The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

10 best tablets from Apple, Android, Windows and more

These sleek, smart models have come a long way since Apple’s breakthrough product

David Phelan
Thursday 02 September 2021 15:16
<p>We tested for reliability, performance, touchscreen and processor responsiveness, breadth of apps and more </p>

We tested for reliability, performance, touchscreen and processor responsiveness, breadth of apps and more

It’s 11 years since Apple launched its first iPad. Though there had been tablet computers before, they were clunky affairs; essentially touchscreen laptops before the software was properly developed for them.

The iPad was a revelation because it was slim, light and portable with an interface designed purely for touch, a fast and responsive screen and hundreds of optimised apps from day one. Now, there are more than a million apps for the three main tablet operating systems: Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s iPadOS, (iOS on earlier iPads) and Google’s Android.

There are two others, Amazon’s bespoke version of Android called fire OS, which has fewer apps but they’re all tested to work. And then there’s Huawei’s version of Android which lacks some of Google’s key apps like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Play Store.

Prices for tablets vary hugely, from Amazon’s which are spectacular value to Apple’s iPad range and Microsoft’s Surface tablets which are pricier and have exceptional build quality. In the middle are Samsung, Huawei and a couple of other brands.

All tablets have wi-fi connectivity and a few, notably from Apple, have cellular capability so they can connect to the 4G network, too. In one case, the latest iPad Pro, 5G connectivity is available.

Read more:

How we tested

We’ve been testing for reliability, performance, responsiveness of touchscreen and processor, elegance of interface, breadth of apps and solid build.

These are the best tablets for 2021:

  • Best overall – Apple iPad pro 12.9in: From £999, Apple.com
  • Best Amazon tablet – Amazon fire hd 10 plus: From £179.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best value – Huawei matepad pro: £399.99, Huawei.com
  • Best design – Apple iPad air: From £579, Apple.com
  • Best Windows tablet for power – Microsoft surface pro 7: From £799, Microsoft.com
  • Best Apple tablet for value – Apple iPad: From £319, Apple.com
  • Best Amazon tablet for value – Amazon fire 7: From £49.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best Windows tablet for value – Microsoft surface go 2: From £361, Microsoft.com
  • Best Android tablet – Samsung galaxy tab s7+: £799, Samsung.com
  • Best portable video playback – Amazon fire hd 8 plus: £109.99, Amazon.co.uk

Apple iPad pro 12.9in

Best: Overall

  • Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14
  • Screen size: 12.9in
  • Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 1TB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available, cellular goes to 5G
  • Colour choices: Space Grey, Silver
  • Dimensions: 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm
  • Weight: 641g
  • Expandable storage: No
  • Battery life: 10 hours

Apple’s latest iPad pro uses, in the larger 12.9in display version only, a whole new screen technology. It’s still an LCD screen, like every other iPad, but it has 10,000 tiny backlights which make for a punchier display with better colours, deeper black hues and great contrast levels. It looks amazing. The design is the same as last year, and similar to the iPad air, with flat edges which allow the magnetic attachment of the optional Apple pencil accessory (£119, Apple.com). It also uses Face ID, where looking at the tablet unlocks it, as on the latest iPhones. This is the first tablet with 5G compatibility in those models with cellular connectivity.

Just as important as the new display is the performance which is blisteringly fast. That’s down to the M1 processor, built by Apple for its latest computers like the iMac, and is significantly faster than any rival tablet or, indeed, most high-end laptops. It means that the most demanding apps can’t trouble the power of the iPad pro. For many people, this could be overkill, but for those who need the fastest, most powerful device, or for anyone who wants the best display ever on a tablet, the iPad pro is hard to beat.

Amazon fire hd 10 plus

Best: Amazon tablet

  • Operating system: Amazon fire OS
  • Screen size: 10in
  • Screen resolution: 224 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 32GB, 64GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi only
  • Colour choices: Slate
  • Dimensions: 247 x 166 x 9.2mm
  • Weight: 468g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 12 hours

The new fire HD 10 plus tablet has a 10.1in display and the latest version has a more powerful processor and extra operating memory to make it extra-fast. Battery life is excellent and this is a highly enjoyable tablet to use. It’s also available in a plus productivity bundle, which is of remarkable value. It includes the tablet, a keyboard case and a year’s subscription to Microsoft 365 so you can use it as a full-on laptop with Microsoft Office apps – costing from £239.97.

