Tablet Buying Guide

If you’re shopping for a tablet, the first step is to answer a few questions to help you decide on priorities. Once you start looking at individual models, you’ll find that performance has improved a lot in the past couple of years, especially among lower-priced products. This is a good time to buy a tablet.

Here Are Those Questions

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

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, of course. But very good 10-inch tablets are out there for about $350.

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. Refreshed in early 2018, the 9.7-inch iPad, which starts at $329, offers a good mix of features and performance, but some other tablets have things the iPads don’t, such as memory card slots. Most iPad models now support a stylus called the Apple Pencil, which is useful for creating digital art and taking “handwritten” notes.

Are You a Bookworm?
If you want a tablet mainly for consuming content such as e-books or streaming video—with some e-mailing, web surfing, and a bit of app-downloading 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.

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. Without the keyboard cover it can function as a tablet; with the keyboard cover it functions like a Windows laptop. Google has devices of its own that can function like a tablet and a laptop, including the PixelBook and the new Pixel Slate.

Do You Have Kids?
Tablets for tykes have gotten more robust, and parents have more control over what their kids are doing with parental filters. Amazon has one of the bigger lineups of kid-friendly tablets, with prices ranging from around $100 to $160.

Is There a Gamer in the Family?
Most tablets are good enough for casual games, such as Angry Birds, 2048, or Hearthstone. But if you want to play a more demanding game, such as Monster Hunter or Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition, you’ll need a tablet that can handle it. That not only means a tablet with a powerful enough processor but one with enough storage space to fit the game in the first place.

Tablet Features

All models offer WiFi connectivity, and most have a front-facing webcam and GPS capability. 

Screen Size and Shape
Sizes start around 7 inches and get bigger from there. In landscape mode, most tablets have the short, wide shape of a wide-screen TV. The iPad’s display is squarer, similar to a traditional TV’s.

Wireless Connectivity
All tablets offer WiFi connectivity. Most higher-rated tablets also come in a version that can access cellular data networks, including 4G LTE, which typically adds about $10 to your monthly cellphone bill.

Screen resolutions on tablets are getting better, which makes images and text appear sharper. Some iPad models, including the iPad Pro, have an anti-reflective coating that makes them easier to view in bright light.

Operating System
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android dominate when it comes to tablets. There are a smaller number of Windows tablets than in the past, though Microsoft continues to heavily promote 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 version installed in the factory makes additional capabilities possible and allows the device to use the newest apps. Having the latest version of the operating system also improves the security of the device.


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 its $29 Lightning to USB Camera Adapter can accommodate a USB keyboard as well as be used to import photos. New iPad Pros have a USB-C port for directly connecting third-party accessories.


Printing Capability

One way you can print wirelessly from the iPad is via an AirPrint-enabled printer. Most printer manufacturers have apps that allow WiFi printing from iPad and Android tablets.

Tablet Shopping Tips

Shape Matters
We find the iPad’s squarish screen to be better suited to most tablet uses than a longer, narrower one. Several other tablets have similarly shaped screens. Rectangular screens held horizontally offer a wider landscape view that’s better for watching movies in something closer to a wide-screen 16.9 aspect ratio, and the shape may make them easier to slip into a purse.

Make Sure the OS Is Upgradable
New Android apps may require a newer version of Android than what’s available on some tablets with older Android builds.

Consider the App Market
The breadth and quality of Apple’s app market is still a major competitive edge for the iPad and continues to overshadow those for Android. Developers usually create apps first, and sometimes exclusively, for the Apple App Store. Many magazines have tablet versions of their publications for both Android and Apple devices.

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. 

Interactive Video Buying Guide

For more buying advice and helpful tips, watch our buying guide video below. You can skip to chapters on kid tablets, budget, and more.

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.

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 Android-based Iconia line is available in 7-, 8-, and 10-inch sizes.
The Android-based Fire is a competitively priced 7-, 8-, or 10-inch tablet. 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.
Asus currently produces a variety of Android-based tablets, including its high-end ZenPad 3S, a 9.7-inch model. The company also makes two-in-one laptops that double as Windows-based tablets.
Barnes & Noble currently produces one 7-inch tablet. It’s called the Nook Tablet 7, and it’s heavily marketed toward voracious readers. Through a partnership with Samsung, Barnes & Noble also has several Nook co-branded Galaxy Tab tablets that come in 7- and 8-inch models.
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