'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
One of the items topping many shopping lists for students of all ages is a tablet -- especially for those heading off to college. Tablets serve a variety of functions, but one of their go-to uses these days is for taking notes. These machines make it easier than ever for students to stay engaged in class and jot down everything the teachers are saying so they can take it home to absorb. Check out our research on the best tablets if you want to get your hands on one of these devices.
Tablets run the gamut in terms of all the things they can do (and all the prices they show up at), so even if you're looking for a tablet for taking notes, it's important to consider what else you might want to use your tablet for. Some students choose to get a tablet for school in place of a laptop, while others might want a tablet for just a few casual things separate from their laptops. There are tablets on the market that fit both of those scenarios.
For students on a budget, there are cheap tablets under $200 that will serve you well in class. For students who have a little more to spend and want a tablet that can also stream movies, edit photos for Instagram, and hold a Zoom call, there are plenty of those to choose from as well. As you're perusing the stores to stock up before heading back to school this fall, make sure you're doing your homework before picking up any old tablet off the shelf. For the best ones to take notes (and more), here are a few to choose from.
Specs: 10.9 inch Retina display | Apple M1 8-core CPU | 12 MP camera | Up to 256GB storage | Price: $559
Even Android fans will like Apple's newest iPad Air. The lightweight tablet can do everything -- including taking notes. Compatible with the Apple Pencil (second generation), the 2022 Apple iPad Air makes it easy to take notes in class, as well as sketch (if you're an art student), go to meetings with classmates, and watch seminars virtually if needed. Apple's products are largely customizable, and this is no different. You can opt for one of five colors and get more or less storage depending on what you need.
You can also equip your iPad to use cellular data if Wi-Fi doesn't feel sufficient for class or homework. For students who might need to use their tablets while on the go often, a cellular data plan ensures you can always get online to access what you need for schoolwork and beyond.
Students can also add a Bluetooth keyboard to this iPad to set up in class for note-taking to make it even easier to type as you listen. It operates with an iOS, so if you're a Windows devotee, that could take some getting used to. Plus, as its name suggests, the iPad Air is lightweight so it's not a burden to carry around campus or back home. One drawback with this tablet, though, is while the camera is great quality, you can't use it while doing anything else.
Also: The 5 best note-taking apps for iPad: Take notes for school
Specs: 10.5 inch display | Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y or Intel Core i3 Processor | Intel UHD Graphics 615 | Up to 128GB storage | Price: $375
The Microsoft Surface Go 3 is a lightweight tablet that you'll hardly even notice is in your school bag when you head to class. It's just over a pound, and even if you add a keyboard to it, it still doesn't take up too much space. The Surface Go 3 has a hefty battery life that can last you through a full day of classes and also charges quickly if you need it in a hurry.
You can customize your machine with different storage options and processors to boost it up if you want it to run faster or have more space. Just keep in mind that the more you customize, the higher the price tag. That being said, less storage space means the tablet will fill up quickly, and if you plan to take a lot of notes, that could get you into trouble before you graduate. Starting off with plenty of storage space means no problems later on!
The Microsoft Surface Go 3 also has a facial recognition camera to add a layer of security and runs a Windows operating system. It's also compatible with the Surface pen, should you want to use a stylus while taking notes, and has a crisp 1920x1280 resolution for joining Zoom calls or simply watching Netflix after class.
Specs: 10.1 inch 1080p full HD | Octa-core 2.0 GHz CPU | 2 MP front-facing and 5 MP rear-facing cameras | Up to 64GB storage | Price: $180
Amazon's Fire tablets have come a long way since they first launched in 2011. The Amazon Fire HD 10 Plus is fully equipped to serve as your note-taking tablet for school and it won't break the bank. If you're familiar with the Fire tablets, you already know that this functions a little less like your iPad and a lot more like your Kindle, but it still serves its purpose.
Because of the lower price tag, you have lower-grade cameras and a slightly slower processor than some of the other options, but you still have enough storage to get you through the school year and a good enough screen resolution for Zooms and keeping track of your homework. It doesn't have quite as many app options as other tablet options, but if you just want a simple tablet to use for school, this one works just fine.
