If you are looking for the robust productivity of a laptop in a lighter form factor, you should consider a tablet. NBC Select staff have used tablets as laptop replacements and entertainment centers for years. Their light weight (usually around a pound, in our experience) makes them easy to travel with or store away. You can also add accessories like a keyboard or stylus to make them function more like a laptop for note taking, building presentations and more.
Below, we rounded up NBC Select staff favorite tablets, plus advice on how to shop for the right one for you.
How we picked our favorite tablets
We spoke with an electronics expert and asked Select staffers about their favorite tablets. We then chose products that met the following criteria:
- Operating system: An operating system (OS) is the software at the root of your tablet — it manages nearly all its other processes. Your OS also decides what kinds of apps you can download, and what the general interface of your tablet will look like. In our experience, different people prefer different OSs, so we included tablets that use a mix of different systems.
- Size: Part of the convenience of a tablet is how much smaller it is than a laptop. All of our tablets are about 10 inches long and weigh around a pound, making them easy to carry all day and compact enough to fit in most bags and backpacks, in our experience.
- Battery life: Every tablet on our list has at least 10 hours of battery life, allowing you to use them for most of the day without needing to recharge.
The best tablets of 2023
Our top picks come from some of the biggest technology companies, namely Apple, Google and Amazon. Below each recommendation, we share specifications we think you should know when shopping, like size, storage options, speaker details and more.
Best overall: Apple iPad (9th Generation)
I typically use a tablet as my entertainment device when a laptop would be too cumbersome — it’s a great travel tool for that reason. As such, I need my tablet to do a handful of things: browse the web, watch videos, join video calls and send the occasional email.
Apple’s most affordable iPad can do all of those things easily, in my experience. A big reason for that is the simplicity of the software — iPad OS is easy to use and easy to understand. Apps load within a few seconds, never stutter or glitch and offer an experience that’s very similar to using an iPhone. Setup only took me a few minutes before I was comfortably browsing the web, playing music, joining FaceTime calls, syncing content with my iPhone and more.
It does not have the loudest speakers, fastest speeds or brightest screen, the newer iPad 10th Generation, for example, trumps this 9th generation iPad in all three of those categories. But for the price, and for what I need from my tablet, this one does the job.
Operating system: iPad OS | Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 in. | Weight: 1.07 lbs | Screen: 10.2 inches, 2160x1620 resolution | Storage options: 64GB, 256GB | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Ports: Lightning, headphone | Speakers: One speaker (right side) | Connectivity: Wi-Fi 5, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.2 | Max brightness: 500 nits | Front camera: 12MP | Rear camera: 8MP
Best splurge: Apple iPad Pro (4th Gen)
NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin bought this iPad, plus the Apple Magic keyboard case and Apple Pencil, when she was in college. She was looking for a lightweight device that could replace her laptop — lugging it around campus weighed her backpack down. The iPad Pro (plus accessories) was a big investment, but one of the best she made during school. “I used it to type essays, read e-books, highlight digital textbooks, draw for the school newspaper — I used this iPad for everything,” says Malin.
Nowadays, she mostly uses it for workout apps at home. The screen is big and bright, and the four speakers get so loud that she never finds herself setting it higher than 50% volume, even while exercising.
Malin bought the 3rd generation version of this iPad Pro, but the 4th generation is extremely similar: the main difference between the two is an improved internal processor that runs apps and games faster and with less battery drain, according to the brand.
Operating system: iPad OS | Dimensions: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 in. | Weight: 1.03 lbs | Screen: 11 inches, 2388x1668 resolution | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Ports: USB-C | Speakers: Four speakers (one on each corner) | Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, 5G cellular, Bluetooth 5.3 | Max brightness: 600 nits | Front camera: 12MP | Rear camera: 12MP
Best Android tablet: Google Pixel Tablet
NBC Select associate commerce editor Nishka Dhawan uses this tablet to take notes, read e-books, hop on video calls and play games in her spare time.
