You could spend $1,000-plus for the fanciest iPad, but you might be just as happy with a $50 tablet instead
By Thomas Germain
If you watched Apple’s latest product event, you might think that a decent tablet costs about as much as a weekend getaway to the Bahamas. The new iPad Air starts around $700—and that’s Apple’s second-most expensive tablet. A decked-out iPad Pro can stretch to $1,300, before you increase the storage and add other extras.
Make no mistake: iPads tend to be top-of-the-line devices. The iPad Air uses the same chip as Apple’s 2020 laptops. You might need a tablet that powerful if you’re doing intensive tasks (like video editing)—or you might do just fine with a $50 tablet from Amazon.
In the end, how much a tablet costs depends entirely on what you plan to use it for. If you just want another screen to read the news or keep the kids occupied on a road trip, you could pick up a perfectly good tablet for less than you’d spend on a new pair of sneakers.
Here’s a breakdown of how much tablets cost based on their capabilities and drawbacks.
Best Budget Tablet
When you think about what a tablet can do, $50 might seem off base, but the Amazon Fire 7 (16GB) could change that. The model doesn’t score high enough in our tests to earn an official CR recommendation. And yet, it’s still worth considering.
Picture yourself unboxing your new tablet and laying down on the couch. What are you going to do with it?
The Amazon Fire 7 will handle TikTok, emails, eBooks, controlling your smart lights, and plenty more with ease.
Do you want a tablet as powerful as a computer? Look elsewhere, because the Fire 7 is slow. Need a beautiful display? This 6.9-inch tablet doesn’t have that. But many people just want a second screen for simple tasks, something to leave on the coffee table for when you’re too lazy to grab a laptop, and this tablet will do the trick.
The biggest compromise may be the app store. Amazon devices don’t have access to some popular apps, so you can still check your email, for example, but you won’t be able to use the Gmail app to do it. That might be fine for a tablet that costs so little. You can even add an SD card for extra storage.
Best Tablet Under $300
The year 2019 was great for tablets, if the Samsung Galaxy Tab A is any indication.
The model has an above-average 10.1-inch display with reduced glare and a brightness that makes it easy to use outside. It’s probably not powerful enough for serious photo editing, but it does great with everyday tasks. It lasts 11.1 hours in our web browsing battery-life test (compared with 8.8 hours with the Amazon tablet above). You can expand the storage with an SD card, and the model has restricted profile features to help protect children.
The cameras are mediocre but probably fine for calls or taking pictures of receipts. The tablet also runs Android, meaning you’ll get access to a wide variety of apps.
The Galaxy Tab A costs around $230, and it’s a great machine. Spend $50 more, and you can pick up a 4G model that works with a wireless plan. Or for $330, you can grab a basic iPad. It’s an outstanding tablet. Looks great, too. But you don’t need to spend that much for a tablet you’ll love.
Best Tablet for $500 to $1,000
When your tablet budget enters the territory of a nice piece of jewelry, there are a ton of options. If you have $500 burning a hole in your pocket, you can pick up an iPad Mini. The powerful 8.3-inch machine has a superb display and is our top choice for a small tablet.
Spend $100 more and you can get the new 10.9-inch iPad Air. Apple promises outstanding performance, and though we’re not done testing the model yet, iPads tend to do well in our ratings.
For those who want a bigger screen or prefer an Android device, the $650 Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is a fantastic option. It blazes through our performance tests, and while the 11-inch display isn’t top of the line, it is high quality. Our testers say it has bright, clean, clear colors, though they’re a tad undersaturated.
For big spenders, the Apple iPad Pro 11 is about as good as it gets. The 11-inch display uses a technology called Mini LED, also present in some high-end TVs, and there’s a good chance the blazing fast processor is more powerful than your computer. You’ll spend $800 for the standard 128GB option. Models compatible with 5G start at $1,000.
Best Tablet Money Can Buy
I know what you’re thinking. You looked at the $800 iPad 11 Pro and laughed. “Only an 11-inch screen? Please.” Of course, for a real power user, only the spacious $1,100 12.9-inch iPad Pro will do. You may need more storage too, and because iPads don’t take SD cards, you’ll probably want to max it out with the 2 terabyte model for $2,200. While you’re at it, go ahead and spring for 5G capability. That brings you to a total of $2,400.
Android users have high-end options, too. We’re in the middle of testing the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra. We’ll have results in the near future, but the specs promise some serious performance. The model costs between $900 and $1,200.
All joking aside, these are seriously impressive devices. The screens are expansive and beautiful to look at, and it’s hard to imagine a task any normal user would need that these options can’t handle. They’re also vastly more powerful than what 99 out of 100 people need. For some users, they could be a necessity. For others, they’re a chance to say you own the best gear on the market. But for everyone else, a tablet doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
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