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Shopping Guide For The Best Tablets

A tablet can take the place of your personal computer, game console, television, radio, newspaper, and even your print books — at least temporarily. And it does so with extremely convenient portability.

When shopping for a tablet, one of your best strategies is to identify the key functions that the device will address in your digital life. That’s where we come in.

At BestReviews, we want to help you find the products that best suit you. If you’re looking for a new tablet but feel overwhelmed by the choices, please see our product recommendation matrix, above. The top five picks in our matrix represent hours of product research and experimentation.

A tablet is similar to a computer in that it has a screen, keyboard, and memory, but its footprint is far smaller than that of a laptop or desktop model.

When determining the market’s top offerings, we never accept free manufacturer samples. We buy products ourselves, interview experts and owners, and scour the market for any other helpful information we can find. Our goal is to provide honest, unbiased reviews and recommendations for our readers.

If you’d like to learn more about tablets and what constitutes a great one, please continue reading this shopping guide.

Matt
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Matt graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, then went on to become the founder and CEO of Computer Repair Doctor, a phone repair, computer repair, and laptop repair company with locations throughout the United States. Matt and his team of tech doctors are experts in consumer electronics of all types – there is no device they can’t fix!


Matt  |  Consumer Electronics Expert

Types Of Tablets

After their initial debut, tablets began to emerge in a number of forms. This led to confusion for consumers. Eventually, the market settled into two general types of tablets: smaller ones with a 7- or 8-inch screen and larger ones with a screen in the 9-inch range. (The Apple iPad Air 2 boasts a screen of 9.7 inches.)

In an effort to keep pace with changing consumer habits, book retailer Barnes & Noble came out with its own tablet in 2010 called a Nook. B&N has since produced a number of additional models. Many of these, through the company’s partnership with Samsung, assume the look, feel, and function of a traditional tablet. They include special access to B&N content and come with screens that range from 6 to 9.6 inches.

In 2010, with the release of the first Apple iPad, the tablet market exploded. In addition to Apple, companies such as Amazon, Sony, Samsung, LG, and Lenovo have marketed tablets.

PC manufacturers such as Lenovo, Dell, and HP now offer “two-in-one” devices which are slightly more expensive. These “convertibles” are small laptop computers that double as a tablet. A special hinge allows the machine to fold over and change the computer settings to those of a tablet.

Convertibles have the advantage of offering larger screens and more processing power while retaining a relatively small form factor.

DID YOU KNOW?

Joining the big names in consumer electronics, a number of Chinese and Taiwanese contract manufacturers are now making white label machines for companies such as RCA and Polaroid.

Tablet Features

The market boasts a dizzying number of tablets. Consumers could easily get lost in the differences in brands, operating systems, screen sizes, memory, battery life, and more. Choosing the right tablet can be a challenge.

Here are some key features to focus on when making your decision:

Features

Wi-Fi vs. 3G or 4G

Connectivity is a crucial factor when selecting a tablet. All tablets have Wi-Fi access, but only a select number of models can connect using the same technology as your smartphone (3G or 4G).

  • With WiFi-only access, you can use your tablet to perform select “connected” tasks, such as surfing the web and checking email, when in proximity of wireless internet service.
  • Tablets that have 3G or 4G built in will use cell service to connect to the web or other “interactive” services when Wi-Fi is not available. Models that include 3G or 4G access are more expensive than those without it, and they require the purchase of additional service from your cell provider. Cell service for your tablet can run an additional $5 to $15 per month.

Like smartphones, tablets run on specific operating systems. The two most popular are Apple’s OS and Android. Consumers can choose from free and premium applications from the marketplace associated with their tablet.

Matt
Consumer Electronics Expert
Features

Size

If you want something that you can tuck away in your pocket, consider a model like the 8-Inch Samsung Galaxy Tab (about 11 ounces) or the NVIDIA SHIELD K1 (under 13 ounces).

If you want something with more heft and a larger screen, the top-end Amazon Fire HD 10 comes in at a bit under one pound. Full-size iPads range from close to a pound to a pound and a half. (The Apple iPad Air 2 weighs one pound). The Samsung Galaxy Tab E, with its 9.6-inch screen and 1.2-pound heft, could also be a good choice. And of course there’s iPad’s newest version, the iPad Pro, with its massive, 12.9-inch screen.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A, with its 10.1-inch screen and one-pound heft, could also be a good choice.

DID YOU KNOW?

If you are turned off by the high price of Apple tablets, don't despair. Older versions are quickly discounted when a new one comes out.

Features

Screen Resolution

Screen resolution is important when viewing photos and videos.

The standard current model iPad has a screen resolution of 2048x1536 (horizontal x vertical pixels), which is greater than your average 1080p High-Def TV set.

Older iPads (iPad and iPad 2) have 1024x768 resolution. Amazon Fire’s two most recent models, the HD 8 and HD 10, have 1280x800 screen resolution. This may seem lower, but owners generally say that they’re satisfied.

The Apple iPad Air 2 offers a “Retina display” screen. The term refers to a display that’s even more brilliant and crisp than previous Apple models. The manufacturer achieves this by increasing pixel density to such an extent that the human eye cannot pick out individual pixels.

Matt
Consumer Electronics Expert
Features

Memory

Depending on the model, the iPad and its competitors come with three different memory capacities: 32G, 128G, and 256G of storage

Given that more memory usually means a pricier tablet, we urge buyers to think carefully about their music and video collection before choosing a memory capacity.

