Three best tablets
Tablets were originally gadgets only found in science fiction -- futuristic, impossibly thin, interactive glass panels have always been standard issue on Star Trek -- but the digital age has finally caught up. It's now more affordable than ever to get a full-featured tablet that can do anything from browsing your favorite websites to accurately predicting local weather. In fact, more and more consumers are replacing their heavy, cumbersome desktop and laptop computers with powerful tablets.
If you're ready to join the tablet revolution, read on for our best advice on getting a model that's perfect for your lifestyle.
Considerations when choosing tablets
When it comes to tablets, there are several essential features to keep track of while you're shopping. Here are the ones that matter most.
Screen size: The biggest factor to consider when shopping for tablets is screen size. It will determine the tablet's footprint, as well as how easy it is (or isn't) to operate. Small tablets include a 7-inch screen, measured diagonally; larger models can be anywhere from 9.7 inches to 12.9 inches. If you need a tablet for casual tasks, a smaller one will do. If you need to be productive with your tablet, you'll be better served by a larger model.
Mobile operating system: The software that your tablet runs will depend on the manufacturer. You'll need to choose between Google's Android, Amazon's Fire OS (which is a proprietary version of Android), and Apple's iOS. The operating system you choose will dictate what apps you can use and what other devices you can use your tablet with, so choose carefully.
Tablets vs. 2-in-1s: Most tablets are just that: tablets. But some models are actually 2-in-1s, which means they can function both as a laptop with a built-in keyboard and as a tablet designed for touch input. These are exclusively Windows devices, so if you need a tablet that also has a complete version of the Windows 10 operating system, buying a 2-in-1 is a solid choice.
Storage capacity: Like all web-connected gadgets, tablets require local storage space to keep everything you download, from MP3 music files to your most important work documents. Before you compare specific models, think about your own storage needs. If you keep most of your data in the cloud, you can probably get away with a smaller 32GB tablet. If you plan on keeping photos, movies, or any other large files, you'll probably need a tablet with at least 64GB of onboard storage.
Resale value: In the digital age, nothing lasts forever, and after a few years most tablets will begin to feel slow. That's when it will be time to upgrade. If you usually sell your old gear in preparation for upgrades, it can pay off to buy gadgets known to have a higher resale value. For example, most Apple iPads will still be worth roughly 75% of their original purchase price after two years, while Amazon's Fire tablets typically only recoup 30% to 40%.
Buy a tablet with the same mobile operating system as your smartphone. Most apps are only a dollar or two, but over time, the money you spend on them can really add up (surprisingly, most tablet manufacturers make more money from the sale of apps and digital content than they do on tablet sales alone). Consider the apps you use most on your smartphone: will you be using those on your tablet as well? What would the cost be if you had to pay for all of them again on a new mobile operating system? If you're a fan of consistency, buying a tablet with the same operating system as your smartphone can be a huge convenience -- and a real money saver.
Use a tablet as a second monitor for your laptop or desktop computer. No matter what type of tablet you buy, you can find an app designed for using it as a second screen. With a second-screen app, you can expand the size of your computer's desktop or display key information like the time, temperature, or your calendar.
Make sure your tablet is kid-ready before you do anything else. If you have kids, learn how to use your tablet's parental controls before you power it on for the first time. It's easy to forget how important it is to monitor kids' behavior online, so make a plan for keeping your little ones safe before you start to use your tablet. Whether you use the built-in parental controls or engage a third-party online safety service, don't skip this step.
Q. What is "tablet mode" in Windows 10?
A. Some tablets are 2-in-1s, which means they're both a Windows laptop and a tablet. These devices are always running Microsoft Windows 10, but they have the ability to go into tablet mode, which reorients the operating system to be touch-friendly. In tablet mode, you have access to the same Windows apps that you do in standard desktop mode, but many of the interfaces have been redesigned to better handle touch input. If you're looking at tablets but still need a proper desktop OS, consider buying a 2-in-1.
Q. How can I get my web browser bookmarks from my laptop on my tablet's web browser?
A. It depends on the browser. Most web browsers, such as Google Chrome or Firefox, allow you to set up an online account so you can keep your web browsing bookmarks in the cloud. All you have to do is sign in to the tablet version of the browser to restore everything you need. Other browsers often have export functionality, so if you can't create an account to back up your content, you might have better luck exporting your bookmarks from one device to an accessible storage location and importing them with your new tablet.
Q. Do I need to buy a stylus to use with a tablet?
A. No. A stylus can be a great tool for work that requires pencil-like precision, but it's not necessary for operating your tablet. All tablets are designed to take touch input from their screens, and most tablet apps are built to be used that way. If you have a specific need for input from a stylus -- for example, if you want to create digital illustrations with your tablet or take notes by hand -- a stylus is an ideal tool, but unless you have a specific need in mind, there's no need to buy a stylus.
Tablets we recommend
Best of the best: Apple 12.9" iPad Pro
Our take: Apple's super-size tablet is fast enough to keep up with anything you throw at it, whether that's work documents, your newest artistic masterpiece, or the latest blockbuster movie. If you're a fan of iOS -- or if you're ready to stop carrying around a bulky laptop -- this is the tablet to get.
What we like: The newer, larger screen makes everything easier to see and interact with. When paired with an Apple Pencil, it becomes an indispensable tool for note-taking and sketching.
What we dislike: The iPad Pro's price point isn't for the faint of heart, and for that much money, the Apple Pencil should be included.
Best bang for your buck: Amazon Fire HD 10
Our take: Amazon's best tablet gives the iPad a run for its money, and it comes with a whole host of unique services and features for Prime members. If you need a workhorse tablet that's a fraction of the price of the competition, or a laptop that can withstand more abuse than normal, the Fire HD 10 is your best option.
What we like: Impressive technical specs, including Dolby Atmos audio, make the Fire HD 10 the best value on the market by a wide margin. Amazon Prime members will love accessing free video, audio, and ebook content on their Fire tablets.
What we dislike: The 1900 x 1200 screen resolution looks good but isn't as impressive as the 2224 x 1668 "retina" resolution found on Apple's iPad Pro.
Choice 3: Samsung Galaxy S4
Our take: The Galaxy S4 continues Samsung's streak of producing outstanding tablets. The S4 has the trifecta of essential tablet qualities: it's thin, it's light, and it's powerful.
What we like: The 2560 x 1600 resolution is gorgeous. When paired with a Samsung DeX, the tablet adapts its interface to be more like a full-fledged laptop.
What we dislike: As with all Android tablets, it's unclear how long the Galaxy S4 will continue to receive updates. At this price point, the omission of a fingerprint reader is surprising.
Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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