A graphing calculator (also known as a graphic calculator or graphical calculator) typically refers to a class of handheld calculators that are capable of plotting graphs, solving simultaneous equations, and performing numerous other tasks with variables. Most popular graphing calculators are also programmable, allowing the user to create customized programs, typically for scientific/engineering and education applications. Due to their large displays intended for graphing, they can also accommodate several lines of text and calculations at a time. Some graphing calculators also have colour displays, and others even include 3D graphing.
Since graphing calculators are readily user-programmable, such calculators are also widely used for gaming purposes, with a sizable body of user-created game software on most popular platforms.
Casio produced the world's first graphic calculator, the fx-7000G in 1985. After Casio, Hewlett Packard followed shortly in the form of the HP-28C. This was followed by the HP-28S (1988), HP-48SX (1990), HP-48S (1991), and many other models. The current top-of-the line model, the HP 50g (2006), features a Computer Algebra System (CAS) capable of manipulating symbolic expressions and analytic solving. The HP-28 and -48 range were primarily meant for the professional science/engineering markets; the HP-38/39/40 were sold in the high school/college educational market; while the HP-49 series cater to both educational and professional customers of all levels. The HP series of graphing calculators is best known for their Reverse Polish Notation interface, although the HP-49 introduced a standard expression entry interface as well.
Texas Instruments has produced models of graphing calculators since 1990, the oldest of which was the TI-81. Some of the newer calculators are just like it, only with larger amounts of memory, such as the TI-82, TI-83 series (including the TI-83, TI-83 Plus, and TI-83 Plus Silver Edition), and the TI-84 Plus series (including the TI-84 Plus and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition). Other models, designed to be appropriate for students 10–14 years of age, are the TI-80 and TI-73 series. Other TI graphing calculators have been designed to be appropriate for calculus, namely the TI-85, TI-86, TI-89 series, and TI-92 series (including the TI-92, TI-92 Plus, and Voyage 200). TI offers a computer algebra system on the TI-89 and TI-92 series models with the TI-92 series having a QWERTY keypad. TI calculators are targeted specifically to the educational market, but are also widely available to the general public.
Graphing calculators are also manufactured by Sharp but they do not have the online communities, user-websites and collections of programs like the other brands.
Casio has focused its efforts on the educational sector, and as such the built-in programming language and mathematical features are not as advanced as some of the TI and HP models. Despite this, the TI calculators are more popular than Casio in schools in the United States.
Also, some high school courses offered in these countries require a graphing calculators to fulfill.
Another major criticism of graphing calculators by school teachers is their ability to store large amounts of text in the same memory that is used to store programs. Such a feature presents a potential for students to cheat on examinations by storing notes and solutions on their calculators. While some enforce a rule by which students must perform a supervised memory clear of their calculator before an exam, this has become an increasingly difficult problem as the variety of available brands and models increases and false memory clear programs are released over the internet to deceive the proctor. In addition, many students use the calculator's memory to store useful programs, particularly those which improve the mathematical functionality of their calculators to be on par with other newer models, and requiring such students to clear their calculator memories would put them at a disadvantage. On the other hand, many courses have disallowed calculators on examinations altogether, and designing the assignment appropriately to purely test conceptual knowledge. Others argue that graphing calculators are too expensive. For example, if one compares a one hundred dollar graphing calculator (or any graphing calculator of arbitrary price) to a cell phone, GPS device, or PDA of equal price, one finds that the cell phone or other device outperforms the graphing calculator in terms of hardware (faster CPU and more memory). A new TI83+ typically costs $100 and has a 6 MHz processor. For $100 one can get a PDA with about 200 MHz and far more memory (and a colour screen). Opponents of this view argue that graphing calculators are more reliable because they last longer and that they also use less energy allowing them to use alkaline batteries which are far cheaper than the lithium ion - batteries that PDA and other devices typically use. The next generation of graphing calculators (ie: the TI-Nspire) may also help alleviate this criticism.
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