For the average user with lots of photos and a few videos, 32G should suffice. A model with 128G affords the capacity for extra home videos and movie/TV downloads. It’s also geared for those “power users” who are passionate about games.

With Netflix and Amazon now allowing movie downloads for offline viewing, a tablet with extra storage (say 128G or more) offers some definite benefits.
Features

Applications

Without applications, or “apps,” your tablet would be just another bright, shiny object that could potentially serve as a post-modern paperweight.

Apps are the programs that users download to their tablets that allow them to play games, watch movies, listen to music, read magazines, and more.

This is the big category that truly separates the tablet choices. According to Staista, Android users had access to 2.2 million applications in 2016, while Apple had two million apps built exclusively for the iPad family of tablets. Amazon had about one-third that number of applications.

Members of Amazon Prime who own a Fire get unlimited access to Amazon’s media collection, including books, videos, and music.

Features

Accessories

From cases to camera mounts specially made for tablets, consumers can choose from a myriad of gizmos for their devices.

These items range from the practical to the decorative, but here are some essential ones to consider:

  • An extra USB charger
  • A case that can withstand everyday mishandling and drops
  • Screen protector
  • Tripod mount for taking photos
  • External keypad with Bluetooth
EXPERT TIP

If you’re a hands-on type of person who likes to doodle and take notes, you might appreciate a tablet that can be used with a pen. Using the pen, which is actually a stylus, you can write on photos, create cartoons, scribble notes to yourself, and much more.


Matt  | Consumer Electronics Expert
Features

Camera

Gone are the days when travelers must lug around a camera in order to capture great snapshots while vacationing.

The iPad has become a defacto camera for photos and videos. It’s also a great tool for videoconferencing with its 1.2MP front-facing camera.

Features

Battery Life

Traveling through your local airport — or anywhere with large crowds, for that matter — you will likely find people hunting for outlets to charge their smart devices. It’s plain to see that battery life is crucial when selecting a tablet.

Knowing the battery life specs of a potential purchase is wise. Apple claims that the iPad supplies 10 hours of battery power at a time. The Amazon Fire HD 8 offers up to 12 hours per charge, and the Amazon Fire HD 10 offers up to 8 hours. Samsung’s Galaxy series of tablets supplies anywhere from 8.5 hours (Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4) to 12.1 hours (Galaxy Tab S 8.4).

That said, some battery life claims can be misleading. Apps such as GPS and Bluetooth tend to drain a tablet battery faster than surfing the web or checking email.

For optimal resolution when using applications such as Skype or Facetime, make sure your tablet has adequate front-facing capabilities.

Price

Tablet prices vary wildly across different models. Here’s a look at what you can expect to find in different price brackets:

Price

Under $100

Right now, for around $50, you can buy a brand new Amazon Fire 7 with 8GB of internal storage. For a bit more, you can get a model with 16GB of storage. The Fire 7 comes with a 7-inch screen and built-in Alexa voice assistant capability. The device lacks serious battery life — 7 hours is the max quote — and the low-res VGA front-facing camera produces less-than-ideal videoconferencing results. The Fire 7 does not come with 4G capabilities.

For a similar price, you can buy a new RCA Voyager 7-inch tablet with a 16GB hard drive. While not best known for its mobile devices, this model offers the latest version of Android and a 1MP front-facing camera. A number of customers point out that the screen on the RCA tablet lacks resolution. They also note that battery life is less than advertised.

Charge your tablet whenever you get the opportunity, just in case you find yourself somewhere without outlets.

Price

Under $250

In this price range, most models share similar features in terms of memory and screen size. A brand new Amazon Fire 10 with a 10.1-inch display, a 16GB memory, and WiFi access falls into this price bracket. Barring any sales or special promotions, a new Samsung Galaxy Tab A with a 10.1-inch display and 16GB of memory (and a claim of up to 13 hours of battery life) also belongs in this general pricing vicinity.

Price

Under $500

Apple offers a variety of models in this price range, but it only offers one with WiFi and cell access: the iPad Mini 2 with 32GB of memory. Other iPads, such as iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 4, sell for under $500. All of these model have 10 hours of battery life and weigh less than a pound. Screen resolution is 2048X1056, and the screen comes with a fingerprint-resistant coating.

Samsung offers a high-end Galaxy A with S-Pen (stylus) in this price range, too. This model has a 9.7-inch screen and battery life that may stretch up to 15 hours.

There are endless uses for a tablet. If you're not sold on adding another electronic to your life, make a list of uses you would have for it.

FAQ

Q: Was the iPad the first tablet computer?

A: Tablets actually date back to 1987 with the Apple Newton. AT&T and Compaq followed shortly thereafter with similar efforts. In 1996, Palm introduced the Palm Pilot, a device with many features that were the forerunners of today’s tablet features.

In 2000, Microsoft released the Microsoft Tablet PC. This gadget failed because of its size and software issues.

Q: How do I preserve my tablet’s battery life?

A: To save battery life on your tablet, you can do any or all of the following:

  • Turn WiFi auto access off
  • Disable background updates
  • Turn off location services
  • Disable auto brightness
  • Turn off LET (cell) access

Q: How do I clean the screen on my iPad?

A: Never use a liquid with a chemical solvent (like Windex). Use a damp, lint-free, microfiber cloth and wipe the screen with even strokes.

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