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There's no feeling quite like holding one of today's best tablets in your hands. With slick, roomy displays and snappy processors, these powerfully portable devices help you stay entertained, informed, connected, and productive anywhere you go.
Whatever you're looking to do with your tablet, there are so many options in terms of screen size, price range, and operating system that you're bound to find one that meets your needs. Apple's iPad line continues to represent the top tier of quality as well as price, but Android tablets also offer a diverse selection for any budget, and Windows offerings tend to toe the line between tablet and laptop.
Whether you already know what type of tablet you're looking for or are open to ideas, here are our expert recommendations to help you get your hands on the perfect portable companion.
Fast, powerful performance
Improved AR through LiDAR
Expensive, even before accessories
No headphone jack
The fourth generation of Apple's top-end iPad doesn't lose any of the impressive, market-leading features users have come to expect. The edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display is as bright and beautiful as ever, with a 2388x1688-pixel resolution at the 11-inch screen size and 2732x2048 pixels on the 12.9-inch screen. You can work and play harder than other tablets could only dream about, thanks to an A12Z Bionic processor that's faster than a lot of laptops. Its 8-core graphics chip also helps maximize performance on games, apps, and media editing.
One hardware improvement in the 2020 iPad Pro is a 10MP ultra-wide rear camera added along with the main 12MP one. Not that we condone people holding up large tablets in public places to take pictures, but the forward-thinking tablet adds other camera-related tricks. It uses Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, technology to rapidly scan the environment and load 3D objects onto it. Our reviewer could see a lot of potential to make augmented reality (AR) experiences faster, smoother, and more immersive.
The iPad Pro becomes even more powerful when paired with its latest accessory, the Magic Keyboard. Your tablet attaches magnetically to it and "floats" over the full-size keyboard. More significantly, trackpad support opens the iPad up to new worlds, working with swipe gestures as well as a smart, context-sensitive cursor that's precise and intuitive. When combined with the game-changing support for mouse control added in iPadOS (in addition to the Apple Pencil stylus), you have an iPad that comes closer than ever to taking over laptop duties.
"Thanks to more powerful components and a hybrid OS, the iPad Pro is no longer just a tablet. It’s a computer in a screen just waiting for a keyboard and mouse." — Lance Ulanoff, Lifewire Editor-in-Chief
Large, bright HD display
Restricted Amazon operating system
Struggles with multitasking
The Fire HD 10 might not be the best tablet you can buy, but it is the most popular. As Amazon’s newest and biggest Fire tablet, it’s the company's first step into truly competing with the larger Galaxy and Apple tablets, and it costs merely a fraction of the price. It's available in three colors (black, blue or red), two sizes (32GB or 64GB) and with or without the ad-supported special offers. That all feels pretty standard for the Fire series, so let’s move on to the coolest part, which is the number of features you get for that bargain price.
For starters, that screen comes with a full 1080p resolution (1920 x 1200 pixels at 224 pixels per inch), so you’ll be able to post up and watch stunning movies and play HD video games with unbelievable clarity. They’ve even built in an interesting “in-plane-switching” LCD tech that offers less glare and more viewing angles. Even the stereo speakers on the Fire 10 sound as much like ones that belong in your home.
There’s a quad-core 1.2 GHz/1.4 GHz processor set with two times the RAM of the last-gen of the Fire, so it won’t choke on any streaming you throw at it. The battery lasts up to 10 hours, so you’ll be able to do exactly what you’re supposed to do with a tablet—enjoy it on the go without having to be tethered to an outlet. The cameras on the front and back aren’t much to write home about, but the rear does offer 2MP of quality with the ability to shoot 720p video. Round that out with built-in Amazon Alexa functionality for summoning assistance and controlling your smart home, and factor in the durability (they’re calling it more durable than the iPad Pro 10.5-inch tablet), and you’ve got an absolute steal for the price.
"This is a device most suited to streaming video, running 2D or low-poly 3D games, and moving between a few social media apps." — Jordan Oloman, Product Tester
Excellent AMOLED display
Included S Pen stylus
Pricey for an Android tablet
Since you're going to be carrying around a larger screen than your phone, your tablet display better look great. Samsung is well aware of this, using Super AMOLED technology to give their touchscreens some of the best contrast and color range you'll see. On the company's high-end Galaxy Tab S6, which translates to 287ppi on a 10.5-inch screen at 2560x1600-pixel resolution that's among the brightest, sharpest, and most vibrant displays you'll see.
As a whole, the Tab S6 is one of the best Android tablets money can buy—if you know you want to spend good money on an Android tablet. The competing iPad Pro may have the edge in processing power, but the Tab S6's Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip is more than enough for what most users will throw at it. It's also thinner, lighter, and has a longer battery life, listed at 15 hours. Plus, it ships with the S Pen, an impressive stylus you can use to write, doodle, and control your tablet remotely. Our hands-on experience with the S Pen's latest iteration found it much more comfortable to hold, and there's now a magnetic indent for storing and charging it at the back of the Tab S6.
"Playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the imagery was smooth, sharp, and colorful on the Tab S6’s capable Super AMOLED display." — Lance Ulanoff, Lifewire Editor-in-Chief
Portable size and weight
Long battery life
Affordable price point
Better performance from iPad Mini
Lower price from Amazon tablets
Tablets today offer plenty of variety in screen size, including 8-inch displays that are too big for pockets but still very easy to tote around. The latest iteration of Samsung's affordable Tab A slate includes that option—there's a 10.1-inch model that offers more visual real estate, but the 8-inch, 1280x800-pixel version is where portability shines. It weighs about three-quarters of a pound and measures less than 8mm thick. Within that slim package are 2GB of RAM and a 2.0GHz quad-core chip that are plenty fast for most media.
Of course, you can't travel easily with a device if it keeps running out of power, so the Tab A's 5100mAh battery gives it a nice boost in that regard. Its estimated 13-hour battery life is better than the similarly sized (but more powerful) iPad Mini. Plus, since it costs much less than Apple's 8-inch tablet, you might be a little less concerned about something happening to it when you're out and about.
An even cheaper option would be a 7- or 8-inch Kindle Fire HD from Amazon, but those run on an Amazon-centric version of Android, so you miss out on the expansive Google Play store. If your priorities are Google Play apps, affordable pricing, and great portability, the Tab A has you covered.
Portable 8-inch size
Lightning port instead of USB-C
No Smart Keyboard support
The new iPad Mini comes with a powerful A12 Bionic chip and 64-bit architecture, which allows you to multitask with multiple apps running, share augmented reality experiences with your friends, and play the hottest games with virtually no lag. You'll get 10 hours of battery life before needing a charge, and the specs all fit inside the sleek and lightweight design (it's 0.24 inches thick and weighs 0.66 pounds).
The Mini manages to make up for its smaller but more portable size by featuring a gorgeous 7.9-inch retina display, with an anti-reflective 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution. The screen makes your images and videos pop, with High Dynamic Range (HDR) support and two cameras, an eight-megapixel on the back, and a seven-megapixel on the front for FaceTime calls. There isn't an app this tablet can't handle, and anything you need to accomplish can be done on the run or while traveling — the Mini is just that versatile and nimble.
Colors come in rose gold, space gray, and classic silver models, and you can choose between 64GB of memory or 256GB.
"The unbeatable portability of the Mini makes it an ideal replacement for daily planners, notebooks (with GoodNotes 5), and small sketch pads." — Sandra Stafford, Product Tester
Lightweight but sturdy design
Great with Surface Type Cover keyboard
Needs extra accessories to shine
If you like the simplicity, portability, and affordability of tablets, but you’d like a bit more versatility, Microsoft’s Surface Go lands at the crossroads of all those features. No matter what your configuration, you get a 10-inch PixelSense screen with an 1800 x 1200 resolution display that offers a tight 217 pixels per inch.
The lowest end model isn’t the most attractive, as the 64GB of eMMC storage isn’t going to be as quick as the SSD in upgraded models. But, whichever model you get will offer Windows on a sleek portable system and an Intel Pentium Gold processor. The Surface Go is also built to feel premium with a magnesium case. Starting at just 1.15 pounds, the newest model also wins the title for the lightest model of any Surface device.
Like the Surface Pro and Surface Book line, the Surface Go tablet gives you the option of using the device as a tablet or attaching it to a keyboard—sold separately in this case—so you can use it like a laptop. You can enjoy 9 hours of continuous use on one charge.
"The Microsoft Surface Go is better suited to be a device you keep in your bag and work on during your commute, or wherever else your primary laptop or PC is too clunky." — Jordan Oloman, Product Tester
Large Retina display
Most affordable iPad
Although there are three other iPads in Apple’s tablet lineup, the company has continued to offer its entry-level model, tweaking it most recently with an upgrade to a 10.2-inch screen and adding Apple’s Smart Connector, making it available across all of Apple’s current iPads.
While the basic iPad model still only includes an A10 Fusion chip (that’s plenty fast enough for the majority of casual use), there’s little advantage to a faster CPU for things like including web surfing, writing, simple graphic editing, and watching videos, making this more inexpensive iPad a great choice for a lot of users. You still get front and rear cameras for casual photography and FaceTime calls, and there’s a cellular model to help you stay connected while on the go.
This iPad still supports the Apple Pencil, allowing you to easily sketch and markup and annotate images and documents, and even add your signature. Meanwhile, the new iPadOS powers even more advanced productivity features, including a desktop-class web browser. Smart Connector, on the other hand, lets you plug in Apple’s Smart Keyboard, turning it into an ultra-slim laptop replacement. Then again, you can pair it up to just about any Bluetooth keyboard.
