Article
9 min

Tablet Buying Guide

Finding the right tablet can boost productivity and efficiency while expanding your workspace endlessly. Use this tablet buying guide to find the perfect device for your needs.

CDW Expert CDW Expert

Updated November 2, 2021

What's Inside
  • How to Choose a Tablet

    The first thing to consider when you purchase a new piece of technology is how you will use the device.

  • Common Tablet Features

    Once you know how you plan on using your tablet, you can start looking at features and seeing how they will affect your workflow and productivity.

  • Tablet Brands

    Here's a brief overview of major tablet manufacturers and their main tablet product lines.

  • Summary

    Tablets' unique combination of portability and power makes them ideal for many uses, ranging from schoolwork to professional design and media creation.

Tablets are small, yet powerful portable devices that can perform many useful tasks for both work and leisure. Determining what you will be using the tablet for is the first step in finding the perfect device for you. Tablets serve as lightweight, affordable alternatives to laptops and can be great for kids or school, and some are 2-in-1 devices can be converted back to laptops for work and productivity tasks. Use this tablet buying guide to find the perfect device for your needs.

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How to Choose a Tablet

Specific tablet features may be more desirable for different tasks. You can even save money by not overpaying for excessive add-ons or features. Tablets are versatile devices by nature and can serve multiple purposes. That's why it is important to learn all you can about a tablet before making a purchase. Read below for some questions you can ask yourself to determine which tablet is right for you.

How Will I Use the Tablet?

This is arguably the most critical question to ask yourself before purchasing a tablet. The tasks you need to perform on your tablet will help to narrow down your choices. Photo editing or any kind of design will require a powerful device and supported stylus or drawing pen. Tablet features like haptic feedback and high refresh rates can be great if you’re looking to draw, too, since it’ll make it feel more like taking a real pen to paper.

E-Ink displays, or e-readers, are excellent when you only need to view content or read books on your tablet and can be much more affordable than feature-rich alternatives. Plus, several users find e-readers easier on the eyes since they are specifically designed without backlighting to be easier on the eyes for long reading sessions.

If you plan on using your tablet for varying tasks, think about finding a good middle ground between the two where your tablet can still benefit both without negatively impacting either. You will probably be using your new tablet for the foreseeable future, so make sure to take your time and think of all the ways you could benefit from daily use of the device. 

Where Will I Use the Tablet Most?

The answer to this question will be straightforward. Think about your most common workspace and how it can benefit from the use of a tablet. If you move between workspaces, take that into consideration and think about how factors like screen size or battery life could further affect portability. Extra features, like cellular network or LTE support, can play a significant role in where the tablet is effective for your needs. 

Do I Need to Use Accessories with My Tablet?

Peripherals, such as attachable keyboardsstylus pens, or portable chargers can help your tablet be even more useful. Different brands and variations of tablets support different add-ons. Some may excel in certain areas compared to others.

Some tablets may excel in video communications and support high-quality microphones, while others may prioritize durability and battery life. Finding a tablet that supports the accessories you need will help to improve productivity and make using the device more enjoyable. 

What About Connectivity? (Wi-Fi vs. Cellular)

One of the most considerable benefits of using a tablet is the device's portability. Tablets are essentially smaller portable computers that can be taken anywhere while still being able to perform more tasks than a smartphone. There are two major distinctions in tablet connectivity. Understanding both is crucial to finding the proper device and not overpaying.

Typically, you will find Wi-Fi tablets and cellular + Wi-Fi tablets available in any brand. Wi-Fi only devices are more affordable, but limited in their functions, because some apps or features may require an active wireless internet connection to use. Cellular + Wi-Fi tablets are more expensive and often slightly heavier, but offer a reliable, constant connection to the internet, much like cell phones. Cellular tablets also have recurring costs, because the mobile data will be billed monthly from an ISP, just like with home internet or cell phones. 

Common Tablet Features

Once you know how you plan on using your tablet, you can start looking at features and seeing how they will affect your workflow and productivity. While some tablets may have features designed to tackle specific issues, most devices will have a standard set of specifications you can use to compare the different brands and models available. Read below for a list of standard tablet features and how they may affect your future purchase. 

