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  • Apple iPad 9th-Gen (2021)

  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9" (2021)

  • How We Tested Tablets

  • Which Tablet Operating System Is Best?

  • A Word About Updates and Security Patches

  • Other Tablets We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Our Favorite Tablets of 2021

  1. Best Overall

    Apple iPad 9th-Gen (2021)

    Pros

    • Great performance

    • Extremely versatile

    • Excellent value

    Cons

    • Display could use an upgrade

    • Weak speakers

    • Design feels old

    Skip to the full review below
  2. Best Upgrade

    Apple iPad Pro 12.9" (2021)

    Pros

    • Liquid Display XDR is superb

    • Class-leading performance

    • Useful, high-quality accessories

    Cons

    • 11-inch model lacks display upgrade

    • Accessories greatly increase price

    • IPadOS is in an awkward phase

    Skip to the full review below
An Apple iPad face-down on a desk.
Credit: Reviewed / Matthew S. Smith

The iPad's design hasn't changed much over the years, for better and worse.

Best Overall
Apple iPad 9th-Gen (2021)

The iPad is an excellent tablet. The 10.2-inch display is compact enough to fit in most backpacks and bags yet large enough to look great while web browsing or viewing Netflix. Apps open quickly, multitasking feels responsive, and demanding 3D games look attractive. Battery life is solid, with up to 10 hours of video playback.

Yet the iPad does so much more. It supports Apple’s first-gen Pencil, which is great for jotting down notes. You can add a keyboard and mouse, as well, transforming the iPad into a barebones computer competitive with Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 and most Chromebooks.

Apple makes a few sacrifices to keep the price low. The display is glossy and a bit dim, so it can be difficult to use outdoors or near a sunlit window. Audio quality is unimpressive and lacks volume. And the design is old-fashioned next to Apple’s more expensive iPads.

The iPad is the people’s champion. It’s not the best iPad—that honor goes to the iPad Pro—but it’s compatible with the same apps, the same Apple services, and most of the same peripherals, all at a fraction of the iPad Pro’s price.

Pros

  • Great performance

  • Extremely versatile

  • Excellent value

Cons

  • Display could use an upgrade

  • Weak speakers

  • Design feels old

Apple's M1 iPad Pro attached to the white Magic Keyboard.
Credit: Reviewed / Matthew S. Smith
Best Upgrade
Apple iPad Pro 12.9" (2021)

The Apple iPad Pro is not kidding about the “Pro” in its name. Now packing the same Apple M1 chip found in the MacBook Pro 13, up to sixteen gigabytes of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage, the iPad Pro is an absurdly fast device.

There is more to the iPad Pro than performance, too. It’s compatible with the second-generation Magic Keyboard and Pencil, a pair of accessories so fantastic they feel mandatory. An iPad Pro with accessories is essentially a full-blown computer (with the price to match) that can easily replace a PC in most situations. The Magic Keyboard is a great typing device that defeats most laptop keyboards. The Pencil unlocks the option to jot down handwritten notes or, if you are creatively inclined, use the iPad Pro as a digital canvas.

Apple’s larger iPad Pro 12.9-inch has a key innovation: the Liquid Retina XDR display. It’s an ultra-bright, vibrant screen that can also reach deep, inky dark levels, creating a superb sense of depth and realism. Liquid Retina XDR is the best display available on any tablet or laptop, and that includes OLED.

It’s not available on the 11-inch iPad Pro, though, which brings up the Pro’s biggest downside: you must choose between two models with very different strengths. The 11-inch version is great, but it lacks the Liquid Retina XDR display, and its Magic Keyboard is less spacious. The 12.9-inch is a better 2-in-1 computer than Microsoft’s Surface Pro but feels unwieldy as a tablet.

The iPad Pro is expensive with an entry-level price of $799, and that gets into laptop territory with the accessories. This is not a flaw: for the right user, it’s worth every penny. Still, it can be hard to justify when the most affordable iPad starts at $329. This brings us back to the “Pro” label – odds are you don’t need everything the iPad Pro has to offer, and that's why it's not our top pick. If you do, though, the iPad Pro is your best bet.

