Who this is for
Most people shouldn’t buy an Android tablet. Even if you already use an Android smartphone, Apple’s iPad offers a better combination of hardware, software, and accessories, better build quality, a smoother and more-responsive UI, better long-term OS support, larger available internal storage, far better cameras, and many more tablet-optimized apps. It’s just a better overall package. Many Android tablet apps still feel like stretched phone apps, while iPad apps have been designed to take better advantage of the tablet’s screen size. And even if you are deeply invested in Android, Google is moving toward Chrome OS as its preferred way to run Android apps on tablets—there aren’t many Chrome tablets yet, but you may be better off waiting for a good one if you don’t need something today.
But if you don’t want an iPad and you don’t want to wait for Chrome OS tablets, you still have a few options. Android tablets are still good for watching video, browsing the web, reading, checking email, and playing games, and some people even manage to get work done on one.
Tablets are also great first devices for kids (though we prefer the iPad or the Kindle Fire to regular Android tablets for this purpose). Both the Google and Amazon stores have a large selection of kid-friendly content, and you can give your kids individual accounts so that each one can access only the content you’ve selected for them. Kids are also less likely to need exceptional performance from their electronics, making a more-affordable tablet a good choice for them.
If you have an older Android tablet that’s slow in day-to-day use, you might want to upgrade. The faster processors and increased RAM of the latest tablets make them much more responsive for gaming and general use, and newer tablets often have better, higher-resolution screens than older ones. In addition, your older tablet probably won’t get updates to new versions of Android, such as Android 10 or the upcoming Android 11.
On the other hand, if you have a recent tablet that can get an update to Android 10 and you’re mainly using the tablet for web browsing, email, streaming, or other lightweight tasks, you’re probably fine sticking with it. As always, if you’re happy with what you already have, you don’t need to upgrade.
As an alternative to a tablet, you might consider getting a larger phone the next time you upgrade. An Android phone with a 6.5-inch screen will let you do the same things as an 8-inch tablet. The screen will be smaller, of course, but in many ways it will be just as usable as that of a tablet—even more so at times, thanks to a phone’s better portability.
How we picked and tested
We’ve tested about two dozen Android tablets over the past few years—we test any promising new model we find—and we’ve discovered that many of them are budget models with poor performance and old software. Companies just aren’t releasing many great Android tablets, and Google has mostly given up on pushing developers to release good tablet apps.
These are the criteria we use to decide which tablets are worth buying:
- Display: A good tablet must have a high-resolution screen with a wide brightness range. Watching video is one of the most common uses for a tablet, and no one wants to be staring at a dingy, low-res screen while they binge on Netflix.
- Battery life: You probably don’t carry your tablet with you everywhere, as you do your phone, so it can be easy to forget to plug your tablet in. The last thing you want when coming back to your tablet is a dead battery. If a tablet’s standby time can’t be measured in days, it’s not good enough. It should also be able to last through at least a full day of heavy use—eight or more hours of browsing the web, streaming video, and running apps.
- Performance: Every tablet will feel slower over the course of two to three years as apps grow larger and demand even more power, and as the Android operating system adds useful but demanding features like split-screen multitasking. But a good tablet needs to be able to keep up with increasing app and OS requirements. A tablet’s large screen also makes it better for gaming than a phone, so it’s nice if the tablet has the horsepower to play the latest mobile titles. For our top pick, we considered only those models with a powerful processor and at least 3 GB of RAM, though budget options usually have less than that.
- Software: It’s important for a tablet to run a recent version of Android; plus, tablets tend to get software updates less frequently than phones, so you don’t want to start at a disadvantage. As of this writing, we draw the line at Android 10—a tablet running anything older than that isn’t worth buying. We also prefer tablets that make the fewest changes to Google’s version of Android. Some devices run heavy, confusing skins with redundant apps.
- Storage: Although streaming your media is convenient, at times you’ll likely want to download video, music, and documents to your tablet—for example, if you’re going to be on a plane without Wi-Fi access. A tablet should have at least 32 GB of internal space to ensure you have the breathing room to do that. A microSD card slot is nice, as it lets you add storage, but not all apps take advantage of external storage, and microSD cards are slower than built-in storage.
We used each tablet over the course of about a week for general tasks such as browsing the web, checking email, watching movies, and listening to music. We also played games, took photos, and edited documents stored in Google Drive.
Our pick: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite has a big, 10.4-inch screen that’s great for watching video, and the sizable battery ensures you won’t run out of power while binging. The Tab S6 Lite also comes with an S Pen stylus for you to draw and take notes on the tablet. Although the Tab S6 Lite is not as powerful as Samsung’s more expensive Galaxy Tab S6, this model has no trouble running multiple apps and browsing the web. It runs Android 10 out of the box, but Samsung is usually slow to release new versions of Android on tablets. Samsung also reserved some features for the more expensive Tab S6, including the desktop-like DeX mode and S Pen gestures.
