The Retina display is the most gorgeous screen we’ve ever seen on a tablet. Compatibility with Apple Pencil means you can use it to write notes or draw. It’s got wireless charging and facial recognition.
It’s expensive. Some consider 12.9-inch a bit large and unwieldy.
It’s got expandable storage, it comes in multiple colors, and it includes Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, so you can use voice commands.
It’s not the fastest tablet on the block, so it might not be the best for intense work like writing documents or crunching spreadsheets.
The 10.5-inch AMOLED screen is stunning. The speakers are surprisingly good, and it lives up to its battery life promises. And at 0.88 pounds, it’s also one of the lightest tablets around.
There’s no headphone jack, so you’ll need Bluetooth headphones. It doesn’t work with Samsung’s own S-pen. Not great for gaming.
Has a 7-inch display screen and 8GB of storage space with an SD slot for memory expansion. Boasts an impressive 9 hours of battery life per charge. We love its lightweight and thin design for convenient mobility.
Doesn't have a front-facing camera.
It’s got the A12 CPU on board - the same chip used in larger iPads. Both front and back cameras take incredible photos. It’s fast and light, and it comes in multiple colors.
It’s much more expensive than other 7-inch tablets. It uses Lightning cables instead of USB-C. Like all iPads, there’s no way to expand the local file storage.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
A small size and portability is a big plus with a tablet, especially when choosing a tablet for a college student. Tablets excel at web surfing, e-books, app usage, and streaming. A keyboard or stylus peripheral adds functionality, and can be particularly good for note taking as well as art disciplines. Tablets offer a great replacement for textbooks, since downloading is instant and often cheaper. In some cases, a tablet may offer all the technology a student needs, although some college programs insist on a laptop. Even then, a tablet is also a good bet as a supplemental tool for additional uses including social media and connectivity, like video chat. Look for a tablet with long battery life, a decent display size, and good storage space.
Before you start shopping, think about how you’ll be using your tablet and what kind of tablet you want. Start by answering these questions.
Think about some of the typical tasks you’ll be doing on your tablet. If you intend to use your tablet full time as your primary device, you can do that; you’ll just need to look at the most powerful and most expensive models. If you’re buying a tablet for use as a secondary device, you can save a lot of money by looking at models with smaller screens and fewer bells and whistles.
Tablet screen sizes range anywhere from 7 to 13 inches, and the user experience can be entirely different based on what size you get. Bigger screens are also more expensive, so consider how you might want to balance price point with screen real estate. Our best advice: if you’re buying a tablet as a secondary device to your laptop, a 7- or 9.7-inch screen will work well, but if you’re buying a tablet as your primary device, a 10.5- or 12.9-inch screen is a better choice.
The gold standard of high performance
The latest iPad Pro is an absolute beast of a tablet, and it gives many laptops a run for their money. It’s about as perfect as they get: it’s fast, it has a giant 12.9-inch high-resolution screen, incredible sound, and facial recognition, and it works with the millions of available apps in the App Store. If you’re ready to take the plunge and replace your laptop with a tablet, this is the best one to go with.
When you’re ready to start comparing models, start with these features to see how they stack up against one another.
While the screen size definitely determines how big your tablet is, screen resolution controls how sharp the image quality is. Some tablets with larger screens compromise on resolution, so compare the numbers when looking at different models. We recommend a minimum screen resolution of 1200 x 1800. Some premium tablets have screens with resolutions of up to 2732 x 2048.
Every tablet has a central processing unit (CPU) on board, which controls how fast it is. The problem is that tablets all use different CPUs that are hard to compare. The bottom line: pay attention to how different tablets are marketed. If you see a tablet that’s shown doing simple or passive tasks, like streaming movies or basic mobile games, it will be moderately fast. If you see a tablet that’s marketed for completing active tasks (like editing photos, creating video content, or working with spreadsheets), it will likely have a CPU on board that’s fast enough to keep up.
Consider how much space you’ll need for your apps and personal files. If you mostly use web-based services or small files, you don’t need a lot of onboard storage. On the other hand, if you want to keep a lot of your personal media on hand, or your schoolwork involves a lot of larger files, you’re going to need a lot of space. Check to see if the model you’re considering has expandable storage, and if it doesn’t, make sure to buy one with enough room by default. We typically recommend starting with a minimum of 64 GB.
