How to buy a tablet

From bargain basement Android tablets to complex Windows 2-in-1 hybrids, buying a tablet is more confusing than ever. We're here to help.

Xiomara Blanco Associate Editor / Reviews - Tablets and monitors
Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.
Xiomara Blanco
7 min read
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There's a lot more to tablets than just the iPad . If you're looking to replace a PC with something simpler and more portable, or just want a grab-and-go device for email and movies, we've got answers to all your tablet questions.

But if you just want a fast and easy answer, these are a few of our current top choices.

Apple iPad Pro

Apple 's iconic iPad is the most popular tablet, and for good reason: it has stellar performance, the largest app store and a fantastic ecosystem that supports access to an incredible number of tools, games and music and video apps. The processor inside of the iPad Pro 9.7, our top choice, is one of the fastest mobile chips available. It's the best iPad model to get, though it also comes in a larger 12-inch model. If you want to save some cash, the older iPad Air 2 is still a worthy choice, too.

Google Pixel C

The Google Pixel C is the best Android tablet.

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Google Pixel C

If you prefer Android, the Google Pixel C is for you. It's a speedy 8.9-incher with top-notch graphics performance. Google 's growing ecosystem is confidently catching up to Apple's, though it still lacks in tablet-optimized apps. It also has a solid magnetic keyboard accessory (sold separately) that connects so strongly, you can even hold it upside down and it won't detach.


Microsoft unsurprisingly makes the best Windows 10 tablet.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Need something that's a bit more powerful? The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is essentially a laptop inside of a tablet's body. It comes with a stylus, has the latest Intel processors , and its stylish, magnetic, removable keyboard cover-case (sold separately, sadly) protects it without adding too much bulk. Note that this model is from late 2015, so a new version is expected sometime in 2017.


The best budget tablet is the Amazon Fire.

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Amazon Fire

Looking for a great deal? You can pick up the 7-inch Amazon Fire for only $50 (£50; Amazon is not available in Australia, pricing converts to AU$65). It features easy access to Amazon 's huge media library, but it doesn't offer much more that that. If you feel like an small upgrade, the Amazon Fire HD 8 starts at $120 (£90, converts to AU$157), and features a sharper, larger screen and faster performance.

Check out the rest of our top tablets for more options. Before you start shopping though, here are our answers to the most common questions about tablets.


Thinking about what you want to use a tablet for will help you buy one.

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1. What's the best tablet?

Ultimately, the best tablet is the one that fulfills your needs and fits your budget. To figure that out, you need to ask yourself what you plan on using it for.

Are you looking to replace your PC, or do you simply want a device to watch movies on when traveling? Do you require constant internet access? What about HDMI for connecting it to your TV? Need a detachable keyboard, too? The specific needs you have for a tablet will help you determine which one's best for you.


Expandable storage is an easy way to load all of your media to your tablet.

Josh Miller/CNET

One of the most important factors to everyone should consider is storage capacity. Whether it's movies, music, games or books, content is an integral part of the tablet experience. Having space to store that content is essential. Some tablets include storage expansion options like microSD cards, which can allow you to increase your storage capacity at a fraction of the cost of upgrading to a model with larger capacity, if one's available.


Just because you can buy a cheap tablet doesn't mean that you should.

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2. Why not just buy the cheapest one?

Because you deserve better. Just kidding, kind of.

As with cars, computers and everything else in life, you get what you pay for. The best tablet experience will run you at least $600-$800 (£550-£750, AU$850-AU$1,500) for just the entry-level tablet, or almost double that if you include a keyboard or more internal storage. Understandably, not everyone can afford (or wants to pay for) a top-of-the-line tablet. And why pay that much anyway, when you can get a perfectly fine basic tablet for $50? Look beyond the price; think about everything you're getting in terms of hardware and software.


Nice features like a built-in stand and HD screen inflate a tablet's price.

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There's usually a good reason behind the price of each tablet. Amazon can offer its affordable Fire tablet because it has a bare-bones design, skimps on any extra features and has a very limited app store. And despite the fact that the iPad Pro has no native HDMI or storage expansion support, Apple can justify its lofty starting price thanks to its premium design, fast performance, incredible app support, refined interface and robust ecosystem.

Depending on what you're looking to use your tablet for, you can splurge on a high-end stunner, choose a midrange model, or even settle for an affordable basic buy. Whether it's for work or casual use, there are plenty of configurations available to appease everyone.


Typically, the nicer the screen, the higher the price.

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3. What's the best brand?