The Tab S6 Lite has a 2000×1200 LCD display, a major improvement over the Amazon Fire HD 8’s mediocre LCD. Although it’s not as good as the OLED on the Tab S6, this screen is still sharper and more vibrant than those of most tablets we’ve tested. The bezels around the screen are just the right size, as they allow you to hold the tablet comfortably, yet they don’t waste space. In addition, the S Pen attaches to the edge of the tablet magnetically, so it’s always at hand; the stylus has 4,096 pressure levels, making it feel more like a real pen as you take notes and doodle.
With a big, 7,040 mAh battery, the Tab S6 Lite can run for days on a charge—not as long as the more expensive Tab S6, but long enough to keep most people happy. Even with heavy use of the tablet, we couldn’t completely drain it in one day, and it won’t die overnight if you leave it unplugged. The tablet can charge at 15 W via the USB-C port, which is a little on the slow side in 2020, and you need a third-party plug for that. The included adapter charges the tablet at only 7.5 W and takes about four hours to fully recharge the battery—that’s fine if you’re plugging the tablet in overnight, but you might want a bigger charger if you need to plug it in to get a boost in the middle of the day.
This tablet runs on Samsung’s Exynos 9611 processor, which is an eight-core ARM chip similar to the Snapdragon 855 in the Tab S6. The 9611 is about half as fast in benchmarks, but the difference is less noticeable in daily use. Apps open quickly, and the 4 GB of RAM is enough to keep multiple apps in memory while you multitask. In our experience, more often than not, apps immediately resumed after being left in the background overnight. Gaming performance is lacking in high-end games like Fortnite and the Grand Theft Auto series compared with the Tab S6 and its more powerful GPU, but the Tab S6 Lite is much more capable than the Fire HD 8.
The Tab S6 Lite has an aluminum unibody frame with stereo speakers on the top and bottom edges. It’s more than an ounce heavier than the Tab S6 at almost exactly 1 pound, but it feels very solid and durable.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Virtually all Android smartphones have a fingerprint sensor, but that feature isn’t a sure thing for tablets. The Tab S6 Lite doesn’t have one, so you have to enter a PIN or pattern to unlock it. This model does have face unlock, but we don’t recommend using 2D camera-based face unlock because such technology is not secure—a 2D camera can be fooled by a photo. The 3D versions on Apple and Google Pixel devices are much harder to fool.
This tablet can run all the same Android apps as your phone, but very few of those apps are optimized for a larger screen. That means a lot of wasted space and awkward navigation. Samsung’s bundled apps have tablet-friendly layouts, but those are the exception.
The Galaxy Tab S6 Lite runs Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI, but several features present on other S Pen–equipped devices are missing here; for example, you don’t get the desktop-like DeX UI that makes Android apps a bit more usable on the large screen. And the S Pen has no Bluetooth support, so you can’t use it for button shortcuts or gestures.
The best cheap tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8 (10th generation)
Most people use tablets for streaming video, browsing the web, and reading. The Amazon Fire HD 8 is good at all of those things, and the price is so low that we can forgive a handful of shortcomings. At this writing, the Fire HD 8 starts at just $90 (with lock-screen ads), but it’s slower than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite or Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, and it’s saddled with a worse screen. The $90 version of the Fire HD 8 has only 32 GB of storage, but it accepts microSD cards, so you can add as much storage as you want (don’t bother spending another $30 for more built-in storage). It also uses Amazon’s services, not Google’s, which means it doesn’t come with the Google Play store or Google apps—Amazon’s stores have a ton of books, music, TV, and movies, but not nearly as many games or apps. Amazon’s software also bombards you with “suggestions” for books and apps that are little more than ads.
The 8-inch screen’s 1280×800 resolution is a lot lower than that of either of the Galaxy Tab displays, which means text and images are visibly less sharp, and both brightness and color reproduction are far behind what Samsung’s models produce. Still, the screen is good enough for you to watch video or get some reading done. (If you mainly plan on reading, know that the high-contrast, higher-resolution e-ink screen on one of Amazon’s Kindle models makes those better as reading devices.) And the lower-resolution screen gives the Fire HD 8 amazing battery life: With a few hours of use per day, this tablet can last three or four days on a charge.
A tablet that costs less than $100 still involves a lot of compromises, but Amazon gives you a lot for your money. Despite having a low-end, quad-core processor and only 2 GB of RAM, the Fire HD 8 is fast enough for casual use. However, heavy websites sometimes cause the Silk Browser to lag and freeze. The Fire HD 8 can handle simple games, but high-resolution 3D graphics slow to a crawl—a Fortnite machine this is not.
