Which is the best tablet for 2019?
Tablets, especially high-end and high-specced versions, had a good year last year and there are still a wealth of options to consider ahead of the arrival of 2019’s next-gen crop.
We saw Apple, Samsung and Google each slip in a device between the laptop and smartphone. Microsoft also expanded its Surface line last year. And we’ve just seen the release of the new Apple iPad Air 2019.
The following is a summary of the best tablets, with options to suit most people. If you scroll down, you can read a fuller review of each, or click through to our comprehensive verdicts.
- Best for performance: iPad Air 2019
- Best for digital artists: iPad Pro 2018
- Best for media: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
- Best for size: iPad Mini 5
- Best for value: Amazon Fire HD 8
- Best for Windows: Microsoft Surface Go
- Best for versatility: Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
How we test tablets
We’ve tested every product on this list thoroughly, and we have linked to our full reviews below each summary.
We get one of our expert reviewers to use our test models as their primary tablet for at least a week to see how it handles real-world use before giving it a final score. On bigger devices, we also run long-term reviews – our expert keeps using it and updates our review with any new issues they encounter.
Every tablet we use is also run through a series of synthetic benchmarks to gauge its performance. We then test its battery by looping a locally stored video until it dies.
Looking for more tablet-buying advice?
Check out our round-ups below, where we rank the best tablets for specific uses.
1. iPad Air 2019
The best tablet for most buyers
- Great display
- Solid performance
- Long battery life
- Super-intuitive software
- Design is beginning to look a little dated
- Generation one Apple Pencil and older Lightning charge port
The iPad Air 2019 is the middle child in Apple’s current tablet line-up, sitting below the premier iPad Pro (2018) line, above the smaller iPad Mini 5 and alongside the recently announced iPad 7th generation. It’s a convenient tablet that can easily double as a mobile entertainment hub or notes station. By getting all the basics right it easily earns a place as one of the year’s best tablets and is an ideal option for most buyers.
While it doesn’t have all the features of the Pro, it does a decent job of replicating the premier tablet experience, aside from a few technical compromises like a generation one Apple Pencil and an old-school Lightning port.
Featuring an advanced app ecosystem, stellar screen, great performance and a much friendlier price tag than its Pro siblings, the iPad Air 2019 is the best tablet for most people. However, if you just want to binge on Netflix or grab an entertainment station for your sprog, there are cheaper options available – albeit not as good.
- Read our iPad Air 2019 review
2. iPad Pro (2018)
Best tablet for digital artists
- Amazing ProMotion Display
- Much improved design
- Switch to USB-C is positive
- Apple Pencil 2 is great
- Very expensive, and the accessories even more so
- iOS is (still) limited
The iPad Pro 2018 is a stunning piece of engineering. It ditches the traditional iPad design for a more industrial feel, with flat edges and rounded corners. It’s gorgeous to look at and a pleasure to hold.
It’s also enormously powerful, with 4/6GB RAM, storage options ranging from 64G to 1TB, Apple’s own A12X Bionic chipset and the choice of Wi-Fi only or 4G/Wi-Fi. There’s also now a USB-C port rather than Lightning and this allows for devices like SD card readers and cameras to be plugged in direct, though you can’t plug in expandable storage.
The main issue with the iPad Pro (2018) is iOS. The apps that are there and optimised are great and, of course, you can get stuff done, but it’s still limited. The multi-window functionality is poor, only the Photos apps can read external media and Safari is still just the mobile version of the browser.
And many will find the price hard to swallow. The 11-inch version starts at £769/$799, with the 12.9-inch version costing £969/$999. Purchase the Smart Folio Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2 as well, and you’re spending a lot of money.
The Liquid Retina display is gorgeous, though, as is the ProMotion tech that switches refresh rates to give you smooth scrolling. It looks really great.
The iPad Pro (2018) is a great tablet, let down by software that can’t live up to the product.
- Read our iPad Pro 2018 review
3. Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
The best high-end Android tablet
- Long battery life
- Loud speakers
- Bold screen
- Powerful processor
- Fun stylus
- Cheaper S5e has several of the best features
- No headphone jack
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is not only the best high-end Android tablet, it’s also virtually the only current high-end Android tablet, and is thus the best Android alternative to an iPad Pro. It has a large display, high-end specs, a great sketching stylus – and it costs quite a lot.
You’ll pay £619 for the Wi-Fi version, and £689 for the 4G one. If this sounds like too much, don’t forget the 11-inch iPad Pro with half the amount of storage ends up £269 more when you add the Apple Pencil.
It’s big, but not a monster, extremely thin (5.7mm) and fairly light at 420g. The main design annoyance is the same as the Galaxy Tab S5e’s – there’s no headphone jack.
This is the best Android tablet around, but if the stylus isn’t a big factor, consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e. It costs a lot less and still performs all the usual tablet jobs perfectly well.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review
4. Apple iPad Mini 5 (2019)
Best tablet for powerful features in a small package
- Good display
- Extremely powerful
- Works well with Pencil
- Same design
Visually the iPad Mini 5 (or iPad Mini 2019) looks identical to the previous model and that’s a bit of a shame. Under the hood, though, is where the magic happens.