Like all the Amazon tablets, it comes in two versions, with or without advertisements – these appear on the lock screen only and are seen when you wake it up, and you can get rid of the ads at any time by paying £10. The limited range of Android apps may put some off – though there are still over half a million to choose from. The fire HD 10 plus, rare for a tablet, can be charged wirelessly with a compatible charger.

Huawei matepad pro

Best: Value

  • Operating system: Android, Huawei EMUI
  • Screen size: 10.8in
  • Screen resolution: 280 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 128GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
  • Colour choices: Midnight grey
  • Dimensions: 246 x 159 x 7.2mm
  • Weight: 460g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 14 hours

Like the iPad pro, this tablet has a stylus which connects magnetically, but here it’s included in the box. It also has a full-screen front, though a camera peeps out of the corner of the display. Like the fire HD10 plus, it can be charged wirelessly. Uniquely, it’s capable of reverse wireless charging, too, so you can put a compatible device like a phone or headphones on the back to charge it. It also has cellular connectivity available as an option but unlike Apple, it doesn’t charge extra for this, and it’s fast and powerful too.

Although this is an Android tablet, Huawei does not use full Google Mobile services (these include Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play Store). This means there are far fewer apps available, though the store that is on board, called Huawei App Gallery, is growing fast. It has its own email app, for example, and its own mapping app in conjunction with TomTom. Some missing apps like Netflix and Gmail can also be run via the tablet’s browser.

Huawei currently offers a free gift, either their matepad keyboard or mini speaker, when purchasing this tablet.

Apple iPad air

Best: Design

  • Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14
  • Screen size: 10.9in
  • Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 64GB, 256GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
  • Colour choices: Space grey, silver, rose gold, green, sky blue
  • Dimensions: 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm
  • Weight: 460g
  • Expandable storage: No
  • Battery life: 10 hours

The new iPad air was released in September, and it looks tremendous, with a similar design to the much pricier iPad pro. And it’s more colourful: the iPad air comes in five colours: space grey, silver, green, rose gold and sky blue, all of which are eye-catching. Since the front is all glass, you only see the colours in the anodised aluminium that forms the back and edge, which gives the iPad its premium build quality. And the latest iPad air has a bigger screen than most previous iPads: 10.9in.

This new iPad air also introduced an all-new feature – the touch ID fingerprint sensor to unlock the screen and authorise payments is no longer on the front of the tablet, taking up space south of the screen. No, it’s now mounted in the power button on the top edge. This simple move is transformational.

It has also switched from the lightning socket which charges most iPads and all iPhones, to the more common USB-C. This means it’s simple to find the right cable and it can output what’s on screens to other displays easily. The flat-edge design means it works with the second-generation Apple pencil stylus, too. It’s also compatible with the new magic keyboard accessory (£279, Apple.com) which offers a backlit keyboard with highly comfortable keys and a useful trackpad. With this in place, the air becomes a decent laptop substitute.

Read the full Apple iPad Air review

Microsoft surface pro 7

Best: Windows tablet for power

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Screen size: 12.3in
  • Screen resolution: 267 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 128, 256, 512 GB, 1TB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
  • Colour choices: Platinum, black
  • Dimensions: 292 x 201 x 8.5 mm
  • Weight: 775g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 10.5 hours

Where the surface go 2 is small and super-portable, this top-end surface has a bigger display and can be configured with lots of storage and a much faster processor. You can also configure the RAM which helps the tablet run faster – this is something you can’t adjust with the iPad, for instance. The addition of a type cover (£124.99, Microsoft.com) and surface pen (£99.99, Microsoft.com) bumps up the cost but adds real versatility. The surface range often offers comprehensive connectivity, and there are USB-A and USB-C sockets here. The 12.3in screen is bright and inviting, while the trademark kickstand helps with the surface pro 7’s versatility, too.