Screen Size

Tablets come in different shapes and sizes, but typically screens will range from 7.9" to 12.9". Factors to consider when choosing a screen size are resolution, battery life, and color accuracy. The larger the screen on a tablet, the faster the battery will drain. Large screens can be desirable for viewing media or editing photos. Although as screen size goes up, the price of the tablet quickly follows. Color accuracy is more of a niche feature. However, design professionals often require the most color-accurate display possible for finalizing content creation and distribution, for instance.  

Resolution

As with monitors, the resolution of your tablet determines how clear the images on the screen will appear. Full HD is considered 1080p and is viable for most office or school-based tasks. Higher resolutions, such as 1440p or 4K are helpful when regularly using the tablet to view media or play games. Just like with screen size, the higher the resolution, the quicker the battery will deplete. This is because it takes more power to create high-quality images. 

Storage Space

With the implementation and availability of cloud-based storage such as OneDrive, Google Drive and iCloud Drive, local device storage has become less of a deciding factor but is still relevant to consider. Tablets typically come in a range of 32GB to 256GB or higher. The larger the capacity of the tablet, the more expensive the device.

However, all tablets have some way to migrate data between the device and a PC, making devices with smaller local storage still viable. Some tablets also have microSD slots so you can expand storage by purchasing a supplemental microSD card. When looking at tablet storage, consider the number of apps you will need to install on the device or if the tablet will need to store large amounts of photos or videos. 

Processors

Desktop processors or CPUs are a bit more straightforward than tablet processors. Both devices serve the same function of acting as the brain of the device. By working with other internal components, they determine the overall power and capabilities of a tablet. Unlike desktops or laptops, however, the CPU of a tablet may not be easily distinguishable or mentioned in the name of a device. The processor available on a tablet can be determined by the year and model of the device.

Tablets receive frequent revisions among all the top brands. Each new device will come with added improvements, such as a more powerful processor. For most users, any tablet processor will be able to handle standard office tasks. Although, some specific activities, such as gaming, photo or video editing may require a more powerful processor.   

Memory

Like processors, memory or RAM is a standard specification you can find in tablets and other computers. RAM works with the other components of your tablet and is the part responsible for multitasking or running complex programs. You will want a minimum of 2GB of RAM in any tablet, as that will allow it to perform all essential work or school tasks. Some users may require more memory in their tablets if they plan on using multiple apps on the device simultaneously. As with screen size and storage, when memory goes up, so does the tablet's price.

Accessory Support

As mentioned earlier, tablets can benefit tremendously from the implementation of certain accessories and add-on hardware. Suppose you plan on using the device for any kind of drawing or editing. In that case, a stylus is a must and can greatly improve efficiency. Keyboards are another popular tablet add-on that can turn devices into ultra-lightweight laptops, which are great for writing or note-taking anywhere. Remember that each specific tablet will have unique accessories the device supports, so make sure that your next purchase can use the peripherals you need. 

Operating System and App Store

One feature that is unique to tablets is app stores. These programs are pre-installed on the device and are used to download all other apps, programs, or media to the tablet. Most major apps support all tablet platforms, but apps can be operating system-specific in some rare cases. This is another reason why narrowing down how and what you will be using the tablet for will help you make your decision. Brand also plays a large part in determining the device's operating system, so if you find a tablet you like that lacks the features you are looking for, you can explore other options within that same brand.  

Tablet Brands

Many brands offer tablets, and each of them bring unique features and functionality to the table. Research by brand to determine which tablet is best for you.

Acer

The Acer Enduro T1 tablet combines military-grade ruggedness with strong security features and up to 10 hours of battery life. Acer built these tablets with retail, warehouse, and factory workers in mind, with shock-absorbent bumpers and glove-friendly Corning Gorilla Glass touchscreens. We carry the 10.1” model with Windows OS and the 8” model with Android OS.

