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Programmable vs. Non-Programmable Calculators: Know the Difference

If you are about to have your examinations ahead, you would probably be asked by your teachers to bring non-programmable calculators instead of programmable calculators. It is because programmable calculators have functions that are strictly not allowed in the majority of examinations.

However, most of the time, it is hard to distinguish between programmable calculators and non-programmable calculators, as they almost appear to be the same. Therefore, if you appear on the examination hall with a programmable calculator, and get caught by the invigilator, you may get into great trouble.

To prevent such blunders, you should know the real difference and similarities between them, for which you must continue reading.

Programmable vs. Non-Programmable Calculators – Differences:

1.Screen Size:

One of the significant differences between them is the screen size. It is because programmable calculators can display graphs using a Computer Algebra System (CAS), which makes the algebraic functions less tiresome and automatic. On the other hand, non-programmable calculators usually have a one or two-line display along with small icons being displayed on the upper side of the screen.

2. Storing Data:

The majority of the Programmable calculator has an ability to store data, input by the user such as text, alphanumeric data. Moreover, users can also save, operate, or display the symbolic functions into graphical form. This can help the user to solve equations instantly without the need to go through the whole process. They can also enter and store text easily as notes, for cheating in exams.

3.Solving Equations:

Non-Programmable calculators can solve basic equations and functions, including addition, subtractions, division, multiplication, and trigonometry. However, programmable calculators have a function to perform and provide a solution for complex equations, including definite integration, differentiation, symbolic differentiation, binomial expansion, and algebraic expressions.


Some of the latest and advance programmable calculators feature a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity feature that enables the user to sync or download data with other devices or the internet, including mobile phones or computers.

5.Matrix and vector function:

Programmable calculators can display matrix and vector functions on-screen, which is not available on non-programmable calculators.

6.Input Buttons:

The majority of Non-programmable calculators won’t allow users to enter and store complete alphabets (A to Z). However, this feature is available in programmable calculators using dedicated keys for the said purpose. This feature enables the user to easily hide the notes, which he/she may apply for cheating in exams.

Moreover, programmable calculators also have function buttons, which are unavailable in non-programmable calculators.

7. Weight:

Non-Programmable calculators are usually lightweight, slim, and compact. On the other hand, programmable calculators are heavy and bulky.

8.Firmware Update:

The latest programmable calculators now offer the ability to update the firmware (software) of the device using Wi-Fi or USB cable. On the other hand, non-programmable calculators have basic software, which can’t be changed or updated.

9.Display and User Interface:

Like basic calculators, non-programmable calculators also have a black and greenish display. However, the latest programmable calculators now come with a colored display, making it easy to distinguish between graphs and texts. Moreover, the color display also gives the ability to store & display images, download and install different mathematical, statistical, chemistry, and physics-related applications, and organize data into folders.

Programmable vs. Non-Programmable Calculators – Similarities:

  1. Programmable and Non-Programmable calculators both have numerical and essential function keys like plus, minus, divide, multiply, sin, cos, tan, root, under-root, and percentage buttons.
  2. Both of them have a compact design that can easily be operated on hand like other mobile devices. Moreover, they both tend to work on batteries or solar power.
  3. Both of the calculators have a memory button to navigate between steps you have performed for your calculations.

Looking for some of the best Programmable and Non-Programmable calculators? Then you must read the honest reviews about the best available online here: