The Best Tablets

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Danika Miller

By Danika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika Miller is a writer with Reviews.com. She was the first staff writer to join Reviews.com back in May of 2017, when the content team was a meager but mighty group of seven. You can find her previous work lurking on literary sites and in fiction anthologies hidden deep in university libraries.

The Best Tablets

Tablets are quickly becoming streamlined replacements for bulkier computers and laptops. Some people use tablets for portable entertainment; others use them as a tool for staying productive on the go. We spoke with tech experts and dug into user reviews, discovering that the best tablet will have fast processing speeds and a clear display, plus intuitive functions that match your needs.

The 4 best tablets

  • iPad 10.2 – Stylish and intuitive, with a wide variety of apps
  • Amazon Fire HD 8 – Budget-friendly, with decent image quality and Amazon compatibility
  • Microsoft Surface Pro – Sleek design compatible with the extremely intuitive Apple Pencil

The Best Tablets: Summed up

iPad 10.2 Amazon Fire HD 8 Microsoft Surface Pro iPad Pro
The Best For Entertainment For Budget Entertainment Laptop Replacement For Creative Types
MSRP $259 $79 $799 $649
Memory 32GB/128GB 16GB/32GB 128GB/256GB
512GB/1TB
64GB/256GB
512GB
Dimensions 9.87.7 x 6.8x .29 in 8.4 x 5.0 x 0.4 in 7.9 x 0.3 x 11.5 in 9.8 x 7.02 x .23 in
11.04 x 8.5 x .23 in
Resolution 2160 x 1620 1280 x 800 2736 x 1824 2224 x 1668
Screen size 10.2 in 8 in 12.3 in 11 in
12.9 in
4K camera/video
Weight 1.07 lbs .8 lbs 1.7 lbs 1.03 lbs.
1.4 lbs
Battery life Up to 10 hours Up to 10 hours Up to 13.5 hours Up to 10 hours
Operating system iPadOS Amazon Fire OS Windows 10 Professional iPadOS
CPU speed 1.8 GHz 1.3 GHz 2.5 GHz 2.4 GHz
5GHz
Includes keyboard
Stylus accessory available

Best for
Entertainment
Apple
Apple


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Great display and lag-free performance
    Wide range of iPad-friendly apps
    iPadOS functionality

Cons

  • Awkward design

Why we chose it

Great display and lag-free performance

The iPad has a great display and lag-free performance, giving you crisp, high-definition visuals in record time. A slightly lower resolution doesn’t automatically mean a blurry picture or visible pixels, but a high-resolution screen is noticeably nicer to look at for long periods of time. The iPad we tested, the 9.7, had a resolution of 2048 x 1536. The latest model, the iPad 10.2, has an improved resolution of 2160 x1620.

Wide range of iPad-friendly apps

A huge reason Apple dominates the tablet space is its apps. When scrolling through the App Store, you can filter your search for apps that have been made for the iPad. Hulu and SimCity, for example, have both been altered to meet the needs of a tablet. Apps that aren’t redesigned for tablets can look stretched out and blurry when they’re opened on screens double the size and with double the resolution of a smartphone. Other app stores don’t offer nearly as wide a range. Google Play (for Android tablets), encourages their app developers to optimize for tablets, but it’s difficult to find options beyond the store’s top 250 apps.

iOS 12 functionality

Users and experts agree, the iPad is truly an everyman’s tablet. It’s portable, affordable, and has great battery life. With the release of the newest iPad-specific operating system iPadOS, it’s the better than any iPad before it. The update makes this iPad distinct from Apple’s iPhone experience.

One of the biggest improvements is multitasking. It’s now possible to run two apps simultaneously or hover one (like Twitter or Spotify) over another. Because the iPadOS experience is an even further improvement offering you a way to consolidate your media consumption, you may find yourself using the tablet more often.

Points to consider

Awkward design

At 9.7,” the iPad we tested was a bit taller than a paperback book, and is difficult to hold for long periods of time. Its tallness can make it feel tippy, with users also noting that it’s thicker than the iPad Pro. In addition to its height and thicker shape, the iPad also feels more slippery. The 10.2 is bigger than its predecessor, so if you’re looking for something solely for e-reading, it could be too strenuous. However, the battery will certainly last long enough if you’ve got the stamina. Apple promises 10 hours of battery life but most users comment they can go for closer to 13 with constant use.

Best for
Budget Entertainment
Amazon
Amazon


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Good value
    Optimized for Amazon services
    Kid-friendly

Cons

  • Limited operating system
    Not as sleek

Why we chose it

Good value

For just $80, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is easily the best tablet on a budget. In fact, you probably get more than what you pay for. If you want a tablet for reading books, browsing the internet, or watching TV and movies, but don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars for extra features you don’t really need, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a great alternative.

Optimized for Amazon services

Since the device is meant to connect seamlessly with Amazon services, its app store doesn’t include Google apps like Youtube and Chrome (though you can access the web versions of Google services through its built-in Silk browser). That being said, users who have an Amazon Prime account can really take advantage of all the features this tablet offers. Prime users will have access to a catalog of free books, movies and TV shows. The Fire also pairs with Alexa for easy online ordering, search queries, or for audiobook playing. You can use Alexa for easy online ordering, to answer a search question or for audiobook playing.

Kid-friendly

The Fire is a great pick for younger kids who don’t need all the bells and whistles, but still want to play games or watch their favorite shows. For an extra $3 per month you can get Amazon FreeTime, which grants access to tons of kid-friendly content. Worried about adult content? It’s extremely easy to set up separate children and adult profiles so you can still use the Fire, but your child can’t access movies or TV shows that are too mature for them. Plus, the children’s profile allows parents to view activity on a parent dashboard. Another kid-friendly benefit: The Fire is pretty sturdy so you won’t cringe every time it’s dropped to the floor.

Points to consider

Limited operating system

The Fire runs an operating system called Fire OS, which is based on a limited version of Android. Its interface is really basic and doesn’t give a ton of freedom for customization: Scrolling through the tablet takes you to different media home bases like Shop, Movies, or Books and other purchased-based entertainment. While you can change your screensaver, the different destinations on the Fire feel very much like you’re always out shopping, never like you’ve come home to enjoy your purchases. However, if this doesn’t bother you, the interface is simple and easy to navigate.

Not as sleek

When compared to similar tablets, the Fire isn’t nearly as fast or stylish. A 1.3 GHz CPU is the slowest out of our top picks and means opening apps takes a few seconds longer. The Fire’s image quality will also be slightly grainier than competitors. Sleekness isn’t going to be a problem, though, if you purchase this for your child or don’t mind a little lag. Plus, at $80, it’s still a steal and hard to fault for any of its drawbacks.

Best
Laptop Replacement
Microsoft
Microsoft


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Runs full versions of Windows software
    USB port and microSD slot
    Excellent tablet keyboard and pen accessories

Cons

  • Expensive

Why we chose it

Runs full versions of Windows software

Tablets that branch from smartphone operating systems (like Android or iOS) come with limited computing designation. But the Surface Pro we tested runs a desktop operating system (with the flexibility of switching to a tablet-designed interface when desired) that’s been optimized for touchscreen tablets — it’ll look just like a smaller computer — and the same goes for the newly released Surface Pro 6. One of the big bonuses of that full-functioning Windows OS is that you can run full versions of software: You won’t have to slow down, learn a new layout, or make any sacrifices in productivity. With systems like Apple, you might find yourself saving more complicated multi-window and spreadsheet tasks for when you’re in front of a full computer.

USB port and microSD slot

Students and professionals will appreciate its USB port and microSD slot for external drives and storage. Digital artists and media creators will need its large range of storage for saving and editing large files. The Surface Pro starts at 128 GB, but you can also purchase one with 1 TB of internal storage. With serious storage space already included, plus the ability to add more externally, the Surface Pro is one of the best PC tablets around.

