Best tablets Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best tablets you can buy in 2021.
Tablets are a great way of taking a good-sized, high quality screen with you wherever you go. They're bigger than smartphones (just) and come without the threat of work that a laptop brings. They're comparatively good value too but if you're thinking of buying one, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
What screen size do you want? Bigger-screened tablets make films, photos and TV shows look more impressive and are better suited to gaming, but they're heavier, less portable and usually more expensive.
Which operating system are you after? Android is more open than iOS, but it's not quite as slick or simple an ecosystem. Or are you happy with Amazon's Fire OS? Members of Amazon Prime might well be, but if you rarely shop at the retail giant, you'll likely find it unsuitable and downright irritating.
How much storage do you need? Android devices usually come with slots for memory cards so you can add in extra storage, which could be useful if you've an extensive library of films, music and photos.
The best tablet for you will come down to how you want to use it. If you're gaming, you'll want one with tons of power and long battery life, while if you're only sending the occasional email, you can save yourself some money and get yourself a cheaper model.
We've rounded up the best tablet choices for 2021 so that you can find your perfect partner. With models big and small, cheap and pricey, there's sure to be something that fits your needs. Let's find it.
For a taste of the, as yet, unreviewed cutting edge, take a look at Apple's recently announced iPad Pro 2021. The new 12.9in model has a Mini LED screen which should be less susceptible to burn-in than OLED. There are two new models both fitted with Apple's M1 chip MacBooks. Very interesting...
It's the new iPad! Or is it? Because not only does the new model look identical to its predecessor, it has nigh-on the same specs, too. There's the same 10.2in retina display, same 8MP rear and 1.2MP front camera array, and more or less the same specifications – 3GB RAM, 32GB and 128GB storage options, and a 10-hour battery life. Even the Silver, Gold and Space Grey finishes carry over.
So what is new? Apple has upgraded the processor – inside you'll find the A12 Bionic, which is the same chip powering the iPhone XS, 2019 iPad Air and fifth-generation iPad Mini. It's not the newest Apple chip, but still delivers a 40 per cent speed boost on the previous iPad with twice the graphics performance. Despite that, the new iPad has a cheaper launch price than its predecessor.
The screen isn't drastically better than the 7th Gen's, but it doesn't need to be. It still does a fine job of rendering images, with a punchy yet natural colour palette, sharply defined detail, and sleek smoothness. And the audio is still typically Apple, being neutrally toned, detailed and dynamic, but with a touch more clarity.
Not a huge improvement on the 7th Gen, then, but still a nice update to keep the iPad at the top of the tablet pile.
Read the full Apple iPad (2020) review
This impressive new Amazon tablet packs much of the same specs as the Award-winning 10in model into a package two inches smaller. And it's a resounding success.
It's roughly the same height and width as a paperback book, and is slim, rounded at the edges and surprisingly light – perfect for holding and slipping into a bag.
The image is impressive. The picture runs remarkably smoothly, and bar the odd moment of judder, it’s a competent performance overall. It has some nice features too, like Adaptive brightness (which optimises brightness levels according to the surrounding light) and Blue Shade, which reduces the amount of blue light on the screen. As a tablet of this size will often be used for reading before bed, this is a nice touch.
The new gaming mode makes games look a little more vibrant, and on the audio front it delivers an expansive presentation with excellent separation. Overall, it's a good-sounding tablet for the money, and all said, a great all-rounder.
Read our full Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020) review
On paper, the iPad Air is a tricky sell: the standard iPad is cheaper, the iPad Mini is smaller and the iPad Pro is higher-specced for professionals. It's not even the thinnest iPad available. So why should you buy it?
Because it's one of the best tablets Apple makes, which makes it one of the best tablets on the market. Its screen is better than the entry-level model, it's bigger than the Mini and cheaper than the Pro. If you want a device for consuming content rather than creating it, and like the big screen/less portable tradeoff, it's nigh-on the perfect tablet.
The HDR-compatible screen is stunning, and while its pixel density is a little lower than the iPad Mini, the display itself is a lot bigger. It depends on personal preference, but in our view, the Air is the better device for content consumption.
The speakers could be better placed (our hands tended to block one when watching in landscape orientation), but they have plenty of oomph. And when delivered to a quality pair of wireless headphones (which is likely to be the most common usage), the audio sounds superb.
If you want a tablet for movies and music on the go, you'll struggle to beat this.
Read the full iPad Air (2019) review
Apple's dinkiest iPad actually offers the highest pixel-per-inch density of all of its tablets and has a few features that are missing from some other models: notably, HDR video.
The iPad Mini’s form makes it the perfect portable cinema. At 7.9in, the screen is significantly more cinematic and immersive than that of even the biggest iPhone, the 12 Pro Max, which measures 6.7in. That 21 per cent increase in display real estate is the equivalent of going from a 55in to a 65in TV. At the same time, the iPad Mini remains lighter and more portable than its bigger siblings.
Inside is the A12 Bionic chip, which you’ll also find in the iPhone XS and XR, and storage options come at either 64GB or 256GB. The front-facing camera has been given a big boost but the rear lens stays the same.
Ultimately, this iPad Mini is excellent with video, and the screen looks even more gorgeous than the rest of the iPad range. It's bright and punchy, with distinctive highlights and plenty of detail in the shadows. The image really pops, making it a joy to watch. The sound is tops too, boasting bags of dynamism and detail.
For a small tablet, it makes a big impression.
Read the full Apple iPad Mini (2019) review
Improving on a previous What Hi-Fi? Award-winner was always going to be a tall task, especially without raising the price. But Amazon has cracked it with the latest version of the HD10. So what's new? There's a faster processor, a more powerful front camera, USB-C charging (rather than micro-USB), support for higher-capacity microSD cards, and, of course, support for Amazon Alexa.
When it comes to TV and movies, colours are bright, tonally accurate and vibrant, while blacks are inky, dark and detailed. The screen’s 16:10 aspect ratio in landscape mode is remarkably easy to get used to, particularly if you’re accustomed to Apple tablets.
The HD 10’s ‘Dolby Atmos’ integrated dual stereo speakers are somewhat optimistically branded but the sound with music and films is convincing and emotive, with plenty of detail across the frequencies and a pleasing, realistic musical build.
As long as you're happy to use Amazon's apps, this remains a great bargain buy.
Read the full Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) review
You might have presumed that the iPad Mini would be the most affordable tablet in Apple’s range. However, that honour actually goes to the standard iPad (and this 7th generation model is even cheaper now that it's been superseded by the 8th gen model). It is missing some tech featured in the Mini but does come with the bonus of the Smart Connector, which allows the 7th Generation iPad to be connected to Apple’s Smart Keyboard (neither the previous model nor the Mini can be connected).
The iPad’s IPS screen has increased in size to 10.2in and resolution has been increased to maintain the pixel density of 264 ppi. It lacks the laminate layer, anti-reflective coating, True Tone (which automatically adjusts colours and brightness to match ambient lighting) and wide colour support of other tablets. And this is the only iPad in the current range that doesn’t support HDR. It’s also the only model that doesn’t have one of Apple’s newer processors. Instead, the A10 Fusion chip of the outgoing model has been carried over.
When it comes to picture and sound, it has the supremely natural colour balance for which Apple devices are renowned. There’s excellent detail and definition, too, and motion is handled exceptionally well. The iPad Mini pips it with a little more punch and deeper blacks but it's still a good watch. Audio performance is strong. There’s weight, solidity and dynamic variation here that other tablets, including the current iPad Mini, can’t match.
Undoubtedly sacrifices have had to be made to deliver a large screen at a low price. But Apple’s least impressive tablet is still an impressive tablet.
Read the full Apple iPad 7th Generation review
If you're on a tight budget, Amazon's tablets are always worth a look. And no more so than the Fire 7 – it's exceptionally good value. As long as you don't expect mind-blowing AV quality, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Amazon has given this model a warmer colour palette, making for more realistic skin tones, and as long as you don't go nitpicking for detail and contrast ratios, it's perfectly watchable (especially for kids' cartoons, which we suspect will be its main use). The sound is nicely balanced and suitably detailed, too. And because it's an older model, its already cheap price is now discounted, where you can still find it. Buy buy buy!
Read the full Amazon Fire 7 (2017) review
The Galaxy Tab S7+ has the fastest processor found in an Android tablet (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus), a substantial 10,090mAh battery that offers up to 14 hours of video playback, and an improved S Pen. So, are we looking at the ultimate Android tablet?
Quite possibly. Its Super AMOLED screen is huge, at 12.4in, and among the finest we’ve seen on a handheld slab. Its 16:10 aspect ratio, 120Hz refresh rate and 266 pixel-per-inch density (resolution is 2800 x 1752) combine to produce a smooth, vibrant and ultimately compelling display.
It's equipped to handle Dolby Atmos, and its four speakers are sensibly laid out – one in each corner means you get stereo sound whether you're watching in landscape or portrait. (A simple touch, but you'd be amazed how many tablets can't manage it.)
They are capable of surprisingly decent volume, are clear and rich enough to avoid sounding tinny or lacklustre during scenes with more bass, and throw out a broad sound that extends far beyond the screen. One could argue they draw you into a picture more than they need to for a screen of this size.
Downsides? The S Pen stylus can be knocked out of its holder easily. And there's no headphone jack, so you'll need a wireless pair of cans to enjoy audio solo. But this tablet has it where it matters and delivers on all fronts.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ review
Content creators will want an iPad Pro – this is a machine made for creating, while the standard iPad is built for consuming. As such, it's a little over-powered if all you want it for is watching movies and playing the odd game.
Not that you'll have a bad time – far from it. The screen is ridiculously sharp and bright, and at this size, films are an absolute treat. It sounds pretty great too, balancing dialogue with the soundtrack nicely and automatically adjusting for the best sound depending whether it's in portrait or landscape mode.
Sure, you probably don't need one. But if you can afford it, why wouldn't you?
Read the full Apple iPad Pro 10.5in review
This tablet was great value at its original price, so now it's available for less, it's an absolute steal. Like other Amazon tablets, its bright colour schemes are more cheap and cheerful than sleek and sophisticated, but that's no bad thing if you just want a tablet for occasional use around the house (or to let the kids run wild with). Its screen has a natural palate and plenty of detail to get your teeth into, while audio playback is pretty decent for casual listening. Another great value tablet from Amazon.
Read the full Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) review
This premium tablet comes with the S Pen, which is Samsung's stylus. Images on screen look so sharp you could cut yourself on them, while motion is handled with aplomb. The only slight niggle with the screen is colour reproduction, which tends to be more bold than natural. But you get superior sound, which you can tweak to your heart's content, and played right, you'll get noticeably more detail and dynamism from music. Dolby Atmos also comes as standard.
Read the full Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review
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