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Calculator users - stop searching!

Engineers - stop developing!

Competitors - don't even try it!

I received today, almost 40 years after the introduction of the famous Bowmar 901B, samples of the new Texas Instruments TI-nspire CX and TI-nspire CX CAS.

My first reaction after unpacking them: WOW!

The first reaction of my 16 year old test driver Stefan: WOW!

Two hours of playing with both units, comparing it with the different evolutions of the nspire, the TI-84 Plus SE and a TI-89 Titanium: See my headline.

The first pictures of the CX looked nice, but holding this cutie in your own hands is something different. It is sleek, it looks and feels just perfect and both the screen and keyboards are outstanding. Believe it or not - the keys click exactly how we liked it about 35 years ago. Not too much travel, not to hard, simply perfect. Even the plastic material used for the keys, not too mushy, not too soft, not too hard. Feels like a good old SR-51!
And the screen? I can't scan it right with my equipment - just believe me. You never saw a calculator screen that crisp and bright.

I guess that in a few hours we will read the news on the CX, the yellow part on one of the provided pictures is actually a Wi-Fi adapter!

Enjoy the two pictures:

Happy Pi Day!


It really is a nice screen. I'll probably end up getting one of these ( unless a worthy successor to the HP50g comes out - one with a display from this century ) but I really wish TI would branch the hardware and create a version more engineer friendly.

One with a qwerty keypad, discrete trig keys and a reciprocal key. Hell, while they're at it the ability to remap the keys ( at least some of them ) the way you want. And much better programming abilities ( API, pixel drawing, key and touchpad detection ). Since wifi is already available, maybe a web browser is possible on the hardware. Useless for a calculator to do ? Pretty much. But very cool from a geek standpoint. That sounds like a lot but the hardware is 95% in place to do all that.

I realize all of those limitations are probably because the Nspire is geared toward high school students with test acceptance a priority but still I can dream.

I haven't had the chance to test any of the Nspires with the touchpad. How easy is it to get used to the touchpad ?

certainly is less ugly than it's predecessor!

can it make phone calls?

rob ;-)

No phone calls so far - but a double-wide ENTER key ;-))


But you're still obliged to drill through menus to get things done, which is tedious enough. (Menu-driven interfaces always suck) Especially so will it be tedious to use without native RPN or RPL! No amount of ancillary whiz-bang can possibly make that thing a joy to use day in and day out. /Play/ with it for a short while? Perhaps /that/ could be some fun.

It'd be entertaining-enough to put through some paces, no doubt, at least until you have to do something as asinine as

"sin-1(cos-1(tan-1(tan(cos(sin 9)))))="

Please count out for us all the keystrokes/gestures required for /that/.

Well put Glen,

When the ordinary student or engineer just wants to see the associated frequency for the period they just computed, "ancillary whiz bang" will make them compose another expression. RPL will put fourth with but 1 keystroke in such an instance (1/x).

Just for the record, your expression "sin-1(cos-1(tan-1(tan(cos(sin 9)))))= Would be summarily rejected by the yellow rose of Texas as not having enough brackets! Yes, 5 sets is not enough...you forgot to put the innermost "9" in brackets! I'm betting that's close to
30 whiz-bangin' keystrokes when it's all said and done.
Lacking all this glitz and flash, my poor old RPL machine (50G) makes me solve this
expression in a pathetic 10 keystrokes. Gosh, I feel deprived!

Wow, everybody on the planet that buys one of these just gained 23.6 points on their IQ score. I still don't see the huge benefit of more powerful hand calculators. Call me old school, but I'd much rather partner with a smart human than a smart machine. Not impressed.

Too many keys IMHO. And too close for my fingers. And the wrong keys in foreground. And I don't need a hand-held colour TV. We'll try coming with a better offer d;-)

I bet you that wide ENTER key was put by a former HP employee working for TI.

Overall .... very nice!!!

Amazon has an entry for the CX model but shows nothing yet.


Edited: 15 Mar 2011, 7:26 a.m.

At least they're using the CX suffix made famous by HP :-)

Looks like overkill for a calculator to me.

