The best tablets you can buy

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Best tabletApple/Business Insider
  • Tablets are ideal for kids, travellers, and professionals – it just depends on which one you buy.

  • The best tablet for most people is Apple’s 2018 9.7-inch iPad, but we’ve also included a number of other excellent tablets that are best for different uses.


When I was a kid, and our family went on a long car ride, my parents would keep us entertained by making us play games like I Spy, Don’t Hit Your Brother, and Who Can Stay Quietest the Longest. These days, though, kids are just as likely to have a tablet screen in the backseat, watching movies or playing games while wearing headphones.

Tablets have contributed to the parental bliss of silence in the car like few other inventions.

Beyond that, tablets are interesting pieces of technology, giving you a nice mix of computer processing capabilities and entertainment on a touchscreen.

If you already own a laptop and a smartphone – and you don’t have the need to entertain kids in the backseat – you may wonder whether you also need a tablet. Depending on how you use your current pieces of tech and based on what else you’d like to do, a tablet can be a great addition.

We’ve picked the best tablets you can buy in several different categories, including ones that are best for kids, professionals, and travellers. We’ve tested all but one of these tablets personally, so you can trust our recommendations. If you need more guidance before you choose, read the last slide for everything you should know about buying a tablet.

Here are the best tablets you can buy:

Updated on 11/14/2018 by Malarie Gokey: Added the new 2018 iPad Pro. Also updated prices, formatting, and links.

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.


The best tablet for most people

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Why you’ll love it: The 2018 9.7-inch iPad is an absolute steal at $US330 with a gorgeous sharp screen, high-end metal design, and support for the Apple Pencil.

Apple’s iPads have always been the best tablets you can buy, but the high price tags made it tough to find an iPad on a budget. All that has changed with the 2018 9.7-inch iPad. It costs a mere $US330, and it offers nearly all of the same high-end specs and features as the top-of-the-line iPad Pros.

If you own an ageing iPad or iPad Mini, the new 9.7-inch iPad is an excellent upgrade. Obviously, if you have an iPad Air 2 or an iPad Pro, you don’t need to get the new one. The 2018 iPad is for anyone who has always wanted an iPad, but couldn’t afford the $US500+ price tag. It’s an absolute steal at $US329.99.

We compared it to Amazon’s Fire HD 10 tablet, and there was no doubt that the iPad is the better buy.

The 9.7-inch screen is sharp and clear with its 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution, the A10 processor is very capable (even though it’s not the iPhone X’s A11 chip), the battery life should be great, and you can even buy things on it with Apple Pay, thanks to the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Best of all, it supports the Apple Pencil, an incredible stylus with virtually no lag. You will have to pay $US100 extra for the Pencil, but if you like to take notes or draw on your iPad, it is well worth it. Naturally, any Bluetooth keyboard also works with the iPad, so if you want to use it as a quasi-laptop, you can pick up a great keyboard.

You simply can’t beat those specs at that price point. Comparable Android tablets cost hundreds of dollars more, and the iPad still has a better app library and accessory support.

The aluminium build looks and feels premium, and the 9.7-inch screen size makes it a very portable device that’s easy to stow away in your bag. It’s quite light, too, so you can happily binge-watch Netflix in bed on your new iPad. Tech nerds will say it’s a boring old design, but it’s tried and true. Plus, the aluminium build is durable. – Malarie Gokey

Pros: Incredible price for an iPad, powerful A10 processor, slick aluminium design, Touch ID for security and Apple Pay, gorgeous screen, supports the Apple Pencil, iOS 11

Cons: Not the latest A11 processor found on the iPhone X

Buy the 9.7-inch Apple iPad at Walmart for $US314.97+ (price varies by storage and connectivity)

Buy the Apple Pencil at Walmart for $US95 (originally $US99.99)

Buy the 9.7-inch Apple iPad from Apple for $US329+ (price varies by storage and connectivity)


The best Android tablets

Malarie Gokey/Business Insider

Why you’ll love them: The 8.4- and 10.8-inch Huawei MediaPad M5 tablets are excellent high-end Android devices with sharp screens and a slick aluminium design.

If you want a high-end tablet that runs Android, your choices are fairly limited – or at least, they were. Huawei recently introduced two new MediaPad tablets that have slick aluminium builds, sharp screens, and solid processing power. If you want an Android tablet that’s more or less on-par with the iPad, Huawei’s are the best.

We tested both tablets for several weeks to put them through their paces, and they excelled at all the tasks we expect a tablet to handle with ease: streaming video, playing games, and handling web browsing.

