What is the best tablet you can buy?
Tablets are one of tech’s most versatile purchases. You can use them to watch films, send emails, browse the web or even make music. If the size of your phone screen just doesn’t cut it and you don’t want a laptop, then a tablet is the perfect companion.
There are many great tablets out there – iPads are obvious choices – but there are several we’d recommend for you depending on your budget, needs and taste in design. And of course, there are many terrible tablets out there, but rest assured – none of those features in our ranked chart.
Best Tablets 2021
1. Apple iPad Air (2020) – Best overall
The iPad Air 2020 is a huge glow up for Apple’s mid-range tablet, ditching the ageing design for something more industrial and modern.
Of course, it can’t quite compete with the 120Hz ProMotion display tech or Face ID on offer from the Pro range, but if you can live without those luxuries, the 2020 Air is all the Pro most people will really need.
You get a great design, Touch ID, bright colour options, a gorgeous high-resolution full-screen display – albeit with slightly larger bezels than the Pro model – and compatibility with Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil, accessories previously exclusive to Apple’s high-end tablet.
The A14 Bionic – the same chipset found in the iPhone 12 range – is a beast that can handle just about anything you throw at it with ease, and although it’s not quite as powerful as the iPad Pro range, it’s more than enough for the average joe.
The hike in price can be a hard pill to swallow, but if you can justify the extra spend, you’re essentially getting an iPad Pro in Air’s clothing.
Read our full Apple iPad Air (2020) review
2. iPad 10.2in (2020) – Great for productivity
It might look the same as just about every iPad from the past few years, but Apple has again created a tablet that’s very hard to complain about.
There might not be enough here to tempt owners of the seventh-gen iPad, but there’s a lot to love here if you’re coming from an older iPad or want to dip your toe into the iPad experience for the first time.
Apple has made the 10.2in screen brighter this time around and, most importantly, upgraded the ageing A10 to the A12 Bionic, offering significant performance gains compared to 2019’s iPad and most Android tablets on the market.
iPadOS is also maturing, offering a suite of tablet-focused features like Scribble that really elevate Apple’s tablet range above the competition, even at such a cheap price point. The only complaint? The 32GB of storage on the entry-level option – we’d recommend going for the larger 128GB variant, if possible.
Storage aside, this is a great all-rounder tablet and a particularly good buy if you want to use an Apple Pencil.
Read our full Apple iPad 10.2in (2020) review
3. iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) – Great for artists
Apple’s newest 12.9in iPad Pro is among the most powerful tablets on the market right now, with the new A12Z chipset beating just about every competitor in benchmark tests, but it’s also one of the most expensive options in our chart.
The huge 120Hz 12.9in display is great for graphic design work, watching movies and browsing social media, but it’s not until you pair it with the Magic Keyboard that the Pro’s real potential becomes clear.
This is one of the few tablets that can truly serve as a laptop replacement, albeit a very pricey one. It’s Apple’s best tablet, but if you’re not going to get full use out of the large display and powerful internals, you’d probably be better off with a standard iPad or the latest Air.
Read our full iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) review
4. Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ – Best for Android
Samsung’s most accomplished tablet to date, the Galaxy Tab S7+ nails the fundamentals with its display, performance and design, whilst also boasting exciting embellishments in the form of excellent stereo speakers and a solid in-display fingerprint scanner.
You also get a decent set of cameras and the impressive S-Pen stylus in the box, but the software is a bit of a letdown. Many apps on the Google Play Store simply aren’t optimised for Android tablets, so you just get scaled-up clones that wast screen real-estate and lack additional functionality.
While such quirks won’t likely be a dealbreaker for most people, when you consider how polished iPadOS is by comparison, the Tab S7+ does become a little harder to recommend.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ review
5. Lenovo Tab P11 Pro – Great for entertainment
The Lenovo Tab P11 Pro is a great choice for media-lovers, thanks to its superb display, solid quad-speaker setup and respectable battery life.
The additional flexibility afforded to users by the dedicated keyboard cover and the Lenovo Precision Pen 2 widen the Tab’s appeal too.
If it weren’t for the fact that it feels a little underpowered and the UI quirks that we ran into during testing, this would be an immediate alternative recommendation to the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S series.