Pros

  • Liquid Display XDR is superb

  • Class-leading performance

  • Useful, high-quality accessories

Cons

  • 11-inch model lacks display upgrade

  • Accessories greatly increase price

  • IPadOS is in an awkward phase

Related content

How We Tested Tablets

The Best Tablets
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

How We Decided on Top Picks

While some of our top picks in this guide are amazing for productivity, all of them should do a fine job of allowing you to consume your favorite content. You’ll be able to play games of varying complexity. You can use any of them to stream video from services like Netflix, HBO, or Disney+. Reading comics, a good book, or browsing the internet? You bet.

If any of this sounds like something you’re looking for in a mobile device, you’ve come to the right place.

We decided which products to call in by looking at how portable they were (larger than an oversized smartphone, but not so large that it's a nuisance to tote) and ensuring each had a minimum amount of storage to effectively watch HD movies, flip through high-resolution photos, listen to music, and play games. We also made sure that those looking for a laptop replacement (or at least stand-in) were well accounted for. In short, whether you're trying to get serious work done on the move or just stream Netflix, there's a product on this list for you.

The Testers

Seamus Bellamy

My name’s Seamus Bellamy. I’m Reviewed’s Updates Editor and a HUGE ultra-portable device nerd. If fits in a pocket, takes up next to no space in my backpack and allows me to get work done on-the-go, I’m all over it.

I’ve been using tablets since 2010, when I purchased the first iPad and a Motorola XOOM. Back then, these devices weren’t capable of much, but I saw their potential and stuck with them. Over the past decade, I’ve written about tablets and their related accessories for The Wirecutter, MacLife Magazine, Macworld, Maximum PC, The Globe and Mail, Tab Times and Boing Boing. Hey, look: I’m writing about them here now, too!

Christian de Looper

My name is Christian de Looper. I'm a tech reviewer and contributor to Reviewed.com that has long focused on mobile products of all kinds, from smartphones to tablets to mobile virtual reality headsets.

My first tablet was the second-generation Google Nexus 7, which was released in 2013. Since then, I've owned multiple generations of iPads, and my current main device is a 2020 iPad Pro, which I loved so much that I replaced my laptop with it. I've reviewed all kinds of products over the years, including those from Amazon, Samsung, and Apple.

Matthew S. Smith

Matthew S. Smith is a freelance technology journalist and product tester with 15 years of experience. His work can be found on dozens of publications including Reviewed, PC World, IEEE Spectrum, Wired, and Insider. Prior to freelancing, he led the product reviews team at Digital Trends.

The Tests

The best way to test a tablet is to spend quality time using it as you go about your day. After loading each of the devices in our test group up with the apps (when we could find them) we use to do our jobs or to unwind with, we spent days with each device to figure out how it works as a full-time companion. Was it pleasant to hold and use for long periods of time? How were its speakers? Did its build quality and design make it feel like a sound investment? These were just a few of the things we thought about as we used each of the products featured in this guide. In addition to taking notes on our subjective experiences with each of the tablets, we also paid careful attention to the following tests that Reviewed Senior Scientist Julia MacDougall and Seamus Bellamy developed:

  • How easy it was to type 300 words using each tablet’s on-screen keyboard
  • How capable each device was of editing a DMG or RAW format image in Adobe Lightroom Mobile (if the app was available to download.)
  • How accurate using a stylus, where applicable, was with each device, paying close attention to how the stylus performed both as a writing and drawing implement
  • Assessing the quality of streaming video that each tablet was capable of reproducing after watching 10 minutes of YouTube HD video content
  • How easy it was to browse the web using each tablet’s built-in browser
  • Shooting a variety of photos and videos with each device to assess the quality of their cameras
  • Repeatedly playing the same locally stored HD movie with each device's volume and display brightness set to maximum and all background services running (Bluetooth, WiFi, etc.) to assess how long its battery would last

Which Tablet Operating System Is Best?

