How to Choose the Right Tablet
What’s the Best Android Tablet?
The biggest strength of Google’s Android OS is its flexibility. Android lets manufacturers build useful tablets ranging from $50 to $1,000, fitting a broader range of niches and tastes than the Apple iPad, which has dominated the tablet market since it first came out.
In 2020, most Android tablet options cluster at the lower end, an endless array of no-name, plasticky sub-$100 slates sold at your local CVS or through mysterious “fulfilled by Amazon” drop-shippers. While Samsung, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer used to deliver solid iPad competitors for folks who prefer Google services, they’ve all slowed down their tablet production. Samsung’s most recent Galaxy Tab S6 doesn’t meet our threshold for this roundup because of buggy software.
While Android seems to have lost the fight with the iPad and Windows tablets at the top of its range, its strengths at smaller sizes and lower price points are hard to beat. Android tablets also sometimes show up with interesting experimental features, like the Onyx Boox Note2’s large E Ink screen.
Start With Software
Android tablet manufacturers don’t tend to keep their software up to date. While the most recent version of Android is Android 10, most tablets are still on an older iteration. Try to find a tablet running Android 9 or higher.
Companies like Amazon and Samsung like to put their own spin on Google’s OS, adding a bevy of features, new app stores, and completely revamped user interfaces. It’s not for everyone, but those who are familiar with Amazon’s Fire OS or Samsung’s user experience should give the latest devices from each company a try. And if you’re already heavily invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, you might want to stick with one of the latest Fire tablets.
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Even if you don’t have the most recent OS iteration, Android continues to be the most configurable tablet operating system you’ll find. It’s a master multitasker, with an excellent notification system and top-notch integration with Google services like Gmail, Hangouts, and Google Maps. Android is home to plenty of great apps, but there still aren’t as many tablet-specific options as you’ll find for the iPad.
Should You Buy a Cellular or Wi-Fi Tablet?
All of the major carriers sell cellular-enabled tablets. You can add them to a monthly family plan, or pay for data by the day. T-Mobile tablets are unlocked while AT&T and Verizon are locked by default. Verizon, however, will unlock tablets 60 days after purchase, provided they’re paid off.
Cellular tablets are great for people who require a data connection everywhere they go, but most people will do just fine with a Wi-Fi tablet. Most carriers allow you to use your phone as a hotspot for those times when you’re not close to Wi-Fi. Of course, hotspotting will quickly burn through your battery, but that’s where power banks come in. You’ll want to check out your plan before making any decisions, though, because some carriers limit the amount of LTE data that can be used with a mobile hotspot.
Don’t Forget About Design
Performance on even the least expensive devices tends to be passable these days, so pay extra attention to design and display quality. The software experience might improve over time, but that chintzy plastic body isn’t getting any upgrades.
Low-cost tablets also tend to have dull, 1,024-by-600 or 1,280-by-800 screens, that can look grainy to eyes used to even midrange smartphones. Higher-quality tablets are often in the 2,048-by-1,536 range, which is notably sharper. If you’re planning to use your tablet for Netflix binges, reading ebooks, or as a laptop replacement, we recommend IPS and AMOLED displays for their wide viewing angles, vibrant colors, and excellent contrast.
There are plenty of bargain bin options out there promising the same Android experience as big names. While many of these off-label tabs are perfectly serviceable, we recommend choosing a brand you can count on for software support and hardware quality control. For more, see our favorite budget-friendly models.
Check out the selection here for the best Android-based tablets we’ve tested. If you’re looking for a great phone to complement your new tablet, head over to our best Android phones roundup. Or if you want to look beyond the realm of Android, check out our roundups of the best tablets for our favorite iOS options.
Where To Buy
Pros: Solid performance for the price. Good battery life. USB-C. Fire OS 7 brings many improvements.
Cons: Limited app selection. Mediocre speaker quality and cameras.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s Fire HD 10 remains the most reliable 10-inch tablet you can buy for $150, with solid performance, good battery life, and a sharp display.
Pros: Simple user interface.
Works as an Echo Show.
Cons: Amazon’s app store falls short of Google Play.
UI is very oriented toward showing Amazon content.
Bottom Line: The 2018 edition of the Amazon Fire HD 8 remains the best media tablet you can get for under $100.
Pros: Full Google Play support
Solid battery life
Doubles as a secondary monitor
Cons: Wi-Fi turns off during sleep
Some third-party apps don’t display correctly
Bottom Line: The Onyx Boox Note2 is a large-format E Ink reader that can show pretty much any document you need, and it doubles as an Android tablet and a second monitor.
Pros: Sleek build.
Great stylus for drawing and note-taking.
Excellent Wi-Fi connectivity.
Dex brings desktop-like experience.
Keyboard accessory costs extra.
Android-powered tablets still can’t do everything Windows tablets can.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is the best Android tablet we’ve seen to date, but it still can’t beat Windows-powered 2-in-1s for productivity.
Solid overall performance.
Good battery life.
Cons: Poor camera quality.
No dual-band Wi-Fi.
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Tab 4 8 is an affordable Android tablet with a long-lasting battery and decent performance for average multimedia use.
Pros: Good screen and speakers multimedia streaming
Versatile form factor
Doubles as a smart display
Cons: Underwhelming performance
Runs dated version of Android
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab is a versatile Android tablet that does double duty as a smart display.
Runs relatively stock Android.
Cons: Poor battery life.
Lackluster display and cameras.
Bottom Line: Walmart’s 8-inch onn.
tablet is a solid alternative to Amazon’s Fire line for anyone who prefers traditional Android software to the Amazon-focused Fire OS.
Pros: Solid performance.
Good build quality.
Access to Google Play store.
Cons: Underwhelming cameras.
A bit pricey for what you get.
Bottom Line: The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 is a relatively affordable Android tablet with decent specs, but you can get more bang for your buck if you don’t need access to Google Play.
Increased storage options.
Includes Hands-free Alexa.
Cons: Poor performance.
Underwhelming sound quality.
Amazon-centric OS limits app options.
Bottom Line: Amazon’s $50 Fire 7 tablet for 2019 features minor hardware upgrades, but not enough to recommend over the Fire HD 8 for all but the most budget-conscious buyers.
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