Working, studying and spending more time at home than ever before leads to unpredictable market trends. The tablet market has been stagnant for years, with Apple enjoying an unrivaled lead over its competitors, but things are starting to change in 2020.
Android manufacturers have re-emphasized their efforts in the largely forgotten tablet space, and we’ve had plenty of interesting options at all price points over the past twelve months. Apple also continued to improve its iPads with updated mini and high-end Pro models. We’ve rounded up a bunch of our top picks for the best tablets of 2021, and we’re not recommending them in any particular order.
iPad mini (2021)
Starting off the list, the smallest option is Apple’s sixth-generation iPad mini. Two years after its last mini tablet, Apple decided it was time to finally offer a modernized 8-inch slate. The design language is inspired by the iPad Pro and Air models, with sleek unibody bezels and no physical home button. The same A15 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 13 series is also on board, and even more surprisingly, Apple has replaced its old Lighting connector with a more capable USB Type-C.
Add in four color options, support for the second-generation Apple Pencil, and long battery life, and the mini looks like the best little tablet of the year. A few negatives we haveare the lack of refresh rate, that nasty web scrolling effect, and the lack of HDR playback. While infinitely better than previous years, iPadOS 15 still has its limitations (especially file management), which might just be a deal breaker if you’re not heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)
Objectively speaking, Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) can be considered the best tablet money can buy. Apple’s in-house M1 chipset alone makes this device a force to be reckoned with, even if it’s not optimized for tablet use. The raw power of the chipset allows for fast 4K video export, productivity tasks and mobile gaming at the highest settings, all in a slim design with long battery life. The 1TB and above models come with 16GB of RAM. Add in an upgraded Thunderbolt port and onboard 5G connectivity, and you have a viable laptop replacement.
Another big addition is the mini LED display, which is noticeably improved with deeper blacks than previous iPads thanks to 2,500 independent dimming zones. The panel can also produce more than 1000 nits of brightness. It’s a truly great tablet with no compromises, depending on your views on iPadOS and how far your budget stretches. We’d like to point out that 18W charging is still disappointing on a high-end device with a large battery.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
The Galaxy Tab S7+ is to the Android world what the M1 iPad Pro 12.9 is to the Apple ecosystem. It’s Samsung’s biggest-screen flagship tablet yet, and it packs all the features you could want. Its 12.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED panel is one of the best ways to enjoy media. The four speakers are booming, the bezels are slim and uniform throughout, and the brushed metal design looks and feels premium.
As with other Samsung devices, the wireless DeX is a productivity game changer with a desktop-like UI, and we appreciated the included S Pen, although its placement on the back of the charging pad isn’t ideal. Packing slow 15W chargers when your device supports 45W speeds isn’t easy, and we’ve yet to see if Samsung can match Apple’s advanced software support. If you’re looking for the best tablet experience outside of Apple’s iPad line, these flaws still don’t stop us from recommending the Tab S7+.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE
The top-of-the-line iPad Pro 12.9 and Galaxy Tab S7+ are the market’s leading large-screen tablets, but their starting prices may deter some users who don’t use all the premium features. True to its “Fan Edition” name, the Galaxy Tab S7 FE cuts some corners but still brings a premium build and a 12.4-inch widescreen display. Sure, it’s an LCD instead of the glorious AMOLED on the Tab S7+, but on the other hand, it comes with S Pen support, so it’s a great portable screen for productivity tasks, media consumption, gaming, drawing and writing.
Wireless DeX mode is a signature feature that sets supported Samsung devices apart from the pack and allows tablets like the Tab S7 FE to replace laptops, allowing you to handle workloads such as text editing, photo touch-ups, email and browsing tasks. Battery life from a massive 10,090 mAh cell is decent considering the large power-hungry screen. Performance is a bit unexpected, and keep in mind that you’re getting different chipsets if you go with the Wi-Fi-only model (Snapdragon 778G 5G) than the 5G model with the older Snapdragon 750G 5G SoC.
Xiaomi Pad 5
Want a no-compromise tablet with premium aluminum construction, premium specs, and active stylus support without breaking the bank? Xiaomi Pad 5 says “Hello”. Xiaomi’s long-awaited first tablet brings interesting specifications: an 11-inch IPS LCD with a fast 120 Hz refresh rate, excellent quad speakers, a flagship-class Snapdragon 860 chipset, a smooth MIUI 12.5 on top of Android 11, and 22.5 W. or 33W fast charger depending on region
The 11-inch display of the Xiaomi Pad 5 is a joy to watch TV shows, YouTube videos or sports matches. The panel brings HDR10 and Dolby Vision capabilities and can be brightened when needed. With a battery life that will last you over 14 hours of web browsing or watching videos, the SD 860’s continuous performance has been excellent, and even captures stunningly beautiful photos and videos if needed. Xiaomi had to cut some corners here and we have to mention the lack of expandable storage, fingerprint reader and on-board GPS module.
Realme’s first tablet entry fulfills the basic needs of a tablet – a screen large enough to enjoy your multimedia, browsing and light gaming needs in a thin and light package with decent battery life. The Realme Pad has a decent 10.4-inch IPS LCD, four loud speakers and Android 11 interface. Add in a microSD card slot, a headphone jack, optional dual SIM LTE connectivity and a bargain price.
You’ll notice price drops in areas like chipset choice (12nm MediaTek Helio G80), 32GB of storage, and primary 8MP snappers on the front and back. If you have your preferences straight and can live with these limitations, then the Realme Pad is a great option for its price.
Huawei MatePad Pro 12.6
We’ve already looked at which tablet to get if you’re team Apple or if you’re more of a Googler, but there’s a third camp with Huawei, and the MatePad Pro 12.6 is a great slate in that direction. The question is, can you live with HarmonyOS and its limitations? For us the answer is yes, but there are a few catches and you won’t find some apps that are used on the Google or Apple side.
That still doesn’t stop the MatePad from handling even the most capable hardware. The 12.6-inch OLED is excellent, with a sharp 2560 x 1600 px resolution, even if it refreshes at a pedestrian 60Hz. The performance of the Kirin 9000E 5G was on point and handled all tasks with ease and the four speakers here are excellent. Despite being only 6.7mm thin, the MatePad 12.6 has a large 10,090mAh battery and excellent durability scores in our tests, and comes with 40W fast charging out of the box. The cameras are capable and the optional M-Pen stylus is a worthy competitor to the Samsung S Pen.
Likewise, we’ve come full circle to the HarmonyOS question – there’s a sense of uncertainty about future software updates, and the App Gallery catalog still has room to grow. If you’re looking to try something different and need top-of-the-line specs, the MatePad Pro 12.6 has you covered.
The prize is a Lenovo Yoga Tab 13
An Android tablet that doubles as a portable monitor is something you don’t see every day. Lenovo’s Yoga Tab 13 is one of the more unique tablets to come out this year, and it’s all about the big-screen experience. You get a 13-inch LTPS LCD panel with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,350 px and an aspect ratio of 16:10, but the magic lies in its barrel-shaped bottom with USB-C on one side and a micro-HDMI port on the other.
You also get a kickstand/handle and the back of the device is covered in Alcantara so it doesn’t move when laid flat. But it’s not just an external monitor, the Yoga Pad 13 is a high-end tablet with a Snapdragon 870 chipset, 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. There is a 10,200 mAh battery, which is designed for more than 12 hours of video playback or 8.5 hours of display mode. It runs the usual Android 11 and supports an optional pressure-sensitive stylus.