While to some degree that's a matter of taste, most people will do best with iPadOS for its simplicity of use, stability, security, and the long-term free operating system and security updates that Apple provides. Others dig Windows 10 because of an almost endless variety of desktop and (considerably fewer) tablet applications that can be run on the platform. Android is lauded by those who appreciate the ability to customize most aspects of their tablet’s user experience and for how easily files can be transferred between Android devices and a Windows 10 computer. But Android falls short by not offering all of its smartphone apps for its tablet.

Given the relatively steep purchase price of most tablets, it’s best to consider which OS and app ecosystem is best suited to meet your needs. But for most users, we recommend Apple iPads.

A Word About Updates and Security Patches

There are a lot of clever, inquisitive hackers out there who intentionally or unintentionally could do your digital life a great deal of harm. Where tablets are concerned, the best way to maintain your personal privacy and secure your device is to download operating system updates and security patches as soon as they become available.

Unfortunately, not all manufacturers roll these updates out in a timely manner. Apple is known for releasing timely security patches as soon as they can in the wake of a vulnerability being discovered in iPadOS. You can also expect to see free yearly updates to your iPad’s operating system that improve the tablet’s stability, provide new features and, on occasion, offer a boost in speed. Despite being one of the few companies in the world still producing high-quality Android devices, Samsung has traditionally proven slow on the update uptake. The Galaxy Tab S5e, which was released in April 2019, came out of the box with Android 9 (aka Android Pie) as its operating system, and was only updated in June 2020. In short: when choosing a tablet, be sure to check on the level of support and how often that support is doled out.

Now, let’s talk about support cycles.

Manufacturers are always working on the next best device to lure consumers into buying their wares, even if they don’t need them, year after year. When shopping for a tablet, you should look for one made by a company with a history of supporting its hardware for a long time. Once again, Apple is a fine example. In fact, if you buy an Apple device, chances are that your battery will need to be replaced before it stops getting OS updates.

In the Android world, things are not always so bright: Many companies offer a modified version of Android to tablet users that comes, in addition to Google’s apps and services, their own selection of apps—for better or worse. As such, when the latest version of the Android operating system is released, companies that skin or modify the OS on their tablets in other ways will have to do some additional work to ensure that the device's additional features will be compatible with the latest update. Sometimes this work is done quickly so that the users of the company’s tablets can enjoy their device’s new features and updated security. In other instances, the updated OS may not ever be made available. It’s a good topic to research before forking over your hard-earned money for a new tablet.


Other Tablets We Tested

Product image of Apple iPad Air (2020, Wi-Fi, 64 GB)
Apple iPad Air (2020, Wi-Fi, 64 GB)

The 2020 iteration of the iPad Air may be a little more expensive than the entry-level iPad, but you'll be rewarded with an iPad Pro-level experience without the iPad Pro price tag.

Like the Pro, the iPad Air is compatible with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2, both of which are accessories that help make the iPad Air a viable laptop replacement for many. That said, you don’t have to buy those accessories to get a lot from the device, considering it offers excellent performance, a great display, an intuitive operating system, and more.

As with any iPad, there’s no shortage of great apps and games on the iPad Air. If you’re an iPhone user, many of the apps you know and love will be optimized for the bigger screen, and you can usually download and use them at no extra cost. No matter which app you’re using, you’ll find iPadOS makes it easy to multitask, split your tablet’s display up between multiple applications, and, thanks to its user-accessible file system, save, shuttle around or send files to the cloud.

Apple has even upgraded the ports for the iPad Air. The device has the same USB-C connectivity as the iPad Pro, meaning that it’s compatible with a range of dongles and adapters, along with external storage. It doesn’t have Face ID like the Pro, but it does have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the power button, which is fast and easy to use.

During our battery test, the iPad Air proved able to play the same video file at full brightness for almost eight hours, and when used for productivity, some gaming, and surfing the web, you’ll get even more. One more thing: the iPad Air has a sought-after feature that many tablets and smartphones being produced today lack: a headphone jack.

