Tech

10 best tablets for drawing, gaming and films

independent– The launch of the iPad in 2010 changed everything, as Apple is fond of saying. Sure, there had been tablet computers before then, but they were really just laptops with a touchscreen interface, a not-very-easy version of Windows to run it, and not much that was optimised for touch.

The iPad provided a slim, light, gorgeous screen that introduced a whole new way of interacting with content, from typing emails to watching videos to playing games.

Apple’s tablets have been the benchmark ever since, with rivals struggling to be as intuitive, as inviting and as intimately personal as the iPad. The iPad is now available in four versions: iPad, the lightweight iPad Air, the smaller-screened iPad mini and the powerhouse iPad Pro.

Other companies have focused on different screen technologies (like Samsung), on creating fully-fledged Windows tablets (Microsoft Surface) or delivering a super-affordable alternative (Amazon Fire tablets).

Apple’s tablets have more than a million apps designed for the large screen, Samsung uses Android, Amazon prefers a special bespoke version of Android which has far fewer apps – but they’re all tested to work perfectly.

Don’t mistake Amazon’s affordability for being cheap: Fire tablets are well-crafted and capable, though they lack the aluminium casing that makes the iPad so attractive, and durable.

Many tablets now come with optional extras such as keyboard cases which turn a tablet into a decent laptop alternative. We tested for battery life, speed of processor, simplicity of operation, breadth of apps and elegance of design.

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 us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best tablets for 2021:

  • Best tablet: Apple iPad air: £579, Apple.com
  • Best android tablet: Samsung galaxy tab S7+: From £799, Samsung.com
  • Best budget tablet: Amazon fire 7: £49.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best tablet for drawing: Apple iPad pro: From £769, Apple.com

Apple iPad air

Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14

Screen size: 10.9in

Screen resolution: 264 pixels per inch

Storage capacity: 64GB, 256GB

Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available

Colour choices: Space grey, silver, rose gold, green, sky blue

Dimensions: 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm

Weight: 460g

Expandable storage: No

Battery life: 10 hours

The new iPad air was released in September and it looks tremendous, like the much pricier iPad pro. It also has the most advanced processor Apple has installed in a tablet, the A14 Bionic which is also found in the iPhone 12 pro. Unlike the iPad pro, the iPad air comes in five cute colours: space grey, silver, green, rose gold and sky blue, all of which look great. Since the front is all glass, you only see the colours in the anodised aluminium that forms the back and edge, and which gives the iPad its premium build quality. And the latest iPad air has a bigger screen than many previous tablets: 10.9in.

This new iPad air introduced an all-new feature: the touch ID fingerprint sensor to unlock the screen and authorise payments is no longer on the front of the tablet, taking up space south of the screen. No, it’s now mounted in the power button on the top edge. This simple move is transformational and makes this the most intriguing iPad yet. It has also switched from the lightning socket which charges most iPads and all iPhones, to the more common USB-C. This means it’s simple to find the right cable and it can output what’s on screens to other displays easily. The flat edge design also means the useful Apple pencil stylus (an optional extra) is the more advanced, second-generation version which clips magnetically to the side of the iPad air and charges wirelessly from it.

It’s also compatible with the new magic keyboard accessory which offers a backlit keyboard with highly comfortable keys and a useful trackpad. With this in place, the air becomes a decent laptop substitute. Like all iPads, it’s available both in wifi-only or wifi plus 4G versions. For the latter, you install a sim card and can connect to the internet wherever there’s a mobile network signal.

Amazon fire HD 8 plus

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 makes a range of keenly priced tablets, much more affordable than rivals. That doesn’t mean the tablets aren’t well-made or have a high spec. Though the all-plastic casing is no match for the elegance of the iPad, Fire tablets are solid and powerful. This model with an 8in display was updated most recently, with a significantly-improved processor so it’s especially fast and effective. Although Amazon uses the Android operating system, it has a special version which offers far fewer than other Android devices, but they are all tested to ensure they’re reliable. You can even charge this tablet wirelessly and Amazon makes a compatible dock to do this. Amazon’s devices work with each other well, so if you have books on a Kindle, say, they will appear on this tablet.

