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The 7 best tablets: Top picks for students

What is the best tablet for school? The iPad (ninth generation) is ZDNet's top pick. With storage up to 256GB and a lightweight design, it's a well-rounded tablet for work, streaming, and digital art.
jason-cipriani
taylor-clemons
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

With more offices and schools opting for virtual attendance or hybrid schedules, a tablet can be a great alternative to a laptop with its portability, ease-of-use, and connectivity options. A good tablet is something that should have a long battery life, a respectable selection of apps and services, and have more functionality 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 2022 list. 

Below is a list of tablets designed to fit specific needs and budgets. Whether you're looking for a low-cost device for your kids or something that can effectively replace a computer to take back to school, 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.

Partial view of a man using his 9th generation iPad along with an Apple Pen and Magic Keyboard.
Apple

Specs: 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 MacBook or other laptop. 

Apple hasn't expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro lineup quite yet, and with the Apple iPad Mini and iPad Air 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. 

Pros:

  • Up to 256GB storage
  • Lightweight design
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • Somewhat limited facial recognition 
  • Limited connectivity ports
Close-up of an older woman making a video call on her Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet
Amazon

Specs: 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 | 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 this cheap tablet 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 touchscreen 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 budget tablet for someone who wants to browse the internet, watch videos, or check email without spending a ton of money. 

Pros:

  • Excellent battery
  • 4 colors to choose from
  • Very lightweight

Cons:

  • No biometric hardware
  • Limited connections
  • Limited storage
A Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, Samsung Galaxy smartphone, S Pen, and Samsung earbuds on a white background.
Samsung

Specs: Display: 14.6-inch, 120Hz refresh rate, Super AMOLED 2,960x1,848 display | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, microSD up to 1TB | Memory: 8GB, 12GB, 16GB | Colors: Graphite | Cameras: 13MP and 6MP rear. 12MP and 12MP ultra-wide front camera | Weight: 1.6lb | Dimensions: 12.85 x 8.21 x 0.22 inches | Connections: USB-C | Battery: 11,200mAh

The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has the promise of being the best tablet in Samsung's lineup, and for many, that will equate to being the best Android tablet available. Samsung announced the new tablet in Feb. 2022, with an official launch near the end of the month. 

The Tab S8 Ultra features a 14.6-inch Super AMOLED display, runs Android 12, and Samsung's S Pen stylus is included in the box. When ordering your Tab S8 Ultra, you can equip it with 512GB of storage and 16GB of memory for $1,399, however, it's likely overkill. 

The base model comes with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage, and a microSD card for adding up to an extra 1TB of storage to the tablet, the combination of which should be enough for most. 

With a tablet of this size, you're most likely looking at it as a laptop replacement. That means you'll want to pick up the $349 Book Cover Keyboard. Once connected, you'll be able to use Samsung DeX on the S8 Ultra, effectively turning the tablet into an Android-powered 2-in-1 device with plenty of space for multitasking and using more than one app at a time. 

Pros

  • Giant display
  • It comes with an S Pen
  • Battery life
  • 5G option

Cons

  • A keyboard accessory to take full advantage of isn't included
  • Pricey
A young girl sitting at a desk, using a Microsoft Surface Go 3 tablet to do her homework.
Microsoft

Specs: 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. 

Pros:

  • Windows Hellow
  • Lots of ports
  • Great battery
  • Up to 256GB storage

Cons:

  • Can only install apps from Microsoft Store in Windows 10 S Mode
Partial view of a woman in a red sweater using an iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard to edit a film.
Apple

Specs: 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 Apple 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 Bluetooth 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.

Pros:

  • Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity available
  • Excellent display
  • Great battery life
  • 4K video capable

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Only one connection port
Close-up of someone connecting their Microsoft Surface X to a keyboard cover. The tablet screen shows a video call.
Microsoft

Specs: 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 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. 

Pros:

  • Excellent battery life
  • Up to 512GB storage
  • Plenty of ports
  • Windows Hello

Cons:

  • Can only run 32-bit apps
Close-up of someone using a 5th generation iPad Air to design a 3D model of a child's bedroom.
Apple

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

Apple's latest update to the iPad Air is more of a catch-up announcement than anything. The fifth-generation iPad Air keeps the same design we saw Apple bring to the Air in late 2020, but it now boasts an M1 processor and 5G connectivity. 