The iPad Air has a few downsides. It doesn’t have the same high refresh rate display as the iPad Pro, and as mentioned, it doesn’t have Face ID. And while cheaper than the iPad Pro, it is still a bit pricey, which can make it unappealing compared to the base iPad.

Pros

  • Modern design

  • Excellent performance

  • Cheaper than the Pro

Cons

  • Nothing of note

Product image of Apple iPad Mini (2021)
Apple iPad Mini (2021)

The iPad Mini is defined by its size. The Mini is easy to hold for longer periods of time even when reclining or gripping the device with one hand. It’s an ideal tablet for taking notes with the second-gen Apple Pencil. You can support it comfortably with one hand while writing with the other.

Performance remains excellent. It outperforms the base iPad, landing closer to the iPad Air, and is quicker than most PC laptops sold at a similar price. It feels smooth day-to-day and can power through heavier apps like 3D games and photo editors.

We do have a few complaints. The display is good but not as bright and enjoyable as iPad Pro models. Multitasking can be difficult due to the display’s compact size. Like the iPad Air, the Mini lacks Face ID facial recognition login and relies on Touch ID inconveniently bundled into the power button.

Still, the iPad Mini is the best choice for small tablet enthusiasts. Few competitors exist and those that do, like Amazon’s Fire HD 8 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Lite, are far less powerful. The iPad Mini is as capable as other iPads, but smaller.

Pros

  • Light, portable, and easy to handle

  • Perfect for use with Apple Pencil

  • Superb performance

Cons

  • Unimpressive display

  • Not great for multitasking

  • No Face ID

Product image of Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+

There aren’t many companies making high-end Android or Chrome OS tablets these days—even Google abandoned its 2-in-1 Pixel Slate tablet, earlier this year. Despite this, Samsung decided to go all-out with the Galaxy Tab S7+. It’s a device designed for use by pro users, with a price tag that makes it competitive with an iPad Pro. Unfortunately, while it outperforms anything on this list not made by Apple, it’s plagued with a number of problems, both of Samsung’s and Google’s making, which make it a tougher sell at its price.

The Tab S7+ is a pleasure to carry around and hold throughout a typical workday, despite its large size. The thin bezels that surround its vibrant 12.4-in Super AMOLED screen, which makes high definition video content and games look fabulous.

The Tab S7+’s base configuration comes with 128GB of storage space, which is enough for most users to shuttle around their offline content. You’ll find that background processes and your favorite android apps run smoothly thanks to its 6GB of RAM and speedy Snapdragon 865+ chipset. For more space and more speed, it’s possible to upgrade to an 8GB/256GB configuration. No matter which one you choose, Samsung makes it possible to add up to 1TB of additional storage space via microSD card. If that’s not enough storage space for you and you loathe using cloud-based services, the tablet’s USB-C port allows for high-speed data transfers to and from external storage devices.

It’s no slouch in the battery department, either. During our battery life test, it lasted over eight hours of constant video playback. The Tab S7+ comes with a stylus, which I found to be accurate and fast while taking notes or doodling. It’s designed to clip magnetically to the back of the Tab S7+, when not in use.

Now, let’s talk about the bad stuff.

Samsung insists that this is a tablet designed to take on productivity tasks: a fact backed up by the desktop-like UI provided by its DeX mode. DeX is Samsung’s Windows 10-like user interface which allows you to drag windowed versions of your tablet apps around on your Tab S7+ or a larger display, as if you were using a computer or laptop—provided the apps you use to get things done are compatible. Unfortunately, in order to use DeX, you’ll need to invest in the Tab S7+’s pricey keyboard-and-trackpad case, which drives up the price of this device considerably and has downsides of its own, like the kickstand design that makes it hard to use on your lap. For less complicated tasks, such as writing emails or chatting on Slack with your co-workers, you could use the device’s on-screen keyboard. Unfortunately, doing so makes for an unpleasant experience.

Finally, tablet apps: the Google Play Store doesn’t have a lot of them. While many popular programs such as Microsoft Word, Adobe Lightroom, and Call of Duty Mobile are ready to download, other apps many rely on when using Android for working are only available as smartphone apps. The device's operating system scales the size of these apps up to accommodate the size of its display, but it’s a poor substitute for native tablet apps, the likes of which the iPad Air has in spades.

