Why Buy a Tablet?
The top performers in our review are the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the Gold Award winner; the Apple iPad Air 2, the Silver Award winner; and the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a tablet to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the 10 best tablets.
Tablets: Computers Built for Mobility
At first glance, a tablet might look like a step down from a full-sized laptop or desktop computer. After all, it seems like the missing keyboard would be a potential disadvantage when you compare tablets to other computers. But thanks to their emphasis on portability, tablets offer advantages that their bulkier cousins lack.
One of the biggest factors that distinguishes tablets from other types of computers is their size. The best tablet computers can easily fit into a backpack or a purse without feeling bulky. Generally, tablets in the 7-inch and 8-inch range are optimized for portability, while the best 10-inch tablets use their large screens to work well with video watching and business applications. Increasingly, the performance of the best tablets belies their compact size, thanks to responsive high-resolution touchscreens and fast graphics processors. That allows many tablets to prioritize multimedia content, such as books, games or videos, and to take full advantage of the apps in their dedicated online stores.
For alternatives to tablets, tablet PCs have computers that combine traditional tablet and laptop functionality. In addition, our main computers section highlights various product families designed for business or playtime. If you want to find more information, check out our articles on tablets.
Tablets: What We Tested, What We Found
In our evaluations, we targeted top-rated tablets designed for an average home user. Our testing focused on hands-on evaluations designed to emphasize areas like tablet build quality, durability and operating speed. We also relied on synthetic testing with programs including processing test Geekbench 3 and graphics benchmark 3DMark in order to evaluate the performance ceiling of each tablet. We drew additional data from our colleagues at Laptop Mag in order to develop our rankings.
Thanks to our testing, we found several points you should consider before your potential tablet purchase. Most home tablets run Google's Android operating system, Apple's iOS or Windows. Microsoft-based tablets will usually run either Windows 8 or Windows 10. Generally, tablets are designed to be an extension of a larger hardware family. For instance, Android smartphones are built to easily work alongside Android tablets or home theater peripherals. If your home already has gadgets built with a certain software platform, getting a tablet that runs the same operating system can provide additional functionality.
Long battery life spans are another strength of tablets. Because of their generally low processing overhead, the best 7-inch and 8-inch tablets often last for eight to 10 hours on a single charge. This is helpful if you have to take your tablet outside of the home.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our tablet reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important When Buying a Tablet?
Beyond the price tag and brand name, tablets come with a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses for home users. Consider the following factors to make sure that the tablet you purchase best fits your needs.
Tablets vs Laptops: Power or Portability
The performance gap between the best tablets and laptops has narrowed, but for business users or college students, it can still be tricky to navigate. Generally, even the cheapest tablets rely on touchscreen keyboards that can be difficult to use for tasks like typing out long documents. While tablets with third-party keyboards provide a physical typing surface, they can be cumbersome to carry around. Tablets are generally far easier to carry around than laptops because they omit a keyboard, so the question of whether a laptop or tablet can serve your business needs better comes down to what you need more: a device that enables long periods of typing or one that is easy to carry from place to place.
For families with young children, tablets can be a useful multitasking device for schoolwork and gaming. In general, tablet games aren't as demanding as PC or traditional console video games. Thanks to operating system flexibility, few games are completely unable to run on a tablet. In addition, popular titles like Angry Birds require little processing overhead. If you or your child is a frequent gamer, though, you'll likely get more mileage out of new tablets, which have the graphics abilities needed to play high-definition games with ease.
Applications & Platform Limits
Like hardware, content purchases are designed to work best within the same user ecosystem. For instance, if you buy a game on an Android smartphone, you could also download it for free on your Android tablet. Conversely, purchases are rarely compatible across platforms, although providers like Amazon feature apps that you can use on any tablet operating system.
Tablets: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Our top 10 tablets feature strong designs bolstered with stellar performance and abilities. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is one of the best Windows tablets available thank to a superb balance between laptop-caliber performance and tablet portability. While the Windows tablet lacks a keyboard, it has strengths elsewhere. With a full-sized Intel processor and thin dimensions, the Windows tablet's specifications make it equally suitable for work and entertainment.
As the flagship model in Apple's tablet lineup, the iPad Air 2 continues the company's streak of excellence. Backed by exceptional build quality and Apple's content ecosystem, the Air 2 is solidly designed and easy to use. Finally, the Fire HDX 8.9's legacy hardware remains the top-in-class tablet from Amazon. Despite its age, the tablet's performance ceiling puts it right in the running among current-generation models.
Additional highlights of our best tablet comparisons include the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 and the Amazon Fire. The Tab 3 boasts a long battery life and an innovative design, while the Fire is one of the best small tablets for the money, thanks to how it features basic tablet functionality in an inexpensive package.