The Air still sits confidently between the base iPad and the iPad Pro when you look at price, but it's effectively caught up to the iPad Pro in terms of performance. But with a 10.9-inch display, a Touch ID sensor that doubles as a power button on the side of its housing, it's more affordable and slightly different than the iPad Pro. The new iPad Air still works with the Magic Keyboard 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 Apple 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 best iPad to get if you have the cash to spend. 

Pros:

  • Great battery life
  • M1 processor
  • 4K video capable
  • Up to 256GB storage

Cons:

  • Only one USB-C port

What is the best tablet?

The 9th generation iPad is our pick for the best tablet you can buy. It has a battery life of up to 10 hours, up to 256GB of storage, and a lightweight design that's perfect for working or streaming movies on the go. Its fairly affordable price tag also makes it a great choice for students who need a mobile work computer.

Tablet

Price

Display size

Storage

9th Gen iPad

$329

10.2 inches

Up to 256GB

Amazon Fire HD 10

$150

10.1 inches

Up to 512GB with microSD card

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra

$1100

14.6 inches

Up to 1TB with microSD card

Microsoft Surface Go 3

$388

10.5 inches

Up to 256GB

iPad Pro (2021)

$799

11 inches

Up to 2TB

Microsoft Surface Pro X

$899

13 inches

Up to 512GB

5th Gen iPad Air

$600

10.9 inches

Up to 256GB

Which is the right tablet for you?

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. 

Choose this tablet...

If you want...

9th Gen iPad

The best overall option

Amazon Fire HD 10

An affordable tablet for Amazon loyalists

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra

An Android tablet with expandable storage

Microsoft Surface Go 3

A compact tablet for travel and mobile work

iPad Pro (2021)

A tablet to replace your laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro X

A powerful tablet that can be equipped with LTE connectivity

5th Gen iPad Air

A lightweight tablet that won't break the bank

How did we choose these tablets?

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. 

What does it mean if a tablet is Wi-Fi only?

When a tablet says that it is "Wi-Fi Only," that means that it requires a wireless internet connection to access things like email, websites, and apps. There are models available that give you the option to use LTE cellular data to connect to the internet, but if you aren't planning on traveling with your tablet, you can stick to a Wi-Fi only model.

Does a tablet need a phone number?

Any tablet that is capable of connecting to an LTE cellular network for internet requires an associated phone number. If you've bought a tablet through a phone carrier like Verizon, chances are it's LTE-capable and has an associated number. If you've bought your tablet via Amazon or a big-box store like Best Buy, it most likely is Wi-Fi only, and it does not need to be attached to a phone number for you to access the internet.

Is a tablet better than a laptop?

That depends on what you want to use your tablet or laptop for. Digital artists tend to prefer tablets since they're easier to draw on with a stylus. Tablets are also great for photo editing and streaming movies if you get one with a large enough screen size. But if you want to do things like create spreadsheets, type in a word processing program, or do intensive 3D animation or modeling, you're better off with a laptop.

What is the best tablet for drawing?

The best tablet for drawing is the 2021 iPad Pro. You can choose either an 11 or 12.9-inch screen for plenty of room to work, and the Liquid Retina XDR display has incredible color accuracy and detailing so you can create digital paintings and sketches that look as good as they would on paper. You can also configure the iPad Pro with up to 2TB of storage for plenty of space for raw files and finished projects as well as heavy-duty art apps.

What is the best Amazon Fire tablet?

The Amazon Fire HD 10 is our pick for the best Amazon Fire tablet. It has a battery life of 12 hours, expandable storage up to 512GB, and a lightweight design that is perfect for browsing the web, streaming videos, or working on the go. It also has an exceptionally affordable price of just about $150, so you can get a great tablet without spending a fortune.

Are there alternative tablets worth considering?

Got a kid? Then perhaps consider a rugged device for them, like the one below:


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