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The best note-taking tablets: Expert tested

We went hands-on with the best note-taking tablets from Apple, Samsung, Boox, and more to help you take notes the modern way, especially for back-to-school season.
Written by Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
Apple iPad Air (5th generation) | Best note-taking tablet overall
iPad Air 5th gen
Apple iPad Air (5th generation)
Best note-taking tablet overall
View now View at Best Buy
Boox Note Air 3 C | Best lightweight note-taking tablet
Split screen feature on the Boox Note Air 3 C
Boox Note Air 3 C
Best lightweight note-taking tablet
View now View at Best Buy
Amazon Kindle Scribe | Best note-taking tablet for reading
kindle-scribe-81
Amazon Kindle Scribe
Best note-taking tablet for reading
View now View at Best Buy
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 | Best note-taking tablet for Android users
samsung-galaxy-tab-s9-s-pen
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9
Best note-taking tablet for Android users
View now View at Samsung
Amazon Fire Max 11 | Best budget note-taking tablet
fire-max-11-8
Amazon Fire Max 11
Best budget note-taking tablet
View now View at Amazon

Tablets can do so many different things, but one of their go-to uses these days is for taking notes. These devices make it easier than ever for students or professionals to jot down everything they need while being portable and even powerful enough to replace a heftier laptop. 

Tablets run the gamut in terms of everything they can do (and all the prices they show up at), so even if you're looking for a tablet to take notes in classes or meetings, it's important to consider what else you might want to use your tablet for. For students going back to school (or heading off to college in the fall), you might get a tablet instead of a laptop, while professionals might carry one for commuting purposes since they are much more portable. There are note-taking tablets on the market that fit both of those scenarios. 

Also: The best tablets you can buy

What is the best note-taking tablet you can buy right now?

ZDNET went hands-on with the following tablets, with our pick for the best note-taking tablet overall being the iPad Air, thanks to its lightweight build and compatibility with the second-generation Apple Pencil. But we also included tablets from Boox, Amazon, and more to take digital notes on this back-to-school season.

The best note-taking tablets of 2024

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Fully customizable with color, storage, and access
  • Fast speed with Apple's M1 chip
  • Retina display
Cons
  • Only compatible with iOS
  • Camera cannot be used with other apps
More Details

Even Android fans will like Apple's iPad Air. The lightweight tablet can do everything -- including taking notes. Compatible with the Apple Pencil (second generation), the iPad Air makes it easy to take notes in class or meetings 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. 

In addition, you can also equip your iPad to use cellular data if Wi-Fi doesn't feel sufficient for classes or commuting. For students or professionals who might need to use their tablets while on the go often, a cellular data plan ensures you can always get online to access. 

Review: iPad Air (2022): So good I almost regret buying my iPad Pro

ZDNET contributor, Jason Cipriani, went hands-on with the iPad Air and was impressed by its 2-in-1 compatibility thanks to the Apple Keyboard and Apple Pencil additions. "It's as powerful as the iPad Pro, but costs hundreds of dollars less -- even when you max out the storage -- with a display that's on par with the 11-inch iPad Pro," he wrote. 

Overall, 98% of Best Buy customers who bought the iPad Air would recommend it to others and gave it an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5.

iPad Air (5th generation) tech specs: Display: 10.9-inch Retina display | Processor: Apple Silicon M1 | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Space gray, starlight, pink, purple, blue | Cameras: 12MP rear, 4K video. 12MP Ultra Wide camera | Weight: 1.02 pounds | Dimensions: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.24 inches | Connections: USB-C port | Battery life: 10 hours

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Pen-to-paper writing experience
  • Excellent note-taking features and templates
  • BOOXdrop to share files
Cons
  • Screen lags when browsing web or watching videos
  • Speaker could be better
More Details

The Boox Note Air 3 C is a color e-ink tablet that is built for note-taking. The screen has a color 1240 x 930 (150 PPI) resolution and a 2480 x 1860 (300 PPI—the same as the Kindle Scribe) resolution in black and white. Plus, it's super lightweight at just under a pound. 

I went hands-on with the Boox Note Air 3 C and it got me out of my productivity slump I had been having. I found my creativity creeping back by using the included stylus, which has virtually no lag, has 4,096 pressure levels, and feels as smooth as your favorite ballpoint pen on a smooth pad of paper.

