Best tablets UK 2021: from Android to Apple, these tablets will perform best and last well
The late great Apple visionary Steve Jobs had a habit of developing electronic products we didn’t know we needed. The iPad tablet was one of them.
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Fast forward a decade and his amazing mobile flatscreen portal to the online world has become one of the most ubiquitous electronic devices on the planet.
Today, we have a wide range of tablets to choose from but they’re not all Apples. Microsoft has waded in with some very decent products, namely the Surface Go series, as has Amazon with its range of great budget-priced Fire tablets.
However, the current leaders of the tablet pack are unquestionably Apple and its chief adversary Samsung, whose wide range of Galaxy tablets have given the mighty Apple a very good innings indeed.
How to choose a tablet
The first thing you need to know is that Apple, Samsung, Amazon and Microsoft products all run on different operating systems: iPadOS (Apple), Android (Samsung), Fire OS (Amazon) and Windows 10 Home (Microsoft).
Choosing an operating system is a major consideration that often depends on the individual’s other computer and mobile products. Hence, if you already own a MacBook laptop and an iPhone, it makes sense to opt for an iPad. And if you have an Android phone or Galaxy Book then perhaps go for a Samsung Galaxy.
The reason for this is that products that use the same operating system are much more easily synced together and you will notice this most when it comes to the transferal of photos.
For instance, when you snap a picture on your iPhone, it will eventually make its way to all your other Apple products, whether it’s an iPad, MacBook or an iMac desktop computer. The same applies to Samsung and Microsoft but not Amazon, which only makes one genuine mobile device, the Fire series.
What kind of connectivity do you need?
Another key consideration is whether you want a wi-fi only model or one also with 4G or 5G cellular connectivity that can be used away from home – or anywhere without a wi-fi signal. In general, you can easily get by with a wi-fi model which will be a quite a lot cheaper.
Most public places have wi-fi but if you’re ever caught short and don’t wish to use your much smaller phone to, say, surf the web or reply to an email, you can easily tether the tablet to your phone as a ‘hotspot’ and use the phone’s 4G or 5G signal.
Storage is another major point that you should think about before splurging the money. A tablet with 64GB of storage may sound enough now but once you’ve started adding photos and videos, storage space can deplete rapidly.
This isn’t an issue with the majority of Android tablets because they normally include a MicroSD card slot to increase storage size to anything up to 1TB. Sadly, Apple’s iPad range doesn’t support MicroSD card usage so always opt for a model with the most storage you can afford.
The user interfaces on all the makes and models reviewed here are remarkably similar since they are all icon-based – just like your phone.
Yes, some of the behind the scenes stuff works differently but if you’re used to an Apple product, you should have no trouble working your way round a Samsung one, and vice versa.
Apple iPad Air
Apple’s new iPad Air is simply a stunner in every department, from its sleek and slim aluminium casing, narrow bezel and glorious 10.9-inch anti-reflective Liquid Retina display to its ultra fast and efficient Apple A14 Bionic chip which is said to offer 40% faster CPU performance and 30% faster graphics.
Available in four casement colours (sky blue, green, rose gold and space grey), this tablet takes user friendliness to the highest echelon, partly because it can also be used in conjunction with the Apple Pencil and, better still, Apple’s new, utterly amazing – but rather pricy – Magic Keyboard (£299).
When used with the keyboard – which incidentally also serves as a protective wallet – the iPad is transformed into a laptop of sorts, with mouse tracking via the keyboard’s built-in Touch Pad.
With its 10 hours running time, rapid Wi-Fi 6 access, 12MP back camera, 7MP front HD camera for video calls, plus access to a zillion app and even free access to a year of Apple TV+, this tablet is about all you need in the hand for day-to-day communication, work flow and entertainment.
Available in two main configurations: wi-fi only and wi-fi/cellular.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7
The S7’s head-turning, razor-thin aluminium casing and dazzlingly sharp Super AMOLED display catapult this tablet into the pro league, alongside the aptly-named iPad Pro. And yet the S7 is nearly £110 cheaper. Better still, it also comes with an S Pen stylus – a handy little tool for those who love drawing, painting and doodling.
Like the latest iPads, the Tab S7 can also be converted to behave more like a desktop computer, replete with mouse and cursor control. However, there is a little latency between the movement of the mouse and cursor, making it a slightly less than satisfying experience.