This new mini iPad is powered by the same A12 Bionic chip you’ll find in the iPhone XS and iPhone XR, and that means it’s very, very fast. There’s enough grunt to tackle any iOS game without any fuss and it’s a real joy to play titles like Fortnite or Asphalt 9 on the 7.9-inch display. Battery life is great too.
Added Apple Pencil support turns the iPad Mini into an excellent notebook.
- Read our iPad Mini 5 review
5. Amazon Fire HD 8
A really good tablet at an impressive price
- Hands-free Alexa
- Show Mode is a nice addition
- Ad-riddled interface
- Basic navigation a little slow
The Amazon Fire HD 8 is a really good tablet at an impressive price. Amazon’s budget tablets have always been good, and the latest edition adds Show Mode, making it a much more interesting device.
Its screen is fair, the build quality is fine and there’s plenty of storage. While it doesn’t feel incredibly fast, it has enough power to do justice to some of Android’s most impressive games – plus Alexa on a tablet is a nice touch.
This is one of the best budget tablets you can buy from a recognisable brand. It costs just £79.99 for the tablet on its own or £109.99 with the nifty new Show Mode charging dock. To get the most out of the device, definitely consider picking up the latter, which is a great package at the price.
The Fire HD 8 is perfect for those who want a cheap, basic tablet primarily for media consumption and reading. There’s more on offer here than with a Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Oasis and it’s a lot more compact than the very large Fire HD 10. It’s a great way to binge on some Prime content, and the addition of hands-free Alexa gives it something other tablets simply don’t have.
• Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 review
6. Microsoft Surface Go
Best tablet for Windows
- Windows 10 gives users lots of freedom
- Extremely portable
- Kickstand offers versatility
- Pricey considering type cover isn’t bundled in
- Low-powered performance
- Dated design
If you’re not a huge fan of Android or iOS, the Surface Go is a solid alternative. It boasts Windows 10 in S mode, giving oodles more freedom for downloads and customisation. Students and office workers will probably find it hugely beneficial to have the option of Microsoft Office too – you can stuff your tablet full of spreadsheets and documents.
The kick-out stand turns the Go into an ultra-versatile machine, making it easy to watch Netflix at your desk or hammer away at the keyboard. However, it’s disappointing that the type cover isn’t bundled in the box, given the steep price.
While the Surface Go doesn’t have the performance, the display or even the price advantage to rival the 9.7-inch iPad, it’s still a great alternative if you’re looking for a versatile, workaholic machine and are happy to shell out for Microsoft’s separate accessories.
- Read our Microsoft Surface Go review
7. Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
Looks great, has a fantastic display and is affordably priced
- Handset Only
- High-quality aluminium design
- Loud, punchy speakers
- Excellent battery life
- Great OLED screen
- GPU lacks power
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e Android tablet is one of the best alternatives to an iPad. A cheaper version of Samsung’s flagship tablet, it brings a thin bezel and a gorgeous AMOLED display to the more affordable end of the market.
In some ways this is a successor to the Galaxy Tab S4, but it uses a lower-end processor to help bring down the asking price to below £400 (for the 64GB version). As such, it will appeal to those looking for just a tablet, as opposed to a device to replace their laptop. Its design and screen are delightful.
The main issue is the current standstill state of Android tablet progression. Tablets are great devices to entertain younger kids, but the Samsung Galaxy S5e is arguably far too fancy to fulfil that demand. A new feature such as Google Stadia support would give tablets in general a renewed sense of meaning.
The Galaxy Tab S5e looks great, has a fantastic display and comes in at a price that’s easy to swallow. Samsung has finally made an Android tablet worth buying – but an iPad is more powerful.
- Read our Galaxy Tab S5e review
How do I buy the right tablet?
When picking a tablet there are a few key questions you should bear in mind. The biggest are which operating system is right for you and what you need it for, as these issues will affect your budget.
Understanding tablet operating systems
You can currently get tablets running a variety of different operating systems. The two biggest are iOS and Android. Some people would also list Windows, which runs on top-end devices including the Samsung Galaxy Book and Microsoft Surface Pro.
However, given their emphasis on being used with an attachable keyboard, we classify these as convertibles and list them in our separate best laptops guide.
iOS vs Android: in general, we find iOS is better suited to tablets, as Apple has invested significantly into optimising it for larger screens. Android is still very good, but issues generally arise when companies add custom skins to the OS, which usually cause annoying bugs, needlessly rework the user interface, and delay how quickly the devices can receive software updates.
Even if you are firmly embedded in Google’s software ecosystem you should still consider an Android tablet, though, as many are significantly cheaper than Apple iPads and are generally fine for basic functions like web browsing and video streaming.
Deciding what you need your tablet to do
Before you buy a tablet, you should consider your specific needs. There’s no point shelling out for a top-end tablet with a digital stylus if you just want to watch TV or to distract the kids during long journeys. The extra investment is only really worth it if you’re a designer or plan to use your tablet for work or at school.
If you just want something to read on, you’d do well to avoid tablets entirely and invest in an e-reader.