All tablets are designed for portability with travel in mind, however there are many considerations including size, operating system, and compatibility with specific apps you may want or need to use, storage capacity and expandability, its ability to be used for work functions such as document creation, spreadsheets and creative use, and the availability of accessories such as keyboards or rugged cases. When it comes to entertainment, even the most basic and low-cost devices offer compatibility with streaming services and are able to play games, make video calls, or use social media and the internet.
Depending on intended usage, the range of connectivity options is important. All have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but some also offer LTE using a SIM card for full on the go internet connectivity. Battery life is fairly consistent with most devices offering around 8 to 12 hours, although some models offer more, and some are faster to charge.
There are three main operating systems – Apple used its own iPad OS, whereas most other devices use Android or adapted versions of Android as is the case with Amazon tablets. Microsoft is the only vendor to currently offer Windows based devices which have the added benefit of being compatible with a full desktop environment and is most suited to those whose major intention is to work while travelling.
iPad Air 2020
- Stunning 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone and P3 wide colour
- A14 Bionic chip with Neural Engine
- Touch ID for secure authentication
- 12MP back camera, 7MP FaceTime HD front camera
- Available in Silver, Space Grey, Rose Gold, Green and Sky Blue
The new iPad Air 2020 is available in a range of configurations and colours from a basic Wi-Fi only 64GB version to a Wi-Fi and Cellular 256GB model. It is a sleek device made of metal and glass with a large 10.9” screen with an excellent resolution, brightness and contrast. The new A14 Bionic chip from Apple is the fastest for an iPad to date, and currently this model even outperforms the iPad Pro versions which are available at significantly higher cost. Apple have finally changed their charging port from the lightning port to the standard USB-C, making it compatible with more chargers and other accessories than before.
For security, there is a touch-ID enabled power button (fingerprint sensor) which is very fast to react for easy login and for online payments. There is a front 7-megapixel camera for Facetime and other video conferencing applications, and a rear mounted 12-megapixel camera. This model lacks the four-speaker setup offered by the Pro models; however, the sound output is still excellent with good clarity and volume. Unfortunately, this device does not have a 3.5mm headphone socket so you are basically limited to using Bluetooth headphones if private listening is your thing.
A vast range of cases, keyboards and other accessories are available, both from Apple and other low-cost manufacturers making this device fully customisable with probably more options than any other device. One of the optional extras that may be essential for creative users is the Apple Pencil which is excellent both for notetaking and artwork, however this a costly option and some other models include a touch pen for free.
As with all Apple devices, the interface is streamlined and battery life consistent at around 10 hours. One of the most important considerations with any tablet is the range and quality of the available applications. This is one area where Apple devices have the edge over the competition – the app store has more applications than any other. Not only is there a greater range of applications, but most of them are also better optimised for use on a large screen. When used on a large screen tablet, most android applications look like stretched out phone apps and there are very few that are optimised for a bigger screen.
User reviews of the iPad Air 2020 are overwhelmingly positive. Some users have bemoaned the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and the need to either buy an adaptor or use wireless sets, however this has been standard in recent years with many manufacturers.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 / S7+
- Stunning display immerse yourself in work and play with the 11” Galaxy Tab S7 4G Tablet thanks to the superfast refresh rate which creates an ultra-smooth viewing experience
- Productivity from creating amazing works of art, to annotating the latest project proposal for work, Galaxy Tab S7 4G Tablet, equipped with the redesigned S Pen, help you do it all
- PC-like experience Galaxy Tab S7 4G is your powerful new go-to Tablet, whether you’re working from home or on the go Activate the Samsung DeX mode and add the Book Cover Keyboard*, and you’re ready to power through your work *Book Cover Keyboard sold separately
- Next-level sound Dolby Atmos sound and quad speakers tuned by AKG take the Galaxy Tab S7 4G audio experience to the next level
- Connected, wherever you are from streaming shows to crafting presentations, take it on the go and get stuck in wherever you are with Galaxy Tab S7 4G Tablet LTE requires nano SIM connectivity Nano SIM sold separately Actual network speed may vary based on distance and network quality
These two models are technically virtually identical with the only major difference being the screen size and technology which is 10.9” on the S7 and 12.4” on the S7+. The smaller model uses an LCD panel whereas the larger opts for an AMOLED display, which is marginally better. The main decision here is portability – the larger model is somewhat cumbersome. Both displays are excellent with high resolutions comparable to the iPad range.
The chassis is made of aluminium which is a matte finish and what Samsung calls “Mystic”, and these units are available in a range of colours. These are well made tablets with a premium feel that are exceptionally thin. One of the main advantages of these units is the long battery life. The S7 version can run a video-loop playback test for around 14 hours which is almost fifty percent faster than the Apple iPad Air.
Both devices feature the fastest Snapdragon processor available in any tablet. This offers a slick experience with minimal lag in any conditions and is more than up to the job. Both display sizes have a 120hz mode which makes scrolling through websites and data a far smoother experience than displays with only a 60hz mode. Various storage capacities are available from 128GB to 512GB. The 128GB models have 6GB or RAM and the others have 8GB. All versions have Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi and GPS, and there are versions available with both LTE and 5G at additional cost. Unlike the Apple offerings, storage is expandable via Micro SD card up to 1TB. These units have four speakers tuned by AKG and Dolby Atmos. Sound quality is very good as are volume levels which are more than adequate when viewing videos.
These devices are excellent for creative use and are both equipped with touch pens that are included in the price. The performance is similar to that experienced with the Apple pencil and they can be attached magnetically to the rear of the device. Optional keyboard cases are available from Samsung, although they are quite expensive. These tablets have an innovative feature known as DEX mode which transforms the device user interface into something that is similar to a laptop. External displays can be attached, and this is an excellent feature for productivity, although support at present is limited and not all applications work in this mode.