Excellent tablet keyboard and pen accessories

The Microsoft Surface Pro Keyboard comes included with the Surface Pro. Unlike the iPad Pro’s keyboard (which you have to purchase separately), the Surface Pro’s keyboard comes equipped with a trackpad, which means you don’t have to tap the screen to pull up apps or documents. This feature alone makes it one of the best tablets with a keyboard.

The Surface Pen is also a highlight for the Surface Pro (although you’ll need to spring for its individual purchase), as it’s fast and highly pressure sensitive. In terms of specs, it’s nearly identical to the Apple Pencil, and we found both equally responsive. The Surface Pen is shorter and doesn’t mimic an actual pencil as much as the Apple Pencil, though some users report the Surface Pen is easier to grip.

Points to consider

Expensive

Because the Surface Pro is extremely pricey for a tablet, this is only a really good option if you’re a student or professional set on ditching your heavy computer. Depending on the storage you choose, final cost can run from $1,000 to $3,000 — for that price you could buy a sleek laptop that’s also easy to travel with. But we love that the Surface Pro is also flexible with its tablet-interface mode. This feature helps make it feel more like you’re getting a tablet and compact laptop for the price of one.

Best for
Creative Types
Apple
Apple


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Apple pencil
    Fast CPU

Cons

  • Tablet keyboard lacks trackpad
    Expensive

Why we chose it

Apple Pencil

One of the iPad Pro’s main draws is its compatibility with the impressively realistic Apple Pencil (sold separately). The Pencil has pressure-sensing technology that can read how heavy and dark your strokes and lines are. It’s also sensitive to tilted use for easy shading. We found the Pencil and the Surface Pen to be equally responsive, but in terms of sheer specs, the Pencil is the fastest stylus out there, which means that there’s never any noticeable lag as you’re writing or drawing. It’s like using an actual pencil — so much so that calling it a stylus feels misleading.

Fast CPU

The iPad Pro we tested was equipped with Apple’s A10X processor, which made it lightning-fast in everything from video editing to gaming. With the release of the new iPad Pro, the A10X has been upgraded to the A12X Bionic chip, purporting to be even faster.

Stunning display

The iPad Pro’s clear resolution is perfect for creatives who spend a lot of time editing videos, photos or drawing on the go. At 2224 x 1668, the iPad we tested had an incredibly sharp picture that put it in the top tier of tablets, and the newest version boasts and even better resolution of 2388 x 1668. In addition to the resolution, its 120Hz display means it refreshes at 120 frames per second (for reference: the iPhone has a 60Hz display). With such a high refresh rate, you can expect decreased blurriness when viewing videos and an improved response rate. This is particularly good for gamers, but it’s also important for anyone editing videos or dealing with large files.

Points to consider

Tablet keyboard lacks trackpad

Artists, students, and creative professionals can use the iPad Pro as something closer to a laptop than previous iPads have allowed, although if your work tends to be word document- or spreadsheet-heavy, we’d still recommend the Surface Pro instead. Part of the reason it doesn’t feel like a complete computer replacement is because the iPad Pro’s keyboard (sold separately) lacks a trackpad. Without an actual trackpad, you have to tap the tablet screen to do tasks like copying and pasting. While the trackpad isn’t a dealbreaker, it can slow you down.

Expensive

Replacing your computer with a top-tier tablet is costly and the iPad Pro is no exception. What made the device worth the cost for many is its pencil and keyboard, but now that these accessories are compatible with the less expensive iPad it’s harder to justify the cost. The iPad Pro’s display is bigger and its design sleeker, but if you’re an art student or dabble in drawing as a hobby, the iPad will offer similar functions and be easier on your wallet.

How we chose the best tablets

Crisp screen resolution

Screen resolution affects how crisp and clear images are — we followed PCWorld’s advice and set 1280×800 as our minimum requirement, a bar that even our Amazon Fire budget pick could hit and most of our finalists far exceeded. Anything lower is likely to result in a grainy, unattractive display.

