It All Adds Up
It may be the gold standard and the best seller among school science and math classrooms, but Texas Instruments’ TI-84 Plus calculator has some competition. The Casio fx-9860G Slim is smaller, lighter and protects its screen with a notebook-like clamshell design. Best of all, at $90, it’s a lot cheaper than the TI-84 Plus.
At 7.2 ounces and measuring 1.0 by 3.5 by 4.9 inches, the fx-9860G Slim is 50 percent lighter and one third smaller than the TI-84. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries rather than the TI-84’s four cells. A big bonus is that the fx-9860G Slim folds shut when it’s not in use, protecting its screen and keeping it clean. By contrast, the TI-84 makes do with an easy-to-lose snap-on cover.
I really like that the fx-9860G Slim can be used upright, like a micro notebook, folded flat on a desk or in the hand for two-thumb key entry. On the downside, the fx-9860G Slim doesn’t lock open, making it a little awkward to use at times.
Capable of covering the gamut of high school – and college – math, from fractions and graphing complex equations to working with physics lab spreadsheet data to sections for AP calculus and statistics classes. You can input fractions, formulas and calculus equations and then graph them, but that’s just the start.
The Main Menu has links to all that the system can do, from basic math and financial calculations to conical sections and programming. It can even replay the last set of calculations so the teacher can see what the student has been up to. My favorite function is the fx-9860G Slim’s ability to link two calculators together with an included cable for group work.
Unlike the TI-84, the fx-9860G Slim has numeric keys that are twice the size of the others and a cool color coding that can help with their identification. It’s OK for use on the PSAT, SAT, ACT and a variety of Advanced Placement tests. On the downside, it lacks an SD card slot for saving programs, data and results. Other Casio calculators have SD slots.
The fx-9860G Slim’s 3.6-inch screen is bigger than the TI-84’s display, can render 64 by 128 pixels – 50 percent greater detail than the TI-84’s 64 by 96 pixel screen. More to the point, it’s longer and narrower so it can show more complex calculations. Characters are well formed, but graphing lines are not well defined, particularly when you zoom in.
One big advantage that the fx-9860G Slim has is that it comes with a backlight for late night study sessions or for use during lights-off projector presentations. On the other hand, the TI-84 can show 3-D images, while the fx-9860G Slim is limited to 2-D representations.
Inside is a Renesas SH-3 processor with 63KB of RAM and 1.5MB of flash memory for storage of programs and data. That’s a little better than the T-84 in each category. The fx-9860G Slim can do something the others can’t. It can connect with an XJ series Casio projector directly with only the included USB cable.
Another approach is to use Casio’s Manager Plus software where a teacher (or student) can emulate the look and action of the calculator on a PC and show the entire class how to do it. Too bad, the software only works with PCs and with neither Macs nor Linux computers.
Both the TI-84 and fx-9860G Slim come with an assortment of software, apps and things like a periodic table of the elements. There’s a thorough software development kit for ambitious districts to write their own calculator programs as well as online instructional resources for solving quadratics, working with conical functions and even some basic business math.
Like all calculators, the more you use it, the more possibilities open up, and the fx-9860G Slim is good for more than simple figures. It’s a platform for calculations and education. It may not be perfect, but Casio goes to the head of the class in graphing calculators.
+ Small and light
+ Fold open lid
+ Excellent assortment of math abilities
+ Lighted screen
+ Larger numeric keys
+ USB connection to PC and add-ons
- No SD card slot
- Transfers and emulation software only for PCs