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Best tablet 2021: Apple's iPad isn't your only worthy option

Whether you're looking for a tablet just to watch videos on or one to replace your laptop -- 2021 offers some compelling options.

A good tablet is something that should have a long battery life, a respectable selection of apps and services, and be more than just a screen to watch YouTube videos. Apple has dominated the tablet conversation for years with its iPad line, but it's not the only company with a tablet that's worthy of making our top tablets of 2021 list. 

Below is a list of tablets, in random order, that are designed to fit specific needs and budgets. Whether you're looking for a cheap device for your kids or something that can effectively replace a computer, there's a tablet for everyone. We limited what we included in this list to tablets that offer a reliable experience, along with a mix of affordability and features. Not all tablets are created equal, so we used our years of research, personal experience, and knowledge about the products included here to make suggestions.

Display: 10.2-inch Retina display | Processor: A13 Bionic | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Silver, space gray | Cameras: 8MP rear, 1080p video. 12MP FaceTime camera with Center Stage | Weight: 1.07 pounds | Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches | Connections: 3.5mm headphone jack, Lightning port | Battery life: 10 hours

Apple's tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value out of the group. You get all of the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models in a lightweight form factor with a 10.2-inch display. 

Apple updated the iPad in the fall of 2021 with the A13 Bionic processor and new storage options doubling the previous offering to 64GB and 256GB, respectively. The entry-level iPad is perfect for students or someone who needs a tablet for watching their favorite Netflix shows and ordering groceries but doesn't truly want it to replace their laptop. 

Apple hasn't expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro lineup quite yet, and with the iPad Air and iPad Mini now without a home button, the ninth generation iPad is the only tablet left in the lineup with a home button with Touch ID. There is, however, a Smart Connector to add Apple's Smart Keyboard, turning the iPad into more of a laptop than a tablet. And, of course, it supports the Apple Pencil.

Better yet? The iPad starts at $329, but you can often find iPad deals that bring the price down to $299 or cheaper. It's incredibly powerful and even more affordable. 

Display: 10.1-inch HD display | Processor: Octa-core 2.0GHz | Storage: 32GB or 64GB | Memory: 3GB | Biometrics: N/A | Colors: Black, denim, lavendar, olive | Cameras: 5MP rear. 2MP Front-facing camera | Weight: 16.4 ounces pounds | Dimensions: 9.73 x 6.53 x 0.36 inches | Connections: 3.5mm headphone jack, Lightning port | Battery life: 12 hours

Amazon's Fire tablets run the company's forked version of Android, complete with Amazon's services baked right in. You won't find any of Google's own apps, or even the Google Play Store, on any Fire tablet. However, Amazon's own App Store has many of the same apps that regular Android devices have access to, as well. Apps like Netflix, Facebook, or Spotify are available. 

The Fire HD 10 is affordable, faster than ever, and doubles as an Echo smart speaker, with Alexa awaiting your commands. After testing one for a few weeks, I was impressed with its versatility and performance. You can get it with 32GB or 64GB of storage, but don't fret if that's not enough. It has microSD card support for up to another 512GB of storage. 

The screen is 10.1 inches and is full 1080p high definition. Battery life should be good enough to get you around 12 hours of use, or enough to get through a full day of use. 

It's not the fastest tablet available, but the Fire HD 10 is perfect for someone who wants to browse the internet, watch videos, or check email without spending a ton of money. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 or Tab S7 Plus

11- or 12.4-inch | Up to 512GB | Samsung DeX


Display: 11-inch or 12.4-inch display | Processor: Snapdragon 865 Plus | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Memory: 6GB or 8GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Varies by model | Cameras: 8MP front. 13MP+MP rearl | Connections: USB-C 3.1 | Battery life: 14 hours

Samsung's Tab S7 and Tab S7 Plus run Android with Samsung's OneUI proprietary skin and tweaks. The tablets integrate with Samsung's products and services and even include an S-Pen stylus in the box. 

Samsung also sells an optional keyboard accessory for those who want to get some work done, which auto triggers the company's DeX platform that converts either tablet into a more laptop-like Android experience with windowed apps. 

You can get either model in black, silver, bronze, or navy. The Tab S7 has an 8,000mAh battery, while the Tab S7 Plus has a 10,090 mAh battery. 

Both models have the option to expand storage, those who want to be entertained on the go can store up to an additional 512GB of movies and music. The Tab S7 starts at $650, while the Tab S7 Plus starts at $850. 

Display: 10.5-inch PixelSense Display | Processor: Intel Pentium Gold or Intel Core i3 | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Memory: 4GB or 8GB | Biometrics: Windows Hello face sign-in | Colors: Platinum | Cameras: 8MP rear, 1080p video. 5MP front facing camera | Weight: 1.07 pounds | Dimensions: 9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches | Connections: 1 x USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect Port, microSD card reader | Battery life: 11 hours

Microsoft just announced the Surface Go 3, which will launch alongside Windows 11 on Oct. 5. It's a welcome update to Microsoft's smallest and most portable 2-in-1 for Windows fans. The design hasn't changed for the Go 3, meaning it should work with all of the original accessories, including the Type Cover keyboard

The Go 3 has faster internals that provides a better overall experience and performance, and this time around, all three configurations of the Go 3 use an SSD instead. Previously, the combination of slower storage via an eMMC drive and the Intel Pentium processor wasn't an enjoyable experience. We'll have to wait until we can test the Go 3 to see if the Pentium and SSD combo is worth spending money on, or if you should opt for the i3 build.