The 8.4-inch MediaPad is the most portable of the two and the easiest to hold one-handed. Its slim design, light weight, and aluminium casing make it the perfect tablet to stash in your bag when you travel or commute. It’s also very comfortable to use at home on the couch or in the bed when you want to kick back with Netflix.

Huawei’s larger 10.8-inch MediaPad is also very high-end with the same sturdy aluminium casing as the smaller model. The larger screen is an obvious plus for people who love to watch video on their tablets, and it’s not so large that you can’t travel with it.

Both the 8.4 and 10.8-inch versions of the tablet have crisp 2K screens with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. We watched Netflix on both tablets and the colours, contrast, and overall image quality of both tablets’ screens was impressive. You can also download quite a few movies and shows from Netflix or Prime Video for offline access, thanks to the 64GB of storage onboard.

The audio quality on the 10.8-inch MediaPad was quite a bit better, largely because it has four speakers versus the two found on the smaller version. However, both tablets sound quite good, thanks to Harmon Kardon’s tuning and Huawei’s inclusion of the AK4376 audio chip and its Histen technology for Hi-Res audio.

The great screen quality combined with these speakers make both the new MediaPads ideal for watching video or playing games – the two main reasons why people buy tablets. Beyond looking good and sounding great, the MediaPad tablets also perform well, thanks to Huawei’s speedy Kirin 960 Octa-core processor and 4GB of RAM.

As far as battery life goes, the 8.4-inch tablet has a 5,100mAh battery that’s good for about 11 hours of video playback, while the 10.8-inch tablet has a 7,500mAh battery that should last you about 12 hours when playing video.

When it comes time to juice the tablets back up, Huawei’s Quick Charge tech fully charges the 8.4-inch tablet in about 2 hours and the 10.8-inch tablet in about 3 hours. Not too shabby!

Although a tablet isn’t a necessity, it’s a nice thing to have for entertainment while you travel, commute, or relax at home. The 8.4-inch MediaPad will cost you $US320, which is just $US10 less than the new 9.7-inch iPad. However, you do get double the storage on the Huawei tablet, so it’s a good deal.

Of course, the 10.8-inch MediaPad costs more, but it’s a reasonable price for such a large high-end tablet. – Malarie Gokey

Pros: Great screen, solid metal build, fast processors, good audio, 64GB of storage, 10-12 hour battery life during video viewing

Cons: Bit pricey

Buy the 8.4-inch Huawei MediaPad M5 on Amazon for $US319.99

Buy the 10.8-inch Huawei MediaPad M5 on Amazon for $US359.99 to $US449.99


The best Android tablet with a stylus

Samsung

Why you’ll love it: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 is as stylish as it is powerful, you can use it as a laptop in a pinch, and it comes with the superb S Pen stylus.

Samsung has been making excellent Android tablets for years, and its recently launched Galaxy Tab S4 continues that tradition. It’s a high-end Android tablet that can compete with Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro on nearly every level.

The Tab S4 is a stylish, well-made tablet with a metal frame and glossy glass back. It borrows design cues from Samsung’s Galaxy S9 phone, though the Tab S4’s screen has slightly bigger bezels around it. If you hate fingerprints or simply fear that the glass back is in danger of shattering or scratching, we recommend you check out Samsung’s keyboard case.

The keyboard case is sturdy and – with the help of Samsung’s DEX software – it turns your tablet into a quasi-laptop. When you dock the tablet in the keyboard, it asks if you want to switch to DEX mode. DEX mode basically turns the normal Android home screen into a laptop-like desktop. You can see files and icons on the screen and interact with apps and the web browser just like you would on a laptop or Chromebook.

Since it is Samsung’s own software built on top of Android running on this tablet and not ChromeOS, you don’t get quite as robust a laptop experience as you would with a Chromebook. However, DEX works well enough if you’re in a pinch and you need your tablet to become a laptop immediately.

Also, for those of you who don’t use a laptop for much other than web browsing and writing up documents, DEX will exceed your expectations. The software makes this tablet double as a laptop, but it is a tablet first and foremost.

Samsung sure knows how to make astonishingly beautiful screens. The Tab S4 has a gorgeous 10.5-inch display that supports HDR content. I watched lots of Netflix and Prime Video on the tablet, and I was really impressed by the clarity, colour reproduction, and intensity of the brilliant screen. The tablet’s 64GB of storage gives you ample space for downloads, and it’s expandable with a microSD card.

Every Tab S4 comes with Samsung’s new S Pen stylus, which is great for drawing and feels like a real pen. I love to draw on tablets, and I was impressed by the lack of lag on the Tab S4. Palm rejection was a little spotty in some apps, but overall, it’s a great tablet for drawing or note taking.