  • Acer Enduro T1 (Windows)- This ruggedized 10.1” Windows tablets come with a detachable keyboard, plus 64 GB eMMC storage, a 1.1 GHz Intel Celeron N3450 quad-core processor, and 4GB of DDR4 SD RAM. The IPS LCD display has a native resolution of 1280 x 800 and is made to be reflection-free. Additionally, this tablet has a 5MP rear camera and 2MP front-facing camera.
  • Acer Enduro T1 (Android)- The Android version of the Acer Enduro tablet comes with all the same ruggedized features as its Windows cousin. Besides being built on the Android platform, this 8” tablet has some other key differentiators. It has a 2.0 GHz MediaTek MT8385 quad-core processor and microSD slot for additional flash memory storage. The RAM, built-in storage and resolution are the same as its Windows counterpart.

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Amazon

If you’re looking for a particularly affordable but still technically capable tablet, Amazon’s Fire tablet line provide a great option. 

  • Fire HD 10- Released in April 2021, the Fire HD 10 features a 10.1” Full HD display powered by 3 GB of RAM, an octa-core processor and built-in Alexa capabilities.
  • Fire HD 10 Plus - Packing in 4 GB RAM and wireless charging ability for $30 more, the Fire HD 10 Plus has a bit more zip in case you’re looking to run multiple apps at once or use memory-hungry productivity or creativity apps. Note that Google apps or even web apps do not work on Fire tablets, but you can run M365.

The Fire HD 10/10 Plus come with either 32GB or 64GB storage which can be expanded via the microSD slot up to 1 TB. Battery life lasts up 9-12 hours depending on what you’re running on the device. You can opt for the older, less expensive Fire HD 8 or HD 8 Plus models as well.

Although it has a smaller, 8” screen, decreased resolution (1280 x 800px vs. 1920 x 1200px for the Fire HD 10), and 2 GB vs. 3 GB RAM, if you’re looking mostly to browse the web or stream video, this should be a perfectly fine option.

Shop Amazon Fire Tablets

Apple

Apple tablets come in a few different varieties, including the standard iPad (henceforth, the “iPad”), the iPad Mini, the iPad Pro and iPad Air. All the models provide approximately 10 hours of battery life and closer to 9 hours if you’re using the cellular data network.

  • iPad- The iPad, now in its 9th generation, has a 10.2” Retina display (same as the 8th Gen), 64 GB storage (up to 256 GB, but no microSD slot), and the A13 Bionic chip made to deliver fast CPU and graphic performance so you can run multiple apps with ease or play games.

    One of the biggest innovations with the newest generation iPad from the last generation is the cameras. The 12MP Ultra Wide front camera makes Facetime calls clear and vibrant, plus the Center Stage technology keeps you in frame as you move. The 8MP back camera captures sharp images and video. The 9th generation iPad still has compatibility with the 1st generation Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.

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  • iPad mini- If you place a premium on portability, the iPad mini is a solid option. The 6th generation iPad mini features smaller bezels and is shorter by about 8mm from the 5th generation, but it still features a larger 8.3” screen, greater resolution (2266 x 1488 but same 326ppi) and more colors (Space Grey, Pink, Purple and Starlight) than its predecessor.

    The front and rear cameras are 12MP, with the rear camera capable of recording in 4K up to 60fps. The front camera also has the same Center Stage feature as the iPad. Plus, it has the newest A15 Bionic processor to handle the most intense apps out there.

             Shop iPad mini

  • iPad Pro- Want an Apple tablet with top notch specs? The 5th generation iPad Pro has a 12.9” Liquid Retina XDR display (2732x2048 resolution, 264ppi) and comes equipped with Apple’s proprietary M1 chip with 8-core CPU/graphics, plus up to 2 TB of storage. You can select from both an 8GB or 16GB RAM model.

    The rear-facing camera has both 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras vs. 8MP Wide camera for the iPad, with the front-facing camera having the same 12MP photo resolution but with the TrueDepth camera system for capturing 3D information for Face ID and Animoji creation.

    The iPad Pro supports 5G download speeds and streaming. It works with the 2nd gen Apple Pencil, as well as the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Given the Pro has a larger screen, it is also a larger device than the 9th gen iPad. It is 11.04” x 8.46” x 0.25” vs the iPad’s 9.8” x 6.8” x 0.29”. Additionally, the base Pro weighs 1.5lbs vs. 1.07lbs for the iPad.