There are a lot of unique add-ons for tablets out there, and a lot of them are proprietary, so spend some time browsing peripherals before you buy. Check to see if there are any official matching keyboards, styluses, or cases with unique functionality. It can add a lot of convenience.
If you plan to present work from your tablet, get an HDMI adapter. It makes it easy to connect your tablet to a TV or projector and share your screen for presentations and demonstrations. Tablet HDMI adapters can be expensive, but they’re good at what they do, so they’re worth it.
Inexpensive: Between $50 and $200, you’ll find entry-level and mid-range Android tablets. Screen sizes tend to be smaller, although there are a few ten-inch options that are worthwhile. When it comes to tablets, inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap, so if you’re looking for a moderately powerful tablet that’s good as a secondary device, you don’t have to spend a lot.
Mid-range: Between $200 and $500, you’ll see tablets that are plenty fast and have big, beautiful screens. Models in this price range are a little fancier and come with nicer finishes. Some models even include LTE connectivity, so you can get web access without WiFi (although you’ll need a data plan from a wireless provider to do that). If you’re looking for a tablet that will last several years and has a high-quality screen, this is the price range to keep in mind.
Expensive: Between $500 and $1,400 are the tablets that strive to be laptop replacements. Models in this price range pull out all the stops: tons of onboard storage, enormous 13-inch screens, and ten-hour battery life all cost at least this much. If you’re looking for a tablet that can act as your main machine for your entire college career, this is how much you’ll need to spend.
Screenshots are key for sharing ideas as well as troubleshooting, so learn how to take a screenshot on your tablet. The process depends on what hardware you’re using and what platform it’s running, so familiarize yourself with both.
If you’re in class and worried about typing all the notes in time, take a picture with your tablet’s built-in camera. You can use it to capture key ideas and imagery from your classes. Just don’t take any pictures of your neighbor’s test answers!
Powerful internals, jaw-dropping price
Amazon’s Fire HD tablets have always been some of the best values on the market, and our favorite is the Fire HD 8. It’s a great “sidekick” tablet: it’s small enough to fit in any bag, fast enough for taking notes and performing quick web searches, and it’s even got Alexa on board for using voice commands. If you’re in the market for a smaller tablet, but you don’t want to sacrifice any speed or power, this is your best bet.
If you’re looking for a tablet with a big screen, but you don’t want to pay the premium price tag that usually comes with it, check out the ASUS ZenPad. It’s got a big, glossy 10.1-inch screen, so there’s plenty of room for interacting with apps and everything is easy to see. It makes a few sacrifices, so it’s not the fastest tablet in the world, but if you’re looking for one that can be a secondary device for taking notes or searching the web, this is one of the most affordable options available. If you want that big screen but need a more powerful tablet that can be your main machine, check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab A. It’s definitely the Goldilocks of the Galaxy Tab family: at 1.09 pounds, it’s right in the middle of its sibling models and still light as a feather. It’s expandable up to 512 GB, so local storage will never be an issue, and the eight-core processor means it can handle any app you can throw at it. While the Tab A may not be powerful enough to replace your laptop, it’s close, and it’s perfect for situations where you need to travel lighter but still get work done.
Q. Can I use Microsoft Word on a tablet?
A. Yes! Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have mobile versions that you can download to your tablet for viewing and creating work files. You’ll need to subscribe to their online service, Microsoft Office 365, to edit documents and take advantage of cloud storage, but viewing documents is typically free (and there are dozens of good third-party apps that can view files made with Office).
Q. Can I add file storage space to my tablet after I buy it?
A. It depends. Android tablets usually include microSD card slots so you can add storage. Apple’s iPads cannot be upgraded beyond the storage included, although both platforms work well with cloud services that can help relieve some of the burden of local storage. If you plan on keeping your large collections of photos, music, or movies on your tablet, buy one with as much built-in storage as you can just to be safe.
Q. Do tablets typically include headphones?
A. Not usually. Most tablet manufacturers expect you to bring your own headphones to the party, and some tablets don’t have headphone jacks, so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a pair of Bluetooth headphones. It’s actually a good thing that headphones aren’t included. There are so many affordable options in different form factors, colors, and features that we recommend picking out the perfect pair separately.
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