Tablet Buying Guide

A good tablet can be a versatile part of your tech arsenal and help you accomplish many of the same tasks you’d do with a laptop, such as browse the web, catch up on email, and stream video, but with a more comfortable form factor. Sure, you can curl up on your couch with a laptop, but doing so with a tablet may be more relaxing.

But with tablet prices ranging from less than $100 to more than $1,000, it can be difficult to know how much is the “right” amount to spend. Pay too much and you may be buying more tablet than you really need, with advanced features you’ll rarely use (or even know how to use). Pay too little and you might find yourself with a tablet that requires too many compromises for your liking, such as a so-so display, paltry built-in storage, and poor built-in cameras.

The good news is that Consumer Reports can help find the right tablet for you and your budget. Below you’ll find some of the major questions you should ask yourself while shopping for a tablet.

What to Ask Yourself

Is Portability a Priority?
Most tablets with 8-inch or smaller displays weigh well under a pound. Many are very thin. Some tablets in this size range have a battery life of 15 hours or longer.

What’s Your Budget?
You can get a great 7- to 8-inch tablet starting at under $200. Tablets with larger display sizes cost more. But there are very good 10-inch tablets out there for about $300.

Are You Looking for Maximum Versatility?
If you want to read comfortably, watch movies, type out documents with a separate keyboard, and use standard productivity apps, you might want to consider a larger tablet with at least 12 hours of battery life. Last refreshed in late 2020, the entry-level iPad, which starts around $300 and has a 10.2-inch display, offers a good mix of features and performance, but some other tablets have things that iPads don’t, such as memory card slots to expand the amount of storage you have for files like photos and videos. Most iPad models now support a stylus called the Apple Pencil, which is useful for creating digital art and taking “handwritten” notes (though the Pencil can cost you an extra $130).

Are You a Bookworm?
If you want a tablet mainly for consuming content such as e-books or streaming video—with some casual web browsing or social media use on the side—you can save some money with a tablet from Amazon. They start around $50. A larger screen is better for magazine reading, and a smaller one is more portable but still big enough for reading books. These don’t have the highest-resolution displays, but you’re unlikely to notice if you’re mostly reading.

Do You Want a Tablet That’s Also a Laptop?
Microsoft’s Surface line of devices can be thought of as both a tablet and a laptop; Microsoft heavily promotes the use of a keyboard that doubles as a protective cover, but it’s sold separately, starting around $65 for one that’s compatible with the entry-level Surface Go. Without the keyboard cover it can function as a tablet. With the keyboard cover it functions like a Windows laptop.

Do You Have Kids?
Parents have more control over what their kids are doing with parental filters. Tablets like the Amazon Fire and Walmart Onn Pro, which cost around $100, let parents create profiles for their children that limit what apps they can use.

Tablet Features

All models offer WiFi connectivity, and most have a front-facing webcam and GPS capability. Some models also have built-in 4G LTE connectivity, allowing you to stay connected to the internet if you’re out of WiFi range. This typically adds about $10 to your monthly cell phone bill.

Operating System
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android dominate when it comes to tablets. There are fewer Windows tablets available now than in the past, but Microsoft still sells its Surface line of devices. A tablet’s capabilities are in large part determined by its operating system. As with computers, being able to upgrade the OS from the one installed in the factory adds capabilities and access to the newest apps. It also improves security.

Storage in many tablets can be expanded using a memory card, and a few can read USB flash drives. The iPad has no memory-card slot, but adapters, available for around $20, are available to connect flash drives.

Printing Capability
Most printer manufacturers have apps that allow WiFi printing from iPad and Android tablets.

Tablet Shopping Tips

Pay Attention to Aspect Ratio
We find the iPad’s squarish screen to be better suited to most uses than a longer, narrower one. Rectangular screens, like those in the 16:9 ratio held horizontally, offer a wider landscape view that’s better for watching movies.

Consider the App Market
The breadth and quality of Apple’s app market is still a competitive edge for the iPad and continues to overshadow those for Android and Fire OS, which powers Amazon’s Fire tablets. App developers frequently create apps for Apple’s platforms first, and sometimes exclusively, with no options for Android or Fire OS users. Fire OS users also miss out on several popular apps, including Chrome, Firefox, Word, and Excel. There are alternatives available, including Amazon’s Silk browser and Amazon WorkDocs, but you may miss working with the exact apps you’re already familiar with.

WiFi Is Good Enough for Most
WiFi-only models are less expensive than those that incorporate cellular service, and that cell connection adds another charge to your monthly mobile bill. Keep in mind that many cell phone plans allow you to share your smartphone’s cellular internet service with your tablet via tethering, but they may charge extra for you to be able to do so.

Video Buying Guide

For more buying advice and tips, watch our video below.

Buying a Tablet for Kids?

Here are some tips on buying a tablet for kids.

While ordinary tablets are fine for many older kids, Amazon in particular has several tablet models intended for younger children. These tablets have features such as extensive parental controls that let you do things like block access to certain apps and websites and have curated content for an added fee.

Multiple Profiles
If you plan to let several kids share the tablet, look for one that lets you create a profile for each child. That way parents can ensure an age-appropriate experience for everyone.

Battery Life
If you’re planning to take the tablet on trips, make sure it’ll last long enough to keep your child occupied. Look for battery life in the 7- to 9-hour range.

Tablet Brands

Acer's Iconia tablets are budget Android tablets—the Acer Iconia One 10 is a 10-inch tablet that can be had for $150. That said, our testers have found the display to be muddy and its battery life to be very short—a little under 7 hours.
Fire OS-based Fire tablets come in competitively priced 7-, 8-, or 10-inch models. Subscribers to Amazon Prime, $119 per year, have access to extra content, such as movies, TV shows, and books. Its app store is curated by Amazon. These tablets have a user interface customized by Amazon. Amazon also has two models, one 7-inch and one 8-inch, designed for children; they feature a rugged case and a two-year "worry-free" guarantee: If your child breaks the tablet for any reason, it can be replaced free of charge.
Apple’s tablet lineup now consists of the high-end iPad Pro, which is available in 10.5- and 12.9-inch models; the 9.7-inch iPad; and the iPad Mini 4, which has a 7.9-inch display. In addition to screen size, the differences are largely in terms of power: The iPad Pro has Apple’s speediest tablet chip and has an advanced anti-glare coating as well as support for a stylus known as the Apple Pencil. Older, less expensive models can still be readily found online. All iPads are available with optional 4G service.
Lenovo tablets are a good middle ground—cheaper than higher-end Samsung tablets but with the full flexibility of the Android OS, unlike Amazon's Fire tablets, which lock you into the restricted Fire OS. They come in 8- and 10-inch versions.
Samsung consistently puts out our highest-rated Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab. While more expensive than many other Android tablets, if you want the flexibility of the Android OS but with the screen sharpness, long battery life, and fast processor speeds of an iPad, Samsung may be the right choice for you.
Onn, Walmart's private label electronics brand, makes budget tablets. They rate roughly the same as others that cost around $100, including the Amazon Fire, and may be a good choice for consumers who merely want to browse the web, use social media, and watch videos.
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