Price comparison

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Huawei matepad pro

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 latest tablet has a lot in common with the high-end Apple iPad pro, with facial recognition used to unlock the display, for instance. It’s a powerful and capable tablet, and noticeably cheaper than Apple’s pro model. It’s light and slim, and highly enjoyable to use. Although this is an Android tablet, because of issues between the US government and China, Huawei does not 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 store that is on board, called Huawei App Gallery, is growing fast. It has its own email app, for example, and its own mapping is done in conjunction with TomTom. Some missing apps like Netflix and Gmail can also be run via the tablet’s browser. Like the Amazon Fire HD8 plus, this tablet is wireless-chargeable and has an extra feature: reverse wireless charging so you can charge your phone or other compatible gadget tablets by placing it on the back of the MatePad Pro.

Apple iPad pro

Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14

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 iPad pro was the first iPad to gain the flat-edged design that the iPad air now shares. The screen covers even more of the front of the tablet than on the iPad air, thanks to a narrower bezel. But where the iPad air has touch ID in the power button, this uses the TrueDepth sensors found on recent iPhones so you can unlock the display just by looking at it. The iPad pro is incredibly fast, though the more recent iPad air is no slouch, either. As Apple is fond of pointing out, the iPad pro is more powerful than many high-end laptops. With optional accessories like the magic keyboard and Apple pencil (version 2), the iPad pro also works well as a full-blown computer. The iPad pro comes in two sizes: the 11in display model is the same size as the iPad air, though fractionally thinner from front to back. On the other hand, the 12.9in screen version is the ultimate tablet.

Price comparison

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Samsung galaxy tab S7+

Operating system: Android

Screen size: 12.4in

Screen resolution: 266 pixels per inch

Storage capacity: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB

Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available, plus 5G option

Colour choices: Mystic Black, Mystic Bronze, Mystic Silver

Dimensions: 285 x 185.3 x 5.7 mm

Weight: 575g

Expandable storage: Yes

Battery life: 13 hours

Samsung’s tablet looks glorious, with a pin-sharp OLED display that is easily the best screen on any Android tablet and a fast processor which is highly responsive. The tablet bears a passing resemblance to the iPad pro or iPad air, with its flat edges, rounded corners and a stylus which attaches to the tablet magnetically. The Samsung S pen is bundled with the tablet, though, unlike Apple’s optional pencil. Here, it clips to the rear of the tablet which is not quite as secure a storage place as the pencil which clings to the iPad air’s side. Still, there’s an optional rear cover which protects the metal back of the tablet and holds the S pen safely. This cover also has a kickstand so you can position the tablet perfectly for watching a movie, for instance. The design is light and thin – the thinnest tablet of any brand at 5.7mm, a little thinner than the iPad pro. The bezel is thin and unlocking happens through a fingerprint sensor which is buried in the display itself. Although the range of apps skilfully optimised for a tablet are far fewer than the iPad boasts, this tablet makes them look and perform their best.

Microsoft surface go 2

Operating system: Windows 10

Screen size: 10.5in

Screen resolution: 220 pixels per inch

Storage capacity: 64GB, 128GB

Wifi or wifi and 4G? Both available

Colour choices: Black

Dimensions: 245 x175x x 8.3 mm

Weight: 544g

Expandable storage: Yes

Battery life: 10 hours

Microsoft’s surface tablets also double up as laptops if you add the TypeCover, a sturdy keyboard that fits to the front of the tablet which is separately available. This is the smallest surface, with a 10.5in display. Even so, it runs a full version of Windows, so has access to a huge range of programs and apps. It comes in what’s called S Mode, meaning it only works with apps available in the Microsoft Store. If you want other programs, you can choose to switch out of S Mode. It’s free to do this but it is a one-way switch. Surface tablets have a distinctive style which includes a built-in kickstand so you can use the tablet in a variety of positions. Surface tablets stand out for great build quality.

Amazon fire HD 10

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 a 10in display which makes it easily the biggest of any Amazon tablet and the highest-resolution, which make it the best Amazon tablet for video playback. It’s a sleek and effective machine, with plenty of power and strong battery life. Like all the Amazon tablets, it comes in two versions, with or without advertisements. These appear on the lock screen only and are seen when you wake it up. You can get rid of the ads at any time by paying £10. Easily the best-value full-size tablet though the limited range of Android apps may put some off – though there are still over half a million to choose from.

