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10 best tablets that are perfect for drawing, gaming and note taking

David Phelan
·12-min read
All tablets have wifi connectivity and some offer versions with a sim card slot so you can log on through 4G too (The Independent)
All tablets have wifi connectivity and some offer versions with a sim card slot so you can log on through 4G too (The Independent)

It’s been 10 years since Apple launched the iPad, the first mainstream tablet computer (though there had been tablets before).

Although things have changed hugely in the decade since, many aspects that made the devices so appealing still remain.

The lightness and slimness of a good tablet makes it supremely portable. A responsive touch screen gives an intimate, personal feel. A big screen makes for great media playback. And the right software and accessories can make an effective laptop alternative.

Some devices are now compatible with a stylus for writing and drawing, or a clip-on keyboard for when the virtual onscreen one won’t suffice. Many work with trackpads or mice too.

All tablets have wifi connectivity and some offer versions with a sim card slot so you can log on through 4G as well – handy if you’re on the road a lot.

When choosing a tablet, consider what you’ll use it for. If it really is to be a laptop substitute, then the best choices are Apple or Microsoft. If you want something affordable, Amazon is worth checking out. For design, Apple and Huawei stand out.

We’ve tested for excellence in design, both in terms of looks and practicality, performance, ease of use, range of available apps and value for money.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Apple iPad air: From £479, Apple

Operating system: Apple iOS 13
Screen size: 10.5in
Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 64GB, 256GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
Colour choices: Space grey, silver, gold
Dimensions: 250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1mm
Weight: 456g
Expandable storage: No
Battery life: 10 hours

Apple’s iPads come in four versions. The most affordable, the iPad, is amazing value. It also comes in a smaller version, the iPad mini. The top-end model, the iPad pro, is one of the most powerful computers around. The iPad air sits in the middle of the range and offers a faster processor and better, larger display than the entry-level model. In other words, it’s a great balance of value and power.

It’s the same height and width as the cheaper iPad, but is noticeably thinner and lighter, hence its name. The display is the same resolution as the iPad but adds better colour fidelity and something called “true tone”, which monitors the ambient light in the room and adjusts the colour temperature accordingly so colours always look right.

It has the dreamy ease-of-use you might expect from Apple and access to over 1 million apps designed specifically for tablets. Like the iPad and iPad pro, there are keyboard accessories which turn this into a highly effective alternative to a laptop. Additionally, the iPad air, like all iPads, is compatible with the Apple pencil stylus, which is especially handy when using drawing and painting apps. The air uses the first-generation Apple pencil.

Buy now

Amazon fire HD 8 plus: From £109.99, Amazon

Operating system: Amazon Fire OS
Screen size: 8in
Screen resolution: 189 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 32GB, 64GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
Colour choices: Black
Dimensions: 202 x 137 x 9.7mm
Weight: 355g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 12 hours

Amazon sells its tablets at prices to more or less break even. So, they are sensational value. While the plastic casing lacks the out-and-out luxury of the iPad range, these are neatly built, highly effective gadgets. The brand uses an Android operating system but this is significantly altered. Every app in its Amazon App Store is tested in a way that regular Android doesn’t offer. This means there are fewer of them but they’re all reliable.

The new HD8 plus has a faster processor than other Amazon tablets, not to mention longer battery life between charges than most rivals. Because it’s an Amazon device, it automatically has any Kindle books ready to download, plus if you subscribe to Amazon Prime and its video content, that’s available here, too.

It’s really enjoyable to use because it’s a strong performer that’s slick, fast and attractive. It’s also, unlike most tablets, wireless-chargeable, so you can place it on a charging pad instead of plugging it in. Amazon makes an accessory that does the charging and also props the tablet up for watching a movie, say.

Buy now

Apple iPad pro: From £769, Apple

Operating system: Apple iPadOS 13
Screen size: 11in, 12.9in
Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 128GB 256GB, 512GB 1TB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
Colour choices: Space grey, silver
Dimensions: 11in: 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm, 12.9in: 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm
Weight: 11in: 471g, 12.9in: 641g
Expandable storage: No
Battery life: 10 hours

The most powerful iPad looks different from other Apple tablets because instead of a fingerprint sensor, it has the same facial recognition system used on the latest iPhones. This means the front is almost all screen. The flat-edge design is also different from other iPads. It is incredibly fast, and as Apple is fond of pointing out, more powerful than many high-end laptops.

The software it uses, iPadOS, is slightly different from what’s found on iPhones, and it includes features better suited to a big screen such as split-screen capabilities so you can display a web browser and a word processing document side-by-side, for instance, with a smaller window floating at the side.

As such, with optional accessories like the magic keyboard and Apple pencil (version 2), the iPad pro can be a highly effective laptop alternative. Apple has incorporated its highest quality features in the pro model, from the microphones to the cameras to the speakers. In some respects it will be overkill for many users, but if the price doesn’t put you off, it’s pretty impressive.

Buy now

Huawei matepad pro: £449.99, Huawei

Operating system: Android, Huawei EMUI
Screen size: 10.8in
Screen resolution: 280 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 128GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
Colour choices: Midnight grey
Dimensions: 246 x 159 x 7.2mm
Weight: 460g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 14 hours

Huawei’s tablet is super-slim and light, with a gorgeous screen that covers most of the front. Like the iPad pro, it uses facial recognition to unlock the screen, and the camera here behind a small cut-out in the display. The recent decision of the UK government to remove Huawei from the 5G network does not affect the company selling its tablets, and smartphones, here. Huawei says the change does not affect its consumer products at all. This tablet is very fast and capable, though no match for the iPad pro. Optional accessories like a stylus and keyboard are available.

