Professor won't let you use a graphing calculator? Here's our roundup of 5 scientific calculators that will help you get through class.

You’ll need a calculator you can bring with you to classes, work, or your next big test. During special engineering tasks, standardized testing, or ordinary classes, the right calculator is a must.

Types of Calculators

Before you choose a non-graphing calculator, it’s important to understand what sets them apart. Basic calculators are only capable of division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction. While some models can also calculate percentages and square roots, they tend to have limited functionality outside of that.

One benefit to a typical, basic calculator is simplicity. You won’t have to struggle to use one of these tools. Graphing calculators are for people who must program customized functionalities into the calculator. They’re also useful for plotting points on a graph.

HP calculator on desk with a pen

People who are taking calculus, geometry, or majoring in engineering use these calculators. Note that these tools cost significantly more than non-graphing models. Non-graphing calculators (also called scientific calculators) are for more advanced math problems. If you’re about to start a physics, chemistry, or trigonometry class, you’ll need one.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the most common types of calculators out there, it’s time to choose a non-graphing calculator. Below, we’ve selected a few different models for different needs.

Best Non-Graphing Scientific Calculator

Best Overall

The HP 35s Scientific Calculator  

HP 35s Scientific Calculator

The HP 35s Scientific Calculator has an LCD display and is useful for medicine, science, surveying, and engineering uses. The tool uses RPN (reverse polish notation), a signature feature of the model. Note that this model allows normal algebraic entry, too.

The HP 35s Scientific Calculator can be used for the SAT Reasoning Test, ACT, Levels 1 and 2 in SAT Subject Mathematics tests, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry. You may also use it for NMSQT and PSAT.

The calculator has a library of over 100 constants and built-in functions. It’s pre-loaded and ready to use immediately. The HP 35s Scientific Calculator comes with a 1-year warranty, but double check with Amazon for specifications.

Pros

  • Choose between RPN and algebraic entry
  • Large display for viewing entries
  • Adjustable contrast for outdoor use
  • Great memory capacity

Cons

  • Wide shape feels awkward to hold
  • Takes non-standard batteries

Best HP Alternative

The Casio FX-5800P-N

CASIO Japanese Program Functional Calculator FX-5800P-N

The Casio FX-5800P-N is a good alternative to the HP we just reviewed. It can calculate complex numbers, comes with 26 memories, and performs trigonometric functions. There are 128 stored formulae and 40 physical constants on this tool, along with a repetition function.

It has flash memory as a back-up function and calculates using irrational values and fractions. The Casio FX-5800P-N will keep its memory when you put new batteries in, as long as you follow the instructions. It’s easy to program and uses a simple programming language. You won’t have to learn a complex language to use this calculator.

One very convenient feature that users will appreciate is that the Casio FX-5800P-N takes a regular AAA battery. It also has an ergonomic shape that makes it easy to hold for long periods of time.

Pros

  • Comfortable to hold
  • Multi-replay function included
  • Hard protective case included
  • Easy-to-understand programming language

Cons

  • Doesn’t connect to a computer with USB

Best Budget Pick

The Texas Instruments Ti-36x Pro

EAI 560439 Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro Scientific Calculator

The Texas Instruments Ti-36x Pro offers a lot of graphing calculator features but doesn’t have the graphing component. It has an affordable price and is suitable for use on exams. Engineering majors should find the unit both helpful and intuitive to use.

Most users will notice that it’s simple to use for calculating angle unites in trigonometry and performing fractional equations. The calculator shows stacked fractions, symbols, and math expressions the way they appear in textbooks. You can see multiple calculations displayed on the screen at once.

You may choose between three solvers: system of linear equations, polynomial, and numeric equation. The buttons are made with hard plastic and color-coded for your convenience.

Pros

  • Comes with a sliding protective case
  • Shuts off automatically
  • Color-coded keys
  • Affordable price
  • Lightweight design

Cons

  • Doesn’t have full complex number support
  • Has only one key for accessing 8 variables

Best Lightweight Pick

The Sharp EL-W516TBSL Calculator

Sharp Calculators EL-W516TBSL Advanced Scientific Calculator with WriteView 4 Line Display & Solar Power

The Sharp EL-W516TBSL Calculator allows you to enter calculations and displays them as they’re shown in your textbook. It has 640 functions and works for both students and professionals in biology, physics, chemistry, trigonometry, algebra, science, and more.

The Sharp EL-W516TBSL Calculator uses solar power with a battery backup and has a durable design with a protective case. The LCD display shows 4 lines and the tool has 7 modes including normal, complex, drill, and more. The home key lets you begin fresh as needed from any screen.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Attractive design
  • Solar and battery power

Cons

  • May not last as long as more expensive models

Best for Calculus Students

The Casio FX-115ES

Casio fx-115ES PLUS Engineering/Scientific Calculator

The Casio FX-115ES has been designed to be user-friendly regardless of your level of knowledge. It has enhanced features such as finding derivatives, advanced inequality functionality, and product notation templates. The Casio FX-115ES does matrix inversion, quadratics, and cubics.

It’s super easy to use and has an affordable price. If you’re taking Pre-Calculus, Trigonometry, Statistics, Pre-Algebra or Algebra I or II, General Math, Chemistry, Engineering, or Physics, this tool will support you. It may be used on NCEES exams, AP tests, ACT, SAT, PSAT, and NMSQT tests. The tool comes with battery backup and solar power, so you can use it no matter what. Its functions are intuitive and it has a natural textbook display for easy reading.

The FX-115ES Calculator has more than 280 functions including linear regression, computer science, base arithmetic, complex number calculations, and more. It also has a replay function that allows you to backtrack and recalculate your answers.

Pros

  • Useful for multiple purposes
  • Backtracking feature
  • User-friendly functions

Cons

  • Doesn’t feel very durable

Conclusion

Unless you require one for a very specific purpose, you don’t need to spend a ton on a graphing calculator. Instead, choose a non-graphing (scientific) calculator like one of the options on our list.

The HP 35s Scientific Calculator is our favorite overall due to value for the price and the functions it offers. Maybe you’re a bit intimidated by RPN (although the 35s supports algebraic notation as well.  Here’s a good video that explains the HP 35s RPN system.

Non-graphing calculators are in high demand for engineers and students who need to take certification tests that restrict other calculators. They’re useful for physics, trigonometry, and other studies, as well.

Hopefully, this article helped you select the best one for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a CAS graphing calculator and a non-CAS graphing calculator?

A non-CAS calculator solves for numeric results whereas a CAS calculator can give you algebraic answers – integrals, derivatives, simplify equations.

What is the best non-graphing calculator?

That depends on your needs, but the HP 35s is a solid choice.  If you’re on a budget then check out the Ti-36x Pro from Texas Instruments.

What is a non-programmable calculator?

A simple numeric calculator without macros or programming functions.  Used for basic math calculations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square root etc.

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