Large screen. A very advanced iOS device. Apple Pencil turns it into a drawing tablet.
Pricey. Apple Pencil is an additional purchase. Heavier than most tablets.
Great value. Has a High Definition screen. Good speakers. Dual-band Wi-Fi. Decent screen that can display up to 1080p content.
Displays Amazon ads unless you pay extra. Doesn’t have Google Play Store. Tied into the Amazon ecosystem.
It's got a high-resolution "retina" display. It's affordable compared to Apple's other tablets. The A12 processor is surprisingly fast, and it's one of the last devices to support TouchID, Apple's built-in fingerprint reader.
It's only compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil. It relies on lightning cables for connecting to a computer instead of the newer USB-C standard. It doesn't support FaceID, Apple's face recognition service.
The proprietary stylus, the S Pen, is included. It's compatible with DeX, Samsung's software for creating a laptop experience on a tablet. It's even got voice recognition.
It's running Android Oreo, a slightly outdated version of the mobile OS (although it's slated to get a free upgrade to Android Pie). The DeX feature works best with a keyboard, which you'll need to buy separately.
The built in 9,070mAh battery helps it last all day without a problem. The 1900x1200 screen is gorgeous, and the best screen we've seen at this price point. The microSD slot allows you to add up to 128GB.
It comes pre-configured for an LTE plan with US Cellular, although you can use it with any CDMA-based wireless carrier like Sprint or Verizon. ZTE has not indicated if they will publish future versions of Android for the ZPad.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
When Apple first introduced the iPad, they changed the world — and turned tablets from fictional gadgets from the future into essential everyday companions. Tablets are everywhere nowadays, ready to run any app we want, and they come in just about every shape, size, and color you can imagine.
That’s great news for affordability, but the tablet market has grown so crowded that it can sometimes be hard to tell the differences between the cream of the crop and the latest no-name tablet. Tablets have also evolved to become incredibly powerful; in some cases, they’re more powerful than an average laptop.
Whether you’re looking for a tablet for casual use or one that can keep up with you and the work you do, we’ve got you covered. We have everything you need to know to find the tablet that’s perfect for you.
Jaime Vazquez has been writing about technology and geeking out with gadgets since 2000. He loves trying the latest electronics so that his readers don't have to, and using his inner cheapskate to find the best bargains.
Before you start shopping, take a moment to consider how you’ll be using your tablet. These questions will help you get started.
The most important decision to make when you’re shopping for a tablet is what size screen you want. Tablets come in a variety of screen sizes ranging from seven to 14 inches, so you’ve got a lot of options. Your choice should take both readability and portability into account. If you’re looking for a tablet you can hold in one hand and you’re comfortable with a smaller screen, a seven-inch tablet may be perfect for you. On the other hand, if you find yourself squinting at your phone, or if you want a screen that’s roughly the same size as a piece of paper, a 9.7-inch or 12.9-inch tablet may be more appropriate.
While there’s certainly no rule against owning devices from different manufacturers, there are definitely advantages to buying a tablet that’s built on the same platform as your phone. The biggest benefit is familiarity. If you’re already familiar with Android or iOS as operating systems, you’ll feel right at home the first time you power up your tablet if you buy one with the same OS. In addition, some tablets and phones from the same brand offer extended functionality when used together. For example, if you’re an iPhone owner, you can set up an iPad so you can answer phone calls from it.
Simply the best
Apple has always led the tablet industry in terms of innovation and design, and they’ve done it again with the iPad Pro. The 12.9-inch version is their most powerful tablet yet, and it pulls out all the stops: it’s got a nearly edge-to-edge screen, facial recognition, 4K video recording, and professional-level apps that help blur the line between tablet and laptop. If you simply want the best tablet there is, full stop, this is the one.
If you plan to use your tablet for tasks that you might normally complete on a laptop, you’ll want to look for a tablet that can keep up — or a 2-in-1 laptop. If you need a tablet for presentations, writing, or number-crunching, get one with a larger screen and a faster processor.
If you want a keyboard that’s got the same aesthetics as your tablet, look into the options offered by the manufacturer. If that doesn’t matter to you, or if you need a full-size keyboard, any Bluetooth keyboard will do.
We spent 9 hours researching tablets, then tested our top picks from Apple, Amazon, and Samsung. We used the testing results to make our picks.
Storage: Tablets are basically computers under the hood, and every computer needs file storage for the operating system, apps, and personal files. Storage amounts vary between 16GB and 256GB, with the associated cost increase you’d expect. The “right” amount of storage will vary depending on the user; if you keep most of your stuff in the cloud, you don’t need a ton of space, but if you like to keep a lot of movies or TV shows with you — or you have a large photo collection — you’ll want to invest in a tablet with enough room.
Cameras: You can use a tablet camera to take pictures, but holding one up for just the right angle can get pretty awkward and unwieldy, so most people use them for video conferencing services like Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime.
WiFi: WiFi is a standard feature for all tablets; they’re not that useful without an internet connection. That said, it’s important to get a tablet that supports the fastest WiFi speeds available, so make sure the one you buy supports the 802.11ac WiFi standard. (If you have an older router, that’s OK, too; tablets are backward-compatible with older WiFi standards like 802.11n.)
Processor: Every tablet needs a central processing unit (CPU) to run. Most tablet manufacturers make their own processors, so it’s often difficult to compare, say, the iPad’s A12X chip with the Qualcomm processors found in many Samsung tablets. To get a sense of how different tablets actually perform, watch video reviews and see them in action.