If you have $US650 to spend on a high-end Android tablet, you can’t do better than the Galaxy Tab S4. However, it is expensive for a tablet these days and if you want to use DEX mode to make it a laptop, too, you will have to pay more for the keyboard cover.

If you want a great tablet that works as a laptop in emergencies, but it. If you want a laptop that can be a tablet sometimes, buy Samsung’s Chromebook Pro instead – for $US50 less.– Malarie Gokey

Pros: Gorgeous screen, fast processor, S Pen stylus is included, and powerful speakers

Cons: Expensive and the glass back can easily break with rough handling

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 on Amazon for $US650


The best tablet under $US100

Amazon

Why you’ll love it: The Amazon Fire HD 8 is super affordable, but it still delivers a good set of features that you’ll enjoy using for watching videos and running apps.

Normally, you get what you pay for when it comes to technology. Once in a while though, you receive more than what you expect with a bargain-priced piece of tech.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 is going to surprise you with its sub-$US100 price tag and great performance. This certainly isn’t a tablet that’s going to compete with high-end iPads, but it has a good set of features for those who need only the basics from a tablet.

Insider Picks reporter Brandt Ranj tested the new Fire HD 8 and couldn’t believe how good it was for the price. If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get access to tons of popular TV shows, movies, and music on the tablet. The app selection is also very good, and if you read Kindle ebooks, this tablet is just the perfect size.

CNET says the Fire HD 8 is one of the best cheap tablets you can buy, although PC Mag says this tablet doesn’t work as well unless you have a subscription to Amazon Prime services. But it’s still a good value among tablet options.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 also offers good parental controls, so it’s a great tablet to give an older kid.

One Amazon buyer calls this tablet an amazing value that will perform all of the basic functions most people need from a tablet. However, a few other Amazon reviewers say the Fire HD 8 doesn’t last very long.

Pros: Extremely low price point, performs basic functions of a tablet well, offers expandable storage with a memory card slot, good for kids, works especially well for those with Amazon Prime accounts

Cons: Can’t compete with powerful iPads, battery charges very slowly, display size of just 8 inches

Buy the Amazon Fire HD 8 on Amazon for $US79.99


The best iPad Pro

Apple

Why you’ll love it: Apple’s new iPad Pro comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes with specs that are so high-end they surpass some laptops.

The new iPad Pro is a work of art – It has slimmed down bezels, a stunning sharp screen in two sizes, an absurdly powerful processor, and tons of great accessories to go with it, including the Apple Pencil.

You can get it in 11- and 12.9-inch screen sizes to suit your preferences. The 12.9-inch screen is great for digital artists who need room to roam, while the 11-inch model is great for most people’s needs. Both iPad Pros have really high screen resolutions: 2,388-by-1,668 pixels (11-inch model) and 2,732-by-2,048 pixels (12.9-inch model).

Regardless of which model you buy, the iPad Pro is a powerhouse. The A12X Bionic processor is so high-powered it can surpass some laptops. Apple’s entry-level model comes with 64GB of storage, but you can get up to 1TB if you want to spend a whole lot of money.

We recommend picking up the new Apple Pencil if you like to take notes or draw. It may cost $US129, but it is worth it – The Pencil is the best stylus I’ve ever used, and the new version even charges wirelessly and magnetically attaches to your iPad for easy storage.

Apple’s Keyboard will also cost you a pretty penny, so we recommend going for a third-party case and keyboard.

There are three downsides to the iPad Pro, as we see it: It’s expensive, it won’t replace your laptop, and you have to pay extra for the keyboard and the stylus. Otherwise, it’s a great tablet that’s well worth the cost – if you have the money. – Malarie Gokey

Pros: Gorgeous screens, new design with smaller bezels, excellent specs, high-end performance, Pencil is superb for drawing, two screen sizes

Cons: Very expensive, not a laptop replacement, accessories are extra

Buy the iPad Pro from Best Buy for $US799 or $US999

Buy the second-generation Apple Pencil at Best Buy for $US129


The best tablet for kids

Amazon

Why you’ll love it: If you always feel a little nervous handing your mobile devices to your kids, the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet comes with a tough case to keep it safe.

Kids aren’t always the most careful when it comes to taking care of electronics. Just search YouTube for video of kids dropping smartphones in the toilet, and you’ll see the tip of the iceberg of what kinds of destruction children can cause.

The Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition provides a tough case that will protect the tablet, even if the child drops the tablet (as long as it’s not dropped in a toilet). Laptop Mag says parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to use the Fire 7 because of the two-year accidental-damage warranty it comes with.

Although the sound quality of the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet is below average,Wired says the small size of this tablet with a 7-inch screen works great for young children.