"If you don’t currently own a tablet and you’re in the market for one, buy the iPad (7th Generation): it’s that simple." — Ajay Kumar, Product Tester
Works brilliantly with keyboard cover
Now with USB-C port
Somewhat dated design
Essential keyboard adds extra cost
Microsoft may not have threatened Apple much in the traditional tablet market, but the Surface Pro line has found a delicate, valuable space in between tablets and laptops. The latest model, the Surface Pro 7, is a 2-in-1 device that's designed to be put to work. The tablet itself sports a vibrant 12.3-inch display bordered by pretty chunky bezels by today's standards, but you may not be holding it like a tablet much. Snap it into the Type Cover accessory and you can type away on one of the most comfortable backlit keyboards around.
As has always been the downside with Surface Pros, that keyboard that's so crucial to the experience doesn't actually come with the tablet, so you have to pay more to get the most out of a device you're already splurging on. But you do get impressive hardware for your investment, especially if you spring for the top-tier configuration: a 10th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB in storage. It's like a business laptop with extra flexibility—and Microsoft has added a handy USB-C port to the Pro 7, too.
As a whole, the product's 7th generation carries on the tradition of Surface Pro tablets as leading 2-in-1 productivity machines, but it does so without adding too much new. If you're hankering for something a little more forward-thinking in design and hardware, the always-connected Surface Pro X may be worth a look.
"The Surface Pro 7 transitions effortlessly from productivity to creativity to entertainment in a way that’s hard to replicate on any other device." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
Sturdy, grippable case
Unlimited content through FreeTime
Two-year no-questions warranty
Performance is limiting
Tablets can be a godsend for keeping kids entertained and out of your hair—the trickier part is making sure they have a device that's appropriate to them. That's where the Kids Edition of the Fire HD 8 joins the fun. In terms of hardware, it's the same as Amazon's regular 8-inch tablet, except encased in a kid-proof bumper available in eye-catching blue, pink, or yellow. It runs on the slow side with its 1.3GHz processor and 1.5GB RAM, but it's better than what the 7-inch Fire HD works with, so the speedier performance is worth the small price bump. Going the other direction, the Fire HD 10's increase in cost and screen size is likely more than a young user needs. You might say the Fire HD 8 is "just right" in terms of pricing, specs, and size for your baby bear's hands.
On the software side, all Kids Edition tablets come with a free year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited service, letting your child access tens of thousands of kid-friendly games, videos, books, and other apps without the risk of buying things they shouldn't, or without you having to individually pick out what to download or purchase. The range is pretty broad, so depending on your child's age, you may also want to customize parental controls to filter content, set time limits, and more. Adding additional peace of mind is Amazon's two-year "worry-free guarantee"—if the device breaks for any reason, the company will replace it, no questions asked.
"Our preschooler is constantly discovering new games and videos to enjoy on the FreeTime subscription, and it's easy for us as parents to make sure everything is appropriate." — Anton Galang, Lifewire Writer
Apple's iPad still sets the standard when it comes to pure tablets, and the iPad Pro is best of what they have to offer. It's beautiful to look at, powerful to use, and keeps making new strides in terms of peripheral support and augmented reality. If you don't have a luxurious budget, though, the Fire HD 10 is a popular choice for a very capable entertainment device at a very hard-to-beat price.
Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate tablets based on design, performance, display quality, functionality, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases, browsing and reading during a commute, working at home or at the office, and traveling. Our testers also consider each tablet as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.
Jordan Oloman is a tech writer whose work has appeared in several prominent tech and gaming publications. Beyond the devices in this article, he has tested a wide variety of tablets and other products for Lifewire.
Lance Ulanoff is Lifewire's Editor-in-Chief and an accomplished tech journalist with more than 30 years of experience. You can often catch him weighing in on tablets and other consumer electronics on TV programs like Live with Kelly and Ryan.
Sandra Stafford is a writer and educator who lends her expertise to a number of reviews on Lifewire, including various iPad models and other gadgets for people and their pets.
Ajay Kumar is a Lifewire Tech Editor who has worked for a decade in tech journalism and digital publishing, covering the industry and reviewing everything from tablets to games and hardware.
Anton Galang has 12+ years of experience in writing and editing, focusing on consumer tech and education. He believes in enjoying tablets for work and play—for kids of all ages.
Jonno Hill is a lifelong tech enthusiast who has written for top tech and culture websites, now testing and reviewing a variety of tablets, laptops, and other electronic essentials.
Screen size - The average tablet is around 10 inches, measured diagonally, but they can be as small as 8 inches and run up to 13.5. The screen size is really a personal preference, but for productivity purposes, it’s often the bigger the better. If you’re merely streaming a show or reading a book, a smaller screen should suffice.
Budget - You should definitely prepare to pay a premium for an Apple iPad, which can easily cost fives times that of a budget tablet. And the higher the screen resolution and the more powerful the processor, the more you can expect to pay. But Amazon makes some amazingly affordable options that still give you access to all the apps you could want, plus its Alexa personal assistant.
Battery life - Compared to smartphones, which barely make it through the day on a single charge, most tablets can last at least a couple days, depending on use, of course. Be sure to buy one with at least 10 hours of rated battery life and you’ll be good to go.