Fast processing speed

When it comes to CPU (central processing unit) speed, tablets rely on a universal measurement called gigahertz — or GHz — which measures how many times per second the tablet’s processor can perform actions (the higher the number, the faster things happen). We only looked at tablets with a CPU of at least 1 GHz. The Amazon Fire squeaked past with 1.3 GHz, which means you’ll wait a second or two when you open an app. The Microsoft Surface operates at 2.5 GHz, so fast we didn’t even have time to think the word “loading” before our page opened. Anything below our benchmark brings the risk of a glitchy touch screen and frustrating load times (and is likely to have trouble streaming in HD).

Operating system

The biggest difference between our finalists lies in their operating systems. The OS completely dictates the way you’ll interact with the tablet — and people often have strong personal preferences. The biggest draw for Apple’s operating system is its massive app store and easy-to-learn interface. However, Android gives you more flexibility — allowing you to change color schemes and install widgets onto your home screen that give live updates of the weather or display your daily calendar, for example.

User functionality

To find the best tablets, we had to understand what the tablet should be able to do. When we looked into how they were being used, we found two scenarios:

Tablets as media player: For people who want to stream television, read books, play games and watch movies on a larger and more enhanced screen than their phones. Most people fall into this category. Tablets as laptop replacements: For those who want to take notes, multi-task or work on documents or spreadsheets without lugging a computer around. More and more business professionals and schools are adopting tablets as lightweight laptop alternatives.

Speakers for entertainment

While most of your audio media might flow through headphones, the location and caliber of a tablet’s speakers can affect your entertainment experience. Speakers surrounding all four edges generally offer better sound quality while those only on the bottom of the device aren’t nearly as loud.

Tablet accessories for laptop replacements

If you’re hoping to get serious work done, you’ll need a tablet with a decent, portable snap-on keyboard. Stylus options were our second consideration: They’re more precise than a finger for handwritten notes and sketches, and hitting that tiny red ‘X’ in the corner of a popup advertisement.

After taking these considerations into mind, and then cross-checking our findings by reading through hundreds of user reviews and noting what people loved and hated about their own tablets post-purchase, we found our picks. As our top picks evolve, we update this review with their most recent specs.

How to choose a tablet

Consider whether you want the tablet for work or entertainment

Before choosing a tablet, you need to know if you’re going to use it as a replacement for your computer or if you just want something to use for browsing the web and playing games. Whether you need the device for work or entertainment will have a major impact on which one works best for you. If you envision taking your tablet to coffee shops to sketch or write, go with one that’s suited for work. However, if you’re using it to catch up on some reading or TV on your commute home on public transportation, you’ll need one built for entertainment.

Decide between a WiFi tablet or one with a cellular connection

Not all tablets have built-in LTE or 4G, and the ones that do require a SIM card and extra monthly data payment. For commuters and mobile work, product marketing consultant Tim Smalley notes, “It’s just as easy to tether with your smartphone, particularly if you already have a large data plan, but be aware that it will consume your phone’s battery at a much faster rate than normal.” Unless you’re constantly using the tablet in areas without WiFi, it’s cheaper to opt out of this feature.

Research tablet accessories

Most tablets come with a huge variety of both brand and third-party accessories you can purchase to give your device an extra boost. Things like cases and screen covers are pretty standard across the board, but when it comes to keyboards and styluses, you’ll want to take the time to do some deeper research since it might help you figure out if a particular tablet will work with your lifestyle. When choosing your tablet, look at some of the accessories offered and see if they’re ones you really need to get the most out of your tablet.

Set your budget and look for deals

A tablet is an expensive purchase. Once you include accessories it can feel overwhelming — especially when most tablets, like Apple’s iPad and iPad Pro, don’t come with keyboards or styluses that make them laptop replacements. But purchasing a tablet doesn’t have to break the bank. Look for deals online (especially around holidays or during back-to-school and graduation seasons) or in stores and set a budget when shopping for your tablet. It’s also good to factor in extras like accessories — or just save up for those at a later date — so you’re not surprised by the final price.

Tablets FAQ