             Shop iPad Pro

  • iPad Air- the 4th generation iPad Air offers a 10.9” Liquid Retina display (2360x1640, 264ppi) that’s fully laminated with antireflective coating.  It’s built with a A14 Bionic chip and contains up to 256GB storage. The rear-facing camera is 12MP vs. the 8MP iPad camera, with the front-facing FaceTime HD camera at 7MP vs 12MP for the iPad. It is compatible with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard and weighs 1.0lbs vs. the iPad’s 1.07lbs.
      
  • Shop iPad Air

Microsoft

The Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Go lines can be used as tablets or laptops when paired with an detachable keyboard. Check out our Microsoft Surface family buying guide if you want to learn more.

  • Surface Pro 8- The latest iteration of the Surface Pro series, the Surface Pro 8 improves upon its predecessor, the Surface Pro 7, in the following ways:
        
    • 13” 3:2 display vs. 12.3”
    • 2880 x 1920px resolution display vs. 2736 x 1824px
    • Two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports vs. one USB-C port and one USB-A
    • 120Hz refresh rate vs. 60Hz
    • RAM starting at 8GB vs. 4GB RAM
    • Up to 16 hours of battery life vs. up to 10.5 hours
    • LTE Support

            Shop Surface Pro 8
 

  • Surface Book 3- Although both the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Book 3 can be used as both a laptop and tablet, they differ in the following ways. Basically, if you prioritize storage, GPU options and lots of different ports, the Surface Book 3 may be best for you. But if you want more CPU options, a significantly lighter device, and an LTE option to connect to the web on the go, the Surface Pro 8 is for you:

    • CPU: Two CPU options vs. four CPU options for the Surface Pro 8:
      • Intel i5-1035G7
      • Intel i7-1065G7
    • GPU: Four GPU options vs. two GPU options for the Surface Pro 8:
      • Intel Iris Plus
      • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
      • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
      • NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000
    • Storage: Starts as 256GB SSD storage and up to 2TB, with the Surface Pro 8 starting at 128GB up to 1TB.
    • Ports: 2 USB-A, 1 USB-C, 2 Surface Connect, 1 SDXC card reader and a standard 3.5mm headphone/mic jack. Surface Pro 8 has 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports, 1 Surface Connect, and the same headphone/mic jack.
    • Weight: The Surface Book 3 weighs up to 4.2lbs, compared to the Surface Pro 8’s 1.96lbs.

            Shop Surface Book 3
 

  • Surface Go 3- The wallet-friendly option among the bunch, if you’re on a tighter budget or looking for a device for simple web browsing or word processing, the Surface Go 3 is an excellent option. The base model has an Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y processor, an Intel UHD Graphics 615 GPU, 4GB RAM and 64GB eMMC storage. The display has 1920x1280 (220 PPI) resolution, and ports include 1 USB-C, 1 Surface Connect, a microSDXC card reader and 3.5mm headphone jack (no mic). The battery lasts up to 11 hours and it weighs 1.2lbs.

           Shop Surface Go 3

 

  • Surface Pro X- You’ll find many of the features of the late 2021 Surface Pro X to be identical to the Surface Pro 8. The biggest primary differences are the processor, display technology, ports and price point. The Surface Pro X is also a bit lighter and thinner than the Surface Pro 8 (1.70lbs vs 1.96lbs).

    • Processor: The Surface Pro X has either a Microsoft SQ1 or SQ2 processor, depending on the model you buy. The performance is close to what you’d find in an 8th gen Intel Core i5 U-series processor (~3GHz), making it quite formidable. Keep in mind this performance applies to ARM64-compiled Windows apps, with 32-bit applications and games made for AMD/Intel processors running emulation, which can impact performance.
    • Display: The Surface Pro 8 has a 120Hz refresh rate compared to the Surface Pro X’s 60Hz, giving users a smoother scroll or swipe of a Surface Pen. If you’re looking to draw, this could be a potential deciding factor. Additionally, the Surface Pro 8 provides haptic feedback via the Surface Slim Pen 2 to reproduce the feeling of pen to paper.
    • Ports: The Surface Pro X has 2 USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports, 1 Surface Connect+ port and 1 Nano SIM port, and has no headphone jack. However, the Surface Pro 8 not only has the headset jack, but has 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports, which support USB 4.0 and data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps. This makes the Surface 8 Pro better positioned to support multiple 4K monitors via a docking station as well.
    • Price: If none of the previous factors affects your decision, the current iteration of the Surface Pro X costs significantly less than the Surface Pro 8 (approximately $200 less at the time of writing).

