5 Best Tablets


Some of us are tech nerds; we love scanning the headlines for tech news and announcements, and then get giddy when we hear that a new processor is available on a mobile platform or new features are being added to an established brand that make the buying of a tablet even more desirable. But tablets have recently fallen out of favor in the tech community, being replaced rapidly by bigger, smarter and more feature-rich smartphones. The promise of portable power that could replace your traditional laptop seemed like a sure-fire evolution of the mobile market, but even tablets met their match eventually.

So why buy a tablet these days? Well, tablets still offer many features that smartphones haven’t yet completely obsoleted (like the English language, apparently), such as the ability to compose business documents, or do low-end photo and video editing. Tablets still make better e-readers than phones, and the aid to your eyesight is also a thing you should be thankful for. A tablet can also be easier to fathom than some feature-rich smartphones.

Three things to Remember

  1. You get what you pay for – with the exception of the Kindle Fire series, avoid anything for less than $100
  2. Really understand what you’ll use the tablet for—games, some productivity, mostly movie watching?
  3. If buying for a friend or loved one, take into consideration their tech competency levels

As with the buying of any tech gifts, always make sure you research your item before buying. Do you want a Windows tablet, iOS, or Android? What extras will you get? A stylus or pen? A keyboard? But the most important question will always be: what do you want it for?

Most tablets are multi-tasking marvels, but some handle the same tasks differently. If what you want is a fun piece of tech that allows you to watch movies, do some light word processing, or play games, then some on the following lists will suit you perfectly. If you need something with higher graphics capabilities or more graphic design and photo/video editing prowess, you’re going to want something with more of a marquee legacy behind it. If you’re buying it for your parents, you may want to know what they expect to do with it. If you’re buying for yourself, you should know what the strengths and weaknesses are before plopping down a wad of cash.

In any event, here’s a list of the hottest tablets we’ve seen this season, with recommendations based on usage. Regardless of what you’re using the tablet for, something on this list should fit your needs.

The Apple iPad Pro and iPad 2017

The iPad Pro sits at the top of the list—it is definitely the premier product in Apple’s lineup. It comes in two sizes: the 10.5" version and the deluxe 12.9" version. Both offer spectacular specs. The 12.9" iPad Pro includes a Retina Display with 2224 x 1668 Screen Resolution (264 ppi), blazing Apple A10X SoC with M10 Coprocessor, dual cameras (12MP rear and 7MP FaceTime front), and a four-speaker onboard audio setup. The 12.9" version (a direct competitor of the Microsoft Surface Pro) includes a Retina display with a 2732 x 2048 Screen Resolution (264 ppi) and the same processor and cameras. We’ve tried out both versions and instantly fell in love with them; they handled every task we threw at them with ease, and the Microsoft Suite of products worked flawlessly.

Photo editing and light video post work was also a no-brainer. With the new A10X chip, all the normal production quality tasks—multiple windows, adding video, and editing RAW files was smooth and without any major issues.

So what was not to like? Unfortunately, the price of Apple products is always prohibitive, and like the Microsoft Surface Pro, adding a keyboard and stylus requires laying out extra Bitcoin. All told, the price of a 12.9" Apple iPad Pro with keyboard and stylus, at $1,300+, is almost as much as a similarly outfitted MacBook Pro. And without an SD card slot for additional storage, you’re almost forced to buy as much onboard storage as you can to avoid hauling around additional storage drives.

Apple 12.9" iPad Pro

But there’s hope for Apple fans who really want an iPad as a gift. The Apple 9.7" iPad 2017 model is a great alternative. Although the processor comes down a notch (Apple A9 64-bit SoC with M9 Coprocessor) and the screen resolution also drops to 2048 x 1536 (264 ppi), if you’re using this for entertainment, reading and web-surfing, this is still one of the best tablets out there, and the price is not so prohibitive that you need to apply for a bank loan.

The Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft has really gone all out to make itself known as a serious contender in the tablet marketplace, and has carved out a niche with the Surface Pro line. The company started by surpassing an Android interface and going directly to Windows 10 and Intel© Processors (although a small glitch did occur with the Surface 3, which used an Atom™ processor and found new ways to underwhelm users), and added design innovations to help sway fence-sitters who were opening their wallets in the tablet wars.

It offered a smidge more than Android tablets, including dual-core Intel processors, next gen Kaby Lake™ Intel Core M3, Core i5 or Core i7 processors, 4-16GB of RAM, and 128GB to 1TB SSDs, along with a 12.3" 2736 x 1824 Resolution (267 ppi) PixelSense display. The dual cameras are an 8MP rear and 5MP front camera, and there is (thankfully) a microSD card slot. This is important, because you can buy one with less internal storage and supplement it with a microSDXC card.

