(Pocket-lint) - If you're looking for the best new tablet to buy, you've come to the right place. While the Apple iPad looms large over this category, there's actually still plenty of choice in tablets both big and small - all of which we've reviewed.
Only devices we've fully tested appear on this list, but we've tried to cover all the key operating systems and sizes to help you with your choice.
A key thing to acknowledge before you dive into the selections below is that new tablets aren't always the best; this category moves a lot slower than phones, so a tablet a couple of years old is still worth considering, even if it's not necessarily on the picks below. For more things to consider when looking for a new tablet, check out the section below our picks.
Without further ado, here are our top recommendations.
Our Top Pick: Best Tablet
Apple iPad (2021)
- Great entry-level device
- Superb ease of use
- Impressive display
- Still no all-screen design
- Apple Pencil support is first-gen only
The Apple iPad (2021) is the entry point into the larger iPads, offering a 10.2-inch display, Smart Connector for keyboard and accessory support. It misses a couple of features off its list compared to the more expensive iPads, such as Face ID, an anti-reflective display and True Tone, but this tablet remains one of the best affordable tablets money can buy at this size.
It has the ideal performance for apps and media consumption, an affordable price point, Apple Pencil support (first gen) and iPadOS is excellent for multitasking. Despite numerous other iPad options, the iPad 10.2 (2021) is the perfect iPad option for many – as there's no better entry-level tablet around.
Tablets we also recommend
The entry-level Apple iPad won't be for everyone. So, with that in mind, here are four other hugely impressive tablets that you could consider.
Amazon Fire 8 HD
- Handy size
- Supreme value
- Ideal for Prime Video
- Not the best build-quality
- Won't be great for productivity
The Fire HD 8 sits in a sweet spot between Amazon's incredibly good value Fire 7 and the larger Fire HD 10. While the performance and features of the Fire HD 8 excel past those of the Fire 7, it also manages to outlast the Fire HD 10, making it a slightly more enticing proposition for those who want to travel with it.
The Fire HD 8 positions itself well for entertainment, especially for those who are Prime members, where the value for money cannot be disputed. Whether you're a globetrotter, looking for a travel tablet, or just something to entertain your kids, the Fire HD 8 is well worth considering. At this price point, there's very little else that comes close.
Apple iPad mini (2021)
- Simply beautiful design
- Great display
- Superb specs
- No longer as affordable
The Apple iPad mini finally has a new design, and is slimmer and more accomplished than its predecessor.
It's now supremely powerful and is as much iPad as many people will need; a lovely, compact tablet with an anti-reflective screen coating that makes it good for watching movies, playing games, and reading or writing on the go.
As well as unparalleled power for its price point, the 2021 iPad mini is a superb choice for anyone who enjoys Apple's devices but wants a smaller footprint.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
- Great mid-range specs
- Excellent Super AMOLED screen
- No headphone jack
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e features most of the fundamentals of Samsung's top-end Galaxy Tab S7+ but for a lot less money.
It offers excellent speakers - perfect for entertainment - a lovely bold Super AMOLED screen and a great battery life, along with a solid design.
There's no stylus support and no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that's pretty much as far as its weaknesses go.
Apple iPad Air
- Great internals
- Gorgeous design
- Amazing display
- Pretty expensive
The Apple iPad Air (2020) is pricier than the iPad 10.2, yes, but it's also a lot like the more expensive iPad Pro models, just without the name and Face ID.
This iPad delivers a powerful and speedy performance, uniform bezels, Touch ID in the power button, USB-C, a battery life that will last all day, great features like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support and the iPadOS user interface only improves the experience.
With a good price point, the iPad Air (2020) is a very compelling offering. Sure, the iPad Pro devices are technically better machines, but the price - crossed with the amount of people who could actually benefit from the leap in performance - makes this our favoured pick as of this moment.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the devices we consider don’t make our final best guides.
These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top five selections:
How to choose a tablet
The range of tablets is very wide, from affordable budget models to deluxe, high-end devices. They have much in common (they’re a slab of glass or just occasionally plastic) and lots of differences (build quality, operating system, compatibility with a stylus or keyboard). Here are some of the questions you should be asking before you cough up your cash.