       Shop Surface Pro X

Samsung

With three distinct tablet lines, Samsung appeals to users who prioritize performance, price and a balance of both in their Android tablets.

  • Galaxy Tab S7/S7+ – The latest model in Samsung’s premium S Series, the Galaxy Tab S7 features a luxurious 11” 2560 x 1600px WQXGA display. There is also an S7+ model with a 12.4” 2800 x 1752px OLED display (aka Super AMOLED). These tablets have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ system on a chip and Adreno 650 GPU. Both also have an outstanding 120Hz refresh rate, making them ideal for smooth gaming and drawing. Neither model has a headphone jack, though.

    Storage options include 128, 256 and 512GB SSD with an additional 1TB of space that can be added via the microSD slot. RAM starts at 6GB for the base model and can be upgraded to 8GB. The S7 is a mere 1.09lbs with the S7+ being slightly larger at 1.28lbs. The battery life of the S7 is a strong feature as well, lasting up to 13 hours. The S7+ has approximately a 9-hour battery life due to the more advanced display. The rear facing camera is 13MP with a 5MP secondary ultra-wide lens, and the front facing camera is 8MP for both models.

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  • Galaxy Tab S7 FE- The “FE” model, standing for “Fan Edition”, strikes a compromise between the S, S+ and A series. The display is 12.4” (same as the S7+) but has the display resolution of the S7 (2560 x 1600px WQXGA). Unlike the S7 or S7+, the screen refresh rate of the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is 60Hz and the CPU is a slightly less powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G. You can select from 4GB or 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage, that can be expanded via microSD up to 1TB, same as the standard S7/S7+.

    The front facing camera is 8MP and the rear is 5MP. The FE offers G5 connectivity out of the box, giving you a much faster wireless network connection. When it comes to portability, the FE weighs about the same as the S7+ at 1.34lbs. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit on the performance and storage end for a larger display, the FE is an excellent choice.

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  • Galaxy Tab A7- The budget-friendly Galaxy tab, the A7 doesn’t skimp on features. It has a 10.4” 2000 x 1200px (264ppi) WUXGA+ display with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 CPU and 3GB of RAM. The base model has 32GB of storage but you can purchase a 64GB model or expand via microSD card up to 1TB for this model as well.

    Some nice features you wouldn’t expect with budget tablets you get with the Galaxy Tab A are thin bezels and facial recognition. The Galaxy Tab A7 is quite light and compact as well at 1.1lbs and 9.8” x 6.2” x 0.3” dimensions. It has a USB-C charging port and it also has a headphone jack. The battery lasts approximately 13 hours, making it perfect for long road trips. The cameras, both front and rear, are the same as the FE (8MP/5MP, respectively).

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Tablets for Kids

Now more than ever, children are using tablets all the time for both school and play. Handing a child a sophisticated portable computer can be risky, so many brands and companies offer tablets specifically designed for use by children. These devices are more durable and less powerful than other tablets. However, they can be given to children without significant monetary risks involved.

Added features, such as parental controls or monitoring software can also be installed on these devices to further protect the child using them. Another vital factor to consider when purchasing tablets for kids is the device's supported accessories. Rugged cases or detachable keyboards can help to protect and increase the longevity of a child's device. 

Summary

Tablets are more popular than ever due to their size, compatibility, and portability. No longer do you need to tote a large laptop around to share documents, give presentations, or do any kind of remote work. Tablets' unique combination of portability and power makes them ideal for many uses, ranging from schoolwork to professional design and media creation. On top of that, the many accessories supported by tablets help to further blur the line between them and laptops.

As time goes on, tablets become more viable, and purchasing one for yourself will see benefits in both your professional and personal life. Like computers, tablets are sophisticated pieces of technology that come in almost endless configurations and price points. Remember to consider all the ways you wish to use a tablet and the device's features before making a final purchase. We hope this tablet buying guide helps you find the best tablet for you!

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