The Mathway – Math Problem Solver iPad app is 10 calculators rolled into one. Whether you’re working with basic math, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, chemistry, or statistics, Mathway can launch a calculator (in a virtual keyboard) with the symbols and tools for the type of problem you need to solve. Furthermore, the app can help you frame the problem to be sure it delivers what you need. It’s a valuable resource for both students and scientists, making it an Editors’ Choice educational app.
The basic Mathway app, which lets you solve problems using its virtual calculators, is free. If you want to see the steps that go into solving the problems, you have to pay. Upgrading to the paid version costs either a $19.99 monthly subscription or $79.99 per year. Paying removes all third-party advertising (not that there is much in the free version). It also lets you save your problem history, and access the step-by-step solutions from anywhere. Depending on the length of time you enable step-checking, it can run into some money, but your subscription can easily be canceled. Furthermore, the paid version can act as a valuable “virtual tutor” for students, not just giving them the answers but also showing how the app arrived as them.
Even the free version is a valuable tool for students, anyone involved in math or the sciences, or indeed anyone who occasionally needs to solve math problems that go beyond the abilities of the calculator function built into your computer. In fact, if you’re just using Mathway to crunch numbers, there’s no reason to upgrade. We haven’t reviewed any apps that are directly comparable to Mathways; the WolframAlpha iPad app has some equation-solving abilities, but Mathways’s capabilities go far beyond it.
To upgrade the app, you tap the Upgrade button that appears in a pull-down menu when you tap the gear icon at the screen’s upper right. You then select between the $19.99 monthly and $79.99 yearly subscription, and when prompted, enter your Apple ID. You are charged through your Apple account, rather than directly from Mathway. If you tire of the paid version, or it doesn’t fit your needs, it is easy enough to cancel your subscription from your iPad’s Settings menu.
Mathway is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch; there’s also an Android version. I tested it with an iPad Air 2 running iOS 10.3. I first looked at the free functions, and then tested the paid functions by paying for a monthly subscription.
A Cornucopia of Calculators
At the top left corner of the screen is a list icon (three stacked lines) that when pressed reveals a pull-down menu listing the app’s 10 subject areas: Basic Math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Trigonometry, Precalculus, Calculus, Statistics, Finite Math, Linear Algebra, Chemistry. Other subjects are also covered, but would appear under one of the headings above. For example, the Basic Math calculator includes keys marked with various geometrical shapes: square, circle, triangle, cube, cone, sphere, and cylinder, among others.
To figure out how the functions work, you have to explore them, as the app doesn’t have a ready Help function (although the Mathway website offers a lot of information). For example, pressing the calculator’s key marked with a circle calls up a circle with a dotted line denoting its radius (r), followed by “r = ?” with the question mark shaded in gray, inviting you to enter a value for r. If you input a value, say 1.3, and press Enter, a menu with the title “How should I answer?” appears, offering 10 choices, among them Find the Area, Find the Circumference, Graph, Evaluate the Function, and Convert to Radical Form.
Similarly, in the Trigonometry calculator, tapping the keyboard’s Sin/Cos brings to the foreground a keypad with 24 buttons—Sin, Cos, Tan, Sec, Csc, and Cot; Arcsin, Arccos, and so on. If you press Sin and enter x, a list of operations appears under the question “How should I answer?” Pressing the first item, Graph, calls up a graph of a sine curve, for example.
All 10 of the calculators share the left-most 2/3 of the keyboard, which includes commonly used symbols such as the integers 0 through 9, the variables x, y, and z, open and close parentheses and brackets, signs for the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), an equals sign, exponents and roots.
What differentiates them is the other third of the keyboard, whether it be the geometric shapes in Basic Math, the Trigonometry calculator’s 24 functions, or Calculus’s logs, summations, integrals, and limits, to name a few.
There are two ways to enter an equation in Mathways: either by using the keyboard or by photographing the equation with your iPad’s camera. I had the most success with the keyboard, though it took some trial and error to enter certain items like exponents properly. Although entering equations simply by photographing them is a great idea, in practice the app didn’t do well in recognizing some of the characters. Pi, for example, often stumped it. Some of my tests were common physics and geometry equations shot from webpages. As they varied in font and spacing I am willing to give the app a break here, but it had some of the same problems (though to a lesser extent) when I shot equations in the Examples section of the Mathway website.
You could think of Mathway as the Photoshop of mathematical apps—it has far more features and functions than a typical user is ever likely to need. Finding the exact features you need to use may take some poking around, but they’re probably there. The one functional problem I ran into in testing the app is its inconsistency in rendering equations shot with my iPad, but you can always enter them through the keyboard.
Mathways is an especially good tool if you are in the sciences, or are a math or science student, and frequently have to solve even mildly complex math problems. If you need to see the steps that go into calculating an answer, it will cost you extra, but it’s still a lot less expensive than hiring a math tutor. The feature-rich Mathway app earns our Editors’ Choice as an educational iPad app.