Speakers: While tablet speakers can’t hold a candle to headphones or a pair of proper speakers, built-in speakers still matter. Most tablets have two speakers for achieving a stereo effect, but some still rely on a single speaker for mono sound. If you plan on playing music through your tablet’s speakers, get one with speakers on either side for optimal sound separation.
Both Google and Apple offer built-in security software, so you can track the location of your tablet in the event that you get separated from it. Just keep in mind that it’s not automatic, so you’ll need to set it up in the Settings app to activate it.
Once you’ve got a solid handle on the basics, consider the features you might be willing to pay more for. These are our favorites.
Styluses have been available for tablets from the beginning, but new innovations are giving the available options a boost. Now, it’s possible to get a stylus that’s custom-designed for your tablet. Proprietary styluses include advanced features. For example, many of them let you use the top end as an on-screen eraser, while others support multiple pen types and allow you to switch between thick pen strokes and thin ones with the click of a button.
If you’ve got little ones, it’s important to keep an eye on their device usage and put controls in place to keep them from going places online that they shouldn’t. While you can use parental control software for this on any tablet, we recommend buying a kid-friendly tablet instead. Tablets made for kids often include ultra-durable construction so they can be dropped, and they focus on making it easy for parents to keep kids safe.
Much like laptops, some tablets include Secure Digital (SD) card slots for adding more SD and microSD memory cards. Expandable storage is an incredibly convenient feature because it gives you an option if you ever find yourself running out of storage space. You can even keep extra cards and swap them in as needed.
If you’ll primarily be using your tablet at home, WiFi connectivity will be enough. But if you want to access the web from your tablet when you don’t have access to WiFi, you’ll need one with an LTE radio. With LTE connectivity, tablets can get online anywhere. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to add your tablet to your mobile data subscription plan from a wireless provider like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.
Your tablet’s screen is responsible for the majority of its battery drain. If you’re not satisfied with your tablet’s battery life, consider lowering your screen’s brightness, or better yet, set your screen to auto-dim.
Budget and refurbished tablets start around $50 to $100. Tablets in this price range have smaller screens and less powerful processors. They skimp on features like file storage and camera quality. If you’re buying a kids’ tablet or a tablet for short-term use, you can find a good deal for less than $100. In most other cases, we recommend spending more.
The best values in the tablet market are between $100 and $400. Tablets in this price range offer good compromises. For example, it’s not hard to find a nine- or ten-inch tablet with 32GB of storage for less than $400. If you need high-end features like a giant screen, a fast processor, or facial recognition, you won’t find good options in this price range. However, if you’re in the market for a tablet that will last more than a few years and is powerful enough to keep up with everyday tasks, this is the price range to focus on.
High-end tablets start at $400 and can get as expensive as $1,400. Despite the wide range, there aren’t that many tablets in this price range; it’s just that individual add-ons (like more built-in file storage) can easily ratchet up the price by a few hundred dollars. If you want to use your tablet for school or work or for creating content, plan on spending a lot to get a tablet that’s powerful enough.
Put it on my tab(let)
Amazon’s Fire HD 10 is easily one of the best values on the market. It’s got a full-HD screen, above-average speakers, and best of all, it’s got Amazon’s best-in-class digital assistant, Alexa, on board. If you need a speedy, durable tablet but don’t want to pay a fortune, get a Fire HD 10 — you won’t regret it.
If you’re in the market for a kids’ tablet, start by checking out the Fire HD 8 Kids’ Edition. It’s got the technical chops of a grown-up tablet, but it’s built with a thick blue exterior that Amazon dubs a “kid-proof case.” Plus, it includes a year’s subscription to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited service (which offers shows, movies, educational apps, and audiobooks, all geared for the younger crowd). You’ll still need to use parental controls, but if you’re looking for one of the best ways to introduce your kids to tech, this is a great place to start.
If you’re not ready to buy your kids a full-blown tablet — or you just want an affordable option for your young ones — Leapfrog’s My First Learning Tablet is a great place to start. No Android or iOS here: just big, easy-to-press buttons and apps for introducing animals, shapes, and colors to your toddler. Our favorite part: it’s strong enough to withstand drops and falls, and there’s no glass screen to crack, so you don’t have to worry about expensive damage or anyone getting hurt.
Q. How long do tablet batteries usually last?
A. It depends on what you’re using the tablet for. In most cases, tablets will last for anywhere from three to six hours on a battery charge. More intense tasks, like streaming video, can reduce that to between two and three hours. In standby mode, most tablets can last a few days without needing to be recharged.
Q. Should I buy a screen protector for my tablet?
A.In the early days of tablets, screens were prone to scratches, which made screen protectors vital. Since then, the glass used in tablet screens has gotten stronger and more scratch-resistant (although definitely not scratch-proof). The bottom line: if you prefer to go without a screen protector, we’re not going to judge. With some basic precautions and the right case, your screen will likely only face minimal scratches. On the other hand, if you plan to sell your tablet down the line, keeping your screen scratch-free is crucial, so a screen protector may be your safest bet.
Q. Can I send text messages from a tablet?
A. Yes — sort of. Text messages come in two flavors: SMS and internet-based messages. SMS messages require a cellular data (LTE) connection, while web-based messages only need a connection to the internet. For example, third-party messaging apps like Facebook’s WhatsApp or Apple’s Messages send data over the web and work well on tablets. In contrast, tablets aren’t usually able to send SMS messages to other devices.
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