A couple years ago TI brought its Nspire platform to the iPad. During the first week of release it was on sale for $5, so I figured what the heck. I fiddled with it for a bit, but found it lacking. I noticed some time ago that my copy of the app updated itself to the latest version and that it seemed less clunky than before. Could this be a worthwhile addition to my iPad library? Let's see.

Experience

There are two versions of the app, TI-Nspire and TI-Nspire CAS (no clue what the differences are). To purchase a new copy now costs $29.99, regardless of which version you pick. Per standard iOS use terms, using the same Apple ID you can put this on 10 devices. If you have a class set of iPads available, that's a pretty cheap startup cost. Certainly cheaper than trying to buy stand alone Nspire calculators ($140 - $180 each), and way easier to use.

Nspire is a file based calculator system. You don't switch to the graphing or calculator modes, you create a graphing or calculator document. The intended output is like a slide deck, each slide having some math function associated with them. There are sample files included to show you the types of products you can create. There are lessons to download. Navigating is ok. Often there are no hints about what some buttons do. There's also an irritating feature I'll get to later. There is readily accessible help, but it's simplistic. I don't feel like I could create something like their sample lessons by simple intuition or using the help files.

Pro

The calculator is really full featured. It can do everything a TI-89 is capable of, and a little more. When playing with it, I got to thinking this might be the go to tool for my calculus students, since it has robust calculus features.

The calculator keypad is pretty easy. It puts advanced functions like limits, integrals, etc in easy reach. There are tons to choose from (maximization, minimization. etc) if you tap the wrench button. Buttons with a line at the top have options. Instead of having to change between degree and radian mode, you can specify the unit by affixing it to the end of your number with the angle button.

Of course, it wouldn't be TI without being a little fiddly. It has options for exact (fraction), approximate (decimal), or auto when displaying answers. How it decides is a bit of a crapshoot. No different than how it behaves on a TI-89.

I wish I knew how to use the "H2O" and "+ - / *" buttons. Tapping them does nothing. The help is of no help. They might work in a different type of document? This calculator keyboard is standard across all document types.

The graphing feature has a few nifty tricks. It can handle two or three condition piecewise functions. Graphed functions can be adjusted with your finger and the equation will update itself automatically. Function labels can be dragged around. You can change the window with finger pinches, they did get that right.

You can summon the tables for all graphed functions and display them side by side. This converts the slide from a graph type to a lists/spreadsheet type.

Graphics can be inserted for overlays. TI includes some stock images, or you can import items from the camera roll. The image will always take up most of the frame. The axes can be manipulated with your fingers to get the scale correct.

The TI-89 functions come into play here as well. Along with the standard minimum, maximum, zero type functions you're used to, you can also dynamically compute the area under a curve. You have to set an initial lower and upper bound, but afterwards you can drag the end points and the total will update. There are lots of other analysis tools available.

I didn't play with it as much, but there is a Geometry document type. This lets you create any kind of figure. You can choose from a series of regular shapes, or define them with points. For instance, you can make conic sections with five points. Points can be manipulated after the fact and the shape will change to a parabola or hyperbola as necessary to keep all five points connected.

Con

There are negatives. Within the geometry and graph document types, it is very frustrating to delete anything. Sometimes you can hold and release to invoke a "delete/rename" pop up like cut/copy/paste. Sometimes that doesn't work. Sometimes you just have to spam the undo button. There is no way I can tell to remove a slide once you've created it. You can rearrange the order by pressing and holding them on the left. No amount of tapping or holding or double tapping seems capable of giving you the option to delete. Help is no help here. Export options have improved, but there's a catch.

The share button implies you can send the current slide to Dropbox or Google Drive. Not true. This will attempt to export the entire document in its native format (a .tns file, only readable with TI's horrid desktop software or another Nspire device). To get a file that can be opened elsewhere much easier, you have to use the export menu to create a PDF or series of images. Once you open the PDF or photo set you can send THAT to Dropbox or Google Drive.

Let's say you invest time in creating a nice slide deck for your students to progress through. Deploying that to all your copies of CAS is only possible by syncing the devices with a computer. It uses the outdated iTunes documents method for import.

Conclusion

This software is not designed with a connected student body in mind. It's intended to be a silo for one user's documents. Sharing stuff is hard. Importing stuff is hard. All the fiddly problems with creating items (especially the obtuse delete "feature") would make me think twice about creating documents in this app. If you look at it as a cheap alternative to a handheld TI calculator, that could be a good (and limited) use case. The graphing module is ok enough that it would be worth it for the advanced calculus stuff to me. Desmos is lacking there. Manipulating a curve with my finger is a nice feature. A bank of Desmos sliders is not quite the same experience.

Like a digital textbook, this is TI trying to staple its outmoded methods onto a device that can do so much more.

This one's ok, I guess. Solid B minus. I could see the calculator module being useful and the graphing module as kind of useful.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon
TagsiPad