The main limitation with these devices is not due to the hardware but the Android operating system which lacks applications that run well on large screens. The Android tablet market has been somewhat subdued in recent years and developers have been reluctant to port their software to the larger form factor screens with the result that some apps look like phone apps that have been stretched.
Users report that these units are well made, fast and have excellent displays. Some have commented on the lack of decent applications. These are recent devices so there is limited feedback on reliability at present.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
- Free Upgrade to Windows 11 (when available, see below)
- Next-gen laptop (when used with a Type Cover – sold separately) with the versatility of a studio and tablet, so you can type, touch, draw, write, work and play more naturally
- A more powerful Pro, faster than Surface Pro 6, with a laptop-class Intel Core processor and improved graphics. Wireless: Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible, Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
- More ways to connect, with both USB-C and USB-A ports for connecting to displays, docking stations and more, as well as accessory charging
- Standout design that will not weigh you down, ultra-slim and light Surface Pro 7 starts at just 771 g
Available in a range of configurations including Intel i3 / i5 and i7 processors and a variant with AMD Ryzen R7 the Surface Pro 7 is a 12” device running Windows 10 Home. This means it is compatible with most business software and for certain students that need to run specialist software this may be the only choice unless they have an additional device. Windows software typically takes up more storage space than apps so the basic 128GB versions are probably best avoided for those that intend to do a lot of creative work, although a storage card can be added if required. Some of the processor options and those units with only 4GB RAM may be a bit slow in everyday use so it is best to opt for versions with higher specifications if your budget will allow. This device is significantly heavier than the other tablets featured in this comparison.
The PixelSense display is bright and has a responsive touchscreen. Both front and rear basic cameras are present but with low resolutions which are adequate for videoconferencing and occasional snaps. The speaker configuration is basic and not in the same class as the iPad Air or the Samsung Galaxy S7 models. Battery life is quoted at 10.5 hours; however, this is very dependent on use and users report that in practise it is significantly lower.
Available in platinum or black colour schemes this is a well-made and slim device that, in contrast to the other devices in this review, has additional ports other than the one used for charging (USB-C, USB-A) which means that devices such as external displays can be connected at the same time as the unit is charging. There is a good range of optional accessories including keyboards, mice, and the Surface Pen, however these are often costly, and none are included unless bought as part of a bundle deal. If, for example, you require a tablet, keyboard, and pen with a model with decent specifications then this will easily be the most expensive of the tablets discussed. One interesting feature is the presence of a kickstand.
Some users have reported that these tablets are prone to crashing (a common windows problem). And that they run very hot. Others have commented that for the specifications these units seem excessively priced when compared to other devices. Some of the optional devices have attracted criticism including the keyboard with users complaining that it has a flimsy trackpad and keys with a very small amount of travel. There are some concerns regarding the durability of these devices with several reports of failures within 12 months and unless a backup is regularly performed this will mean a loss of data as the hard drives are not removeable.
Amazon Fire HD10
- 10.1" 1080p full HD display and 32 GB of internal storage (add up to 512 GB with microSD).
- Now 30% faster thanks to the 2.0 GHz octa-core processor and 2 GB of RAM.
- Up to 12 hours of reading, browsing the web, watching videos and listening to music with USB-C port for easy charging.
- Enjoy your favourite apps like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Disney+, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and more through the Amazon Appstore (Google Play Store not supported). Subscription fees may apply.
- Hands free with Alexa.
The Fire HD10 is Amazon’s highest specification and thinnest tablet, making it ideal for travelling, especially considering the rugged design and low cost. It has the largest display of any Amazon tablets at 10.1 inches with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1200 (224ppi) and 1080P. The HD10 includes an Octa-core 2.0 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM. When it comes to storage, it comes with either 32 or 64GB of internal storage, which is expandable up to 512GB of using a micro-SD card. There are options for unlimited cloud storage from Amazon for certain types of content which potentially enhances the storage options further. Its battery lasts up to 12 hours of mixed-use including reading, watching videos, web browsing and listening to music. Its audio operates on Dolby Atoms with dual stereo speakers and a 3.5 mm stereo jack and built-in microphone, and the unit is Alexa hands-free enabled. This tablet is available in a large range of colours including black, white, blue, and plum, and various accessories are available including stands and cases. There are limited options for creative users, with no support for dedicated pens although basic capacitive pens can be used but to limited effect.
All Fire tablets come with a basic 2MP cameras on the front and rear, and all are powered by Amazon’s take on Android – Fire OS. This software looks and feels largely like pure Android, albeit with a whole load of Amazon promotions and ads thrown in, unless you pay extra to have ads removed. However, the biggest difference is the lack of a Google Play Store and namely the lack of native Google apps. This means you cannot download apps for Google Drive, Google Docs, YouTube, Gmail and more natively, although there are ways of adding, or sideloading the full Play Store and other Google services if required. Amazon does not position the Fire HD 10, or any of its Fire tablets for that matter, as being productivity workhorses. They are built for entertainment, and that is what Amazon wants you to use them for, meaning the lack of Google apps will not be a dealbreaker for many.
Users are overwhelmingly pleased with the performance of this device, especially given the low price point. Some have bemoaned the fact that the operating system is different from stock Android, and that it shows adverts on the lock screen, however this is all made clear in the description. If you are looking for a device mostly for entertainment and casual gaming and if you are subscribed to the Amazon ecosystem, this is a good choice at a good price.