- Pauli

Lacking all this glitz and flash, my poor old RPL machine (50G) makes me solve this expression in a pathetic 10 keystrokes.

The very first RPL machine, the HP-28C, does it in an even more pathetic eight keystrokes :-)

Why so many versions? I see six on the TI site. There's only one 50g.

You might be able to get it down to 7 on the HP50G IF you already had the TRIG softmenu set up (or maybe you're counting that as the 8th keystroke?)

Yes, only 7 keystrokes on the HP-28C/S if the TRIG menu was already activated. But then again the TRIG menu key had to be pressed previously, therefore it should be counted.


Am I missing something?
Doesn't Ti use implied parenthesis?

On my 48GX, the count of keystrokes doesn't match what others have done.

Method RPL:

That is eleven keystrokes.

Method ALG:

That is 12 keystrokes. Big deal. Who cares?

Bill, have you tried omitting the ENTER key?

Well, I think this calc is kind of a mixed blessing...

On the one hand, I admire the technology. During college I've used a Voyage 200 for some time and the nSpire CAS CX is way beyond the abilities of the Voyage, as far as I can tell from the specs. For students I'm sure that it can definitely be a superb learning aid, provided the teachers know how to use this calculator as a teaching instrument. I'm also fascinated by the Vernier sensors that you can connect to the CX - I wished something comparabel had existed when I attended physics in school...

For engineers I think it's a different story. The whole concept of working with the calc by means of "documents" and "problems" is not very engineering-like. It's only the scratchpad mode that one would use regularly, all the other functionalities might very likely be replaced by computer based tools like Scilab, Ecxel, Matlab, Maple or Mathematica. After all, documenting a development is much easier using these tools than the calculator. Provided you have access to a workstation, that is.

I also second all posts stating that the TI menu system is very tedious to use. In fact, it was the thing that I found most annoying on the Voyage 200. In contrast, the soft-menu used on the 48/49/50-series calculators from HP is something I'm really fond of, sice it provides a very quick way of accessing the individual functions.

So after all, I wouldn't buy this calculator for engineering use. However, it seems to me, that at a certain point it will be hard to resist from an "entertainment" point of view - or maybe out of pure technological curiosity... ;)

I'm betting that's close to 30 whiz-bangin' keystrokes when it's all said and done.

Surely not on the CAS+ version, which has the trig functions on the keyboard, but perhaps on the others.
...my poor old RPL machine (50G) makes me solve this expression in a pathetic 10 keystrokes. Gosh, I feel deprived!

My old 48sx will also do 10 keystrokes via RPN input. It's so well designed that entering it as an algebraic object only adds one keystroke. Interestingly, the much-maligned HP 38g also takes 11, because it automatically assumes the trailing parentheses.


Less keystrokes than you expected!

This little thing places all the brackets automatically ;-))

And you might have noticed the little arrow below the [trig]?
This key brings up "sin" if you press it, "cos" if you hold it a little longer, then "tan" etc.

It is
[trig] [enter]
[trig] [enter]
[trig] [enter]
[trig] [enter]
[trig] [enter]
[trig] [enter]
[9] [enter]

Or 14 keystrokes.


OK so 10 versus 12.

Am I missing something?
Doesn't Ti use implied parenthesis?
That is 12 keystrokes. Big deal. Who cares?

Exactly. As Joerg pointed out, only two more for the new TI.

But as silly as it sounds, to me, a scientific calculator without direct keys for trig is just, um, stupid.

That's true. The NSpire is not a scientific calculator, it is a math student's calculator. I don't know why people are trying to make it into something it is not.

Opps, it looks like the 50g's TRIG menu doesn't contain ASIN, ACOS, ATAN. I guess they figured they weren't necessary since they're accessible from the keyboard.

This little thing places all the brackets automatically ;-))

So does the HP-71B in calc mode:

[f] [ASIN] [f] [ACOS] [f] ATAN [f] [TAN] [f] [COS] [f] [SIN] [9] [END LINE]
14 keystrokes as well, without worrying about when releasing any of the keys :-)



Edited: 15 Mar 2011, 3:55 p.m.

