(Pocket-lint) – If you’re looking for the best new tablet to buy, you’ve come to the right place. While the iPad looms large over this category, there’s actually still plenty of choice in tablets both big and small – all of which we’ve reviewed.
Only devices we have reviewed in full appear on this list, but we cover all operating systems and all sizes. We’ve also included some 2-in-1 devices that are basically full Windows PCs, but the key is that they have a detachable keyboard rather than being a laptop – check out our guide to the best laptops as well.
And although we’ve got a selection of 2-in-1s below, we’ve also got a separate guide if you want even more.
Remember that in tablets, newest doesn’t always mean best – the tablet category moves a lot slower than phones, so a tablet that’s even a couple of years old is still worth considering. Here are the best tablets to consider, ordered by size.
Our guide to the best tablet to buy today
Apple iPad (2020)
The Apple iPad (2020) is the entry point into the larger iPads, offering a 10.2-inch display, Smart Connector for keyboard and accessory support. It misses a couple of features off its list compared to the more expensive iPads, such as Face ID, an anti-reflective display and True Tone, but this tablet remains one of the best affordable tablets money can buy at this size.
It has the ideal performance for apps and media consumption, an affordable price point, Apple Pencil support (first gen) and iPadOS is excellent for multi-tasking. Despite numerous other iPad options, the iPad 10.2 (2020) is the perfect iPad option for many – as there’s no better entry-level tablet around.
Amazon Fire 7
The Amazon Fire 7 won’t win any awards for its design, but it does offer a solid build, great value for money and seamless integration with your Amazon account. Its screen resolution isn’t the best, it’s not the quickest to charge and the battery life could be better, but the Fire 7 is easy to recommend for anyone looking for a tablet for kids.
If you want something larger than your phone for browsing and shopping, or watching catch-up TV or movies in bed, then Fire 7 is a great choice. It’s a tablet that is so affordable, it’s almost disposable. As a bedside companion or travel pacifier for the children, the Fire 7 should be the among first devices that you consider.
Amazon Fire 8 HD
The Fire HD 8 sits in a sweet spot between Amazon’s incredibly good value Fire 7 and the larger Fire HD 10. While the performance and features of the Fire HD 8 betters those of the Fire 7, it also manages to outlast the Fire HD 10, making it a slightly more enticing proposition for those who want to travel with it.
The Fire HD 8 positions itself well for entertainment, especially for those who are Prime members, where the value for money cannot be disputed. Whether you’re a globetrotter, looking for a travel tablet, or just something to entertain your kids, the Fire HD 8 is well worth considering. At this price point, there’s very little else that comes close.
Apple iPad mini (2019)
The Apple iPad mini 5 is faster, slimmer and more accomplished than its predecessor. It’s now supremely powerful and is as much iPad as many people will need; a lovely, compact tablet with an anti-reflective screen coating that makes it good for watching movies, playing games, and reading or writing on the go.
As well as unparalleled power for its price point, the 2019 iPad mini retains the device’s most recognisable features: the 7.9-inch screen size alongside Touch ID. Expect Face ID to come to its successor, though.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e features most of the fundamentals of Samsung’s top-end Galaxy Tab S7+ but for a lot less money.
It offers excellent speakers – perfect for entertainment – a lovely bold OLED screen and a great battery life, along with a solid design.
There’s no stylus support and no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that’s pretty much as far as its weaknesses go.
Apple iPad Air
The Apple iPad Air (2020) is pricier than the iPad 10.2 above but it’s a lot like the more expensive iPad Pro models, just without the name and Face ID.
This iPad delivers a powerful and speedy performance, uniform bezels, Touch ID in the power button, USB-C, a battery life that will last all day, great features like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support and the iPadOS user interface only improves the experience. With a good price point, the iPad Air (2020) is a very compelling offering.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2020)
The 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro is a quite exceptional device that delivers a lovely design, fantastic display and brilliant performance that really is laptop-class. The second-generation Apple Pencil and redesigned keyboard might cost extra on top of an already pricey device, but they are great additions.
On the go, this model is a natural laptop replacement, making a number of things easier, especially with the iPadOS user interface. It might not completely replace the laptop in the office environment for everyone just yet, but it’s an exceptional tablet overall.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
Samsung’s latest flagship tablet is an absolute beast, and has a soaring price tag to match its specs.