Specs: 15.6 inch display | 3840 x 2160 pixels resolution | Price: $1500
If you're someone who wants a tablet for taking notes but know you also need a tablet for art classes, the Wacom Cintiq Pro 16 does both beautifully. Designed with the artist in mind, this tablet allows you to be creative first and foremost. Think of this tablet like a sketch pad. Using the Wacom Pro Pen 2, you can draw on the screen for any of your art classes. Don't worry, though, it can also serve as a place to take notes during class as well. But unlike a traditional tablet, this one works in tandem with your computer. You simply plug it in and transfer your work over. This tablet doesn't run its own CPU, so it doesn't really function as a standalone machine.
This tablet is way more than is necessary for students who aren't in the arts and don't want to use their handheld to draw as well. However, if you're majoring in graphic design, digital media, or anything else art-related, this tablet is super functional for all your classes.
Specs: 11 inch display | Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU | 12 MP camera | Up to 512GB storage | Price: $578
Samsung is constantly updating its tablet family, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 is one of the newest on the market. The touchscreen display is bright and responsive, which means note-taking is a breeze, and so is watching videos for class or streaming lectures. This tablet comes with the S Pen, so you don't have to worry about an extra spend to get a stylus.
This new-and-improved tablet is one of the most responsive tablets you'll find, with reviewers saying that it truly feels like you're writing on paper. If you're someone who likes the old-fashioned way of putting pen to paper, this tablet allows you to do that and still save your work digitally. It also has quite a large display so you can see your work and can be boosted with more storage if needed.
The android interface can be frustrating for Apple users
The best note-taking tablet is the iPad Air based on price, ratings, display, features, and more. It's also super lightweight making it the perfect choice to carry between classes.
Apple iPad Air
10.9 inch Retina display
Up to 256GB storage
Microsoft Surface Go 3
10.5 inch display
Up to 128GB storage
Amazon Fire HD 10 Plus
10.1 inch 1080p full HD
Up to 64GB storage
Wacom Cintiq Pro 16
15.6 inch display
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8
11 inch display
Up to 512GB storage
Choosing a tablet really comes down to what you want to use it for and what you want to spend. Basic tablets tend to be cheaper, so if you don't plan to use it for much other than taking notes, you can look at spending a little less and getting something like an Amazon Fire Tablet.
However, if you want a tablet that you plan to use for school and for everyday things like streaming, photo editing, and more, something like an iPad might be a better choice.
Choose this note-taking tablet...
If you want...
Apple iPad Air
The best overall option.
Microsoft Surface Go 3
A lightweight note-taking tablet.
Amazon Fire HD 10 Plus
A budget-friendly tablet.
Wacom Cintiq Pro 16
A tablet that's perfect for creative students.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8
An Android-friendly note-taking tablet.
In choosing these tablets for note-taking, we considered the screen size and the tablet's functionality, first and foremost. If you're taking notes, you want a screen that you can comfortably see a lot of. We also considered the other specs of the tablets, like storage space, processor speed, and even camera quality.
Though you may be searching for a tablet that will help you take notes, you'll certainly be using it for more than that, so you want to get the most bang for your buck. That's why we took a look at which tablets can hold up in Zoom calls and have the storage capacity for all your homework.
Laptops and tablets largely serve separate purposes. Tablets are designed to be used on the go, which is why they're more portable and more lightweight.
However, you can always opt for a 2-in-1 laptop-tablet, so you have both at the same time. These portable machines function as a laptop and a tablet, though you might find that they're a bit unwieldy as a tablet.
Using a stylus is totally up to you, but it can definitely help with functionality. Some tablets come with a stylus, while others will have them sold separately. If you're looking at this from a cost perspective, consider the fact that the stylus will often be an added expense, but you may find it worth it for ease of use.
Using a tablet to take notes is a lot faster than jotting down notes with a pencil and paper. Plus, there's software that you can use these days to record lectures to make taking notes even easier. If you're on the fence about spending money on a tablet to take notes at school, consider one of the more budget-friendly options just to get you through your classes.
If none of the above caught your eye or don't seem quite like what you're looking for, there are some similar models at different price points that will also serve you well in taking notes at school or at work.