Pros

  • Fast performance

  • Beautiful display

  • Thin and classy design

Cons

  • Android software experience is sub-par

  • Keyboard is hit-and-miss

Product image of Amazon Kindle Fire HD 10 (9th Gen, 64 GB)
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 10 (9th Gen, 64 GB)

If your budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon’s Fire 10 HD could be the device you’re looking for. While it’s not made of shiny aluminum like our top picks, its plastic construction feels surprisingly sturdy and pleasant to hold. Available in multiple colors, the 10 HD is the largest tablet in Amazon’s family of Fire devices. Measuring 10.3 x 6.3 x 0.4-inches and weighing just 17.4 ounces, it's easy to forget it's in your bag. However, during extended use, it was very easy to remember that the device was made of plastic, as our hands became damp with sweat over time, especially while streaming movies from a Plex server or locally stored video—both caused the device’s temperature to noticeably increase.

This model comes with either 32GB of storage or 64GB. Fortunately, the 10 HD’s storage can be expanded by an additional 512GB, via MicroSD card. It’s nice to have this option, but with such low base storage options, you may feel forced to buy a MicroSD card to upgrade the tablet’s storage to make it more useable, thus driving up the price of ownership.

The 10 HD’s display is capable of playing 1080p videos, with reasonably true colors and black levels. However, when used for reading or web surfing, the text that the tablet generated was a little janky compared to the Apple and Samsung devices. That said, given the low price of this device, this issue falls within the realm of acceptability. During battery testing, the 10 HD performed well, offering up seven hours and 18 minutes of continuous video playback. When the time comes to recharge it, you’ll be able to do the job relatively quickly, thanks to the 10 HD’s USB-C port, which you won't find on previous-gen devices from Amazon.

You should know that while the 10 HD is technically an Android tablet, its deeply modified operating system and user interface make this almost unrecognizable. Some things, such as navigating the device's user interface, will feel somewhat familiar to Android aficionados. However, its user interface is deeply focused on making it easy for users to access Amazon-branded content, such as Kindle books, Audible audiobooks, and Amazon’s Prime Music and Prime Video services. Tempting you to make purchases from the Amazon store also seems to have been a design priority. If you’re deeply invested in Amazon’s content ecosystem or include Alexa in your daily life, these will sound more like perks than a problem. For others, having the company’s content placed first and foremost could make it difficult to enjoy using this device.

Additionally, Amazon curates the relatively small collection of apps available to Fire users with an iron fist. Many of the popular apps that Android users take for granted, such as Google’s suite of free entertainment and productivity applications, aren’t available. This is because Fire devices don’t come preloaded with the Google Play Store. It is possible to side-load the store onto Amazon Fire tablets, but doing so requires a small amount of device hacking that many users may not be comfortable with.

Pros

  • Large bright display

  • Expandable storage

  • USB-C charging

Cons

  • No Google Play Store access

  • Interface emphasizes Amazon services

  • Unimpressive app selection

Product image of Microsoft Surface Go (128 GB, 8GB RAM, WiFi)
Microsoft Surface Go (128 GB, 8GB RAM, WiFi)

The Surface Go is a fabulous little computer for anyone looking for a lightweight, well-built device designed to handle productivity tasks and some very light gaming. Unfortunately, it’s a lousy tablet.

One of our testers owned a Surface Go (8GB/128GB) for over a year, finding it excels at handling word processing, email, scheduling and even a bit photo editing. If an application can be installed on Windows 10, it can be installed on the Go. However, with the device’s low-powered Intel Penguin Gold Processor 4415Y, don’t expect any fancy apps to run terribly well, if at all.

It’s possible to load Fallout 4 on the Surface Go, for example. But with the game’s graphics and draw distances turned down to the bare minimum, it’s laughably unplayable. And, as with most low-to-mid-powered Windows 10 devices, having more than a handful of Google Chrome tabs opened at once will slow the Go to a crawl. All of this feels acceptable, given the device’s 10-inch display, 1.15-pound weight, and reasonable battery life.

