Have you ever tried working on a laptop in bed or on the train? Or carrying it on your back while hiking because you know you’ll have to work at the end of the hike? How about writing a lengthy email on your phone? While either of these devices is great at what they do, they have some really significant drawbacks too.
Tablet buying guide
Modern tablets mix the most loved features from portable TVs, smartphones, and laptops, proudly taking a unique spot in the gadget hierarchy. Yet, due to all the features packed, a tablet can also be among the most challenging buying decisions to make. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to shop with confidence.
The purpose of a tablet
The best way to start your tablet research is to figure out how it will be used. Some models are tailored to deliver superb entertainment, whereas others are optimized to support multitasking and working when you’re away from the office.
If you mainly need a tablet for watching movies, reading, or playing games, prioritize models with more extensive and higher-quality screens and accurate colours. A narrower aspect ratio (like 16:9 or 5:3) works best for streaming your favourite shows and films. Long battery life is essential, too, and gamers should look for models with powerful CPUs and fast processors. A model with good front- and rear-facing cameras will be handy if you’re into social media.
Nowadays, the best tablets can replace laptops, as many models have potent processors, compatible keyboards, and styluses. Consider a bigger screen if you have to multitask and a wider aspect ratio of 4:3. On smaller and narrower screens, things can look crowded and confusing. Also, look for sturdy, high-quality housing and the latest software with updated security features. A sleek and lightweight model will make your daily commuting more effortless and pleasant.
Types of tablets
A variety of tablet designs and configurations exist to meet different user needs.
Slate is the traditional standalone tablet and by far the most popular among users. The design was made popular by Apple, but now the market has become highly competitive. These tablets are available in various sizes and can be used either for professional or entertainment purposes. In addition, most models nowadays allow connecting external devices and accessories.
Convertible / two-in-one
Convertible/two-in-one tablets look like peculiar laptops as they come with a keyboard. Their most significant advantage is the typing convenience. The screen sometimes is integrated and can rotate 180 degrees, which is more convenient for work, as you can find the optimal angle. Some models feature removable keyboards.
Booklet tablets have a dual screen, and they can be folded like a laptop. These can be useful for multitasking; however, most models released so far did not gain much popularity, and many have been discontinued.
Rugged tablets are designed to endure harsh environments, such as extreme temperatures, shocks, drops, water, and dust. They are typically used in specific industries, for example, military, construction, or research. However, they are also bulkier and less stylish than the standard slates, which remain sturdy enough for consumer use.
Tablets for kids feature parental controls that allow limiting what apps their offspring can use. They tend to be cheaper and have more durable constructions. Most tablets designed for kids will have educational apps that combine learning with entertainment.
Choosing the operating system
The operating system manages all functions of a tablet; therefore, it is crucial to choose the interface that you like best. Most people nowadays are used to a particular OS and would not want to change it. However, if this is the first tablet you buy or you have no established preferences, there are three main options to choose from.
Apple iPadOS is a rebuilt variant of Apple iOS, optimized for tablets. It is available exclusively on Apple products. It offers the best apps, highly intuitive use, and top-class security features. However, Apple products are costly, and some users believe their advantages are not really worth the inflated price.
Google Android is the most used OS on tablets, including all models from popular brands like Samsung, Sony, or LG. Since Android is open source, every manufacturer can make some changes to it. That’s why some Android tablets are more user-friendly than others. With Android tablets, you’ll have a wider choice of models (in all price categories). However, not all manufacturers promptly upgrade their software, which may leave your device vulnerable to hacking. Furthermore, there are fewer Android apps for tablets (especially when it comes to software for professional purposes) compared to iPad OS. And several feel like stretched versions of smartphone apps without being optimized for use on a tablet.
Microsoft Windows is the most common OS on PCs but can be found on tablets, too. The biggest advantage is that everything that runs on your laptop will work on the tablet the same way. Thus, Windows tablets are very convenient for students or businessmen that occasionally need a more portable device. The downside is that not all apps that run on iOs or Android will also be available for Windows; however, the number of apps available is growing. The most prominent tablet manufacturers that use this OS are Lenovo, Acer, and, of course, Microsoft.
Important features to look for
Since modern tablets are highly versatile, comparing their extensive specs can feel confusing. Worry not; this is where we decipher all those crazy abbreviations and numbers. Keep reading, and you’ll be able to shop for your tablet like a pro.
Tablet screens are typically measured in inches, diagonally from one corner to another. Just like with the phones, there has been a tendency for larger slates to dominate the market, but more compact models are still available.
Up to 9 inches – these are the most compact tablets, convenient for browsing, accessing social media, or even reading. Tablets of at least 7 inches can also be used for gaming or videos, but they don’t offer the most immersive experience.