Amazon’s Fire OS is based on Android, but it’s optimized for watching and reading rather than getting work done. It provides easy access to Amazon ebooks, videos, apps, and music without a ton of services and apps running in the background and slowing things down. Fire OS’s extensive parental controls also make this model a good tablet for younger children. The OS does tend to hold your hand a little too much—there are multiple unnecessary tutorials, and some advanced features like split-screen apps are not supported.
The Fire HD 8 works best with Amazon Prime—that connection makes all your Amazon cloud data and Prime content readily accessible. However, since you can install Amazon’s apps on any Android device, the Fire HD 8 isn’t unique in this respect, and the Fire HD 8 doesn’t include the Google Play store, Gmail, or any other Google service—just Amazon’s app store, which is much sparser than Google’s. With a little tinkering, you can get the Google Play store on the Fire HD 8 and make it much more like a standard Android tablet, though the performance still isn’t good enough for heavy web browsing or gaming.
As of this writing, the $90 base model of the Fire HD 8 includes ads on the lock screen. That’s a tolerable trade-off when you need a media-consumption tablet on the cheap. You can get a tablet without the lock-screen ads for $15 more, but that tablet still shows you plenty of “suggested” content during use.
What about the Fire HD 8 Plus?
For the first time, Amazon is selling two distinct versions of the 8-inch Fire tablet: There’s the regular Fire HD 8 and the Fire HD 8 Plus for $110 ($20 more). The Plus adds a gigabyte of RAM and wireless charging. The memory isn’t especially helpful because Fire OS doesn’t emphasize multitasking as Android does on other tablets, and the low-end processor will still get bogged down on heavy webpages or when running demanding games.
The wireless charging might be useful for some people, but only in tandem with the $40 wireless charging dock. The tablet is too big to fit on most charging pads, but the official stand charges the tablet and turns it into an Alexa-powered smart display.
Fire tablets make the most sense when they’re as cheap as possible, so we recommend sticking with the non-Plus model.
The best high-end Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
The Galaxy Tab S6 has a gorgeous 10.5-inch OLED screen plus an included stylus. It’s fast, sleek, and feature-packed, but it costs more than most people should spend.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $630.
People who have $600 or more to spend on a tablet should get an iPad Pro—it offers a better app and accessory ecosystem, and it will get software updates for longer. If you insist on an Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the best one you can get. Pricing typically starts around $630, making the Tab S6 a bit cheaper than the iPad Pro, and the Tab S6’s hardware is actually better in some ways. It has a fantastic 10.5-inch OLED display with vibrant colors, as well as HDR support and a huge brightness range. Plus, it comes with Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which doesn’t need to be charged (or purchased separately) like the Apple Pencil does. Samsung’s version of Android is optimized for the S Pen and has a useful desktop-like DeX mode that makes phone-optimized Android apps easier to use on tablets.
The 10.5-inch, 2560×1600 OLED is by far the nicest screen we’ve seen on an Android tablet. It’s especially sharp and vibrant, and it’s plenty bright to use outside or in well-lit rooms. It’s also great for binging Netflix in bed thanks to the impressively low minimum brightness. Although the Tab S6 has no headphone jack, it does have quad speakers that “give Apple’s more expensive iPad Pro a run for its money,” according to The Verge. Despite being more powerful than the Tab S6 Lite, this tablet is both thinner (5.7 mm versus 7 mm) and lighter (0.91 pound versus 1 pound). The build quality is on a par with that of Apple’s latest iPads, too; the S Pen even attaches to the Tab S6 magnetically to recharge like the Apple Pencil does with the iPad Pro.
Samsung includes the S Pen stylus for precise, pressure-sensitive input on the Tab S6’s screen. The stylus is great for taking notes, drawing, and annotating documents. Samsung did an excellent job optimizing the Android software for the stylus with helpful apps and system features. This is by far the best stylus experience on Android—vastly better than buying a clunky capacitive stylus and using it with a regular touchscreen. The S Pen connects to the Tab S6 over Bluetooth, allowing you to launch apps with the button and to control apps by waving the stylus around. But even if the battery dies, you can still use the S Pen for screen input, just without the extra Bluetooth features. The stylus slot is on the back of the tablet, though, and attaching the S Pen correctly without looking can be difficult.
