How to Choose the Right Tablet
How Do You Choose a Tablet?
There are countless tablets on the market, but which one is right for you? Whether you’re eyeing an iPad or one of the many Android models available, we have the key factors you need to consider when shopping, along with some of the top-rated tablets we’ve tested.
Keep in mind that Windows slates are different beasts entirely. If that’s what you’re looking for, head on over to our picks for the best Windows tablets, as well as the best 2-in-1s.
Android vs. Apple Tablets
Android tablets make great media players, ebook readers, and kids’ devices (if you want a tablet specifically for children, check out our story on the best kids’ tablets), but rarely compete with iPads when it comes to versatility and performance.
Generally speaking, the greatest strengths of Apple’s iPadOS are twofold: It’s very clean and intuitive, and the wide selection of apps that you can buy right on your tablet—more than one million iPad-specific titles at the time of this writing—work uniformly well with very few exceptions.
Google’s Android OS gives you a choice of hardware from several different manufacturers and offers maximum configurability, a top-notch notification system, fast and smooth web browsing, and seamless integration with Google applications like Gmail, Google Maps, and Hangouts for video chat. Android also includes support for multiple user logins so you can share your tablet with a friend or family member, a useful feature that’s missing in Apple tablets (despite Apple’s Family Sharing, which isn’t the same thing). That said, most Android tablets ship with an older version of the OS and few get updates.
See How We Test Tablets
Amazon’s Fire OS is a branch of Android with its own user interface and its own default apps. It’s designed to be clear and easy to use for consuming Amazon content and for streaming video from various services, and it’s easier to use than standard Android if most of what you’re doing is just web browsing and accessing your Amazon library. It’s less flexible for customization, though.
Which Tablet Has the Best Apps?
What’s a tablet without quality apps? If you want third-party apps specifically designed for a touch-screen interface, nothing out there beats the iPad with its huge library of programs and games designed specifically for Apple tablets. The App Store is well curated and monitored, offers a deep selection, and includes every popular app you can think of. If a wide range of compelling apps that look good and work well on your tablet is your main priority, Apple is your best bet. For more, see the 100 best iPad apps.
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*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains
Android has made great strides in app selection, but it’s still not home to as many as Apple offers. It’s tough to say exactly how many tablet-optimized Android apps are available, but it’s far less than Apple. There are also Android phone apps, which look decent on a 7-inch tablet, but less so on a 9- or 10-inch one, so you’re likely to have more problems getting high-quality apps for larger Android tablets. That said, check out the 100 best Android apps for our top picks.
Amazon tablets don’t have access to the Google Play store, so they have considerably fewer apps available. While there are plenty of people who have hacked the Play store onto Amazon tablets, that violates both Amazon’s and Google’s terms of service and can’t be considered a reliable solution. Although they have their own app store, which is a subset of Google Play, you should consider Amazon tablets as designed to be used with the apps Amazon recommends.
What Size Tablet Do You Need?
This consideration is a bit obvious, but size—both screen real estate and storage capacity—is important to consider. First things first: When you hear the term “7-inch or 10-inch tablet,” this refers to the size of the screen, measured diagonally, and not the size of the tablet itself.
7-inch tablets are considered small-screen, while 8.9-inch tablets and above are considered large-screen. Apple’s iPads, Amazon’s Fire tablets, and Samsung’s slates all come in small- and large-screen iterations. And more than ever, phones are blurring the lines with tablets. Folding phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold can easily do double duty as a tablet if you’re willing to pay a hefty premium.
Screen resolution is important too, especially for ebook reading and web surfing. A sharp, bright display is key. If you’re in the market for a 10-inch tablet, look for a display with at least 1,280 by 800 resolution.
The weight of a tablet is one definite advantage it has over a laptop—but with large-screen tablets typically weighing around a pound, they’re not cell phone-light. After you hold one with a single hand while standing up for 20 minutes, your hand will get tired. Setting one flat in your lap, rather than propped up on a stand, can also be a little awkward. And few tablets will fit in your pocket, unless you’re wearing a very large jacket. If you want pocketability, you might want to consider a phablet.
Cloud (off-device) storage is an option for many tablets (Amazon Cloud Storage for Fire tablets, iCloud for iPads, Google Drive for Android tablets), but when it comes to onboard storage, more is always better. All those apps, when combined with music, video, and photo libraries, can take up a lot of space. Some Android tablets feature a microSD slot for additional storage, but it’s worth noting some apps will not work from a microSD card.
Wi-Fi-Only vs. Cellular Tablets
Some tablets come in a Wi-Fi-only model or with the option of always-on cellular service from a wireless provider. Unless you constantly use your tablet in an area without Wi-Fi or are a frequent international traveler, you’re probably better using your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot and saving the extra money you’d spend on an LTE tablet. You can also buy a dedicated mobile hotspot, which won’t kill your phone’s battery life. Some even double as backup batteries to charge your tablet.
The Top Tablets (for Now)
The tablets chosen here represent the best Android and Apple options across a variety of price levels. That said, there are plenty of other great tablets out there, and one might be right for you. For the latest lab-tested reviews, check out our tablet product guide. And if you’re looking for a good deal, head over to our roundup of the best cheap tablets we’ve tested.
Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019)
Pros: Solid performance for the price. Good battery life. USB-C. Fire OS 7 brings many improvements.
Cons: Limited app selection. Mediocre speaker quality and cameras.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s Fire HD 10 remains the most reliable 10-inch tablet you can buy for $150, with solid performance, good battery life, and a sharp display.
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018)
Pros: Simple user interface.
Works as an Echo Show.
Cons: Amazon’s app store falls short of Google Play.
UI is very oriented toward showing Amazon content.
Bottom Line: The 2018 edition of the Amazon Fire HD 8 remains the best media tablet you can get for under $100.
Apple iPad (2019)
Pros: Larger display for better multitasking. Smart Connector lets you use Apple’s keyboard cover or third-party option. iPadOS brings many software improvements.
Cons: Mediocre cameras. Large bezels.
Bottom Line: With its larger display, support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and iPadOS, the least-expensive iPad is a terrific tablet and potentially even a laptop replacement.
Apple iPad Air (2019)
Pros: Fast performance.
Slim, light design.
Works with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard case.
Cons: Camera could be better.
There are a lot of other iPad choices right now.
Bottom Line: The new iPad Air is a tablet that works best with a keyboard case as a pseduo-laptop for anyone who wants a basic PC with Apple’s software elegance.
Apple iPad Mini (2019)
Pros: Powerful processor.
Broad LTE options.
Apple Pencil support.
Light and easy to carry.
Cons: Compatible Apple Pencil isn’t the better model.
Bottom Line: Apple’s iPad mini is the only small, premium tablet you should consider buying right now.
Apple iPad Pro (2020)
Pros: Lightning-fast processor
Speedy AR rendering
12.9-inch model is uncomfortably large in hands
Bottom Line: Apple’s new iPad Pro pushes the limits of what an iPad can do, but it does so at the price of a MacBook.
Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab
Pros: Good screen and speakers multimedia streaming
Versatile form factor
Doubles as a smart display
Cons: Underwhelming performance
Runs dated version of Android
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab is a versatile Android tablet that does double duty as a smart display.
onn. 8-Inch Tablet
Runs relatively stock Android.
Cons: Poor battery life.
Lackluster display and cameras.
Bottom Line: Walmart’s 8-inch onn.
tablet is a solid alternative to Amazon’s Fire line for anyone who prefers traditional Android software to the Amazon-focused Fire OS.
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