Its best feature is its included speaker dock. The tablet attaches magnetically and wirelessly to the dock, charging it as well as activating the dock’s speakers. In docked mode, the tablet works similar to how you might use a smart home hub like the Google Nest Hub — you can to watch videos, listen to music, ask voice questions to Google Assistant, keep track of (multiple) timers, control smart home gadgets or keep up with sports scores or weather data.
Most importantly, despite having never used a tablet from Google, Dhawan found the tablet easy to use, customize and enjoy.
Operating system: Android | Dimensions: 10.2 x 6.7 x 0.3 in. | Weight: 1.08 lbs | Screen: 10.95 inches, 2560x1600 resolution | Storage options: 128GB, 256GB | Battery life: Up to 12 hours | Ports: USB-C | Speakers: Four speakers (two on each side) | Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2 | Max brightness: 500 nits | Front camera: 8MP | Rear camera: 8MP
Best budget: Amazon Fire Max 11 Tablet
Amazon makes some of the most affordable tablets, and this is their most powerful model, with the highest resolution screen, fastest connectivity and longest battery life, according to the brand. It is also the only tablet on our list that has expandable storage via a microSD card slot. Simply put in a microSD card and viola, more storage for apps, games, photos and more.
That being said, do not expect this tablet to replace your phone or your laptop. The Amazon Fire app store does not have all the apps you’re used to: it’s missing all of Google’s apps, Adobe, Dropbox, Slack, 1Password, Evernote, two-factor authenticator apps and more. Still, if you mostly want to stream videos, listen to music and read books, this tablet can deliver better than any of Amazon’s previous tablets.
Operating system: Amazon Fire OS | Dimensions: 10.2 x 6.4 x 0.3 in. | Weight: 1.08 lbs | Screen: 11 inches, 2000x1200 resolution | Storage options: 64GB, 128GB | Battery life: Up to 14 hours | Ports: USB-C | Speakers: Two speaker (top side) | Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3 | Max brightness: 410 nits | Front camera: 8MP | Rear camera: 8MP
How to shop for a tablet
Tablets can cost under $100 or over $1,000. To find the best one for your needs, keep the following factors in mind:
What other devices do you use?
Like your phone and your laptop, your tablet is powered by a specific operating system, typically either Apple’s iPad OS, some version of Android, or Amazon’s Fire OS. When buying a new tablet, it’s important that you pick one that uses the system you are most comfortable with, says Alan Elterman, a sales manager at Abt, a national retailer of electronics and appliances based in Glenview, Illinois.
With your phone, tablet and computer all using the same operating system, you can more easily sync messages and apps to create a more seamless experience between your devices, in my experience. For example, my Apple phone, tablet and laptop all sync together through Apple’s software, allowing me to sync content like messages and photos across all three devices.
How much storage do you need?
There’s nothing worse than having to go through your device and delete items after running out of storage space, says Elterman. While you can store your photos on cloud services like iCloud and Google One, they often have monthly subscription fees and are not ideal for storing apps and games.
Think about what you are going to use your tablet for. If you are primarily going to stream content, browse the web and hop on video calls, you will not need a large amount of storage space, and can likely opt for the smallest storage option, in my experience. If you are going to be using dozens of apps, downloading games and taking photos and videos, opt for a model with more than the minimum storage offered.
Consider a case and warranty
Smartphones, tablets and laptops are all expensive pieces of tech we travel with often. Most of them can benefit from protective gear like a case or screen protector, in my experience. Especially if you have a more expensive tablet like the iPad Pro, fixing damage can be very pricey, and a case or extended warranty policy can mitigate those costs, says Elterman.
Meet our expert
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Alan Elterman is a sales manager at Abt, a national retailer of electronics and appliances based in Glenview, Illinois. Since Abt sells tablets, we only spoke with him about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask him for specific product recommendations.
Why trust Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter for Select who has covered tech for years, including guides to earbuds, keyboards and fitness trackers. For this piece, he tried multiple tablets for productivity and entertainment. He also spoke with an electronics expert and conducted thorough research on top-rated tablets that fell in line with expert guidance.