Read our full Lenovo Tab P11 Pro review
6. Apple iPad Air (2019) – Great value
While the 2020 model ups the ante, the 2019 Air is still a fast machine with a large, well-specced screen, long battery life and an attractive (if old-fashioned) design. Traits like the characteristic Home button and the inclusion of a headphone jack will be seen as plus points by many.
It’s still a good value slate considering all those goodies mentioned, while those on a tight budget will be better served by the iPad 10.2in, and the Pro model is probably better for a creative professional.
Read our full Apple iPad Air (2019) review
7. Microsoft Surface Pro 7 – Best for Windows
The Surface Pro 7 is a powerful tablet that doubles as a decent laptop if you opt for the Type Cover case, although trying to actually use it in your lap is a challenge not many will succeed with.
The improved internals and upgraded graphics are where the Pro 7 really shines. It’s certainly more powerful than the Pro X, and it’s a massive jump forward from the Surface Pro 6 too. It’s still not a gaming laptop, mind you, and cheaper standard laptops can offer more in terms of raw power, however, you’ll lose that versatile design by going that route.
If you’re going to get the use out of the portability and flexible nature of this 2-in-1, then the Pro 7 is worth considering, that said, there are more powerful laptops at a similar price, if processing grunt is key.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review
8. Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite – Very versatile
The Galaxy Tab S6 Lite is definitely more of a basic productivity and entertainment slate, rather than a laptop replacement, but that means its talents lie in its featherweight design, its affordability and as a brilliant tool for note-taking.
That said, it’s not the only contender in the mid-range tablet space with Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab S5e still trumping the S6 Lite in a few key areas, albeit at a greater cost overall.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite review
9. Apple iPad Mini (2019) – Most compact
The iPad Mini proves that this form factor is still desirable and useful, even in an age of larger smartphones. With the A12 processor at an affordable base price, Apple’s smallest tablet is a tiny powerhouse of a computer.
Yes, the design is eight years old but with the addition of Apple Pencil support and with decent battery life, Apple has breathed new life back into the iPad Mini. Not everyone wants or needs to spend £1,000+ on an iPad Pro.
Read our full Apple iPad mini (2019) review
10. Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus (2020) – Best for kids
Amazon refreshed its 8in Fire tablet for 2020, with more memory and wireless charging, which in turn enables Amazon Echo Show mode; so you can summon Alexa and check the weather with your voice.
While performance isn’t markedly different from the previous Fire HD 8, this model will last longer and we’d say the addition of the wireless charging dock is wholly worthwhile if you’re considering picking one of these slates up.
Read our full Amazon Fire HD 8 (10th gen) review
Your buying guide to the best tablets in 2021
While Apple has something of a hold on the tablet conversation, there are great Android alternatives from Samsung, Huawei and Amazon. And if you need a tablet with full Windows, Microsoft is there for you with Surface.
Should I buy an Android, Windows or iOS tablet?
If you’re on a tight budget, you should be reading our best budget tablets roundup. And if you’re looking for a tablet for your child, check out our best kids’ tablets article.
But if you want the best, you’ve got four main choices: an iPad, an Android tablet an Amazon Fire tablet or a Windows tablet.
Apple iPads run Apple’s own iPadOS operating system which is widely regarded as one of the best out there. It’s easy to use and app makers usually make it their first choice, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find what you’re after.
If you have an iPhone, then it’ll also be very familiar.
This is valuable when you buy accessories that require apps – mainly smart home or fitness gadgets – as you may not be able to control these from a Windows tablet.
In most cases, apps are made available on Android as well as iPads, but not always. Android tablets can be cheaper than iPads, but there are some Samsung models which cost the same or are more expensive.
Windows tablets come in both cheap and expensive guises, but it has the advantage of being able to run the same programs you use on your laptop or PC – not just as many finger-friendly tablet apps as you’ll be used to on your phone or on an iPad.
And that’s why most Windows tablets come with a keyboard or offer it as an option: they’re really a hybrid of a laptop and tablet. But as you’ll find out in most of our Windows tablet reviews, this is rarely a case of getting the best of both worlds. One exception is the Surface Pro from Microsoft.
The fourth option is Amazon’s Fire tablets. These are based on Android but are locked into Amazon’s system: you won’t find any Google services or apps on them so bear this in mind. But they are very affordable.
And your neck muscles will thank you if you invest in an affordable tablet stand to improve your posture and reduce neck strain.
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