What size screen do you need?
Bigger screens mean a higher price. Do you want it primarily as an ebook reader, say, in which case a seven-inch model might do? But if you want to watch movies on it, or value the benefits of a big screen for everything from creative apps to games, then you’ll be looking for a 10-inch display or bigger. Apple’s iPad has a 10.2-inch screen, the iPad Air is 10.9 inches and the iPad Pro comes in two screen sizes, 11-inch and 12.9-inch. Amazon’s tablets range from seven inches to 10.1 inches. Microsoft’s Surface tablets stretch from 10.5 inches to 13 inches.
How many apps does it have?
This is down to the operating system. Surface tablets have access to most or all the Windows 10 applications, Apple’s iPads use Apple’s iPadOS and run more than a million apps, while Google’s Android tablets have even more, though not all are optimized for the larger screen of a tablet instead of a smaller phone display. The fourth operating system is Amazon’s Fire OS. This is essentially Android but heavily curtailed so that a much smaller number of apps work. That’s because Amazon tests everything before allowing it into the Fire OS set-up, but all the main apps are there. Finally, there’s Huawei’s system which is also a version of Android. Because the Chinese manufacturer is only allowed to use open-source Android, it doesn’t have access to Google’s services such as Google Maps, Play Store and Gmail. There are strong alternatives to most of the main apps and many big-name apps appear in Huawei’s App Gallery, the alternative to the Play Store. But there are still popular apps that are missing.
Do you need it to work with advanced styluses?
If you like drawing on your tablet, in art apps, or enjoy writing notes with a stylus, note that not all tablets have special versions. Any tablet will work with a stylus that has a sort of squidgy nib, but if you want something that’s more like an actual pen or pencil on paper, some tablets have their own solutions. All current Apple iPad models work with the excellent Apple Pencil (there are two versions, one works with the iPad and iPad mini, the other with the iPad Air and iPad Pro). Microsoft’s Surface series has its own stylus, as do some Samsung and Huawei tablets.
Can you connect a keyboard and if so, how much will it cost?
Many tablets have keyboard accessories, which connect wirelessly by Bluetooth or by special hardwired connectors, such as the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, for instance. Microsoft has the Type Cover which protects the display and works as an effective keyboard. The advantage of a keyboard or keyboard cover is that it turns the tablet into a decent laptop substitute. The disadvantage is that in almost every case they are optional accessories and can be expensive (the Magic Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is magnificent, but it costs £349).
How about cameras?
Let’s be clear, if you’re buying a tablet to get a camera, you’re doing it wrong. Tablets are ergonomically completely unsuited to being a useful camera apart from one feature – the large display makes for a great place to frame your shots. Even so, few tablets have outstanding cameras, and the photographic aspects probably shouldn’t be your priority in buying the tablet.
How much can you spend?
How much have you got? No, seriously, the range of prices is remarkable, from £49.99 for the Amazon Fire 7 Tablet to £2,149 for the latest iPad Pro with maximum storage. You’ll likely want to spend somewhere in between. Amazon’s tablets are sold practically at cost and lack the exquisite build quality of the iPad range. Mind you, low price and high value aren’t always the same thing.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
Tablets have gone from slightly niche products to ones that are completely embedded in so many of our routines, so we've used all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up to that sustained usage. We've checked out how their displays perform for media viewing, and how useful they are on the productivity side of things, as well as how their battery life is.
Pricing is of course important, as is build quality and reliability, while being compatible with accessories to help you get more things done is always a bonus.
We aren’t interested in pointless number crunching or extraneous details - we just want to provide an easy to understand review that gives you an idea of what it's going to be like to use. And don’t for a second think that the products aren't tested fully because the reviews are concise.
We’ve been covering tech since 2003, and, in many cases, have not only reviewed the product in question, but the previous generations, too - right back to the first model on the market. There is also plenty of models we've considered that didn't make the cut in each of our buyer's guides.