The holidays are almost here, and you’re trying to find a great gift for the math geek (or for that matter, anybody!) in the family. Whether the person is 18 or 48, there are plenty of great gifts to help out with college calculus or for managing the family finances.

It’s getting to be towards the end of the quarter, and as the year goes on the classes are getting harder. Your kid’s TI-83 may not cut it anymore. Times have changed, and there are some really cool new calculators on the market, and amazingly, they aren’t that much more expensive either:

The TI N-Spire is an amazing calculator– I have one myself. First launched in 2008, Texas Instruments has made a few changes to make using it a little easier. Instead of being interspersed with the numeric keys, the letters are placed at the bottom of the keypad. While it was previously common to accidentally hit these keys, their new placement makes this very difficult to do.

In addition, the TI N-Spire has a new Touchpad in place of the older, circular D-Pad style keys. This improved navigation pad makes it easier to guide the cursor around on the screen.

The TI N-Spire Touchpad also makes a great present for high school students. Texas Instruments allows all N-Spire owners to request a TI-84+ keypad at no extra cost. To use the second keypad, push on the switch on the back of the calculator to pop the keypad off. Then, simply snap in the TI-84+ keypad, and turn the calculator back on. It’ll function exactly as if the N-Spire were a TI-84+. Want the advanced features such as 3D graphing? Simply pop the N-Spire keypad back in.

This means that in addition to the new, advanced capabilities that are included with the N-Spire keypad, you can use the calculator as if it were a TI-83+ or TI-84+. This is a great feature for classes in high school designed for the older family of calculators, while still having the more advanced N-Spire keyboard for college and calculus.

For the kid who always likes to have the latest technology, there is the TI N-Spire CX. This thing is guaranteed to make any math geek smile: the first thing you will notice is the color, backlit screen. Though slightly more expensive, the N-Spire CX comes with a color screen, thin design, and rechargeable battery. This mini-computer is possible the most advanced calculator by Texas Instruments, and it is still approved for use on the SAT, PSAT, ACT, AP and IB exams. It is also permitted on some state exams. Amazingly, this is TI’s lightest calculator.

With the latest TI N-Spire software, you can load images and color graphics onto the calculator. This allows you to graph some pretty unique stuff right on top of real world images. With the color screen, the 3D graphs look pretty cool on this computer– it’s hard to call this thing a measly “calculator.”

Both of these calculators, whether you purchase the more traditional TI N-Spire Touchpad or the advanced CX model, come with the TI N-Spire OS 3.1. This cool software upgrade comes with support for 3D graphing, more data collection tools, picture viewing, features for graphing statistics, and differential equation graphs. Any calculus student knows how much of a pain differential equations are– the newest TI N-Spire software makes graphing them a breeze, while an AP Statistics student will appreciate summary-level frequency plots and more.

And for the programmers, version 3.0 of the software allows you to run programs written in Lua.

Have the older TI N-Spire with the Clickpad? You can upgrade your calculator to the same software for free from Texas Instruments

One feature I find that people are consistently confused about is the CAS– computer algebra system. The newest TI N-Spire calculators, both Touchpad and CX, come in two flavors each– without the CAS, and with.

The Non-CAS version of the calculators lack certain advanced functionality, but are usually permitted on the SAT, PSAT, ACT, AP, and IB exams. In contrast, the CAS versions are usually only permitted on the SAT and AP exams.

The Computer Algebra System adds some advanced solvers and functionality:

- Solving systems of equations
- Solves for derivatives and integrals
- Expands expressions
- Solves expressions and returns the roots
- Factors expressions
- Finds the minimum and maximum over specific intervals
- Finds zeroes of the function

In addition, the CAS versions of the calculators are often more expensive, though usually only by $15-$20.

It’s up to you to determine what version is right for you. Are you doing a lot of complex calculations, but do you not need a calculator for the IB or ACT exams? You may want to consider the CAS. However, if you are looking for a cheaper calculator and compatibility with a wider range of exams, the non-CAS version may be appropriate.

It’s also worth noting that the CAS versions of the N-Spire Touchpad are not compatible with the TI-84+ keypad, though students in lower levels of math that need the compatibility of the TI-84+ will likely not need the CAS anyways.

**TI N-Spire Touchpad**

An amazingly powerful calculator, complete with 3D graphing and a Touchpad to control a cursor.

Buy on Amazon for about $115.

**TI N-Spire Touchpad CAS**

For a couple dollars more, an integrated Computer Algebra System is included to solve more complex equations.

Buy on Amazon for about $140.

**TI N-Spire CX**

A color screen, rechargeable battery, and thin design make this the most advanced TI calculator.

Buy on Amazon for about $140.

**TI N-Spire CX CAS**

You get all of the above, plus the computer algebra system.

Buy on Amazon for about $150.