Microsoft Surface Pro 12.3" 128GB Multi-Touch Tablet

Performance-wise, the inclusion of Windows 10 Pro helps to move even the hardiest programs along, and the integrated Iris Plus 640 GPU found in the i7 version will power-up some smaller, less graphic-intensive games. Photo and video editing was as good as it was on the Apple iPad Pro, although for anything heavier than simple editing, you should avoid the Core M3 processor version.

So, as a tablet, the Surface Pro is a fine instrument but, like the Apple iPad Pro, it comes sans keyboard or stylus, and adding these very useful peripherals isn’t cheap. The mid-tier Intel Core i5 version, with a keyboard and stylus, runs about $1,860, or the cost of a really good laptop. If you’re set on a Windows tablet, go for the mid-tier Intel Core i5 version for $799, and add the keyboard and stylus later. You’ll still be more than satisfied with the capabilities of the Core i5 tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Although pricey, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is probably one of the best tablets on which to watch movies. But a lot of that is based on content: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 claims to be able to show HDR content—when it becomes available. The stylish all-glass tablet features 2.15 GHz & 1.6 GHz dual-core processors with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of onboard storage (with a microSD slot capable of adding more), and a 9.7" AMOLED HDR-ready display with 2048 x 1536 resolution. Additionally, it has a 5MP Front Camera and 13MP Rear Camera, but the picture quality was not as sharp or clear as we would have expected from such a premium device.

Samsung 32GB Galaxy Tab S3 9.7" Wi-Fi Tablet

An added bonus is the included S Pen, which really appeals to note-takers and meeting doodlers. Usually a $99 extra, having the S Pen let us overlook some of the tablet’s other flaws, like the lack of native HDR content. Out of the box, it gives this tablet the air of a creative device rather than a practical productivity device. Running Android 7.0 Nougat, this is the perfect tablet if all you want to do is watch movies and surf the Web.

Unfortunately, productivity isn’t its strong suit, and the awful Samsung book cover keyboard is a real bust. Invest in a third-party keyboard if you want to produce content on this machine. Otherwise, for those with an affinity for everything Samsung, the Tab S3 might be just what you’re looking for.

ASUS 9.7" ZenPad 3S 10

Not everyone wants all the power or pizazz of Apple or Microsoft. Some of us just want a solid mid-tier tablet that won’t bankrupt us. The ASUS ZenPad 3S 10 is one such tablet. It contains 4GB of RAM and has a 9.7" IPS Display with 2048 x 1536 resolution. With 64GB of onboard storage and a microSD card slot (card not included), the unit runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow to run the latest Android games and productivity software.

Weirdly enough, this thing looks like an iPad, and runs like a Surface. It’s fast, slick-looking and vibrantly colored; we found very little not to like about it. The power comes from the processor, a hexa-core Mediatek 8176 that is really two processors: a 2.1-GHz ARM Cortex A72 dual-core and a 1.7-GHz ARM Cortex A53 quad-core, along with a Power VR GX6250 GPU. The battery life wasn’t as tough as we would have liked (it lasted about 8 hours for Web browsing, and a considerably lower 5 hours when playing HD movies). The camera is also a little underwhelming, and without a flash, don’t use it for low-light shots.

ASUS 9.7" ZenPad 3S 10 64GB Tablet

All in all, though, this is probably the best compromise when considering cost and quality. You’ll find cheaper tablets, but you won’t necessarily find better.

Kindle 8GB Fire 7 Wi-Fi Tablet

On the lower end of the spectrum is the Kindle Fire. Why would this make the list? A couple of good reasons, the first being that it’s the most affordable tablet on the list (it’s also the smallest). It’s a perfect microcosm for Amazon, although without an Amazon Prime account, it may be less palatable for casual users. But it includes a 7" IPS 1024 x 600 Display, 1.3GHz Quad-Core Processor, 1GB RAM & 8GB Flash Storage (with a microSD card slot for additional storage), a VGA Front Camera, 2MP Rear Camera and a built-in Alexa Smart Assistant, which adds a level of convenience the other tablets in this review do not have. What does it do well? Watching movies, reading books, and listening to music on this tablet are all exceptional experiences, as long as they are Amazon music, books, and movies. What is doesn’t do well is nearly anything else. Because it uses a customized OS named the Fire OS 5 Bellini Operating System, it doesn’t surf the Web well, and all the apps associated with this OS have to be Amazon apps.

Kindle 8GB Fire 7 Wi-Fi Tablet

Yes you can root this Kindle fire and place a customized Android OS, thereby allowing you to side-load music, movies, and more, but if you don’t know how to do these things, or give this as a gift to someone who doesn’t know how to do these things, then you’re left with a so-so tablet that makes a great gift for tech-lacking grandparents or little kids. And that may be just what you want.

These are our top five picks for tablets this 2017 Holiday season. Let us know what tablets you’ve found this season that might make better suggestions—everyone may have different experiences depending on usage. Comment below and help us tell others what’s hot and what’s not.