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If you haven’t spent very much time with a tablet, it can be hard to figure out where it fits in your tech life. Is it a larger version of your phone, or a smaller, more portable version of a laptop? The truth is, depending on your needs, a tablet can be either (or both!)
A tablet’s flexibility is its best asset. If it’s paired with “professional” accessories like a stylus or keyboard, it can be used for writing or sketching. When used on its own, a tablet is basically a large screen for web surfing, video streaming and gaming.
It may seem redundant, but a tablet can slowly take over certain tasks that you used to do on your smartphone or computer. You may even begin to favor it over either device for certain tasks like photo editing, or reading and responding to e-mails.
We’ve rounded up some of the most popular and versatile tablets. Whether you’re looking for a better way to watch movies in bed, or don’t want to lug a laptop around every time you need to get work done, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Tablet
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right tablet for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Screen Size and Resolution: A tablet’s screen is its most important feature: The larger the screen, the more information you can see at once. Its resolution (how many pixels the screen has) determines how sharp videos, pictures, and text will look. The tradeoff to consider is that the larger the screen, the larger (and heavier) the tablet.
Storage: If you plan on downloading a lot of media or apps, you’ll want to get a tablet with a lot of storage. Some tablets let you upgrade their storage down the line, but that’s not always the case. All of the tablets we’re recommending have at least 16GB (gigabytes) of storage, which is enough to hold thousands of songs, dozens of apps, and at least 10 hours of full HD video.
Operating System: Like phones and computers, tablets run an operating system, which determines its features, and the types of apps it can run. You should make sure the software you need is compatible with the tablet you want before making a final decision.
Battery Life: A tablet’s tech specs don’t matter if its battery only lasts a couple of hours. We made sure to choose tablets that get at least seven hours of battery life — some get over 10 hours per charge.
Creation vs. Consumption: The big debate in the tablet world is whether they’re meant for consumption (watching videos, reading articles, using apps) or creation (making videos, writing articles, building apps). Think about how you want to use your tablet; is it a device you want to pick up when you’re hanging out after work? Are you using it to get work done? Or is it a little bit of both?
Cellular: All of the tablets in our guide support the two big wireless technologies: WiFi, to connect to the internet, and Bluetooth, to connect to accessories like keyboards, headphones, speakers, and styluses. But some tablets also support cellular connectivity, which allows them to access the internet through a cell phone provider’s wireless network, like a smartphone.
Cellular connectivity can be activated through any major US carrier, and requires a monthly fee. If you often find yourself working out of the house, but don’t want to be confined to a coffee shop (or deal with hotel WiFi), it may be worth the extra cost.
1. Apple iPad (Seventh Generation)
The word “iPad” has been synonymous with tablets for over a decade, and the seventh-generation version is the best option for most people.
Its 10.2 inch screen has a resolution of 2,160 x 1,620 pixels, which is higher than HD; videos, images, graphics, and text will look extremely clear on this display. It only comes with 32GB of storage though, and can’t be upgraded after the fact. That’s still more than enough space for casual use, but if you plan on using the iPad more seriously, you should consider getting the 128GB model instead.
In terms of battery life, Apple says the Seventh-Generation iPad gets 10 hours of use per charge. This will vary depending on your screen brightness settings, and the types of apps you use. Light web browsing requires far less power than video editing for example.
This iPad is available in a cellular version, which we’re recommending because it extends this tablet’s use cases even further. Carrying around a powerful tablet with the ability to connect to the internet almost everywhere you go gives it an additional leg up over traditional computers.
The Seventh-Generation iPad runs iOS, which means it can run tens of thousands of apps, from games, to video streaming services, and a full suite of productivity software. Microsoft’s Office suite and Photoshop are two prime examples of computer-class apps that have iPad versions, but the App Store is full of choices to sample. Each app was tailor-made to run on the iPad, so you won’t run into any compatibility problems.
iOS also has the distinction of being a lot more security-minded, so an overwhelming majority of potentially malicious apps are filtered before they’re available for download. Apple updates iOS with security patches and new features on a regular basis, so the experience stays fresh.
Its wide array of apps — plus accessories like the Apple Pencil stylus, and a variety of Bluetooth keyboards, trackpads, and mice — allows you to use the iPad as a credible replacement for your laptop. I’ve started moving away from using a Mac for writing and image editing because doing these tasks on the iPad is easier and more comfortable. When I’m done with work, the iPad becomes my go-to device for reading articles, browsing the web and light gaming.
