Sitting somewhere between the portability of a smartphone and the power and versatility of a personal computer, tablets have the potential to be the perfect tools for both productivity and entertainment. While everyone has different needs and preferences, after weeks of research and hands-on testing the Apple iPad Air (2020)(available at Amazon for $539.00) takes the title of the best all-around tablet available. Its outstanding build quality, great battery life, long software support cycle, and seemingly endless selection of available apps make it a device you’ll enjoy using for work and play for years.
If you’re shopping on a tighter budget, or just want something for browsing the web and streaming Netflix, the entry-level iPad (2020)(available at Amazon) is a less expensive, less capable, but still very appealing option. Or, if you have the cash to burn and want the best display on the market, more power, and a better camera, the iPad Pro (2021)(available at Amazon) is the way to go. There are plenty of other options on our list, as well, including a few options that will barely ding your bank account.
If you’re looking to pick up a good tablet for the kids, check out our guide to the Best Tablets for Kids as well.
Here are the best tablets we tested, ranked in order:
Apple iPad Air (2020)
Apple iPad (2020)
Apple iPad Pro (2021)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7
Amazon Fire HD 10
Microsoft Surface Go
Amazon Fire 7
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
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. In our testing, the iPad Air performed better than almost any tablet we'd previously tested, with the only match being Apple's 2020 Pro model.
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. The 2020 iPad Air’s aluminum body and glass face weigh-in at just under one pound, making the device a pleasure to carry around in a bag with you or to hold and use for long periods of time.
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. While you’ll probably use your phone for photos more than your iPad, the 12-megapixel camera on the iPad Air takes excellent photos, though the fact that there’s only one sensor means that it’s not quite as versatile as many modern phones. One more thing: the iPad Air has a sought-after feature that many tablets and smartphones being produced today lack: a headphone jack.
Even though the iPad Air is the best tablet you can get right now, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have the same high refresh rate display as the iPad Pro, and as mentioned, it doesn’t have Face ID. Also, while cheaper than the iPad Pro, it is still a bit pricey. That said, with the snappy A14 Bionic processor, the iPad Air should easily last at least three or four years, though many will be able to continue using it far beyond that time.
You don’t have to pay $500 for the iPad experience. The entry-level 10.2-inch iPad may not have all the fancy bells and whistles offered by the iPad Air and iPad Pro, but it does still have the same software experience, a solid display, and great performance. In fact, if all you want your iPad for is web browsing, social media, streaming, media consumption, and the odd game here and there, the entry-level iPad is probably the iPad to go for.
The device doesn’t have the edge-to-edge display on offer by other modern iPads, but it still looks great. Sure, the design is aging a bit, but many still prefer having a home button, and the build-quality is still incredible, as you would expect from an Apple product. The LCD display doesn't have a high refresh rate, but it still boasts vivid colors and can get super bright.
There’s one area in which the entry-level iPad beats the other models, and that’s battery life. The device reached past eight hours of battery life in our tests, playing a movie on loop. While not many will use it for serious productivity, those that do will reach an even longer battery life.
Under the hood, the entry-level iPad has a lot to offer. It has Apple’s A12 Bionic chip, which may not be the latest and greatest, but is still very powerful and should keep your iPad feeling smooth and speedy for at least a few years to come. If you were hoping that Apple would totally do away with Lightning ports, you’ll be a little disappointed, considering this iPad still has one. That means you won’t be able to use it with the same peripherals and adapters as the other 2020 iPads—but you can still use it with Apple’s Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil.
There are a few downsides to the entry-level iPad, despite its excellent value. As mentioned, the overall design is aging a little, and the processor is a few years old. That said, in this price range you really can't do better.
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 tablets 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 tablet on this list for you.
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, tablets weren’t capable of much, but I saw their potential and stuck with them. Over the past decade, I’ve written about tablets and tablet-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 tablet is a 2020 iPad Pro, which I loved so much that I replaced my laptop with it. I've reviewed all kinds of tablets over the years, including those from Amazon, Samsung, and Apple.
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 tablets 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 tablets 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 tablet 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 tablet, 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 navigate the internet using each tablet’s built-in browser
Shooting a variety of photos and videos with each tablet to assess the quality of their cameras
Repeatedly playing the same locally stored HD movie with each tablet’s volume and display brightness set to maximum and all background services running (Bluetooth, WiFi, etc.) to assess how long the tablet’s 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 tablets.
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 tablet 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 tablets, 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 tablet, 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
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 a great tablet, 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.
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 tablet 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 tablet 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 tablet’s operating system scales the size of these apps up to accommodate the size of the tablet’s display, but it’s a poor substitute for native tablet apps, the likes of which the iPad Air has in spades.
If your tablet budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon’s Fire 10 HD tablet 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 tablet 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 tablet 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 tablet’s user interface, will feel somewhat familiar to Android aficionados. However, the tablet’s 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 tablet 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 tablets don’t come preloaded with the Google Play Store. It is possible to side-load the store onto a Fire tablet, but doing so requires a small amount of device hacking that many users may not be comfortable with.
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 tablet 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.
With its low price and sturdy build quality, the Amazon Fire 7 tablet 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 tablet 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 tablet 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.
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.
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