TI-36x Pro

This is a post about a calculator. Math-adverse, you have been warned.

Had to take a math placement exam, which didn’t allow graphing calcs with a CAS, like my TI-89. Scientific calculator it is. Except, it’s the day of the test, and there were no scientific calcs to be found in my house (should be two). Spazzed a bit, then checked out frys and office depot. Quickly selected the TI-36x Pro and hopped down to Office Depot. TI name, and the most expensive of the scientific calcs – has to be good, right? Had no time to take the test – thankfully, I didn’t have to take it that day. Given some free time, I had a glance over the manual…

This thing is crazy. It takes input like a TI graphing calc, which alone puts it ahead of anything I’ve used before that deigns to call itself a scientific calculator. Rather then pressing a key and having that action be taken, like a “traditional” scientific calc, you get to put in a full equation – say, (2*4^2) / 2 – and get the result in one go. Very familiar to anyone who’s used wolfram or a graphing calc.

Keyboard layout is similar to TI graphing calcs, but with one twist: For instance, instead of using a menu/3 modifiers to pick a version of the sin( command, you just simply hit the sin button additional times to toggle between the choices. Very straightforward. Usually you’re lucky to know what half the buttons on a scientific calc do, but the menu-driven interface means the more esoteric stuff can be on menus while the vital stuff is right at hand. Gone are the days of 3-4 modifier keys.

Already, I’ve gotten my 20$ worth out of this calc. Never expected this much. But wait, there’s more:

– You get solvers, 3 of them: equation solver, polynomial solver, and 2×2 and 3×3 system solver. The equation solver is, of course, not as powerful as the TI-89 one, but more than powerful enough for getting quick answers to basic algebraic homework problems.

– A bunch of engineering constants (planck’s constant anyone?), and unit conversions.

– Ability to define a custom function – do f(4), for instance.

– Ability to view a function’s value table (ie, f(1) -> 3, f(2) -> 4) – like a graphing calc.

– 3 Lists, with the ability to do equations on each list member to generate a new list, as well as 1 and 2 var statistics. So, you can type in a list of temperatures in Fahrenheit, for instance, then in one fell swoop convert them all to Celsius, or quickly sum/get average/min/max/median, whatever.

– 3 matrices (1×1 to 3×3) and 3 vectors – I don’t have a personal use for this as of yet, but it’s great to have the option.

– Two macros, op, which defines a series of keystrokes, and f(x). “op” basically types a string and presses enter for you, while f(x) acts like a function in the usual sense.

– Variable style memory as opposed to fixed M buttons. Store a value to x, and use x in an equation, and the value in x is used. Again, very familiar to anyone who’s used an advanced calculator, but this is a scientific calc we’re talking about.

– Command history around 42 command-answer pairs deep. Not figured out exactly how deep. May vary based on complexity?

– Pretty Print/mathprint: Basically, you press a button and get a “MathPrint” template, which you fill out in-place. It won’t automatically format things like the TI-89 will, but hey, scientific calc.

РOctal, Hex, and binary support, as well as logical operators. Quite awesome, though not really that much use as programming  (for me) implies quick access to google.

– Complex number support.

And a bunch of other things that would take far too long to list, but are really nice touches.

On the hardware side, you get a graphing calc style layout, a 16×4 display (actual display area may be more depending on input mode and font), solar-assisted battery and a snap-on cover with quick guide. Weight is a little bit higher than a “normal” scientific calc, but way less than a graphing calc.

Build quality seems to be in line with other TI calcs, which is to say, you could toss it across the room and/or bludgeon an unruly teenager with it and then continue using it with no problems.

Minor demerit: The function keys, which are silver on silver, are a bit hard to read in non-direct light. A fine-tip black sharpie made them quite easy to see.

How can this cost only $20? It does essentially everything of note (aside from graphing) that the TI-83 does. Hell, I’m sure they could have crammed a minimal graphing routine in there too. I rather wish I could program the thing. Everything is done by one single black blob, seen in these pictures. Man, I feel like a right proper nerd gushing about a calculator, but damn.

TLDR: It’s a graphing calc without the graphing. If you need to :math:, well, this is a good choice on the cheap.

NB: Took¬† the test, learned you can’t bring your own calc at all and have to use crappy 4-function calc. D’oh.

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