Best Tablets of 2021
CR's testers weigh in on the latest models from Amazon, Apple, and Samsung
People buy tablets for very different reasons.
In our ratings you’ll find devices that cost less than $100 that are great for lightweight “tablet-y” tasks like browsing the web, streaming video, and reading e-books.
You’ll also find models that cost 10 times as much that are so powerful they can practically replace your laptop. Of course, not everyone needs a super-powerful tablet, nor does everyone have hundreds of dollars in disposable income to splash on yet another screen.
Amazon Fire HD 8
If you’re simply looking to add another screen to the house, a device to keep you and the kids occupied, the 8-inch Amazon Fire HD 8 released in 2020 is hard to beat.
It’s more than powerful enough for simple tasks like streaming Netflix and Disney+, playing simple games like Minecraft, and scrolling through social media. It weighs less than 1 pound and has a battery that lasted around 15 hours in our tests. It has 32GB of built-in storage, which isn't a lot, but the inclusion of a microSD card slot means you can add more storage as needed.
And in a boon for families, the tablet supports robust parental controls that allow you to set limits on when your child can use the device and which types of apps are accessible for social networking, web browsing, etc.
One thing to keep in mind: The Fire HD 8 uses the Amazon Appstore instead of the Google Play store. This mostly means that Google’s familiar Android apps (like the official Gmail app) aren't available. But you can use alternatives to these apps (there’s a built-in email app that works with your Gmail account, for example) so it might not be that big of a concern for you.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A (2019)
This 10.1-inch Android-based tablet, released in 2019, earned a CR Best Buy designation from our testers. That means it combines very good performance with an attractive price.
In addition to the large, bright, accurate display, it features 32 gigabytes of built-in storage (expandable with a microSD card) and a battery that lasted around 11 hours in our tests. Unlike the Amazon Fire, this tablet uses the Google Play app store, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding Gmail, Google Photos, and other favorites.
It also features robust parental controls, so you can control the content and services your child has access to.
Samsung also makes an 8-inch tablet called the Galaxy Tab A 8.0 that’s very similar to this model but is available at a lower price if you don’t mind the smaller display.
At $330, this 10.2-inch tablet (which Apple refers to simply as the “iPad”) is one of the better values available in consumer electronics, especially if you’re already ensconced in the Apple ecosystem.
It was released in 2020. The 10.2-inch display is among the best in our ratings and gets bright enough to be legible in direct sunlight. That’s handy for summertime reading at the beach (or backyard, as it were). The battery lasts 10 to 13 hours, according to our tests. Watching high-res video can be more taxing on the battery, while merely browsing the web isn’t as demanding.
The iPad also supports Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover, a physical keyboard that magnetically clips onto the tablet. Unlike a Bluetooth keyboard, this one doesn’t require charging or pairing, which comes in handy when you frequently use your iPad for emailing and word-processing tasks.
Just about the only bad thing you can say about this tablet is that the 32GB of built-in storage is somewhat limited, and you can’t expand it with a microSD card. If you need more space, you can spend an extra $100 and get the model with 128GB of storage.
Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch)
New to our ratings, this incredibly powerful 12.9-inch tablet represents the pinnacle of what a tablet can be. Dwelling on the bleeding edge of performance and design, it isn’t cheap, however. Prices start at $1,100, and you can add $200 to that if you want the model with built-in 5G wireless networking.
The 12.9-inch display features a new Mini LED technology that gets very bright compared with traditional LCD displays. (No other tablet uses Mini LED, though the tech is found in some TVs and laptops.) Our testers also found the display to have very accurate colors, good contrast levels, and very wide viewing angles, so there's no need to worry about the display appearing washed out when viewed at an angle.
The performance is very strong, as you might expect from a tablet aimed at professional users and powered by Apple’s M1 processor. Editing video, playing demanding games, writing code—that’s all easily possible here.
Note that Apple also makes an 11-inch version of the iPad Pro that starts at $800, but it doesn’t use Mini LED tech. Apple also produces the iPad Air, which has a 10.9-inch display, slots in between the entry-level iPad and the Pro in terms of features and performance, and starts at $600.