Apple’s Seventh-Generation iPad is a great choice if you want a device that can handle both fun and serious tasks without any major roadblocks.
Pros: A high-resolution screen, robust app store, cellular connectivity.
Cons: Low base storage with no way to upgrade later.
2. Amazon Fire Tablet
Amazon’s Fire 7 Tablet is a great basic tablet for content consumption. It has a seven-inch, 1024 X 600 display, which isn’t HD, so you’ll notice some graininess when reading text and watching videos. Still, it’s not enough to be overly distracting. It only has 16GB of internal storage, but you can add more (up to 512GB) by inserting a MicroSD Card.
Because it’s so small, the Fire 7 doesn’t have a huge battery, but Amazon says it can get up to seven hours per charge. That’s enough time to watch a handful of full-length movies, or read a good chunk of a book. Amazon has cellular options for its Kindle e-readers, but has not extended this feature to its tablets. These tech specs make the Fire 7 Tablet a great choice for casual uses like streaming videos, reading, browsing the web, and posting on social media.
This tablet runs Android, which means you can download a wide variety of apps, but not many of them are geared toward productivity. You can download a text editor for writing, but you won’t find apps for high-resolution photo or video editing here. Another notable app omission is YouTube — Amazon and Google have had several disagreements over the years, which haven’t been resolved.
If you need a small tablet to use on an airplane, or browse the internet on your couch, the Fire 7 Tablet is a great choice. That’s doubly true for Amazon Prime members, because all of your Prime Video, Prime Music, Kindle, and Audible libraries will be immediately downloaded when you log into the tablet for the first time. If you live in Amazon’s world, this is a great way to access all of its content in one place.
Pros: Small, upgradable storage, Amazon Prime Members can sync all their content to it automatically.
Cons: Lower-resolution screen, lower battery life.
3. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
The Surface Pro 7 is Microsoft’s latest solution for bridging the divide between tablets and traditional computers.
In terms of technology, this is by far the most technically-advanced tablet in our guide. Its 12.3-inch screen has a resolution of 2736 x 1834, which is larger and sharper than the display on the other tablets we’ve recommended. It comes with 128GB of storage, which you can expand by inserting a MicroSD card, or plugging in a flash drive.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 7 can get up to 10.5 hours on a single charge, which is pretty impressive, but again, your experience will vary based on how you use the tablet. The one feature it doesn’t have is cellular connectivity, which is slightly disappointing considering how fully-loaded the Surface Pro 7 is otherwise.
This tablet’s standout feature is that it runs the full version of Windows 10 that you’d find on a PC laptop or desktop. That means you can use the desktop version of apps instead of ones specifically made for tablets, including a full web browser and any Windows-compatible games. Your performance will vary based on the game, specs of your machine, and in-game settings, but you still have that option if you want it.
This strength is a double-edged sword, though. On one hand, running the latest versions of Microsoft Office and Photoshop the day they’re released instead of waiting for a specific iOS or Android version is great. But it also means these versions of the apps weren’t necessarily designed with touch in mind, so you may run into some compatibility issues. It also means less tech-savvy users may have a harder time using the Surface Pro 7.
Still, the ability to use your tablet as a non-compromised computer can be really useful. Microsoft made sure to optimize Windows 10 for touch, so navigating around the operating system and accessing all of its features and settings will work fine. If you’ve been a Windows user for life, you already know how the Surface Pro 7 works, and won’t have to learn a whole new system.
While the Surface Pro 7 works just fine as a tablet, you can pair it with the Surface Pen, which is a high-performance stylus, and a Surface Pro Type Cover, which is a keyboard with a trackpad. Both of these let you use this tablet more like a traditional computer or productivity tool.
Microsoft has done a valiant job of making Windows a desktop and mobile operating system, and the Surface Pro 7 is proof of that. It’s a tablet you can use for all of your leisure needs, and a full-on laptop for getting work done. It’s a best-of-both-world approach with surprisingly few compromises.
Pros: The Surface Pro 7’s tech specs and operating system makes it a fully-fledged computer in the form of a tablet.
Cons: Some apps may not be optimized for touch, Windows isn’t the most user-friendly operating system for less tech-savvy users.