The Tab S6 runs on a Snapdragon 855 processor and 6 GB of RAM; as a result, it’s faster than the Tab S6 Lite, and it leaves the Fire HD 8 in the dust. Apps open quickly, and they stay fast even in split-screen mode. The 2 GB RAM boost over the Tab S6 Lite also means this model can keep apps suspended in the background longer. The Tab S6 has the same 7,040 mAh battery as the Tab S6 Lite—its higher-resolution display and more powerful processor mean it won’t last quite as long as the Tab S6 Lite, but it still needs a charge only every few days or so. Plus, the Snapdragon 855 has a much better low-power mode than that of the Exynos 9611 processor in the Tab S6 Lite; you can leave the Tab S6 sitting overnight, and it barely uses any power.
The Tab S6 runs Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI additions. The quality of Samsung’s software has varied over the years, and it’s still not as smooth or easy to use as Google’s version of Android. Still, the Tab S6 has several useful features you won’t find on cheaper devices. For example, it supports DeX mode, which offers a desktop-like interface supporting multiple windowed Android apps. It isn’t as powerful as a real computer or Chrome OS, but it is better than the standard Android UI in in supporting productivity and in running phone-optimized apps.
We like the addition of an in-display fingerprint sensor on the Tab S6—in contrast, the Tab S6 Lite and Fire HD 8 lack that. It’s not as fast as some sensors we’ve tested, but it’s still better than not having one. Samsung also offers a keyboard case that props up the tablet and makes being productive easier, but it’s expensive ($180), cramped, and not inclined to stay attached to the tablet very well—it’s not worth the price.
You should get this Samsung tablet only if you’re 100% committed to Android despite its shortcomings on tablets, you want the best screen and stylus experience you can get, and you don’t mind paying twice as much as the Tab S6 Lite. Otherwise, the iPad offers a better overall experience.
What to look forward to
Google hasn’t released an Android tablet of its own for several years, and other companies haven’t been making many, either. Instead, Google is moving toward Chrome OS tablets as a way to run Android apps on larger screens. We’ll keep looking for tablets running Android from other manufacturers for this guide, but we truly recommend that most people look at either a Chromebook or an iPad instead.
Many of the Android tablets we’ve tested over the years, such as the Nvidia Shield and Google Pixel C, have been discontinued, and few have been released in the past year or so. Right now, few Android tablets are worth your money at all.
Amazon sells a 7-inch Fire tablet, but that model has a lower-resolution screen, a slower processor, and less RAM. It’s worthwhile to spend $40 more for the Fire HD 8. The company also sells a larger, 10-inch Fire tablet with a higher-resolution screen, but we think the 8-inch version is a better option for most people—it’s easier to hold, it’s cheaper, and Android tablet apps will look better.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A 10.1 is intended as a cheaper alternative to the regular Tab family, but it should be even cheaper than it is. It has a much slower processor, less RAM, and no S Pen, and it can be frustratingly slow at times—but it still costs over $200. The Tab S6 Lite is worth the upgrade.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e borrows a few features from the Tab S6, including its 10.5-inch OLED display with a 2560×1600 resolution. It looks great in all lighting conditions, but S Pen support is absent. The octa-core Snapdragon 670 processor, 64 GB of storage, and 4 GB of RAM are all sufficient, but the Tab S6 Lite is faster. In addition, the S5e is too expensive at its usual price of $400 now that the Tab S6 Lite is available for $50 less.
We no longer recommend the Huawei MediaPad M5 8.4 because it’s frequently sold out and it never got an update to Android 10. Huawei’s ongoing problems with the US government have also forced it to shift focus away from the US, so we don’t expect this tablet to get any more update support.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A 8.4″ (2020) is a carrier-only tablet equipped with an 8.4-inch 1920×1200 screen, Android 9 Pie, and LTE. It typically costs around $240, depending on your carrier. Plus, you have to spend extra every month for service. The added complication of carrier certification means this tablet isn’t likely to catch up on OS updates, and it’s already a year behind. Unless you need a data line for your tablet separate from your phone, the Galaxy Tab A 8.4″ isn’t worth buying.
The Walmart Onn Pro tablets look good on paper—the 8-inch tablet is only $10 more than the Fire HD 8 and has access to the Google Play ecosystem. However, the screen is terrible and the performance is even worse than that of the Fire. The 10-inch version is $130, but it suffers from the same shortcomings. If your budget is this low, you should just get the Fire HD 8, which is much less frustrating to use.
Cherlynn Low, Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite review: Just a really good Android tablet, Engadget, May 29, 2020
Corbin Davenport, Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite review: The new Android tablet to beat, Android Police, June 27, 2020
Dan Seifert, Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review: master entertainer, amateur worker, The Verge, September 24, 2019
Alexandra Garrett, Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review: As good as Android tablets get, CNET, October 19, 2019
Scott Gilbertson, Adrienne So, Amazon Fire HD 8 and 8 Plus Review: Unrivaled Value, Wired, July 15, 2020
Dieter Bohn, Fire HD 8 Plus review: the Amazon appliance, The Verge, June 18, 2020