The best tablets you can buy expert advice | Computing
Tablets may be fading in popularity, but there are still some great devices out there. If you’re in the market for a new tablet, then we’re here to help you cut down that short list and snag the right one for you.
Apple’s iPad range still dominates the scene, but there are some innovative alternatives running Android and Windows. We also have top picks for the budget-conscious and for kids. These are the best tablets you can buy right now.
Why should you buy this? The iPad boasts a vibrant display, silky-smooth performance, and long battery life, all at an affordable price.
The iPad has dominated the tablet scene for years now, and the sixth-generation iPad (2018) is the culmination of all of Apple’s experience. There are no bells and whistles here. If you want innovation, keep looking. This is a solid, accessible all-rounder that delivers a really good tablet experience at a reasonable price. It replaces last year’s iPad at the top of this list, adding support for the Apple Pencil (sold separately for $100) and a newer processor it’s identical in every other respect.
The bright 9.7-inch display is perfect for watching videos. It feels slim and light to handle, with Apple’s usual high standards shining through in build quality, though the thick bezels are beginning to look dated. Inside, there’s Apple’s A10 processor with an embedded M10 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, but all you really need to know is that it runs smoothly. Whether you’re skipping in and out of apps, browsing the web, watching a movie, or playing the latest games, the iPad delivers lag-free performance.
If you must take photos with your tablet, there’s an excellent 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture that’s fast and capable of capturing plenty of detail. The 1.2-megapixel selfie camera has an f/2.2 aperture, which is adequate for FaceTime at 720p, but little else.
The battery life is fantastic. You can expect more than 10 hours of HD video playback from a single charge, and with normal use on Wi-Fi, you might reasonably expect to go a week between charges.
If you’re looking for weak spots, then we direct you toward the single bottom-firing speaker. Beyond that, there are no glaring flaws here, and we think it’s the best tablet you can buy without having to spend a lot more money.
This time around, Samsung has paired its custom TouchWiz interface with Android 7 Nougat, and it works like a charm. Split-screen functionality is better than ever, with lots of neat tricks to learn over time. Despite a bit of bloatware that the tablet won’t let you delete, the software here is generally very good.
The battery lasts an exceptional 10-plus hours, and the included stylus pen interacts smoothly with the tablet’s screen. The downside is the physical design of the Tab S3. Most people use tablets in landscape orientation (sideways), but the S3 seems to be designed more for use in portrait. Also, the fingerprint sensor is frustratingly unreliable and often requires multiple attempts (regardless of how you’re holding the device).
If you’re devoted to Android devices, the Tab S3 is a good choice. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the natural progression we had hoped for from the S2, and there are some annoying issues most people won’t be able to get past. It’s worth a look, but the price tag is pretty unbecoming.
The Type Cover and Surface Pen are excellent accessories and, combined with the full version of Windows 10, help make this a great choice for creative professionals, students, and everyone in between. This is real portable productivity.
On the downside, battery life is bit disappointing and the Surface Pro 4 can be eye-wateringly expensive if you opt for top-end specs. Still, it’s our favorite 2-in-1 PC.
How we test
The tablets we test serve as our daily drivers, so we use them extensively to put them through their paces. That means watching movies, gaming, testing out lots of apps, reading, working on them, and even taking photos and shooting video with them (which is impossible to do without looking stupid). We love new, innovative features, but we can also appreciate classic design done well. Ultimately, we look for tablets that will fulfill the needs of most people, so their ability to serve up entertainment is paramount.
Which OS is best for you?
If your top consideration is entertainment, and you’re likely to use a lot of apps and games, then we recommend Apple’s iOS as the best platform. There are a lot of polished apps made specifically for the iPad and you have access to all the top subscription services and an extensive content store. It’s also slick and accessible, so anyone can come to grips with it quickly.
Android has a larger selection of free apps and games, though they’re generally less polished, but that might be a tradeoff you’ll accept. Things are a little complicated by manufacturer UIs, or in the case of Amazon, forked versions of the platform. They can delay Android updates and make the user experience quite different. Amazon’s tablets, for example, run a version of Android called Fire OS and they initially only have access to the limited subset of apps and games that are available in the Amazon Appstore, not the full list that you’ll find in Google’s Play Store.
If you like the idea of accessing the same apps you have on your Windows PC, and you want a business device that ties seamlessly into your Microsoft services, then a tablet running Windows 10 is going to be tempting. It’s powerful, but it’s also relatively expensive to get decent hardware for a good user experience. If you’re not a business user, or you don’t need to run Windows-only apps, it may be overkill.