Nevertheless, pretty much everything else about this tablet screams ‘buy me’, including a Qualcomm SDX55M 1.8GHz processor that tackles everything you ask of it – whether it’s playing a high-spec game or editing a 4K video – with consummate poise.
Another neat design touch is that the S7’s 8 Megapixel front-facing camera is positioned on the side of the display as opposed to the top – a much more suitable position for video calls when used in landscape orientation. Oh, and don’t worry about battery usage because this baby runs for up to 15 hours on a single charge.
If you’re an Android fan and in the market for a top-flight 11-inch Galaxy tablet that boasts a tranche of impressive design flourishes and state-of-the-art specs, then this is the model for you. The Galaxy Tab S7 is available in three storage capacities (128GB, 256GB and 512GB), with scope to add a MicroSD card for even more storage. It also offers a choice of 4G or 5G connectivity. A brilliant tablet, through and through.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
This two-in-one model flips from tablet to a laptop in a trice. The Surface Go 2 is equipped with a high-resolution 10.5-inch PixelSense display, an 8MP rear-facing HD auto-focus camera and a 5MP front-facing camera that has one of the sharpest lenses on the market for video conferencing, whether it’s Skype, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Meanwhile, Wi-Fi 6 and LTE Advanced cellular technology provides rock-steady connection to the online world. You should reasonably expect about 10 hours of running time, which is very decent indeed.
If you’re able, try and stretch your budget to a model with the Core M3 processor; it’s much quicker and far more efficient than the entry-level Intel Pentium Gold chip version reviewed here.
You’ll also come to appreciate the M3 chip’s faster speed after two or three years of ownership when new updates begin to throttle most tablets’ ability to perform as they did when new.
Although the Surface Go’s optional Type Cover is nowhere near as tactile as Apple’s Magic Keyboard, it performs very well for the much lower price (£124.99). No, the keyboard doesn’t turn it into a fully-fledged laptop but the experience isn’t too far off.
If you already have a PC running Windows and are familiar with the software interface, then this tablet may be your best option for cross pollination of files and instant access to the internet and beyond.
Apple iPad Pro
If you’re a creative, an intensive online user or avid gamer, then there is simply no better an experience than having an iPad Pro in your hands.
This bad boy of Apple’s armoury makes the very most of the US behemoth’s refined iPadOS by dint of a blisteringly fast A12Z Bionic processor that zips through all tasks at blazing speed, whether it’s editing 4K video, taking pristine photos with the Wide and new Ultra Wide cameras, or watching a hi-res video on the sensational 11-inch Liquid Retina display. It even has built in LiDAR for measuring distances using reflected light, if that is your wont.
Like the Samsung S7 and iPad Air, this tablet can also be transformed into a laptop-style computer, though truth is it’s not as fully functional as, say, a MacBook Air or Pro. Nevertheless, add Apple’s amazing Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil into the pot and there are very good reasons to opt for a tablet of this nature rather than a much more expensive laptop.
At 471 grams for the wi-fi only model, the Pro is a mite lighter than the Samsung Tab S7 and yet it’s also 1.3cm wider, which means lighter travel and a little more real estate for editing videos and photos, working with spreadsheets, and other creative exploits like writing and music making. In the pantheon of large-screen mobile devices, this tablet is unequivocally the bee’s knees.
Amazon Fire HD10
You might not find a cheaper good-quality tablet than this cracker from the house of Amazon. The Fire HD10 measures 26x15.5cm and comes with a tall 10-inch high-definition 1080p touchscreen display and 2MP cameras both fore and aft. Okay, 2MP is no great shakes but everything else about this tablet shouts quality, from the impressive speed of its Octa-core 2.0 GHz processor to the striking pin-sharp quality of its graphics – and all for a smidge under £150.
The wi-fi only HD10 is available in 32 or 64GB variants but you can increase this to a massive 1TB if used with a large enough MicroSD card – iPad users can only dream of such storage capacity.
The battery is another brilliant facet that provides up to 12 hours of web browsing, watching videos, playing games and video conferencing. And being of Amazon origin, the HD10 also offers access to a host of Amazon services, including the Amazon Appstore where you can download a myriad apps like Netflix, Disney+, Facebook, Instagram and a wealth of games.
Another cool thing is that eligible customers get three months of free Kindle Unlimited and that means access to more books than the British Library.
If you just want a tablet to browse the internet with rocket-speed efficiency, check your emails, use social networking sites and play the odd simple game, then we can think of no more suitable tablet for the money. Indeed the price is gobsmackingly low for what it offers.