It is also a stupid cutesy name. Nothing a little electrical tape couldn't tame

Excellent point, Don. I think people are reacting to the OP glowing description, whether meant in jest or not.

Thanks, Martin.

Yes, Joerg's description is certainly good. The pictures, I'm sure, don't do justice to the quality of the color display. If it is anything like the Casio Prizm (and I'm sure it is), it is indeed a fine display, and this overcomes one of the biggest complaints about the NSpire from day one: you just couldn't discern the display unless you shine a bright light directly on it. I kept a flashlight next to mine, for this reason. So I'm happy to see this improvement.

But this new version still does not overcome another problem of the NSpire, namely, the touchpad (and "clickpad" before it) is a cumbersome human interface for manipulating objects on the screen. Using the touchpad to grab a point or a line or a vertex or a slider and drag it across the screen (which is what students will do to explore math concepts on the NSpire) is not an easy process to learn or execute; it is downright frustrating, frankly. What the NSpire needs is a stylus and a touchscreen. Color certainly adds a lot, but a touch-sensitive screen would make the NSpire about 200% better, in my opinion.

And, yes, TI is not marketing this to engineers. It's place is in the classroom of high schools and colleges.


Wouldn't software running on a laptop just blow this friggin' thing out of the water, for mathstudents?

Bill, I don't know, but Mathematica for Students (for example) + the cost of a laptop would undoubtedly be more than the cost of the NSpire. I don't know how many high schools currently use the NSpire but I have a feeling the NSpire is nowhere near as prevalent as the TI-83 and 84. Whether the color NSpire will change that, who knows.

Touchscreen, QWERTY keyboards etc are show stoppers for the AP, SAT etc exams.



The 50g is for engineers, who are buying the calculator as a tool.

The Nspire is for students, who have to buy a specific version of the calculator to meet their class and standardized test requirements. Different versions have different features enabled and disabled.

For something similar in HP's lineup, look at the 39g and 40g lines.

Edit: Oh, and there's six Nspire models, not six Nspire CX models - the original Nspire, in both standard and CAS models, the touchpad version of the original Nspire, also in both standard and CAS models, and the CX, in both standard and CAS models.

The HP equivalent would be saying that there's six models in the 39g line - there are, but four of them (the 39G/40G (which are 49G-based) and the 39g+/40g+ (which are 49g+-based)) are outdated.

Edited: 16 Mar 2011, 8:30 a.m.

Number of keystrokes on *any* calculator, HP or TI: 1:

By trivial inspection, the functions cancel each other out. Of course, 9>+/-PI, so you could normalize out the middle two terms with
or 4 keystrokes on the '42S, '50g, etc.

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but the screen looks horrible. Perhaps in person the screen is more legible, but from those pictures, how can anyone read anything on the screen? At least the older version of the Inspire has a nice, clear, and legible screen.

I don't understand the point of a wifi connection -- to me that seems like a gimmick add-on that does not serve any real, useful purpose. If you want to connect with a PC, it may save having to use a real cable, but then the transfers are probably slower via wifi.

As said my prior posts, the Inspire's design team does not seem to have a good hold on what exactly they want their product to be. As a calculator, there are not enough dedicated keys (everything is done via a menu). As a handheld with wifi, its screen is extremely poor and the the device is too large and clunky -- not to mention that most handhelds (smart phones) are much more capable for not that much more in terms of price. As a "computer" it has a terrible set of inputs (keyboard and a real mouse is preferable).

This is NOT a student's calculator. It's more of a device for teachers to show examples and do mini-projects in the class. You wouldn't "calculate" with it because the whole notion of a "document" is completely contrary to picking up a calculator to do a few random calculations.

Just a "couple hours" of playing with it and the CX is at 75% battery?


dona nobis pacem

Edited: 16 Mar 2011, 1:42 p.m.

The WiFi is for in classroom connection. A student can be selected to show his solution on his handheld on the teacher's projector. The teacher can download examples to the students devices. The same already existed in form of a more clunky device for the previous models.