Choose your tablet manufacturer wisely. Computers aren't perfect, and tablets in particular can be even less perfect. If there are problems, you'll want to make sure you've chosen a vendor that will address said issues with frequent and effective patches. Also, if you'd rather avoid frustration, you might want to choose a manufacturer whose tablets aren't known for requiring frequent and effective patches.

If you're planning to buy an Android tablet, choose a vendor that has a reputation for updating to the latest version of Android in a timely manner. Google tablets get the fastest updates, but Asus is usually quick on its feet; some other vendors, not so much.


Small or large? Your choice.

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4. What size should I get?

Do you need a tablet for your commute or just playing games on the couch? These questions can help determine what screen size will work better for you.

7 to 9 inches (small)

Tablets with screen sizes measuring 6 to 8 inches diagonally across the screen are usually cheaper and typically underpowered compared with larger tablets. However, small tablets are much more portable, usually fit more easily into purses and small bags, and make much better e-reader alternatives. Unfortunately their popularity and availability have decreased thanks to the introduction of phablets, which can sometimes have screens as big as 7 inches.

8.9 inches and above (large)

This is the category most tablets fall into. Large tablets for the most part have faster processors, and because of their larger screens, they provide a better viewing experience that isn't quite matched on smaller tablets. Games feel more interactive; movies and TV shows more immersive. Though I'd much rather read a book on a 7-inch tablet, for movies and games, a bigger screen is always better.


Want cutting-edge screen quality? Check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, the first HDR-ready tablet.

Josh Miller/CNET

Then there's the issue of screen quality. A tablet's screen is arguably its most important quality. The screen's resolution and panel type determine its viewing angles, sharpness, brightness, vibrancy and color accuracy. The highest-resolution of any tablet screen is 2,560x1,600 pixels and the higher the resolution, the sharper the images look on the screen.

When choosing a tablet, make sure the panel is an in-plane switching (IPS) or plane-line switching (PLS) screen. Anything less and the difference in quality will be readily apparent. If screen quality is your priority, take a look at the tablets with the best screens.


Many tablets run Google's Android operating system.

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5. Which one's better: iOS, Android or Windows 10?

Again, depending on your needs, one operating system might work better for you than others.

Apple iOS

Since its inception in the first iPhone, iOS has been the software powering Apple mobile devices. iOS thrives thanks to a deep media ecosystem that allows sharing across devices, a gargantuan app catalog, and its very simple, user-friendly interface. Apple iPads are the only tablets that run iOS and, if you already have an iPhone, you'll feel right at home with an iPad.

Google Android

While iOS tends to get first dibs on the latest apps, Android has definitely made strides of late with its media ecosystem. Movies, TV shows, magazines and games, in particular, have seen vast improvements in both quantity and quality of selections. Also, it's a more customizable OS than any other.


A Windows 10 tablet can do anything a Windows 10 laptop can do.

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Microsoft Windows 10

Microsoft's latest operating system works great on traditional laptops and desktops , but also on tablets and hybrids. The latest Windows OS combines the best parts of old and new Windows features into a cohesive package, and its functionality focuses largely around taking advantage of a touchscreen. Unfortunately, the app store is severely lacking in variety and number of apps available in comparison to both iOS and Android, but because it's Windows, you can get software from just about anywhere.

Amazon Fire OS

Running only on Amazon Fire tablets, Fire OS runs on top on an Android base. Its custom interface sorts your content by category, and it has the deepest support for e-books of any tablet. Amazon Prime members benefit from free streaming or downloading of its vast video catalog, as well as access to its lending library of books. Don't expect nearly as many apps as Android and iOS have at their disposal, however. The Amazon App Store is highly curated and selection is limited, so you most likely won't find the latest hot games. The Fire HDX 8.9 tablet also has access to near-instant customer service via video chat, thanks to Amazon's Mayday feature, as well as item recognition software Firefly.


Not all stylus are created equal -- or offered for free.

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6. Do I need a stylus?

All tablets are touchscreens and assume that you'll use your finger as your stylus. But if you want a one for drawing, writing, etc., there are a few models that are designed to work with one. Each is a little different, with varying types of stylus hardware and apps available. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 are two of the best models that include one with purchase. The Apple iPad Pro offers the impressive Pencil stylus, but it's sold separately.

7. Where can I find the latest tablet reviews? What if I have more questions?

The newest tablet reviews can be found at CNET.com/tablets, and our lists of the best tablets in different categories, which are updated weekly, can be found here. If you've got more questions, send me an email through my CNET profile page, post on my Facebook, or "@ me" on Twitter.