Tablets are perfect for working and playing on the go, and the market has become more diverse over the last few years. Having a variety of options to suit your needs and your budget is always good news.
With so many options available, however, it can be hard to know where to start. Below, you can see a full rundown of the best tablets of 2021 for whatever your needs are. From heavy-duty workhorses to tablets for kids, and the 2020 Apple iPad Air, which is the best overall buy that’s good at everything. This list will help you find the right tablet for you.
Best tablets at a glance
- Best overall: Apple iPad Air (2020)
- Best upgrade tablet: Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)
- Best Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7
- Best value tablet: Apple iPad (2020)
- Best 8-inch tablet: Apple iPad Mini 5
- Best cheap tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8
- Best tablet for kids: Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition
- Best Windows tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
- Best Chrome OS tablet: Lenovo Chromebook Duet
- Best big-screen tablet: Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch)
Why should you buy this? The new iPad Air takes everything that’s great about the iPad Pro, but comes at $200 less.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a powerful, modern-looking camera and can afford to spend $600.
Why we picked the iPad Air (2020):
The iPad Air isn’t as cheap as the entry-level iPad, which remains our pick for the best value tablet, but if you can stretch the budget to $600, it’s absolutely worth buying instead. It’s more powerful, more modern-looking, supports better first-party accessories, and so on.
The single-sentence review is this: The iPad Air takes almost everything that was great about the flagship-tier iPad Pro, but comes at $200 less. That starts with the nice big screen — which may sit in at a slightly smaller 10.9-inches, and may not support 120Hz, but still looks fantastic. It’s a perfect screen for movie-watching and gaming.
The iPad Air is no slouch under the hood either. The device offers Apple’s latest-and-greatest A14 Bionic chip, which will easily handle everything you can throw at it. It’s slightly different than the iPad Pro in that the A12Z in the Pro has more cores, but ultimately, the performance experience is pretty much matched. Powering it all is a battery that will last longer than laptops in most use.
Because the iPad Air has the same overall design and footprint as the iPad Pro, it supports the iPad Pro’s accessories too. That means you can use the highly expensive but still awesome Magic Keyboard, and the second-generation Apple Pencil.
The only real downsides to the iPad Air are the aforementioned lack of 120Hz, which you can probably live without, and the fact that it doesn’t have as good of a camera system as the iPad Pro — but honestly, how many photos are you taking with your iPad anyway? Other than that, while cheaper than the Pro, it’s still not a cheap device. Again, however, if you can afford it, it’s well worth the cash.
Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro is a stylish, productivity powerhouse that’s good at everything.
Who’s it for? Tablet enthusiasts, creatives, and power users.
Why we picked the iPad Pro (11-inch):
With slimmed-down bezels and flat edges, Apple’s redesigned iPad Pro is a beautiful device that manages to pack in maximum screen real estate without being too unwieldy. The home button is gone, replaced by Face ID, and Apple’s proprietary Lightning port has finally given way to USB-C, which gives you far more accessory and peripheral options. Although both models feature the same internal components, the iPad Pro comes in two sizes, offering an 11-inch or 12.9-inch display.
Apple recently released a 2020 iPad Pro. It has a slight bump in graphics power, a better camera with improved AR capability, and Wi-Fi 6 support, among other small tweaks. The 2020 model isn’t a huge upgrade over the 2018 model, so the older model is still worth your money if you can find it at a discount.
Our pick is the 11-inch model, which is enough screen to get things done, but not so much that the tablet becomes hard to handle. The 11-inch model packs 2388 x 1668 pixels and benefits greatly from Apple’s ProMotion technology, which boosts the refresh rate to a buttery-smooth 120Hz.
If you need a lot of raw power, then the iPad Pro is the tablet for you. Featuring Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor, there are eight cores here and a neural engine for speedy machine learning. The result is unparalleled speed, whether you’re editing images in Photoshop or commanding armies in Civilization VI. Storage goes from 128GB all the way up to 1TB, but the price rises steeply with it.
Just like previous models, Apple suggests you’ll get 10 hours of mixed-use from a charge, or 9 hours if you opt for the model with cellular connectivity. The Apple Pencil attaches magnetically and charges wirelessly now, but it will cost you an extra $130. That’s on top of an inflated price tag for the iPad Pro itself. The Smart Keyboard has also gone up in price this year, to $180 for the 11-inch model. There’s a new Magic Keyboard case, which includes a trackpad. It’s $300 for the 11-inch and $350 for the 12.9-inch.
