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Physical calculator vs. netbook software

  1. Jul 10, 2012 #1
    For undergraduate college, would you guys suggest purchasing a regular graphing calculator such as an HP 50g or TI-Nspire NX CAS, or something like Mathematica 8 for Students at the same price?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2012 #2


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    Hey PhizKid.

    I don't know about buying one specifically for college, but if you are going to do regular analysis, plotting, and so on, you best use a computer package like MATLAB, Mathematica, Maple, SAS, R, Octave (free implementation of MATLAB) and so on.

    I'd recommend you think about whether you need a notebook or whether you can just wait until you get time to go to a computer lab or use your own home computer.

    For statistics download R, for other stuff download Octave. Both are free and open source.
  4. Jul 10, 2012 #3
    I meant if it is supposed that I already possess a notebook and should purchase the software to put on it as opposed to buying a calculator which is obviously less powerful but more accessible I guess?
  5. Jul 10, 2012 #4
    Me? I'd go for both (I got my HP49g and Ti-92 off eBay at very good prices) ... I also run SpaceTime on my smartphone. The advantage of a calculator is the HCI; once you learn your way around, the keys for most things tend to fall under your fingers and the make the problem easier to solve - I work in a modern systems engineering company and everybody has more computing power than you can shake a stick at ... and it's amazing how many people have a calculator, be they financier, program manager, engineering manager or engineer. The reason? It's quicker and simpler (mentally) to punch numbers into something that you're familiar with and that is separate from the main work interface (the computer) and so doesn't require breaking 'the flow' of the main activity.

    When I do anything mathematical or (breaking the trend above) just want to do a few quick calcs, then I turn to Mathcad as it has (to me) the most intuitive and easily remembered interface for putting down calculations and documentation in one place. A free "alternative" is SMath (I put "alternative" in quotes because SMath is similar but significantly different to Mathcad).
  6. Jul 22, 2012 #5
    I bought a ti86 off craigslist for about $30 a few years ago. I'm very happy with it. I think the interface is much more intuitive than the ti84, plus it has more advanced features (eg complex numbers). Since they are older they can be found pretty cheap. Many classes will let you use calculators on tests, but not more advanced ones (eg most my classes specifically banned ti92 from tests). So the calculator is a convenient thing to use for quick day to day calculations in class. Then for more advanced stuff you can use the full power of a computer at home.
  7. Jul 22, 2012 #6
    Phizkid, the most important idea is what the college you are going to will allow on your tests. In most, if not all of my undergraduate work, the professors would not allow the "super" calculators(ti-89,hp50g...), we were stuck with Ti-36 or fx-115's. They want to make sure you understand the math and that your calc is not doing the work for u. I have never had a professor allow a smartphone, net book, or notebook on an exam. Just some food for thought.
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