9.1-11 inches – models of this size are optimal for professional purposes. The screen is large enough for working with documents, but the device remains very compact and portable. Such tablets are also suitable for enjoying videos and games.
Above 11 inches – these are the most powerful and expensive tablets, often optimized for photo or video editing, multitasking, and other demanding work. Unsurprisingly, the large screen also makes such models unrivalled for entertainment. Many are compatible with keyboards and other accessories, which makes them convenient for office work.
If you plan to carry your tablet around, you might prefer a lighter model since it improves portability. Some larger tablets can easily weigh nearly 1000 grams, whereas more compact ones can be ~400-700 grams. The high-end models manage to combine a large screen with a low weight due to their slim profile.
Screen resolution and pixel density
Screen resolution is the number of pixels that comprise the image horizontally and vertically. The most common screen resolution for tablets is Full HD (also called FHD), which measures 1920x1080 pixels. But the best models go well beyond that, and budget tablets will have lower resolution. Why does a high-resolution screen matter? If the number of pixels is too low, the image will appear grainy and will lack some finer detail.
However, the same resolution may look different on screens of different sizes. Therefore, what you really want is a high pixel density, which is measured in pixels per inch (PPI). If you can’t find the PPI figure in the specifications, there are calculators to help you.
The internal storage space is measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) and will determine how many videos, photos, games, documents, and apps your tablet can hold. Nowadays, most slate models (including our picks) are available in several variants with smaller and larger internal storage. The more space you need, the higher the price will be.
Some models also feature a memory card slot which can considerably expand the storage available. Another option if you run out of space is to use cloud storage services.
While you might think that a fast processor matters only for gamers, a weak one can affect the experience of an everyday user too. Common issues are overheating lag and even poor battery life. Most software nowadays is written to take advantage of multiple processor cores. This allows running several tasks in parallel and results in faster response times compared to a single core.
If you want to play modern games with advanced graphics, edit videos, or perform other demanding tasks, we recommend looking for a model with a quad-core processor as a minimum. The best tablets currently have octa-core processors that are extremely capable and can swiftly handle several demanding tasks without draining the device’s battery.
If you can’t be bothered about cores and other processor-related terminology, check the user reviews or benchmark tests to assess whether a particular processor will be powerful enough for your needs.
Commonly abbreviated as RAM, random-access memory allows storing the information that your tablet needs now and access it immediately. Once you’re out of free RAM, things slow down or stop responding at all. A bigger RAM allows running demanding apps smoothly and multitasking without delays, so a higher number generally means better performance. However, the user experience will also be affected by the processor and the central processing unit (CPU).
The tendency of modern tablets is to use larger batteries, boasting a higher number of mAh (Milliamps Hour). However, plenty of factors can affect real-life performance. For example, if you actively use the camera or watch videos, the battery will drain much quicker compared to reading or browsing the web. Most tablets have an average run time that ranges from 3 to 10 hours. However, the best tablets can last a day (or even two) on a single charge. We recommend models with a run time of at least 7-10 hours on mixed-use.
Nearly all tablets will feature a front-facing camera that can be used for video calls (and selfies). Some models will also have a rear-facing camera, which you can use to capture the world in photos and videos. That said, many tablets have mediocre-quality cameras that can be outrivalled even by your smartphone, so we don’t recommend focusing too much on this aspect when you’re comparing models. Still, if you plan to use your tablet to take pictures or record videos, check the resolution and if there are extra features such as HDR and image stabilization.
If you plan to get some accessories for your tablet, a good selection of ports is essential. However, to make their devices slimmer and lighter, most manufacturers have been using ports sparingly. The minimum would be at least one USB-A or micro-USB port. If there’s a USB-C port, that’s the best option since it is much faster and versatile.
Some models may have mini DisplayPort or mini- or micro-HDMI ports. Such tablets are not common today, but they allow connecting an external monitor quicker and without the hassle of adapters.
If you enjoy listening to music and don’t have wireless headphones, also check if there’s a 3.5 mm stereo jack, as several latest models have ditched it.
All tablets, nowadays, can connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. However, there are also cellular tablets that let you use a 4G or even 5G connection. Nearly all leading tablet models are available in Wi-Fi and cellular versions.
Wi-Fi tablets are cheaper and don’t have extra costs for data, but their internet connectivity is limited. Nevertheless, most people use their tablets at home, work, or other areas with a wireless network available. And it is always possible to create a hotspot with your mobile; therefore, we recommend Wi-Fi tablets to most people.
Cellular tablets allow accessing the internet on the go, provided there’s coverage in the area. However, they are more expensive to buy, and you will also need to pay for a mobile data plan. Nevertheless, if you travel a lot, a cellular model will be the most convenient option.