Beyond the steep price and the limitations of iOS for people seeking a desktop replacement, we’re disappointed Apple removed the headphone jack. But even with all that considered, the Apple iPad Pro (11-inch)‘s aesthetics, raw power, and long-lasting battery life earn it a place in the pantheon of high-performance tablets. There’s very little that this tablet can’t do, and you simply won’t find anything better. We’ve even found some iPad deals to peruse if the price is too high.
Why should you buy this? The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is the closest an Android tablet comes to replicating the iPad Pro, and it boasts an absolutely gorgeous display.
Samsung’s flagship tablet is the best Android tablet you can buy.
Who’s it for? Anyone looking for an Android-based iPad alternative.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7:
The Galaxy Tab S7 is the best Android tablet available in 2021, with an absolutely gorgeous display. There are few tablets in the world with a screen capable of rivaling the S7’s 11-inch display, though the larger Tab S7+ switches the LCD display for OLED, so it’s even better. It also supports HDR content (which companies like Netflix and YouTube are making increasingly available these days). Even viewing non-HDR content on the S7’s 2560 x 1600-pixel display is an absolute joy.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor (the same chip that powers popular flagship smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S20) is fast, and 6GB or 8GB of RAM is more than enough to keep this tablet humming happily. It comes with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB of internal storage, but it can be expanded via MicroSD card if you’re looking to download lots of stuff.
The tablet’s four speakers are respectably loud, and it has cameras on both the front and back — the rear-facing, dual-lens 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel main camera are capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the 8-megapixel front camera is good enough for selfies and video chat.
Perhaps the main downside to the tablet is its software experience. While the One UI paired with Android 10 will be fine for most, many Android apps simply don’t really support the big-screen experience. The tablet somewhat gets around that with the Samsung DeX desktop interface, however not all apps support DeX at all.
The 8,000mAh battery will easily get you through a busy day and beyond, and it can be charged up pretty quickly if you get a 45W charger. The included S Pen stylus interacts smoothly with the tablet’s screen and will please note-takers and artists; it also attaches magnetically and recharges wirelessly. The downside here is the high price — if you’re primarily after a laptop experience, then Samsung’s Chromebook Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Go are both cheaper and might suit you better.
If you’re devoted to Android devices, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is a good choice. It’s a solid step up from the Tab A 8.0, but that high price might give you pause.
Why should you buy this? The iPad boasts a vibrant display, silky-smooth performance, and long battery life, all at an affordable price.
Who’s it for? Everybody who wants a tablet.
Why we picked the Apple iPad (2020):
The iPad has dominated the tablet scene for years now, and the eighth-generation iPad (2020) 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-around device that delivers a really good tablet experience at a reasonable price. It replaces last year’s iPad, adding a better processor, so it should be even fast than before.
The bright 10.2-inch display is perfect for watching videos. It feels slim and light to handle, with Apple’s usual high standards shining through in terms of build quality, though the thick bezels are beginning to look dated. Inside, there’s Apple’s A12 Bionic processor with 3GB of RAM, but all you 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 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 bottom-firing speakers and point out that the entry-level model only has 32GB of storage. Beyond that, there are no glaring flaws here, and we think the Apple iPad (2020) is the best tablet you can buy without having to spend a lot more money.
Why should you buy this? The iPad Mini is a perfect blend of power and portability. You can take it anywhere and read or watch shows on it with ease.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a smaller tablet.
Why we picked the iPad Mini 5:
It took a long time for Apple to update the smallest of its iPads, and the iPad Mini 5 is outwardly identical to its predecessor, but inside there are some important changes. You’ll find the powerful A12 Bionic processor in this tablet, which makes performance silky smooth whether you’re playing a game, editing a photo, or sketching.
The 7.9-inch display is a pleasure to read on, and Apple has added support for the first-generation Apple Pencil. It’s good for watching movies or gaming, too, though you’ll probably want headphones to go with it. Battery life is solid, offering a good 10 hours between charges. There’s also an 8-megapixel main camera and a 7-megapixel front-facing camera.
Portability is the main reason to pick the iPad Mini 5. If you want an iPad and need something smaller in size, then this is it.
Unfortunately, the design is a bit dated now. It’s also expensive — even more expensive than the 2020 iPad. But you can’t beat the iPad Mini 5 if it’s a small tablet you want.
Who’s it for? Amazon enthusiasts on a budget.
