How Do You Choose a Tablet?
There are countless tablets on the market, but which one is right for you? Whether you’re eyeing an iPad, one of the many Android models available, or a Windows slate for productivity, here are the key factors you need to consider when shopping, along with some of the top-rated tablets we’ve tested.
If you want to cut straight to the chase, however, here’s a quick summary of what to get. Our favorite Windows tablet right now is Microsoft’s own Surface Pro. If you’re looking for iOS, the $329 (and up) sixth-generation iPad is the way to go. Amazon’s 8-inch Fire HD, meanwhile, is our choice for a kids’ tablet or a tablet under $100.
Choose Your Operating System
Just like with a full-fledged computer, if you’re getting a tablet, you need to pick a camp. There are three main operating systems to consider: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android (including its Amazon variant), and Microsoft’s Windows 10.
Windows is best if you need to run full-fledged office software with an add-on keyboard. Android tablets make great media players,
Generally speaking, the greatest strength of Apple’s iOS, the operating system on the iPad, iPad mini, and iPad Pro tablet lines, is twofold: It’s very clean and intuitive, and the wide selection of apps that you can buy right on your tablet—more than one million iPad-specific titles at the time of this writing—work uniformly well with very few exceptions. For more, check out our iOS 11
Google’s Android OS gives you a choice of hardware from several different manufacturers and offers maximum
Windows 10 comes the closest to offering a traditional computing experience with full x86 support for all of your Windows software. And you can run the full version of Microsoft Office when you buy a Win 10 tablet. Also, connectivity options and hardware add-ons for Windows models are typically more plentiful than with other tablet types. If you want to use Windows but can’t decide between a laptop and a tablet, get the best of both worlds with one of our top 2-in-1s, which offer both a
What About Apps?
What’s a tablet without quality apps? If you want third-party apps specifically designed for a touch-screen interface, nothing out there beats the iPad with its huge library of programs and games designed specifically for Apple tablets. The App Store is well curated and monitored, offers a deep selection, and includes every popular app you can think of. If a wide range of compelling apps that look good and work well on your tablet is your main priority, Apple is your best bet. For more, see the 100 best iPad apps.
Android has made great strides in app selection, courting more developers and offering more high-quality tablet apps, but it’s still not as many as Apple offers. It’s tough to say exactly how many tablet-optimized Android apps are available, but it’s likely in the thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands. There are also Android phone apps, which look decent on a 7-inch tablet, but less so on a 9- or 10-inch one, so you’re likely to have more problems getting high-quality apps for larger Android tablets. That said, check out the 100 Best Android apps for our top picks.
Windows 10, meanwhile, offers an impressive array of more than 100,000 touch-screen-friendly tablet apps, but its real strength is in running the millions of existing Windows desktop apps. Many of those aren’t designed for touch screens, though, and may be better handled with an add-on keyboard and mouse.
Screen Size and Storage
This consideration is a bit obvious, but size—both screen real estate and storage capacity—is important to consider. First things first: When you hear the term “7-inch or 10-inch tablet,” this refers to the size of the screen, measured diagonally, and not the size of the tablet itself.
7-inch tablets are considered small-screen, while 8.9-inch tablets and above are considered large-screen. Apple’s iPads, Amazon’s Fire, and Samsung’s tablets all come in small- and large-screen iterations. And more than ever, phones are blurring the lines with tablets. Big smartphones (or phablets) like the 6.4-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 9 are challenging the need to even carry a separate tablet.
Screen resolution is important too, especially for ebook reading and web surfing. A sharp, bright display is key. Right now, the highest resolution you’ll find is 2,732 by 2,048 pixels, on Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro (the Microsoft Surface Pro is very close). If you’re in the market for a 10-inch Android tablet, look for a display with at least 1,280 by 800 resolution.
The weight of a tablet is one definite advantage it has over a laptop—but with large-screen tablets typically weighing around a pound, they’re not cell phone-light. After you hold one with a single hand while standing up for 20 minutes, your hand will get tired. Setting one flat in your lap, rather than propped up on a stand, can also be a little awkward. And few tablets will fit in your
Cloud (off-device) storage is an option for many tablets (iCloud for iPads, Amazon Cloud Storage for Fire tablets, and OneDrive for Windows), but when it comes to onboard storage, more is always better. All those apps, when combined with music, video, and photo libraries, can take up a lot of space. Many non-Apple tablets have microSD memory card slots that let you expand storage.
