Best tablet for 2021 – CNET

Tablets have found new life inside our homes as the coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for a device that can handle entertainment, education and even some work. Since last year, Apple has updated nearly its full line: Refreshed high-end iPad Pro models and a new majorly overhauled iPad Air arrived in 2020, and we got a new baseline iPad and a redesigned iPad Mini this year. The Pro and Air models boast seriously powerful processors, which allow them to do things previously exclusive to full computers, like photo editing. And while we’re not giving up on our laptops yet, the new features are more promising for the iPad’s future as a work device than anything Apple has added in years.

Elsewhere in tablet land, Microsoft debuted new Surface models this fall, including the Surface Laptop Studio and the Surface Go 3, a refresh of its tiniest tablet. Android tablet options, meanwhile, remain constricted by their phone-centric mobile device operating system — but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from taking a shot at Apple’s iPad Pro when it comes to productivity with the Tab S7 Plus. And in the value segment, Amazon remains the best option for cheap and kid-friendly models with its Fire tablet. All these options offer app stores, but you’ll want to check that your must-have apps are available on prospective devices before buying (don’t look for Fortnite on the iPad right now, for instance).

Here are our picks for the best tablet available right now. We included budget tablet and premium tablet options, as well as laptop-replacement devices at prices in between, including Android tablet and Apple iPad options. We even threw in a tablet PC as a bonus. All of these products (or previous versions thereof) have been fully reviewed or anecdotally tested by CNET editors. We took several factors into consideration, including pressure sensitivity, screen size, the inclusion of a front camera, internal storage, the option to add a microSD card and whether or not the tablet offers a headphone jack.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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Apple recently updated its entry-level iPad in 2021, adding a faster chip but keeping the base price at $329 for the 32GB Wi-Fi version. The important thing to know is that this 10.2-inch model will deliver a smooth experience and access to the iPad’s rich library of app options. This powerful tablet keeps support for a connector-attached smart keyboard and the first-gen Apple Pencil, making it a solid option for distance learning, too. Just be on the lookout for price drops: Apple’s iPad model previous to this one was frequently discounted to $250 — that’s the price you should ideally wait for. 

Read our iPad 2021 review.


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Updated in 2020, the newest version of the Apple iPad Pro adds a fancier rear camera array and even a lidar sensor for bleeding-edge AR features. But the biggest of Apple’s Ipad Pro upgrades comes via the software, which now supports laptop-style trackpads. To use that, though, you’ll need something like Apple’s Magic Keyboard Case for Apple iPad Pro, a pricey add-on. 

Still, this great tablet finally makes us more enthusiastic about this highest-end Apple iPad, which is otherwise a performance monster, with Face ID, USB Type-C, great battery life, a killer retina screen and the best processor and best design in Apple’s line. This Apple tablet can also be counted among the best drawing tablet options, especially when paired with the Apple Pencil from 2018. (If you already have the previous iPad Pro, there’s no big reason to upgrade to this 2020 model.) Note that the iPad Pro is available in 11-inch and 12.9-inch models.

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All that said, anyone looking at the 11-inch Apple iPad Pro should give the 2020 iPad Air — which sports a similar design and newer processor — serious consideration.

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Read our iPad Pro 2020 review.


Dan Ackerman/CNET

Fire DeX up on the Tab S7, with the keyboard attached, and you get a remarkably laptop-like experience. Open multiple apps, resize them in different windows, minimize everything down to the taskbar. This Samsung tablet provides a much more familiar-feeling experience for laptoppers than even the latest iPad with keyboard and touchpad support. One new DeX trick is pretty clever — the ability to wirelessly throw your DeX desktop to another display or even a TV screen.

Read our Samsung Tab S7 Plus hands-on.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple refreshed the iPad Mini in this year with an A15 processor, which is faster than the iPad Air’s A14. Now that the 10.2-inch model has caught up (almost) to it in terms of specs, it’s tough to swallow the fact that this smaller 8.3-inch model has a higher price — though it should be available at a discounted price during the holiday season. Some folks love this model as a smaller, lighter mobile device option that’s well-sized as an upscale ebook reader.

Read our iPad Mini review.


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 app needs. This cheap tablet has a relatively small screen size, but, as always, Amazon Prime lets you get a lot more out of it content-wise, though Amazon’s Fire ecosystem is more limited than Android. But if you’re buying for a child, definitely invest in the Kids Edition. Beyond parental controls, this kids’ tablet version of the device 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. Stop living in fear of a shattered screen! This Amazon Fire tablet also has an all-important headphone jack, so you don’t have to worry if your wireless earbuds are charged.

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Read our Amazon Fire 7 (2019) review.

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The 10-inch Amazon Fire HD tablet is faster and better than the 7- or 8-inch Fire tablet, and it’s still a pretty low $150 (or less). For the Amazon Fire HD 10, there are two storage options, 32 and 64GB. The Amazon Fire HD tablet also charges its battery via USB-C now.

Read our Fire HD 10 first take.


Sarah Tew/CNET

For the right price, the Chromebook X2 could be the best tablet of the bunch as far as deals go. It’s a functional Chromebook laptop screen that’s also a detachable tablet, and it can also be used for modest photo editing and playing Android tablet apps. This Chrome OS tablet comes with 4GB of RAM.

Read our HP Chromebook x2 review.


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