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The Best Tablets You Can Buy — Which Is Right For You?

What are the differences between all of Apple's, Amazon's and Samsung's tablets. We break it down for you.

tablets
Tucker Bowe

Tablets sit in kind of a weird middle ground. They're bigger than smartphones with most of the same capabilities, and they're smaller than laptops with not quite the same computing power.

But a dedicated non-phone device for browsing the web, doing art, or sharing with the kids still has a place in the digital ecosystem -- the trick is just figuring out exactly what you want it for. Do you just want a bigger screen to browse the web, stream movies or use as an e-reader? Or do you need a tablet that comes with a stylus that allows you to illustrate, take notes or sign documents?

After you know what you want to use the tablet for, you then need to decide what type of tablet you want to buy — aka what ecosystem do you want to live in. For example, do you want a tablet that works seamlessly with your other other Apple or Samsung devices?

Finally, then you need to decide how much you're willing to spend as well as how small or large of a tablet you want to buy — these two factors go hand-in-hand. You might also need to consider that most tablets don't come with a lot of accessories, such as a case, keyboard, mouse or even stylus; so you might plan on spending extra for those.

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Best All-Around
Apple iPad mini (2021)
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The newest iPad mini ditches the old design of its predecessors and adopts the fuller-screen and squared off sides of the higher-end iPad Air — in fact, the iPad mini is effectively a shrunk-down version of the iPad Air. It has Touch ID integrated into the power button, supports the newest Apple Pencil and has a USB-C port for fast-charging and fast data transfer. It's a more expensive than the entry-level iPad, but you get so much more and it's a form-factor that will stay cool for years to come. The only real downside (other than price) is that, because of its size, the new iPad mini is not compatible with Apple's fancy Magic Keyboard. 

Best Upgrade
Apple iPad Pro (2021)
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The iPad Pro is primarily designed for creative professionals, but it's across-the-board upgrades in display and processing power make it a good upgrade pick even for the non-artistically-inclined. It's available in two different models, 11-inch and 12.9-inch, which are identical except for their size and displays. Both are decked out with Apple's M1 chip, a new Thunderbolt USB-C port and they support 5G. The big difference is the 12.9-inch model has a significantly nicer display; specifically, it's a Liquid Retina XDR display that's made of over 10,000 mini-LEDs, and it promises a significantly better (read: brighter, more vibrant and with contrast) picture. Like the 2020 models, the new iPad Pros have a 120Hz display to help draw more accurately with the Apple Pencil (the iPad Air's display maxes out at 60Hz). It also has a dual-camera system and a LiDAR sensor, which helps the iPad Pro shoot improved low-light photos and have enhanced AR capabilities; and it has a similar front-facing system as the latest iPhones, meaning you can unlock the device via Face ID.

Best Budget
Amazon Fire HD 10 (2021)
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The Fire HD 10 is the most advanced tablet that Amazon currently makes — and yet it still costs well under $200. It's available in two different models, Fire HD 10 and the Fire HD 10 Plus, with the latter model having a few extra features, such as more RAM, support for wireless charging and a more premium finish. Both models of the Fire HD 10 have a 10.1-inch display, which is a slightly bigger and brighter than the Fire HD 8's display. And compared to the previous generation Fire HD 10, the 2020 models have slimmer bezels, more RAM and, again, their display is a little bit brighter. They also have a front-facing camera that's better positioned for video calls.

Apple iPad 10.2-Inch (2021)
Apple

The 10.2-inch iPad is by far the most popular tablet that Apple makes. It has a nice display, a long battery life, a powerful processor and runs iPadOS, same as Apple's higher-end tablets. But the biggest drawback of this entry-level iPad is that it has an outdated design. It's the only current iPad that still has an actual Home button (with Touch ID) and charges via Lightning (instead of USB-C). It also still supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, which is good but doesn't magnetically clip to the top of the iPad for easy storing/charging/pairing like the second-generation stylus. All-in-all, it's the best bang-for-your-buck iPad that Apple makes. 

Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020)
Amazon

The Fire HD 8 is one of the best affordable tablets you can buy. It's slightly bigger and more expensive than Amazon's Fire 7, but it's also better in a lot of key areas. It has a higher-resolution HD display, a larger battery and, yes, a longer battery life. The other big difference is that the speakers are infinitely better on the Fire HD 8. Instead of Fire 7's single rear-firing speaker, the Fire HD 8 has a stereo speaker setup that also supports Dolby Atmos — movies and music are going to sound way better, especially if you don't use headphones. It's an excellent spare tablet, or one for the kids.

Apple iPad Air (2020)
Apple

Apple radically redesigned the iPad Air in 2020, making it very similar to the new design of the high-end iPad Pro. In fact, the iPad Air looks and feels nearly identical to the 11-inch iPad Pro. It's a little smaller (at 10.9-inches) and has slightly larger bezels, but the main differences lie mainly in the display and camera systems. The iPad Air lacks the high-refresh rate display (maxing out at 60Hz) and has a single-lens rear camera. It also has Touch ID integrated into the side power button, and doesn't support Face ID. Effectively, the iPad Air is a great tablet for whoever wants the high-end look and feel of the iPad Pro, but doesn't need some of its more unique and expensive features.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ (2020)
Samsung

The Galaxy Tab S7+ is Samsung's high-end tablet that's really designed to go toe-to-toe with Apple's iPad Pro line. It has a beautiful 12.4-inch OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, a powerful Snapdragon 865+ chipset, a wonderful-sounding speaker that supports Dolby Atmos, and a high-end dual rear-camera system. Samsung includes its stylus, the S Pen, in the box and at no extra cost. If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and you're looking for a high-end tablet that will fit into the same suite of apps Samsung services.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 (2020)
Samsung

Note: Samsung has released a next-generation model of this tablet, the Galaxy Tab A8, in December 2021.  It will be available in late January 2022.

Released in late 2020, the Galaxy Tab A7 is one of Samsung's newest tablets. It's also designed as essentially a more entry-level alternative to the Galaxy Tab S7+. It has a less powerful Snapdragon 6622 processor, a smaller (10.4-inch) display doesn't get nearly as bright, and a single rear-camera system. The other big tradeoff is that the Galaxy Tab A7 does not support the S Pen, so you shouldn't get this if you want to use a stylus to take notes or draw.

Amazon Fire 7 (2019)
Amazon
Amazon

Amazon makes some of the best budget tablets that you can buy, and the Fire 7 is the cheapest of the bunch — it costs less than $50. It gets its name from its 7-inch display, but when compared to Amazon's more expensive tablets, it really comes down to hardware. The Fire 7 is very similar to the Fire HD 8, but is just a little bit smaller and lacks that same HD display. Other than that, it has pretty much all the same capabilities. You can use it to stream shows or music, or use it as an e-reader. If you have a Fire TV, you can also use the Fire as a remote control.

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