Wi-Fi-Only vs. Cellular Models
Some tablets come in a Wi-Fi-only model or with the option of always-on cellular service from a wireless provider. If you want to use your tablet to get online anywhere, you should opt for a model that offers a cellular version. Of course, this adds to the device’s price, and then you need to pay for cellular service. Generally, though, with a tablet, you can purchase data on a month-to-month basis without signing a contract.
Another way to get your tablet online: Use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. This won’t work with every phone/tablet combo, so you should check with your carrier before you seal a deal. You can also buy a dedicated mobile hotspot, which won’t kill your phone’s battery life. Some even double as backup batteries to charge your tablet.
The Top Tablets (for Now)
The tablets chosen here represent the best we’ve tested across a wide range of operating systems and price levels. Because we test so many and the market is constantly evolving, we update this story frequently to include the latest products. That said, there are plenty of great tablets out there that just missed the cut for this list, and one may be right for you. For the latest lab-tested reviews, check out our tablet product guide.
Pros: Good value. Loud speakers. Dual-band Wi-Fi. Very easy to use.
Cons: Highly focused on Amazon services. No native Google apps or services. Poor cameras.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s latest Fire HD 8 tablet is a great value for media consumption, as long as you can live without access to Google Play.
Pros: Affordable. Sharp display for the price. Good overall performance. Easy-to-use interface and Alexa integration. Dual-band Wi-Fi.
Cons: No Google Play Store apps. Low-resolution camera.
Bottom Line: With a sharp display and hands-free Alexa integration, Amazon’s 10-inch Fire HD 10 tablet is the best value for your dollar under $150.
Pros: Terrific performance for the price. Elegant, high-quality apps. Supports Apple Pencil.
Cons: Neither rugged nor waterproof. Keyboard and Pencil accessories increase the price.
Bottom Line: The same price as last year’s model but now with Apple Pencil support, the sixth-generation iPad is the best midrange tablet choice for most people. But it’s still less practical than Chromebooks for most schools.
Pros: Terrific performance. Stylish, sturdy watchband-style kickstand hinges. Lenovo Active Pen is included.
Cons: Stand design precludes comfortable lap use. Relatively short battery life. Occasional fan noise.
Bottom Line: Can’t spring for a Surface Pro? The Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 520 is the best midrange Windows tablet you can buy right now, with excellent computing performance, a good keyboard, and an included stylus.
Pros: Powerful Core i7 processor with Iris Plus graphics. Improved battery life, kickstand, keyboard cover, and Pen. Higher-than-full-HD screen resolution.
Cons: Pricey. Type Cover and Pen sold separately. Lacks USB-C and Thunderbolt 3.
Bottom Line: With faster performance, better battery life, and other welcome improvements over its predecessor, the Microsoft Surface Pro is still the standard bearer for 2-in-1 Windows tablets.
Pros: Extremely fast. Light. Excellent screen and cameras. Better battery life than previous iPads.
Cons: Expensive. Using iOS for pro-level applications requires a shift in thinking. Screen technologies may be too advanced to perceive.
Bottom Line: Apple’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro tablet packs as much power as a laptop, but using iOS for pro-level applications will take some getting used to for many professionals.
Pros: 13.3-inch E Ink screen. Full Android app compatibility. Fast, accurate pen. Long battery life.
Cons: Pen doesn’t work well with third-party apps. No front light. Lacks dual-band Wi-Fi.
Bottom Line: The Onyx Boox Max2 is an impressively capable Android tablet with a 13.3-inch E Ink screen and a useful stylus…but it costs as much as an iPad Pro.
Pros: Sleek build. Gorgeous display. Loud speakers. Great stylus for drawing and note-taking. Excellent Wi-Fi connectivity. Dex brings desktop-like experience.
Cons: Expensive. Keyboard accessory costs extra. Mediocre camera. Android-powered tablets still can’t do everything Windows tablets can.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is the best Android tablet we’ve seen to date, but it still can’t beat Windows-powered 2-in-1s for productivity.
Pros: Sharp display. Lightweight build. Loud speakers.
Cons: Short battery life. Screen is reflective.
Bottom Line: The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 gives you lots of multimedia value for your money.
Pros: Affordable. Solid overall performance. Good battery life.
Cons: Poor camera quality. No dual-band Wi-Fi.
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Tab 4 8 is an affordable Android tablet with a long-lasting battery and decent performance for average multimedia use.