Remember maths "guide" books from the good old school days? The ones that provided step-by-step solutions to each and every problem in your textbook? It's time to say goodbye to those guides and embrace apps that make solving complex mathematical problems as easy as clicking a picture!
Today, you can choose from from learning tools that help you track formulae and learn algebra, to apps that let you solve equations by simply pointing the camera. The various app stores also have a number of scientific calculators available for cheap, or free, making this handy tool far more accessible than back in the day when it used to cost a small fortune.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but we tried a bunch of apps and found these to be the best in making maths (almost) fun.
Photomath is probably the best app for solving mathematical problems. It uses augmented reality, which means that you can simply point your camera at any piece of paper with an equation or an arithmetic problem and it will find a solution. There are limitations of course. At the moment, the app can't recognise handwritten problems, but does a good job identifying printed ones. It also can't solve quadratic equations, functional equations or calculus problems.
That said, the app does a great job with basic arithmetic problems and algebraic equations. The app shows solutions on screen and shows a "Steps" prompt that shows how it solved the problem. It also keeps a log of all the equations it has solved, so you can quickly refer to an older problem if needed.
This free iOS app comes with an equation solver where you can either manually type in an equation for it to solve, or you can snap a picture and automatically process the entire equation. You can also use a photo that's already been saved to the gallery. It works with printed text, and even then there can be some garbled text, so a little light text editing after the picture is taken is required at times. One limitation is that the app doesn't support equations with brackets. The app solves the equations - the idea is that parents can use it to verify the results that their kids get, without having to remain up to date with complex algebra, though you might want to keep your kids away from smartphones in that case.
Solve4x is free on iOS.
iMathematics lets you type in equations and solves them for you. The paid version can solve a wider range of equations than Photomath does. Aside from this, the app also includes various learning modules, which we discuss in more detail in the section below. The only downside is that unlike Photomath however, with iMathematics, you have to enter the equations manually - you can't just take a picture of the equations.
4. MyScript Calculator
This app recognises your handwriting, so you can draw equations on the screen and it will solve them right away. It supports basic arithmetic, square and cube roots, apart from trigonometry, logarithms and percentages. You can also draw "2 + ? = 10" and it will tell you the correct answer.
We like this app very much, but it doesn't always recognise handwriting perfectly. Getting it to perform a simple cube root calculation was a problem because it couldn't recognise our input properly. But when it does work, this app is pretty handy.
There are several great scientific calculator apps on the iOS App Store, but PCalc takes the cake because it also has a beautiful Notification Centre widget. This means that you don't even need to launch the app when you need to perform calculations - just swipe down from the top of your screen no matter what you're doing and get started.
6. Scientific Calculator
For Android users, this is probably the best alternative. The app includes a range of functions including trigonometry, logarithms, exponential functions and it includes an equation history so you can see what work you did to reach your results. Equation syntax highlighting, bracket highlighting, and separate modes for scientific and engineering calculations make it a great choice, but most of all, this free app is also ad free.
Scientific Calculator is available now on Android for free.
7. Scientific Calculator (for Windows Phone)
While this app has the same name as our choice for Android, the two are from different companies and look and work differently too. However, this app does have a nice interface, functions from exponential to logarithmic to trigonometric functions. It also has a separate tab for history where you can see the calculations you have carried out.
Windows Phone users can download Scientific Calculator for free.
8. Graphing Calculator
An actual graphing calculator like the TI-84 will still cost you around $100, but you'll find plenty of apps with the same functionality. This app by Mathlab is one of the nicest ones we've seen, and it appears to work really well too. Over 10,000 people on the Play Store rated it 5-stars - and aside from the functionality, which you will find in a lot of different apps, we liked this one for its design, which is better than most similar apps. You can also try out BisMag Calculator 3D. This app has similar features but also includes an equation solver and a currency and unit converter, along with a graphing calculator. This app will not be useful for everyone, but if the features described match your needs then this is a great option, and it's free too.
This app (also mentioned above) does a good job of explaining various topics such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. The app gives you a short definition of the concept, followed by some examples or illustrations to explain it. If there are any complex terms involved in the concept, then the app has a link to a simple explanation at the end of the topic. For instance, the topic "Solids of Revolution" mentions a "Truncated cone". A link at the end of the topic opens an article explaining what a truncated cone is.
iMathematics also provides a Wikipedia link at the end of each entry and lets you perform calculations using Wolfram Alpha. All of these open within the app, so there's no switching between apps involved in order to learn any topic. The free app lets you learn many basic concepts, while advanced concepts are available in a pro version of the app for Rs. 190 on iOS, and as a Rs. 300 in-app purchase on Android.
9. Khan Academy
Khan Academy's video tutorials are justifiably famous and cover various subjects including mathematics. All you need to do is install the app, pick your subject and start watching the tutorial videos. The app also includes practice questions, but that's also delivered as a video, so you'll have to note them down to solve.
The Meritnation app is the digital equivalent of a guide book for Indian students. It covers the syllabus from class 6 to 12, for CBSE, ICSE and state boards of Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Free on Android and iOS, the mathematics section includes problems from each chapter and gives you the solution. For students in India who want to use an app specifically to help prepare for their exams, this will be useful. The app does require a mandatory registration, and asks for your mobile number, and much of the advanced content is also unlocked through the Meritnation website. That does mean that you can unlock access on multiple platforms, but it's slightly inconvenient otherwise.
Mathematicus is a good app if you have trouble remembering mathematical formulae. The app serves as a database for all important formulae and you can just fire it up anytime and look for what you need. It stacks these formulae by topics, which means you can find all trigonometry formulae under one group and so on. The app doesn't do too many things, but for the specific use of looking up formulae, it's pretty much the best bet.
Mathematicus is free on Windows Phone.
Which are your favourite maths apps? Let us know via the comments.