The screen is certainly as bright as the Prizm's which is a pleasure to read. On a scan, this is obviously not correctly reproduced.

Counting the number of different Nspire models returns six on first sight but it's in fact much less. Software wise there are just two incarnations: with or without CAS. All models can be updated to the same version in their respective (non) CAS variant.

The clickpad CAS and the touchpad CAS Nspire are physically different because the CAS version does not support keyboard swapping. The newer model has a removable keyboard in order to get to the batteries but no replacement keyboard.

The touchpad (non CAS) Nspire has just an updated keyboard. You can upgrade your old Nspire with a new keyboard to the touchpad version. The only difference is that you don't get the possibility to install the rechargeable battery option.

OK, the both CXs are new. But they still run a version of the software which can be installed on the respective older models.

Edited: 16 Mar 2011, 2:02 p.m.

Less keystrokes than you expected!

This little thing places all the brackets automatically ;-))

Don't forget that you would have to space over all those closing brackets should you want to continue the expression...that's an instant 6 more keystrokes. =)

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but the screen looks horrible. Perhaps in person the screen is more legible, but from those pictures, how can anyone read anything on the screen? At least the older version of the Inspire has a nice, clear, and legible screen.

This is an example where the pictures give a totally unrealistic view of the actual products. The CX screen is crystal clear and bright. The older NSpire screen is nowhere near as legible and bright as it appears in the picture. If you had the actual products in your hand, you would understand.

I don't understand the point of a wifi connection -- to me that seems like a gimmick add-on that does not serve any real, useful purpose.

I'm sure that wifi connector will be used to communicate with the TI Navigator, a device in the classroom that receives signals from the students' machines and displays the students screens on the whiteboard. I doubt that TI plans to use that connector for Internet access, although it may be possible.

the Inspire's design team does not seem to have a good hold on what exactly they want their product to be.

Oh, I think the design team knows exactly what they want the NSpire to be: a tool to help kids explore and better understand math principles and concepts. That was the purpose of the NSpire from day one, and it hasn't changed. The enhanced screen of the CX will further that purpose.

This is NOT a student's calculator.

Don't think of it as just a calculator. It's actually more than that, it is a device students (and teachers, of course) use to explore and experiment with math concepts, as I said. And the document-based architecture supports this goal by allowing all pages (calculator pages, graph pages, spreadsheet pages, geometry pages, and notes and data) related to a given problem to be stored in a single document. These pages might have been created by the teacher, the student, or a combination of both. The NSpire is actually a very powerful device for helping students to better understand math.

It's not for engineers, and wasn't meant to be.

Ah, but Jim, you are speaking of mathematics. Here, we are speaking only of calculator addicts! :)

>50 hours estimated time per charge.
Li-Ion batteries 3.7 Volt, 1230 mAh.


How does this technology actually help to understand better than chalk? Every time I have been in some lecture with "technology" the technology ends up being the focus and everything you thought you were going to learn goes out the window. Or the machine has to be re-booted. Or the batteries die.

What mathematical concepts actually benefit from such a strange specialized not-a-calculator tool?

Maybe I am just getting so old and grumpy that I cannot see anything new?

Bill, my wife tells me I'm getting old and grumpy too, so you're in good company!

Here is an example of how technology might be used to give students a better understanding of a math concept, rather than chalk. By the way, the school I teach at only a couple of weeks ago replaced the old chalk blackboards with white dry-erase boards. I'm sure we were the last school in Louisville to do so.

The graph is of the quadratic equation ax2+bx+c. At the upper left hand corner are 3 "sliders" which lets the students dynamically change the values of variables a, b, and c, and observe how the characteristics of the graph change at the same time. Now, you could draw a graph on the blackboard and tell the kids how the graph would change if you changed a, b, and c, and I'm sure they would believe it (especially if you made them draw another graph), but seeing it change electronically before their eyes, direcly from their inputs, possibly makes the learning more interesting and, hopefully, permanent.

I didn't use the handheld NSpire to do this example, I used the teacher PC software because using the mouse is a lot easier than using either the clickpad or touchpad on the actual handheld.

But that's the general idea. Seeing a graph dynamically change might cause some kids to understand the relationship between a, b, and c and the final graph a little easier.

I don't use the NSpire in my classes because my school doesn't have them, but from the nspire google forum I see that several teachers have created very nice NSpire applications, and I think these have value.


Also, that particular expression has a special meaning here:


Simplify it... and no joy!

Which of course, the Quad Explorer app did on the HP 38g 15 years ago. :-)

I'm neither student nor teacher but the machine has still its potential. Some weeks ago, the notebook where my wife used to record the mileage and consumption of her car ran out of pages. She gave it to me and I entered all the numbers into my Nspire. I wanted to analyze the data to know more about the actual consumption of the car over the years.

First of all, the machine is capable enough to store all the data in its spreadsheet. No other calculator has enough working memory for such a data set (probably except the 50g). The spreadsheet has another advantage: You can define column formulas which fill complete columns without repeating the formula in each cell. Next useful feature to mention here: You can program a user function and put it in a column header for customized evaluation.

The formulas I created compute the actual consumption in liters per 100 km (the European way of expressing miles per gallon) and, as a user function, the moving average of the latter over a variable range of elements.

Graphing selected columns of such a table is a no brainer with the Nspire. I graphed the average consumption per 100km against the absolute km value. I added a slider to modify the range value for the moving average to the graph. Moving the slider immediately showed the effect of different values of the number of elements used to compute the average. It was apparent that consumption varies over the seasons of a year if you set the range to a value above 5. With a value of 1 (no average) the graph looks more like random noise.

If you're interested I can upload the document to my site. I must admit that the PC application was more useful in this scenario because the reaction to slider movements is a bit sluggish on the handheld. Data entry has been done on the Nspire and the graph can be used there too. Its just the mere amount of data that slows things down. (The car is 10 years old and has run more the 200,000 km).

...and you could easily (with a tiny program) do this on the Casio fx7000g 26 years ago.

I found these links to be helpful in understanding the target audience. I have to admit, I don't have an HP50g and have no idea if things like this are possible on it. And if anyone would care to answer I would interested in knowing that. But as far as seeing how clear the display really is and the things I thought sort of illustrated the supposed purpose of the calculator model, engaging students in math and science and helping them visualize concepts, maybe these are helpful.

As a side note, I've been on the fence for years purchasing my first graphing calculator ( and yes, I'm an old man ) just for purposes of going through my old electrical engineering textbooks ( I have a sick and unpopular idea of fun ) again. To me, the HP50g display as it looks in screen shots on web pages, amazon and so on, looks way too pixelated. Then again, so did the rest of the calculators until the grayscale Nspires came out ( but too blurry ), the Casio Prizm and the Nspire CX. If HP came out with an updated 50g with a screen like this I'd probably buy it in a heartbeat.

Anyway, not being a student or using this for my job I am probably in the tiny minority of people who would prefer the calculator of my choice to be incredibly powerful ( hardware wise ), flexible, very programmable, and to have a fun and modern feel.

Some images showing the display quality

Conic sections video

Geometry Video

Lots of videos here


You are right - the screen looks horrible!!!

I use an ordinary flatbed scanner for all my images in the Datamath Calculator Museum. Works perfect with traditional calculator displays but failed completely with the new backlit displays.

I shot this afternoon some pictures with a Digital Still Camera and put them on the web. They are not that crisp but show the colors of the screen much better. Just load www.datamath.org and follow the link in the headline.

Have a good evening.


... summarily rejected by the yellow rose of Texas ...
Funny moniker for the TI Wifi dongle- probably such a bright yellow so the teachers can easily tell when it's attached during tests.

Ironically the historic "yellow rose of Texas" and subject of so named song was a prostitute instrumental in Texas winning the War with Mexico, IIRC. An interesting history read! The anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto is just around the corner on April 21st.

BTW, I have an algebraic calculator that returns 15.5894 (after 10 keystrokes), but it's not the one in Mike Sebastian's table.