Apple iPad

Best: Apple tablet for value

  • Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14
  • Screen size: 10.2in
  • Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 32GB, 128GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
  • Colour choices: Space Grey, Silver, Gold
  • Dimensions: 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm
  • Weight: 483g
  • Expandable storage: No
  • Battery life: 10 hours

Even though this is the cheapest iPad in the range, it offers outstanding value. There’s nothing basic about it, with its premium build quality and materials (glass and aluminium). It has access to the same apps and a sublimely simple operating system. As well as working as a tablet, by adding a keyboard and Apple pencil, it becomes a light, affordable laptop. This is something that will be even more the case this autumn when the next iPad OS software is released.

The display is 10.2in, an increase to the 9.7in screen on most previous iPads, mostly achieved through slimming the frame around the display’s long edges. The design was also refined to make the iPad slimmer and lighter. The touch ID button sits below the screen, so there are bigger gaps at the top and bottom of the tablet. This iPad is very fast – it gained a speed increase last September – and for most people it will be more than enough.

Amazon fire 7

Best: Amazon tablet for value

  • Operating system: Amazon fire OS
  • Screen size: 7in
  • Screen resolution: 171 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 16GB, 32GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
  • Colour choices: Black, plum, sage, twilight blue
  • Dimensions: 192 x 115 x 9.6mm
  • Weight :286g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 7 hours

It’s hard to find a tablet at a lower price than this, at least if you want a decent brand name attached. The seven-inch display means this is lightweight and effortlessly portable. The screen is fine, though not a match for others in this list which are all higher-resolution than the fire 7. It works especially well for books and audio books, though the e-paper screen of Amazon’s dedicated Kindle ebook readers is easier on the eye. If you’ve bought Amazon movies, Kindle books and Audible audiobooks, they are automatically available. Storage is less than on many rivals but enough for most users. But the price is the real standout here.

Microsoft surface go 2

Best: Windows tablet for value

  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • Screen size: 10.5in
  • Screen resolution: 220 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 64GB, 128GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
  • Colour choices: Black
  • Dimensions: 245 x175x x 8.3 mm
  • Weight: 544g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 10 hours

Microsoft’s surface range of tablets also double as laptops if you add the TypeCover (£124.99, Microsoft.com), a sturdy keyboard that fits to the front of the tablet which is separately available. This is the smallest surface, with a 10.5in display. Even so, it runs a full version of Windows, so has access to a huge range of programs and apps.

It comes in what’s called S Mode, meaning it only works with apps available in the Microsoft Store. If you want other programs, or prefer Chrome to Edge as your browser, for instance, you can choose to switch out of S Mode. It’s free to do this but it is a one-way switch. Surface tablets have a distinctive style which includes a built-in kickstand so you can use the tablet in a variety of positions – Surface tablets also stand out for great build quality.

Samsung galaxy tab S7+: From £799

Best: Android tablet

  • Operating system: Android
  • Screen size: 12.4in
  • Screen resolution: 266 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available, plus 5G option
  • Colour choices: Mystic Black, Mystic Bronze, Mystic Silver
  • Dimensions: 285 x 185.3 x 5.7 mm
  • Weight: 575g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 13 hours

Samsung’s tablet looks glorious, with a pin-sharp OLED display that is easily the best screen on any Android tablet and a fast processor which is highly responsive. The tablet bears a passing resemblance to the iPad pro or iPad air, with its flat edges, rounded corners and a stylus which attaches to the tablet magnetically. The Samsung S pen (£49.99, Argos.co.uk) is bundled with the tablet, though, unlike Apple’s optional pencil. Here, it clips to the rear of the tablet which is not quite as secure a storage place as the pencil which clings to the iPad air’s side.

Still, there’s an optional rear cover which protects the metal back of the tablet and holds the S pen safely. This cover also has a kickstand so you can position the tablet perfectly for watching a movie, for instance. The design is light and thin – the thinnest tablet of any brand at 5.7mm, a little thinner than the iPad pro (£999, Apple.com). The bezel is thin and unlocking happens through a fingerprint sensor which is buried in the display itself. Although the range of apps skilfully optimised for a tablet are far fewer than the iPad boasts, this tablet makes them look and perform their best.