It's a small tablet, with a display of just 10.5-inches, but it runs full Windows that you can customize and tweak to your liking. 

The tablet runs Windows 10 in S Mode and limits you to installing apps from only the Microsoft Store, along with a few other security features. But you can opt for the full Windows 10 experience by leaving S Mode and never looking back. 

iPad Pro (2021)

As close as you can get to a laptop

(Image: Apple)

Display: 11-inch Retina or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display | Processor: Apple Silicon M1 | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB | Biometrics: Face ID | Colors: Silver, space gray | Cameras: 12MP rear, 10MP ultra wide, 4K video. 12MP FaceTime ultra wide camera | Weight: 11-inch: 1.03 pounds 12.9-inch: 1.5 pounds | Dimensions: 11-inch: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches, 12.9-inches: 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.25-inches| Connections: Thunderbolt/USB 4 port | Battery life: 10 hours

Apple's 2021 iPad Pro lineup, unveiled in March, is by far the most capable and impressive iPad lineup we've seen. But a side effect of its capabilities is that it's also the most expensive tablet, by a long shot. The iPad Pro's design follows the flat-edge design that Apple's adopting across its product lineup. And on the inside you'll find Apple's M1 processor. Yes, that's the same exact processor that Apple is currently using in many of its Mac computers. 

I've been using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro since it launched and found it to be faster and more capable than any other iPad model we've tested to date. Another highlight of the larger iPad Pro is its Mini LED display that Apple calls Liquid Retina XDR, which is brighter and offers more color contrast. 

The Thunderbolt 4 port enables faster syncing between the iPad and external storage devices, as well as more reliable connections to external monitors (hopefully in the future that means true external monitor support). 

The Pro also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it. The Smart Connector is on the back of the iPad Pro, giving you the option to use it with the Magic Keyboard that includes backlit keys and trackpad, or Apple's Smart Keyboard.

The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for the Wi-Fi model and $999 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $1,099 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,299 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model.

Display: 13-inch PixelSense display | Processor: Microsoft SQ 1 or Microsoft SQ 2 | Storage: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB | Memory: 8GB or 16GB | Biometrics: Windows Hello face unlock | Colors: Matte black or platinum | Cameras: 10MP rear, 1080p video. 5MP front facing camera | Weight: 1.7 pounds | Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.28 inches | Connections: 2 x USB-C, 1 x Surface Connect, 1 x nano SIM | Battery life: 15 hours

The Surface Pro X is like the aforementioned Surface Go 3, only bigger and more powerful. It runs full Windows 10 out of the box (and can be upgraded to Windows 11 once it's released) but because it uses an ARM-based processor, it's mostly limited to 32-bit apps. That means unless you may run into issues with app compatibility. 

The Pro X comes in either Wi-Fi only or with integrated LTE connectivity, a 13-inch display, and is just 7.3mm thin. There's even a special compartment in the optional keyboard to hide the Surface Pen -- it's pretty cool.

I've been using the Pro X as my main windows device for the past year and even with some random issues with apps, it's my go-to Windows device. 

iPad Air (fourth generation)

Middle of the road iPad

(Image: Apple)

Display: 10.9-inch Retina display | Processor: A14 Bionic | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Silver, space gray, rose gold, green, sky blue | Cameras: 12MP rear, 4K video. 7MP FaceTime camera | Weight: 1.0 pound | Dimensions: 9.74 x 7 x 0.24 inches | Connections: USB-C port | Battery life: 10 hours

Apple announced the completely redesigned iPad Air late in 2020. The Air sits confidently between the base iPad and the iPad Pro in terms of performance and price, with a 10.9-inch display, a Touch ID sensor that's been moved to the power button (so long, home button), and it works with the Magic Keyboard for iPad and second-generation Apple Pencil. 

Where the iPad Pro is the model for those who want nothing but the best, the iPad Air is the model for those who want to use the tablet for work and play, without big sacrifices in performance or features. 

Starting at $599, the iPad Air comes with 64GB or $749 for 256GB of storage. You can add cellular to it for an extra $130. For (almost) everyone, this is the iPad to get if you have the cash to spend. 

Our process

We take our time when looking through the wide range of tablets available. From Apple and Amazon to Samsung and Microsoft, there are tablets that run different operating systems and support their respective ecosystems. We looked at the feature set, price point, and integration with other products. 

I've been using tablets and smartphones for over a decade now, and I've tested numerous tablets from the likes of BlackBerry (remember the PlayBook?) to Apple. One thing that's become apparent is that there's not a one-size-fits-all option -- although, there's a strong argument that Apple's base iPad is the model for nearly everyone. 

How to choose

The biggest question you'll need to answer about any tablet purchase is what you plan on using it for: Do you just want something to read a comic book and binge on some Netflix shows while you walk on the treadmill? If so, then a Fire tablet or the base model iPad is going to be more than enough for you. 

However, if you want to use a tablet more like a laptop, then you'll want to consider the iPad Pro, or one of the Surface devices.