There’s a lot of children’s content on the Amazon tablet, along with several features for setting up parental controls, which is great. You will have to download the content through apps before accessing the content, says one Amazon customer, but the tablet’s simple interface works great for kids to operate on their own.

However, a few Amazon reviewers say the tablet runs so slowly that using it can be a frustrating experience. This admittedly isn’t the most powerful tablet, as it features below-average processor speed and less-than HD resolution on the screen.

Pros: Great price for a tablet designed for kids, includes a tough exterior case that will protect the tablet if the child drops it, includes a two-year replacement warranty for any damage that occurs

Cons: Doesn’t contain powerful components, only a 7-inch screen, tablet runs slower than most models

Buy the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition on Amazon for $US99.99


How to pick the right tablet for you

Amazon

Operating systems for tablets

As with smartphones and laptops, you can choose among a few different types of operating systems with tablets. Picking the right OS will enhance your enjoyment of the tablet you select.

  • Apple’s iOS: For many people, the name iPad is synonymous with tablets. Although the iPad wasn’t the first tablet on the market, it’s credited with making tablets popular and invigorating the tablet market in 2010. The iPad runs Apple’s iOS operating system, which also powers the iPhone. iOS has a great interface and works equally well on a smartphone or tablet screen. There are tons of special apps made for the iPad, which makes it an excellent investment. However, because only Apple-branded iPads can run iOS, you’ll pay more for them versus tablets with other operating systems.
  • Google’s Android: You also may be familiar with the Android operating system, managed by Google. Android powers many different kinds of smartphones. It’s also very user-friendly and offers tons of apps. There are numerous Android tablets to choose from, and they range in price from under $US10 to around $US600 and up.
  • Amazon’s Fire OS: Fire OS is a special ecosystem, rather than an operating system, as it runs on top of Android. Basically, it brings Amazon’s services to the forefront of the OS and you download apps from Amazon’s app store. Amazon also has special software for kids on its kid-friendly tablets. These Fire tablets are much more affordable than any other kind of tablet.
  • Microsoft’s Windows: Microsoft has tweaked the Windows operating system to make it far more user-friendly than older versions of Windows, meaning it works equally well with a traditional desktop computer or a touchscreen tablet. When running Windows on a tablet, you’ll have access to a lot of traditional software, but you’ll find a significant lack of apps compared to Apple or Android. However, since these tablets run Windows, they can be used as full laptops.

What to look for in a tablet

Tablets have a lot of different strengths, depending on the one you choose. Think about what you want to do with the tablet, and you’ll be able to find one that will perfectly meet your needs.

  • Battery Life: Completing a really long car trip in successful silence may depend on whether your tablet has a long battery life. Battery life typically can range anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the tablet model and screen size. Seven hours is about average.
  • Connectivity: Different tablets allow you to make a connection to the Internet in a few different ways. Most will offer Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to connect to your home or work network. Others also include the ability to connect to a cellular network, much like a smartphone, and access the Internet through the cell network. However, you must have a cellular account with a monthly fee to use it.
  • Fast Processor: Look at the CPU and GPU chips included in your tablet. Newer, more powerful chips will give you faster performance levels. Some Windows tablets even have laptop-level processors inside, so you can use them as portable PCs. However, you will pay more for more power.
  • Keyboard: Most tablets are able to connect to a physical keyboard for typing, making it easier to input data into the tablet versus using the digital keyboard on the screen. Some tablets are 2-in-1 devices, meaning the keyboard/screen configuration looks more like a laptop because the two are connected. You then can fold up the keyboard to make it work like a tablet.
  • RAM: RAM is the amount of memory used to operate software and apps. This is different from the type of memory used for data storage. The more RAM you have available on the tablet, the better it will perform, but the more you’ll have to pay.
  • Screen Resolution: Tablets that can display more pixels will have a sharper image that looks great. If you want to watch movies on the tablets, having a resolution of at least full HD quality (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) will be very desirable.
  • Screen Size: The size of the tablet’s screen marks the most important feature for most people. Larger screens work better for things like watching movies, drawing, or playing games. Of course, screen size plays a direct role in the size of the tablet, too. So if you want a smaller tablet, you’ll want a smaller screen.
  • Storage: Tablets have an interior solid state drive (or SSD) for storing apps, movies, games, and more. You may be able to add more storage through a Micro SD memory card, although not all tablets have a memory card slot. Some tablets rely on cloud storage for extra storage. You may want extra storage for movies, books, and games.
  • Stylus: Some people love having a stylus for working with the tablet, especially if they’re drawing by freehand. Not every tablet can make use of a stylus, and some stylus pens don’t work as well as others. So if you need one, do your homework to find a tablet that can take full advantage of the features of the stylus.

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