We simplify the equation to help you buy a calculator with absolute value.
A scientific calculator is an essential for high school, and even some intermediates.
The omnipresent calculator is the Casio FX-82AU PLUS II – it does everything your child needs, up to and including NCEA Level 1 Maths in Year 11. But could you be better off with a less popular model?
The premium Casio FX-100 series has more computing power, so it’s capable of calculations involving vectors and imaginary numbers that the FX-82AU can’t do. That said, we don’t think it’s worth the extra money, since these concepts aren’t taught under NCEA until at least Year 12, when you’ll need to buy a graphics calculator anyway.
There are also cheaper alternatives. We compared the FX-82AU PLUS II ($34) with the Deskwise 82MS Scientific Calculator ($12), a budget clone of an earlier iteration of the FX-82 series, to see whether dividing the price by three subtracts from the quality.
Tip: Many schools – particularly private ones – will prescribe a specific model (almost always the FX-82AU or the FX-9750GII). Your kid is unlikely to be pulled up for having a “non-regulation calculator” but, if you don’t want to ruffle any feathers, check your stationery list before buying.
The clearest difference is in the displays. The Casio has a higher-resolution screen, with more pixels allowing for better-looking symbols. Its default mode lets you write commands as you would on paper, which can be fiddly but makes your input much easier to read.
However, aside from the display, most of the FX-82AU’s flashy improvements aren’t much use. Prime factorisation, for instance, is fun to play with but isn’t going to help in an exam. The Deskwise covers all the key classroom functions with a near-identical button layout.
The Casio feels like a higher-quality product. It has sleeker edges, the plastic feels sturdier, and its buttons are more comfortable to press. Both calculators are light and compact, and have replaceable batteries that will last for at least two years.
By our calculations, the big-name brand Casio wins out this time. An extra $20 seems worth it for a nicer display and a well-built device that’s more likely to survive a teen’s backpack.
Tip: If your child is mathematically inclined, or if Level 2 Maths is compulsory at their school, consider skipping scientific calculators completely and buying a graphics calculator for Year 9. The Casio FX-9750GII, the only graphics calculator sold at most stores, is capable of advanced functions like plotting graphs, solving simultaneous equations and even basic scripting. It’s a bigger investment, but will last them through high school and beyond.