Why we picked the Fire HD 8:
Amazon’s Fire HD 8 (2020), a refresh of the 2018’s HD 8, doesn’t bring much new to the table. There are a USB-C port and a faster processor, but it’s the low, low price that earns this cheap tablet a wholehearted recommendation.
The LCD screen, with its 1280 x 800-pixel resolution is far from the sharpest, and the viewing angles aren’t great, but it’s good enough to watch movies and read on. The fact is that compromises are inevitable to hit this price.
The Fire HD’s all-plastic body is colorful and durable. You’ll also find stereo speakers optimized with Dolby Atmos that deliver reasonably loud, crisp sound on movies, TV shows, and Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service.
Alexa works well on this tablet. Asking questions about popular movies, nearby restaurants, and the weather pulls up visual results on the Fire HD 8’s screen (even when it’s locked). That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Alexa on the Fire HD can also control smart home devices, order pizza, call an Uber, and perform many of the same tasks as Amazon’s Echo speakers or the Echo Show.
Battery life is impressive, too. It lasts for up to 12 hours of mixed-use including reading, gaming, and streaming. The Fire HD 8’s Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, isn’t for everyone. But folks immersed in the Amazon ecosystem will appreciate For You, a recommendation engine that puts videos, apps, games, and movies from the retailer’s library on your home screen.
You won’t find a perfect tablet for less than $100, but the Fire HD 8 is an impressive package. Sure, the screen isn’t as sharp or vibrant as we’d like, and the hardware struggles under heavy loads, but there is no better tablet at this price.
If you’re determined to get something bigger than the Fire HD 8, then you’ll have to pay more, but you should check out Amazon’s Fire HD 10, which packs a 10.1-inch display, more processing grunt, and longer battery life. You can find out more about Amazon’s largest tablet in our Fire HD 10 review.
Why should you buy this? When it comes to parental controls, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is second to none.
Who’s it for? Young kids who need supervision.
Why we picked the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition:
Amazon’s refreshed Fire 8 HD Kids Edition (2020) makes its long-running line of kid-friendly tablets even better, though there’s a disappointing lack of strong competition in this category.
An 8-inch screen with a 1280 x 800 pixel-resolution delivers bright and vibrant colors and a thick rubber case around the tablet’s frame cushions against accidental drops. The tablet’s 32GB of internal storage offers enough space for lots of books, games, and other media, and there’s a MicroSD card slot for expansion if you run out.
When it comes to parental controls, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is second to none. Its Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, allows you to manage usage limits, set educational goals, and restrict access to age-inappropriate content. The Parent Dashboard also offers insight into what your kids are doing on their tablet and encourages interaction with discussion questions related to the books your kids are reading.
The Fire HD 8 Kids Edition also includes one year of fee-free access to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited, a library of more than 15,000 kid-appropriate games, apps, educational content, books, and videos from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and others. Every purchase is backed by Amazon’s two-year, no-questions-asked replacement policy: If the Fire HD 8 breaks, Amazon will replace it.
Simply put, there is no better tablet at this price for young kids who still need parental supervision.
If you want something larger than the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, there’s also a Fire HD 10 Kids Edition which has a bigger screen, more processing power, and a USB-C charging port, but it costs $200. Read our Fire HD 10 Kids Edition review to find out more about Amazon’s larger offering.
Why should you buy this? We don’t love Windows 10 as a pure tablet, but the Surface is a very good laptop replacement that puts touch first.
Who’s it for? Anyone seeking a Windows tablet that can serve as a laptop.
Why we picked the Surface Pro 7:
The original Surface Pro was flawed, but it had a major impact on the market. Microsoft has refined the design since then, and the Surface Pro 7 is as close as you can get to a hybrid device that serves equally well as a tablet and as a laptop. It is the 2-in-1 to beat.
Microsoft hasn’t updated much over the Surface Pro 6, but the bump in performance and switch from mini-DisplayPort to USB-C is welcome. You’ve still got a gorgeous 12.3-inch screen with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels, a thoughtful design, and a choice of internal specs that range from basic to lightning fast. It is by far the most configurable device on our list. The pixel-packed display and loud speakers make it a pleasure to watch movies on, but we found it lags way behind the iPad Pro when it comes to gaming.
The Pro 7 takes a step back from the Pro 6 in terms of battery life, but you can still expect to get through a full day of mixed use before needing to plug in.
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, Windows 10 tablet mode still needs work and the Surface Pro 7 can be eye-wateringly expensive if you opt for top-end specs and want the Type Cover to go with it. Still, it’s our favorite 2-in-1 PC.