Amazon fire HD 8 plus: From £109.99

Best: Portable video playback

  • Operating system: Amazon fire OS
  • Screen size: 8in
  • Screen resolution :189 pixels per inch
  • Storage capacity: 32GB, 64GB
  • Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
  • Colour choices: Black
  • Dimensions: 202 x 137 x 9.7mm
  • Weight: 355g
  • Expandable storage: Yes
  • Battery life: 12 hours

Though the all-plastic casing is no match for the elegance of the iPad, fire tablets are solid and powerful. This model has an 8in display so it’s almost as portable as the fire 7 (£49.99, Amazon.co.uk) but has much better specifications, including a higher-resolution display which makes it the perfect video playback tablet for the commute, for instance. It also has a recently upgraded processor so it’s especially fast and effective. Like the fire HD 10 plus (£179.99, Amazon.co.uk), you can charge this tablet wirelessly and Amazon makes a compatible dock to do this.

Tablet FAQs

What is a tablet?

A tablet is a small, portable computing device that has a touch screen interface and is designed to be held in one or two hands. It lets you do many of the same things you’d do on your computer or laptop, such as browse the Internet, use social media apps, emails and video calls, and much like your mobile, a tablet can have apps installed on it and you can watch videos. They provide a convenient way of accessing content on-the-go.

How to connect a tablet to a TV

Connecting your tablet to your TV differs per device. If it’s an Android tablet you can use a mini HDMI cable (£7.97, Amazon.co.uk) and mirror the content onto your television screen. As for an Apple device, this process is similar, except you’ll need a lightning cable (£49, Apple.com). If you have Apple TV (£139, Apple.com), you can use screen mirroring and use your television as the playback destination.

Android vs. Apple iPad tablets

The biggest difference between these tablets is the fact they have different operating systems. Apple’s iPad runs on iPadOS, while Android tablets, such as Samsung, run on Google’s Android. Often those who have an iPhone will find an iPad’s interface more familiar and vice versa.

Apple currently only has four different iPad devices on offer, iPad, iPad pro, iPad air and iPad mini, whereas, with Android, there’s far more to choose from, including Amazon tablets.

As for software, we think Apple iPads pip Android since they tend to be more stable and easier to use – Apple approves each app in the App Store, while Android’s Google Play has a lack of supervision in comparison. Similarly, while Android has made strides with its devices, Apple’s remain easier to use owing to their simplicity.

What size tablet do you need?

The size of the tablet you buy is very much down to personal preference and depends on what you want your tablet for. For example, you may choose to opt for something smaller if the main purpose for the device is for entertainment while travelling. While, if it’s for more extended use and work purposes, a larger device will be better suited.

On one end of the size scale, you have a 7in tablet, which is the smallest you can buy and often the cheapest – it’s an ideal choice if you want to be able to hold it in your hand and use it for reading. Some devices are 8in, such as the iPad mini, which you can still hold in one hand, but tend to be a little heavier.

If you’re looking for something a little larger, we’d suggest reaching for a device that is somewhere between 9in and 11in, there are plenty of tablets within this range and cater for different budgets. For example, the fire 10 retails (£179.99, Amazon.co.uk) while the iPad air is a more costly purchase (starting at £579, Apple.com). These larger tablets are more suitable for use over extended periods of time, for example for work purposes, making them a great alternative to a laptop or computer.

As for those larger again, some tablets measure more than 11in and are again ideal for work when you can connect them to keyboards.

The verdict: Tablets

The iPad pro is the ultimate tablet, with a stunning display and astonishingly fast performance. For most people, though, the more affordable iPad air will be sufficient. And for the last word in value, Amazon’s fire 7 is the best tablet in terms of value and portability, if a seven-inch display is enough for you.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on tablets and other tech offers, try the below links:

We’ve also rounded up the best tablets for kids that will keep them entertained and help them learn too

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in