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Best tablets for the holidays: Surface Pro, iPad or Fire

There are fewer than ever, but here are your options.

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iPad, anyone?

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season's best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

A tablet can be a thoughtful gift to consider buying this holiday season for an important person or even an entire family. The sometimes-low prices and family-friendly practicality puts tablets into holiday gift territory in a way that phones (which can be a personal choice) and laptops (which can break your budget) just don't. Many people consider getting a tablet, but never actually buy one, so it can be a near-guaranteed hit to give as a gift.

The field of tablets has shrunk even further this year, with Google backing off Android tablets and Apple still not updating its top-of-the-line iPad Pro in 2019. Our advice: Spend as little as possible. Expect many of these to be on sale during the holiday season.

Do you want a casual iPad, an even-less-expensive Fire tablet or a Microsoft Surface? Here are the best tablet choices.

All of these products (or previous versions thereof) have been fully reviewed or anecdotally tested by CNET editors. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's small refresh to its entry-level iPad increases the screen size just a bit, offers long-lasting battery life and adds support for smart connector-attached keyboards. Older processor aside, this is a perfectly good iPad, and it's already on sale. But for an even better deal, consider Apple's 2018 9.7-inch iPad, which has nearly identical hardware specs (aside from screen size that's an inch smaller) -- you can often snag the 128GB version of the device for $300, which is a great deal. Read our Apple iPad 10.2-inch 2019 review.

Read more: Best 2-in-1 PCs in 2019 for when you need a laptop and tablet in one

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple refreshed the Mini in the spring with Apple Pencil support and an A12 processor that outperforms the bigger 10.2-inch basic iPad. Confusing, huh? Just know that this is a great tablet that can be filled with apps that make it more of a gaming tablet or a drawing tablet, but its smaller surface size may not suit people who want to use it as a laptop replacement. iPad Mini review.

Read more: Best laptops, desktops and tablets for designers and creatives in 2019

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's Face ID-enabled, USB Type-C iPad Pro has the best processor and best design, and works with Apple's improved, newer Pencil from 2018. This powerful tablet with hours of battery life and a liquid retina display also may be on sale this holiday. But you may also consider an IOU and wait for the next version of the device if it arrives early-to-mid 2020. Read our Apple iPad Pro (2018) review.

Read more: Best laptops of 2019

Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon's rock-bottom tablet prices are always shocking, and this year's Fire 7 is a solid budget tablet pick for basic video/game/kid apps needs. As always, Amazon Prime lets you get a lot more out of it content-wise, and Amazon's Fire ecosystem is more limited than Android. But if you're buying for a child, definitely invest in the Kids Edition, which includes a rubberized case, a free year of kid-friendly FreeTime Unlimited content -- and a no-questions-asked two-year replacement warranty for damaged units. Read our Amazon Fire 7 (2019) review.

Read more: The best gaming laptop performers of 2019

Amazon

The 10-inch Fire tablet Amazon just released is faster and better than the 7 and 8-inch Fire tablets, and it's still a pretty low $150 (or less). It also charges its battery life via USB-C now. Fire HD 10 gets an upgrade.

Read more: Best laptop deals 2019: Windows and Chromebooks for under $500

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Microsoft has a newer Surface Pro 7, but last year's 6 is still good, and sometimes comes in a great bundle with its keyboard. Anyone looking for the best Windows tablets to use for work or a tablet that can become a full PC, look no further. Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review.

Read more: The best Chromebooks for 2019

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's getting almost impossible to find Android tablet options from name-brand manufacturers, but Samsung still makes them. The Tab S6 Android tablet is expensive, but it's compact and has an optional keyboard with trackpad, and connects to monitors using Samsung's DeX technology. This is the one to consider if you want Android. Galaxy Tab S6 hands-on.

Read more: Best 15-inch laptops for 2019

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the right price, the Chromebook X2 could be one of the best tablets of the bunch as far as deals go. It's a functional Chromebook laptop that's also a detachable tablet, and it can also play Android apps. Read our HP Chromebook x2 review.