If the Surface Pro 7 is too rich for your blood, then you might consider the Microsoft Surface Go, which comes in at a much more affordable $400. It has a 10-inch screen, but also runs Windows 10, has a great keyboard cover, and supports the Surface Pen.
Why should you buy this? While the iPad is better for most, those really plugged into Google’s ecosystem will like the integration with Assistant and other Google services.
Who’s it for? Google fans that want a Googley tablet
Why we picked the Lenovo Chromebook Duet:
If you make regular use of Google’s services, have Assistant-connected devices in your home, and don’t mind using Google’s online apps and services, then a Chrome OS device may be the way to go — and there’s no better option than the Lenovo Chromebook Duet.
In classic 2-in-1 fashion, the device comes with a connectable keyboard, with a kickstand on the back, making it a great option for doing some work. The keyboard feels pretty good too, so it’s easy to write emails and documents on the device.
The Chromebook Duet isn’t necessarily the most powerful tablet on the market, but given the fact that you’ll mostly use online apps anyway, that shouldn’t matter too much. And, the device is super lightweight and has a long battery life to ensure that it should get through a few days of normal use.
Why should you buy this? The iPad Pro is extremely powerful and offers a huge screen.
Who’s it for? Gamers, creatives, and power users.
Why we picked the iPad Pro (12.9-inch):
This is the biggest and most powerful tablet around and it’s perfect for all kinds of uses. Not only is the iPad Pro (12.9-inch) the best tablet for multimedia and gaming, it’s also the best tablet for drawing. Apple’s 2018 redesign is all about packing in maximum screen real estate without making the iPad Pro too big to manage. The bezels are slim and the home button has been replaced by Face ID. Apple has also adopted USB-C, which gives you far more to choose from in terms of accessories and peripherals.
Sporting the biggest and best screen around, with a 2732 x 2048-pixel resolution and Apple’s ProMotion technology for an incredibly smooth 120Hz refresh rate, this tablet is perfect for games. There’s no shortage of processing power with Apple’s A12Z Bionic chip, which features eight cores and a neural engine for speedy machine learning. Nothing is faster, whether you’re commanding armies in Civilization VI or editing an image in Photoshop. The iPad Pro can cope with any game or drawing app you throw at it.
Storage starts at 64GB and goes up to 1TB, but you have to pay a lot for a large capacity. There’s no MicroSD card support, and although the iPad Pro does have a USB-C port, most external storage options don’t work with it right now — hopefully, that will change.
Apple reckons you’ll get 10 hours of mixed use from a full charge, or 9 hours if you opt for the model with cellular connectivity. The Apple Pencil attaches magnetically and charges wirelessly, but it costs an extra $130. The Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch model is $200.
It’s expensive, especially if you need a lot of storage, and there’s no headphone jack, but the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is still your best bet if you want a powerful gaming tablet or a great tablet to draw and sketch on.
Research and buying tips
- Which OS is best for you?
- Can you print from a tablet?
- Can you make phone calls on a tablet?
- Can you text on a tablet?
If your top consideration is entertainment, and you’re likely to use a lot of apps and games, then we recommend Apple’s iOS over Android. 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 trade-off 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.
Yes, you can make phone calls on a tablet, but you will need to be connected to the internet. You can either connect to Wi-Fi, which every tablet can do for free, or, if you need to make calls while you’re out and about beyond the reach of a Wi-Fi network, buy a tablet with cellular support and space for a SIM card. Just bear in mind if you go the SIM card route, that you will also have to sign up for a service plan of some kind. Some carriers offer special plans for tablets.
You can use FaceTime on an iPad, but there are lots of good alternative video chat apps that work with Android tablets or iPads. Many of them allow you to make audio calls as well. However, the person you want to call usually has to have the same app. Some apps, like Skype, also allow you to call regular landline or mobile phone numbers, but you’ll generally have to pay per minute or get a subscription. A good app that will work on Android tablets or iPads that gives you a free number for calling, text messages, and voicemail is Google Voice, but it only works in the U.S.
If you’re interested in this option for a business, then you might also consider one of the best VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services.
Yes, you can send text messages from a tablet. If you have an iPad then you can use iMessage, though this will only allow you to send messages to other iOS devices or Mac computers. There are lots of great text messaging apps that work on Android or iOS. You could also use Google Voice if you are based in the U.S. as it gives you a free number for calls and text messages.
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.
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