Best tablet for remote learning in 2021
Tablets have found new life in our homes as the coronavirus pandemic has upped the need for a device that can handle entertainment, education and even some work. In 2020, Apple updated nearly its full line: The high-end iPad Pro models were refreshed in the spring, while a new 10.2-inch baseline iPad and majorly overhauled iPad Air arrived this fall. The Pro and Air models boast seriously powerful processors, which allow for functionalities previously exclusive to computers and laptops, like photo editing. And while we’re not retiring our laptops yet, the new features are more promising for the iPad’s future as a productivity device than anything Apple’s added in years.
Elsewhere in tablet land, Microsoft debuted new Surface models in May, including the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 3 and the Microsoft Surface Go 2, 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 new Tab S7 Plus. And in the value segment, Amazon remains the best option for cheap and kid-friendly and cheap tablet 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. This story was published earlier, and we’ll continue to update it as new products become available.
Note: The 2020 iPad Air was released in October. You can read our iPad Air review here.
Apple recently updated its entry-level iPad in 2020, adding a faster chip — the iPhone XS-era A12 — 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.
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.
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.
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.
Apple refreshed the iPad Mini in the spring of 2019 with Apple Pencil support and an A12 processor. Now that the 10.2-inch model has caught up to it in terms of specs, it’s tough to swallow the fact that this smaller 7.9-inch model has a higher price — though you should know it frequently goes on sale for $350. Still, some folks love this model as a smaller, lighter mobile device option that’s well-sized as an upscale ebook reader.
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.
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 GB and 64 GB. The Amazon Fire HD tablet also charges its battery life via USB type-C now.
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.