When using it to type and edit during a typical workday, we squeezed up to 6.5 hours of use out of its battery. While running battery tests with the device’s display brightness and volume jacked up to maximum, the Surface Go was only able to manage four hours and 40 minutes of playback time—not bad, but not great, either. In order to use the Surface Go as a wee laptop, be prepared to pay around $200 beyond the price of the device for a Surface Go Type Cover (although less expensive alternatives can be had) and Surface Pen.

It’s when you attempt to use the Surface Go as a tablet, instead of a traditional laptop-style computer, that things go downhill, fast. Over the past few years, Microsoft has made a significant effort to turn Windows 10 into a mature, easy-to-use operating system for personal computer users.

Unfortunately, this usability doesn’t extend to the OS’s touch computing interface. Navigating the Surface Go’s various menus and programs can be frustrating to tap and swipe away at with your finger. Multitasking is hit-and-miss in tablet mode. We were also deeply disappointed to find that Microsoft’s offerings of tablet-centric applications from The Microsoft Store are meager and, in many cases, kind of terrible.

Pros

  • Well made

  • Lightweight

  • Good for productivity tasks, with keyboard

Cons

  • Terrible interface

  • Few tablet-specific apps to choose from

  • Expensive accessories

Product image of Amazon Kindle Fire 7 (9th Gen, 32 GB)
Amazon Kindle Fire 7 (9th Gen, 32 GB)

With its low price and sturdy build quality, the Amazon Fire 7 is cheap enough to give as a gift at your office Christmas party and has enough features to make receiving it as a gift feel like a win.

As its name suggests, this device comes equipped with a seven-inch display. Don’t expect any high-definition miracles here: it’s only capable of outputting 720p content. The Fire 7’s onboard storage options—16GB or 32GB—are insufficient for most people to do much of anything outside streaming. If you plan on using this device to host local audio, video, or other files, you’ll need to invest in a microSD card for a little digital breathing room. The Fire 7 can use MicroSD cards up to 256GB in size.

That this model is made of plastic instead of aluminum and glass doesn’t mean that it’s any less durable than many of the premium tablets out there, and it held up well in our testing. With its low price and rugged construction, it could be a fine choice for parents with little ones that need to be connected to the internet on the cheap.

Unfortunately, when it comes to using the Fire 7, even for the most mundane tasks, it can be irritatingly slow. This is no doubt due to the fact that it ships with 1GB of RAM and a pokey Quad-Core 1.3GHz processor. You’ll find no stereo sound here, either: in order to keep costs low, Amazon designed this tablet to come with a single speaker, taking much of the joy out of watching movies on it or kicking back with a few tunes. Finally out of all of the tablets reviewed for this guide, the Fire 7 is the only one that charges via MicroUSB: an older, more fragile connection technology, which charges and transfers data at a much slower rate than USB-C can.

Pros

  • Inexpensive

  • Sturdy build quality

  • Expandable storage

Cons

  • Sub-par display

  • Mono sound

  • Charges via MicroUSB

Meet the testers

Séamus Bellamy

Séamus Bellamy

Senior Editor

@SeamusBellamy

Séamus Bellamy is Reviewed's resident expert on travel-related technology.

See all of Séamus Bellamy's reviews
Christian de Looper

Christian de Looper

Contributor

@@cdelooper

Originally from Australia, Christian has long had a passion for gadgets and consumer electronics. Christian has experience reviewing products in all areas of the consumer tech world, and is dedicated to helping people find the best products for their lifestyle.

See all of Christian de Looper's reviews
Matthew S. Smith

Matthew S. Smith

Contributor

@Matt_on_tech

Matthew S. Smith is a veteran tech journalist and general-purpose PC hardware nerd. Formerly the Lead Editor of Reviews at Digital Trends, he has over a decade of experience covering PC hardware. Matt often flies the virtual skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator and is on a quest to grow the perfect heirloom tomato.

See all of Matthew S. Smith's reviews

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