Price comparison

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Apple iPad

Operating system: Apple iPadOS 14

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

Even though this is the cheapest iPad, there’s nothing basic about it and it has access to the same massive range of apps and the same sublimely simple operating system which can work pretty much like a regular laptop – and has the same keyboard and pencil options as pricier iPad models. The display is 10.2in, an increase to the 9.7in screen on most previous iPads, mostly achieved through slimming the frame around the display’s long edges. The design was also refined to make the iPad slimmer and lighter. The touch ID button sits below the screen, so there are bigger gaps at the top and bottom of the tablet. This iPad is very fast – it gained a speed increase just a few months ago – and for most people it will be more than enough.

Price comparison

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Amazon fire 7

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

If you want to pay as little as possible for a tablet, but still want the assurance and reliability that comes with a big name, Amazon’s 7in tablet is fantastic. Effortlessly portable, the screen is fine, though not a patch on rivals here. Purchases such as Amazon movies, Kindle books and Audible audiobooks are automatically available and the tablet works well with Amazon Prime Video, for instance. Storage is less than on many rivals but enough for most users. The price is the real standout here.

Price comparison

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Microsoft surface pro 7

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 8.5 mm

Weight: 775g

Expandable storage: Yes

Battery life: 10.5 hours

Where the surface go 2 is small and super-portable, this top-end Surface has a bigger display and can be configured with lots of storage and a much faster processor. You can also configure the RAM which helps the tablet run faster – this is something you can’t adjust with the iPad, for instance. The addition of a type cover (£149.99) and surface pen (£99.99) bumps up the cost but adds real versatility. The surface range often offers comprehensive connectivity, and there are USB-A and USB-C sockets here. The 12.3in screen is bright and inviting. The trademark kickstand helps with the surface pro 7’s versatility, too.

Price comparison

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Tablet FAQs

What is a tablet?

A tablet is a small, portable computing device that has a touch screen interface and is designed to be held in one or two hands. A tablet lets you do many of the same things you’d do on your computer or laptop, such as browse the Internet, use social media apps, emails and video calls. Much like your mobile, a tablet can have apps installed on it and you can watch videos. They provide a convenient way of accessing content on-the-go.

How to connect a tablet to a TV

Connecting your tablet to your TV differs per device. If it’s an Android tablet you can use a mini HDMI cable (£6.49, Amazon.co.uk) and mirror the content onto your television screen. As for an Apple device, this process is similar, except you’ll need a lightning cable (£49, Apple.com). If you have Apple TV (£149, Apple.com), you can use screen mirroring and use your television as the playback destination.

Android vs. Apple iPad tablets

The biggest difference between these tablets is the fact they have different operating systems. Apple’s iPad runs on iOS, while Andoird tablets, such as Samsung, run on Google’s Android. Often those who have an iPhone will find an iPad’s interface more familiar and vice versa.

Apple currently only has four different iPad devices on offer, iPad, iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini, whereas, with Android, there’s far more to choose from, including Amazon tablets.

As for software, we think Apple iPads pip Android since they tend to be more stable and easier to use – Apple approves each app in the App Store, while Android’s Google Play has a lack of supervision in comparison. Similarly, while Android has made strides with its devices, Apple’s remain easier to use owing to their simplicity.

What size tablet do you need?

The size of the tablet you buy is very much down to personal preference and depends on what you want your tablet for. For example, you may choose to opt for something smaller if the main purpose for the device is for entertainment while travelling, while if it’s for more extended use and work purpose, a larger device will be better suited.

On one end of the size scale, you have a 7in tablet, which is the smallest you can buy and often the cheapest – it’s an ideal choice if you want to be able to hold it in your hand and use it for reading. Some devices are 8in, such as the iPad mini, which you can still hold in one hand, but tend to be a little heavier.

If you’re looking for something a little larger, we’d suggest reaching for a device that is somewhere between 9in and 11in, there are plenty of tablets within this range and cater for different budgets. For example, the Fire 10 retails at £149.99, while the iPad Air is a more costly purchase at £749. These larger tablets are more suitable for use over extended periods of time, for example for work purposes, making them a great alternative to a laptop or computer.

As for those larger again, some tablets measure more than 11in and are again ideal for work when you can connect them to keyboards.

The verdict: Tablets

The new iPad air is a stunning success and is the perfect storm of power, gorgeous design and value. The Samsung galaxy tab S7+ is easily the best Android tablet yet while the keenest prices are to be found in Amazon’s series, with the fire HD 8 plus the best of its range.

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IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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