Review: The best E Ink tablet I've tested is not by ReMarkable or Kindle

This tablet has all the best features of the top note-taking apps built right in: there are dozens of templates to use, audio recording, color-coding, inserting links and attachments to notes, and more. Plus, built-in artificial intelligence allows for text recognition, shape perfection, and a strikethrough erase feature that makes erasing much easier.

Plus, it has several features that make it a productivity machine. For example, there is a split-screen feature that allows you to switch between two different apps. And, verified customers like the BOOXdrop feature which allows you to easily send files to the tablet from your computer or smartphone to the tablet. It takes mere seconds, and you can annotate PDFs and other Word documents with ease. 

Boox Note Air 3 C tech specs: Display: 10.3-inch Kaleido 3 display | Processor: 2.4Ghz Octa-core + BSR | Storage: 64GB | Memory: 4GB | Colors: Black | Weight: .95 pounds | Dimensions: 8.9 x 7.6 x 0.23 inches | Connections: Wi-Fi (2.4GHz + 5GHz) + BT 5.0 | Battery life: 3,700mAh Li-ion Polymer

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Impressive battery life
  • Included pen for handwritten notes
  • Compatible with Microsoft Word
Cons
  • Premium Pen upgrade will cost you more
  • Does not support note-taking on magazines or newspapers
More Details

The Kindle Scribe is perhaps the perfect example of part e-reader, part tablet. It has the same functions you've come to know and love in a Kindle, like a 300 ppi glare-free screen, weeks of battery life, and adjustable warm light. It's also compatible with Amazon's Basic or Premium Pen, so you can take handwritten notes or underline important quotations within the book you're reading. 

Your notes are automatically organized in one place for every book so that you can browse, review, and export them via email. The Kindle Scribe also comes with preset templates to help you create notebooks, journals, and lists, and you can create sticky notes in Microsoft Word and other compatible Word documents. 

Review: Amazon Kindle Scribe: 7 months later, it's so close to perfect

The Kindle Scribe comes with the Basic pen, but verified Amazon customers say it's best to opt for the $30 premium pen so you get more advanced features like a dedicated eraser and the shortcut button.

ZDNET contributor, Matthew Miller, called this 2-in-1 tablet "close to perfect" in his hands-on review. "A key function is how I can quickly and easily erase my handwritten notes by 'brushing' the eraser portion of the $59 Premium Pen. It's an optional accessory for the Scribe, but one that I highly recommend picking up if you want the full note-taking experience," Miller advises. 

Kindle Scribe tech specs: Display: 10.2-inch 300 ppi Paperwhite display | Storage: 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB | Weight: 0.96 pounds | Dimensions: 7.7 x 9.0 x .22 inches | Battery life: Up to 12 weeks (at 30 minutes per day)

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Stunning display
  • S Pen in box
  • Many of the same features as the pricier S9 Ultra and S9+
Cons
  • Missing apps
More Details

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 is part of Samsung's latest tablet series released this year. The Tab S9 comes with 8GB or 12GB of memory and starts at 128GB of storage which can be expanded by up to 1TB thanks to microSD card support. Inside the Tab S9 is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. 

The 11-inch LCD display is compact enough to make the tablet portable. But most importantly, included in the box with the S9 is an S Pen that you can use to write or draw in your favorite apps, just like you can with the Samsung Galaxy Note lineup.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S9

Miller also tested this base Tab S9 model, saying it was an enjoyable experience, including the new and improved S Pen that has an IP68 waterproof rating and a 2.9ms latency. "Samsung clearly beats Apple by including the S Pen with the tablet, and I love using the Samsung Notes app that includes support for syncing flawlessly with OneNote. It's hard to beat a Samsung tablet when it comes to taking notes, and I stand by that," he wrote. 

Reddit users also note that the Samsung Notes app is "heaven" for note-taking.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 tech specs: Display: 11-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 2560 x 1600 display | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 | Storage: 128GB or 256GB (expandable with microSD) | Memory: 8GB or 12GB | Colors: Graphite or Beige | Cameras: Front: 12MP UW, Rear: 13MP | Weight: 1.10 pounds | Dimensions: 10.01 x 6.53 x 0.23 inches | Connectivity: USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 1 | Battery life: 8,400mAh

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Affordably priced, especially when bundled
  • Solid battery life
  • New, modernized design
Cons
  • Performance is just alright
  • Important productivity apps are missing
More Details

With a starting price of $245, the Fire Max 11 brings an 11-inch display, 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage with support for 1TB of microSD card storage. If you're looking for a tablet for work and play, the Fire Max 11 Productivity Bundle costs $370, but comes with a keyboard with touchpad, case, and a stylus that has 4,096 levels of pressure.