You get a superb screen and brilliant internals to make for what is pretty clearly the all-round best Android tablet going right now. That said, being the best Android tablet doesn’t make you the best overall tablet, or indeed the best value.
However, if Android is your system of choice and you want a superb experience with no budgetary restrictions, this is a tempting option.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 has a refined design, a lovely keyboard that makes for a great typing experience – even if you do have to buy it separately – an excellent screen and plenty of power.
Battery life has improved over the previous generation and although this 2-in-1 tablet can get expensive to the point that a laptop might actually make more sense, it’s a really well made do-anything Windows device. With an official Type Cover clipped into place, the Surface Pro is a formidable machine that not only looks better than its rivals, but brings fewer compromises than many too.
How to buy a tablet
The range of tablets is very wide, from affordable budget models to deluxe, high-end devices. They have much in common (they’re a slab of glass or just occasionally plastic) and lots of differences (build quality, operating system, compatibility with a stylus or keyboard). Here are some of the questions you should be asking before you cough up your cash.
What size screen do you need?
Bigger screens mean a higher price. Do you want it primarily as an ebook reader, say, in which case a seven-inch model might do. But if you want to watch movies on it, or value the benefits of a big screen for everything from creative apps to games, then you’ll be looking a 10-inch display or bigger. Apple’s iPad has a 10.2-inch screen, the iPad Air is 10.9 inches and the iPad Pro comes in two screen sizes, 11-inch and 12.9-inch. Amazon’s tablets range from seven inches to 10.1 inches. Microsoft’s Surface tablets stretch from 10.5 inches to 13 inches.
How many apps does it have?
This is down to the operating system. Surface tablets have access to most or all the Windows 10 applications, Apple’s iPads use Apple’s iPadOS and runs more than a million apps, while Google’s Android tablets have even more, though not all are optimized for the larger screen of a tablet instead of a smaller phone display. The fourth operating system is Amazon’s Fire OS. This is essentially Android but heavily curtailed so that a much smaller number of apps work. That’s because Amazon tests everything before allowing it into the Fire OS set-up, but all the main apps are there. Finally, there’s Huawei’s system which is also a version of Android. Because the Chinese manufacturer is only allowed to use open-source Android, it doesn’t have access to Google’s services such as Google Maps, Play Store and Gmail. There are strong alternatives to most of the main apps and many big-name apps appear in Huawei’s App Gallery, the alternative to the Play Store. But there are still popular apps which are missing.
Do you need it to work with advanced styluses?
If you like drawing on your tablet, in art apps, or enjoy writing notes with a stylus, note that not all tablets have special versions. Any tablet will work with a stylus that has a sort of squidgy nib, but if you want something that’s more like an actual pen or pencil on paper, some tablets have their own solutions. All current Apple iPad models work with the excellent Apple Pencil (there are two versions, one works with the iPad and iPad mini, the other with the iPad Air and iPad Pro). Microsoft’s Surface series has its own stylus, as do some Samsung and Huawei tablets.
Can you connect a keyboard and if so, how much will it cost?
Many tablets have keyboard accessories, which connect wirelessly by Bluetooth or by special hardwired connectors, such as the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, for instance. Microsoft has the Type Cover which protects the display and works as an effective keyboard. The advantage of a keyboard or keyboard cover is that it turns the tablet into a decent laptop substitute. The disadvantage is that in almost every case they are optional accessories and can be expensive (the Magic Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is magnificent, but it costs £349).
How about cameras?
Let’s be clear, if you’re buying a tablet to get a camera, you’re doing it wrong. Tablets are ergonomically completely unsuited to being a useful camera apart from for one feature – the large display makes for a great place to frame your shots. Even so, few tablets have outstanding cameras, and the photographic aspects probably shouldn’t be your priority in buying the tablet.
How much can you spend?
How much have you got? No, seriously, the range of prices is remarkable, from £49.99 for the Amazon Fire 7 Tablet to £2,149 for the latest iPad Pro with maximum storage. You’ll likely want to spend somewhere in between. Amazon’s tablets are sold practically at cost and lack the exquisite build quality of the iPad range. Mind you, low price and high value aren’t always the same thing.
Additional reporting by David Phelan
Writing by Britta O’Boyle and Dan Grabham.