2020 was a great year for tablets. Not only did we see a number of new iPads hit the market, after years of neglect we also had a fresh wave of Android tablets hit the scene. But which should you buy in 2021?
This is a tricky question to answer for even the most tech-aware of buyers as not all tablets are created equal. A cheap tablet may have a decent on paper specs sheet, but with real-world use many are terrible.
Even if they are good, many tablets and iPads have a bespoke focus, meaning what’s good for one person may not be great for another. If you just want to watch Netflix in bed or while out and about, there’s no point paying oodles for a flagship tablet. Equally, if you’re a creative or power user you’ll need to invest in one with a decent stylus and CPU.
Check out our other round-ups for the best tablets for specific uses. We’ve got a list of the best Android tablets, the best budget tablets and the best tablets for kids.
1. iPad Air 4
The best tablet
- Great design
- Switch to USB-C
- Slick software
With its iPad Pro-inspired design, A14 chip and wide support for accessories, the iPad Air 4 is easily the best tablet you can buy in 2021.
There are a number of reasons why we rate this tablet so highly. For one, straight out of the box it looks great – taking the best bits of the squared-off Pro models and adding a splash of colour. The 10.9-inch screen lacks a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, yet during testing we found it remains sharp and colourful. For people looking to work on it there is full support for the excellent Magic Keyboard plus the newer Apple Pencil 2.
Inside there’s the same A14 Bionic chipset you’ll find powering the iPhone 12 series and a battery that’ll easily get through the day. When it does come to charging, there’s now USB-C (no more Lightning) so you can charge it with the same cable as your MacBook.
If you’re purely using an iPad for scrolling the web and watching a few videos, the iPad 8 is good enough. However, if you want a more capable iPadOS machine then you get a lot more for your money here.
Our only real qualm is the odd choice of storage. If 64GB isn’t enough, you need to jump all the way up to the 256GB model which is closing in on the price of the 11-inch iPad Pro.
2. iPad 8
The best basic iPad
- Nice speed improvements
- Still feels great to use
- Supports Pencil and Keyboard
- 32GB storage is stingy
- Design could do with a refresh
- Screen is very reflective
The iPad 8 isn’t the most exciting tablet on the market. It has classic, slightly retro design with a chunky bezel and is missing a few key features you’ll find on more expensive tablets. But having thoroughly used it as our main tablet, we found that for many people it remains the best option, because it gets all the basics right.
With the basic model retailing for less than £350 it’s one of the best value tablets on the market.
The A13 Bionic chip is blisteringly fast and, while it doesn’t have a high refresh rate, the 10.8-inch screen is more than good enough for most people featuring a high max brightness and decent colour accuracy. During testing we found this made it great for casual Netflix or Disney Plus movie binging.
Add to this its stellar battery life and iPad OS software, which is super intuitive and full of useful apps and services and the iPad 8 easily earns its place on this list.
3. iPad Pro (2020)
Best tablet for digital artists
- Amazing ProMotion Display
- Great design
- Second-generation Apple Pencil is great
- Very expensive, and the accessories are even more so
The iPad Pro is a stunning piece of engineering, even if it looks just like the 2018 version it is replacing and is not too dissimilar to the cheaper iPad Air 4.
Benchmarking the tablet we found it’s enormously powerful too, with 6GB RAM, storage options ranging from 128GBG to 1TB, Apple’s own A12Z Bionic chipset and the choice of Wi-Fi only or 4G and Wi-Fi. there’s also a USB-C port rather than Lightning, which allows devices such as SD card readers and cameras to be plugged in directly, although you can’t plug in expandable storage.
Many will also find the price hard to swallow. The 11-inch version starts at £769/$799 and the 12.9-inch version costs £969/$999. If you also purchase the Smart Folio Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2, you’re spending a lot of money. The trackpad-packing Magic Keyboard is at least another £299.
With real world use we found the Liquid Retina display, however, is gorgeous, as is the ProMotion tech that switches refresh rates to ensure smooth scrolling – trust us, it looks really great.
4. Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus
The best for entertainment
- Utterly unbeatable display
- Includes S Pen
- Very fast in everything it does
- 5G option if you’ve money to burn
- Software still a bit unpredictable
- App selection remains far superior elsewhere
If you want a top end tablet to keep you entertained, but don’t fancy an iPad or Surface, then the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus is the slate for you. The device is Samsung’s answer to the iPad Pro and comes with a number of stellar features, including one of the best displays on the market.
The 12.4-inch OLED display comes with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate which during testing we found is one of the brightest and best calibrated we’ve seen in quite some time.
Additionally, thanks to its optional 5G, Android software, top end CPU and high refresh rate, we found it’s also an absolutely great device for gaming.
Stadia, xCloud and GeForce Now all run on the tablet meaning you can stream amazing triple A games from the cloud hassle free, if you’re subscribed, especially if, like us, you have a Bluetooth controller to hand.
The combined package makes it the best premium tablet around for entertainment.
5. Apple iPad Mini 5 (2019)
Best tablet for powerful features in a small package
- Good display
- Extremely powerful
- Works well with the Apple Pencil
Visually, the iPad Mini 5 (or iPad Mini 2019) looks identical to the previous model, which is a bit of a shame. Under the hood, however, is where the magic happens.
This new mini iPad is powered by the same A12 Bionic chip you’ll find in the iPhone XS and iPhone XR, which means it’s very, very fast. Reviewing the tablet we found there’s enough grunt to tackle any iOS game without any fuss and it’s a real joy to play titles like Fortnite or Asphalt 9 on the 7.9-inch display. Battery life is great too.
We also found the added Apple Pencil support turns the iPad Mini into an excellent notebook.
6. Amazon Fire HD 8
A really good tablet at an impressive price
- Hands-free Alexa
- Show Mode is a nice addition
- Ad-riddled interface
- Basic navigation a little slow
During our review we found the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a really good tablet at an impressive price. In our experience Amazon’s budget tablets have always been good and the addition of Show Mode makes this edition a much more interesting device.
Benchmarking the device we found its screen is fair, the build quality is fine and there’s plenty of storage. While it doesn’t feel incredibly fast, it has enough power to do justice to some the most impressive Android games – plus Alexa on a tablet is a nice touch.
This is one of the best budget tablets you can buy from a well-known brand. It costs just £79.99 for the tablet on its own or £109.99 with the nifty new Show Mode charging dock. To get the most out of the device, definitely consider picking up the latter and this is a great package at the price.
The Fire HD 8 is perfect for those who want a cheap, basic tablet primarily for media consumption and reading. There’s more on offer here than with a Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Oasis and it’s a lot more compact than the very large Fire HD 10. It’s a great way to binge on some Prime content and the addition of hands-free Alexa gives it something other tablets simply don’t have.
• Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 review
7. Microsoft Surface Go 2
Best tablet for Windows
- Windows 10 gives users lots of freedom
- Extremely portable
- Kick-out stand offers versatility
- Pricey considering type cover isn’t bundled in
- Low-powered performance
- Dated design
If you’re not a huge fan of Android or iOS, the Surface Go 2 is a solid alternative. It boasts Windows 10 in S mode, giving much more freedom for downloads and customisation. If you’re a student or an office worker, you’ll probably find it hugely beneficial to have the option of Microsoft Office too – you can stuff this tablet full of spreadsheets and documents.
We also found the kick-out stand turns the Go into an ultra-versatile machine that makes it easy to watch Netflix at your desk or hammer away at the keyboard. Given the steep price, however, it’s disappointing that the type cover isn’t bundled in the box.
While the Surface Go 2 doesn’t have the performance, display or even the price advantage to rival the 9.7-inch iPad, it’s still a great alternative if you’re looking for a versatile, workaholic machine and are happy to shell out for Microsoft’s separate accessories.
How do we test tablets?
We’ve tested every product on this list thoroughly and there are links to our full reviews at the end of each summary.
Our expert reviewers use a test model as their primary tablet for at least a week to see how it performs in the real world before they give it a final score. For bigger devices we also run long-term reviews – our expert keeps the product for a prolonged length of time and updates our review with any new issues they encounter.
We also run every tablet we use through a series of synthetic benchmarks to gauge its performance. We then test its battery by looping a locally stored video until it dies.