Review: Amazon Fire Max 11: Easily the best Fire tablet yet

Cipriani also went hands-on with the Amazon Fire Max 11 and said that it is "easily the best Fire Tablet Amazon has made yet."

"You can use the pen to write in the search field of the Silk Browser or the search bar on the Fire Max 11's main screen," he wrote. "The handwriting recognition is pretty good, converting my horrible handwriting to text with impressive accuracy." Plus, it has an impressive battery life of up to 14 hours. 

Overall, 94% of Best Buy customers would recommend this tablet to others, giving it an average rating of 4.7 out of 5.

Amazon Fire Max 11 specs: Display: 11-inch, 2000 x 1200, 410 nits brightness, 213 ppi | Processor: MediaTek MT8188J, 2.2Ghz Octacore processor | Storage: 64GB or 128GB | Memory: 4GB | Colors: Gray | Cameras: 8MP rear and 8MP front-facing camera | Weight: 490 grams | Dimensions: 259.1 x 163.7 x 7.50 millimeters | Connections: 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C port | Battery life: 14 hours

What is the best note-taking tablet?

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 anywhere.

Note-taking Tablet

Price

Display

Pen/Stylus

Apple iPad Air

$559

10.9-inch Retina display

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)

Boox Note Air 3 C

$500

10.3-inch Kaleido 3 display

BOOX Pen Plus

Kindle Scribe

$390

10.2-inch 300 ppi Paperwhite display

Amazon Basic or Premium Pen

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9

$800

11-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 2560 x 1600 display

S Pen

Amazon Fire Max 11

$329

11-inch 2000 x 1200 display

Amazon Stylus

 *Lowest price at the time of writing. Please note that prices may vary based on retailer and available promotions, sales, or discounts.

Which note-taking tablet is right for you?

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 them 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 you can use for school and 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. It's as powerful as the iPad Pro but much lighter in weight and less expensive. 

Boox Note Air 3 C

A lightweight note-taking tablet. It comes with dozens of templates to choose from and useful note-taking and productivity features.

Amazon Kindle Scribe

A tablet and e-reader in one. You can make notes within the book(s) you are reading, as well as through apps like Microsoft Word.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9

An Android tablet for note-taking. An S Pen is included in the box.

Amazon Fire Max 11

A budget-friendly tablet for under $350. It is compatible with the Amazon Stylus pen, and you can also attach a keyboard to it.

Factors to consider when choosing the best note-taking tablet

Before you buy a note-taking tablet, you'll want to consider the following:

  • Display: A tablet's experience is largely based on its display, so pay attention to tablets with HD resolutions and even paper-like displays. 
  • Stylus compatibility: Most people use a stylus when taking notes on a tablet, so consider tablets that either come with a stylus right out of the box or have the option to buy one from the maker separately. It's important to note most universal styluses will also work with these tablets. 
  • Size: Tablets that you will mainly use for note-taking purposes will have different requirements than tablets you need to replace a laptop with. Smaller size tablets are best for note-taking purposes and are lightweight and portable.
  • Price: Tablets will vary in price from $150 all the way up to $1,000 or more, depending on storage capacity, display quality, processors, and more. 

How we test tablets

In choosing these tablets for note-taking, we considered tablets we have used hands-on and reviewed at ZDNET. We do extensive hands-on testing of tablets, including ease using them for work and entertainment, and paying attention to specs like display, battery life, and overall experience while using the tablet.

For products we recommend, we write a product spotlight review that we update periodically with new features and pricing information.

Do I need a stylus for a note-taking 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, especially if you're the type that likes the feeling of writing out your notes rather than typing them.

What are the best note-taking apps?

The best note-taking apps let you digitize your notes and to-dos while keeping them all in one place or syncing them to a cloud. Our favorites are Notability, Evernote, GoodNotes 5, and even Apple's free Notes app is a worthy choice.

Does the Apple Pencil convert handwriting to text?

Yes--the Apple Pencil can convert your hand-written notes into text for better legibility. Here's how: 

  1. In the Notes or Freeform apps, tap to show the tool palette.

  2. In the tool palette, tap the Handwriting tool (to the left of the pen).

  3. Write with Apple Pencil, and Scribble automatically converts your handwriting into typed text.

Other note-taking tablets we've tested:

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.

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