the device. It can also be used by financial analysts, since its complex graphing functions can tremendously aid an explorer of the volatile finance field.

As far as its downsides are concerned, the larger screen and more sophisticated technologies which the TI Nspire contains have also made it less durable and somewhat more difficult to handle. If you are new to such calculators, you are definitely going to wonder how to use it at first and will likely need to consult the user manual more than just once. Better yet, you might opt for an emulator or app to help you familiarize yourself with graph calculators first. To boot, many online reviewers have noted that it may be sometimes hard to press just the right button on its complex keypad and/or screen. And, of course, at $129.99 on Amazon (excluding postage and handling costs), it is not exactly the most affordable of all Texas Instruments calculators. However, if you are looking for a powerful calculator with complex features and up-to-date technologies incorporated, this is the one for you.