Although this is an Android tablet, because of issues between the US government and China, Huawei is not allowed to use full Google Mobile services. These include Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. This means there are far fewer apps available, though the Huawei App Gallery, where you’ll find them, is growing quickly.

Buy now

Microsoft surface pro 7: From £705, Microsoft

Operating system: Windows 10
Screen size: 12.3in
Screen resolution: 267 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 128, 256, 512 GB, 1TB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
Colour choices: Platinum, black
Dimensions: 292 x 201 x 8.5mm
Weight: 775g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 10.5 hours

Although this is a tablet, it becomes a full-on laptop if you attach an optional keyboard cover. Its functionality is aided by Microsoft’s full Windows 10 operating system. One design trademark of the surface series is the kickstand which folds out of the back and adjusts to hold the tablet in the various positions, near-upright for viewing video or almost flat to write on with the optional stylus. The display looks great and the range of apps is dizzyingly large. With the keyboard attached it becomes a lightweight, powerful laptop that’s easy to carry and use.

Buy now

Samsung galaxy tab S6: From £559, Samsung

Operating system: Android
Screen size: 10.5in
Screen resolution: 287 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 128, 256GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
Colour choices: Mountain grey, rose blush
Dimensions: 244.5 x 159.5 x 5.7mm
Weight: 420g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 15 hours

When it comes to pure Android, it’s hard to get a better tablet than this one. The galaxy tab S6 has an OLED display which looks fantastic with exceptional contrast and deep black colours. Video playback looks, and sounds, great on this tablet. It also has a classy all-metal design with a groove carved into the back where the Samsung stylus, called the S Pen, nestles, held in place magnetically.

Unlike with the iPad, the stylus is supplied with this tablet. The fingerprint sensor is built into the display, meaning there’s no space needed for a separate sensor, so there’s not much of the front of the tablet that isn’t screen. Samsung’s software, like Apple’s, allows for split screen usage of apps and there’s a keyboard accessory available here, too. However, when it comes to imitating the functionality of a laptop, this doesn’t come close to Apple tablets.

Buy now

Amazon fire 7: From £49.99, Amazon

Operating system: Amazon Fire OS
Screen size: 7in
Screen resolution: 171 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 16GB, 32GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi
Colour choices: Black, plum, sage, twilight blue
Dimensions: 192 x 115 x 9.6mm
Weight: 286g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 7 hours

Further proof of Amazon’s aggressive pricing, this tablet clocks in at under £50. If you only need a small display, the 7in screen here, though not high-resolution, is perfectly usable. Like the HD8 plus above, it is tightly integrated with Amazon’s other services such as Kindle books and Prime video.

It also uses Amazon’s App Store, meaning that there are far fewer apps than you’ll find on a regular Android phone or tablet – though there are over 500,000. Performance is decent rather than outstanding but this is still a tablet definitely worth considering, mostly because of the remarkable price.

Buy now

Apple iPad: From £349, Apple

Operating system: Apple iOS 13
Screen size: 10.2in
Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 32GB, 128GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
Colour choices: Space grey, silver, gold
Dimensions: 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5mm
Weight: 483g
Expandable storage: No
Battery life: 10 hours

The entry-level iPad is tremendous value, and for most users is more than good enough in terms of display, battery life and performance speed. From the iPad’s launch in 2010 until last year, the screen size of the iPad was 9.7in. It’s half an inch bigger now, and you can see the difference. There are over a million apps, which are all designed for a tablet screen. And then there’s the Apple operating system which is seductively easy to use and enjoyable. Like the other iPads, this one is compatible with the pencil stylus (first-generation) and a keyboard attachment. The design and build quality are second-to-none.

Buy now

Amazon fire HD 10: From £149.99, Amazon

Operating system: Amazon Fire OS
Screen size: 10in
Screen resolution: 224 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 32GB, 64GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Wifi only
Colour choices: Black, Plum, Twilight Blue, White
Dimensions: 262 x 159 x 9.8mm
Weight: 504g
Expandable storage: Yes
Battery life: 12 hours

The fire HD 10 tablet has the biggest, highest-resolution display of any Amazon tablet – and is easily the best for video playback. It’s a sleek and effective machine, with plenty of power and strong battery life. Like all the Amazon tablets here, it comes in two versions, with or without special offers. With special offers, there’s an ad on the screen when you wake it up. Without means no ads and an extra £10 on the price. You can get rid of the special offers at any time by paying the £10. This is easily the best-value full-size tablet on the market.

Buy now

Apple iPad mini: From £399, Apple

Operating system: Apple iOS 13
Screen size: 7.9in
Screen resolution: 326 pixels per inch
Storage capacity: 64GB, 256GB
Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available
Colour choices: Space grey, silver, gold
Dimensions: 203.2 x 34.8 x 6.1mm
Weight: 300.5g
Expandable storage: No
Battery life: 10 hours

If you fancy a tablet but feel that an iPad is just too big, the mini is a highly appealing alternative. The screen resolution is much higher than on other iPads and most other tablets, so it’s extremely detailed. It also has a fast processor and access to all the apps found on other models. There’s no dedicated keyboard, from Apple at least, though a Bluetooth keyboard will work with it. As will a wireless mouse – all iPads now have trackpad and mouse support. This is the most lightweight and portable iPad, though the full-size version still edges it for value.

Buy now

The verdict: Tablets

The reason Apple has snagged four out of 10 places here is that the iPad, in all its versions, is a sublimely attractive and appealing tablet. The interface, high-end design and superb it-just-works efficiency are enough to put it ahead of its rivals.

The iPad air is the best for most people, though the iPad pro is unbeatable if price isn’t an issue. Beyond Apple, Amazon’s tablets, the fire HD 10, fire HD 8 and fire 7, are consistently the best value for money and the Huawei matepad pro is an attractive and capable alternative.

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