Best Tablet 2019: Top iOS iPads, Windows and Chrome OS slates
Tablets, especially high-end and high-specced ones, had a good year in 2018 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 try its hand at slipping a device in-between the laptop and smartphone. Microsoft also expanded its Surface line last year.
Apple recently updated its iPad Pro. The iPad Pro 2018 comes in both an 11-inch and 12.9-inch size, ditches Lightning for USB-C and implements Face ID and gesture control. It’s a big update for the series and it compares favourably to the outgoing model even though it costs a lot more. Instead of stopping sales of the old iPad Pro, it now retails for £619.
There’s also the Google Pixel Slate: the new high-end tablet/laptop hybrid from the search-engine giants. As it only scored 7/10 in our review, we have decided against including it in this list. However, it does offer a good Chrome OS experience packed inside a lovely design and if you’re entrenched in the Google ecosystem it might be one for you.
Related: Best smartphone
If you’re on a budget and just need something for basic Netflix binging, or gaming, then the 2018 iPad 9.7-inch is the best-value option. The Amazon Fire 7 is another strong pick, especially for the low price.
The best Android tablet currently is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. It has a fantastic screen, included S-Pen and some nice software features you don’t see on Android slates.
How we test tablets
We get one of our expert reviewers to use it 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 where the reviewer will keep using it and updating our review with any new issues they encounter. Every tablet we use is 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.
1. iPad 9.7-inch 2018 (6th gen)
Best price/performance balance
- Great value
- Slim and light, yet powerful
- Apple Pencil compatible
- iOS is the best tablet operating system
- Reflective screen
- Average rear-facing camera
The cheapest iPad currently for sale, the iPad 9.7-inch 2018 is the perfect mixture of price and performance. It’s not the laptop replacement the iPad Pro wants to be, but it has an excellent screen and enough grunt to easily handle any app or game on the App Store.
The battery is big enough to last 11-hours on a charge and it benefits from the improved split-screen features in iOS 11.
- Read our iPad review
2. iPad Pro (2018)
Best 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 possesses huge amounts of power too: 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 directly in. You can’t plug in expandable storage, though.
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 here, 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.
Then there’s the price: The 11-inch version starts at £769/$799, with the 12.9-inch version costing £969/$999. Add to that the Smart Folio Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2 and you’re spending a lot of money here.
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.
iPad Pro (2018) is a great tablet, however, it is let down by slightly janky software.
- Read our iPad Pro 2018 review
3. Samsung Galaxy Tab S4
Best for media
- Amazing HDR AMOLED display
- Slim and light
- Impressive S Pen included
- Dex software can be buggy
- Glass back is a fingerprint magnet
- Would like more RAM
Samsung’s latest high-end tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, is good, it’s even great in some areas, but there are still some lingering software issues that seem to bug all Android tablets. The Dex mode gives you a laptop-style UI and this is a big improvement over the regular Android home screen. That said, apps lack proper support and it just needs a bit more tightening up.
Still, this tablet is great for media thanks to the 10.5-inch HDR display and impressive battery life. It also comes with an S-Pen in the box, which is accurate and easy to write and draw with.
- Read our Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review
4. Apple iPad Pro 10.5
Best for ‘affordable’ iPad Pro experience
- Amazing display
- Extremely powerful
- Works brilliantly with Pencil
- Expensive peripherals
- No fast charger in the box
Is a regular iPad too small for you? Then consider the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, also known as the iPad Pro 2. It’s not cheap, but it does have a great screen and excellent performance. It’s rather expensive if you want something just for Netflix binges and web browsing, this might be overkill. But if you want something designed for creativity and productivity on the move, this might be spot on.
It’s a slightly more sensible follow-up to the original 12.9-inch Pad Pro, which was somewhere between an iPad, a MacBook and the Surface Pro. It also sits below the iPad Pro (2018) with a cheaper price. If the 10.5-inch iPad Pro 2 is still too much tablet for you, it’s worth also looking out for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
- Read our iPad Pro 10.5-inch (2017) review
5. Huawei MediaPad M5 8.4
Best for portability
- Bright, sharp screen
- Good size for Nexus 7 lovers
- Android 8
- Doesn’t stream HD content from Netflix
- No headphone jack
- Pre-installed junk
There’s been a distinct lack of good Android tablets recently, especially those with smaller screens. One of the best choices, if you are looking for one of these, is Huawei’s latest MediaPad M5 8.4.
The 8.4-inch 2K display is really nice: bright, vivid and great for watching films on. One issue is that there isn’t the right support for apps like Netflix and Prime Video to play HD video, so you’re stuck with rather crummy SD versions instead.
There’s also no headphone jack – a trend with phones, but not so much with tablets – so you’ll be forced to use the included headphone dongle or invest in a pair of Bluetooth cans.
- Read our Huawei MediaPad M5 8.4 review
6. Microsoft Surface Go
Best 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
Not a huge fan of Android or iOS? The Surface Go is a solid alternative that boasts Windows 10 in S mode instead, giving users oodles more freedom for downloads and customisation. Students and office workers will likely find it hugely beneficial to have the option of Microsoft Office too, so you can stuff your tablet full of spreadsheets and documents.
The kick-out stand turns the Go into an ultra-versatile machine, making it easier to watch Netflix at your desk or hammer away at the keyboard. However, the fact that the type cover isn’t bundled in the box is pretty disappointing given the already steep price.
So while the Surface Go doesn’t have the performance, display or even the price 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 buy all of Microsoft’s separate accessories.
- Read our Microsoft Surface Go review
7. Lenovo Tab 4 10 Plus
Best for versatility
- Decent display
- Good battery
- Old version of Android
- Far from durable
If you’re on the hunt for a larger tablet that’s a lot more affordable than Samsung’s offering then this is a good pick. The Lenovo Tab 4 10 Plus has a nice screen, powerful speakers and a build that isn’t simply an iPad rip-off.
The metal and glass looks good, though we doubt it’d stand up to repeat drops, and there are all the mod-cons you’d expect, like a USB-C port for charging. Lenovo has tinkered with the software to make it slightly more tablet friendly too, something that’s missing in the regular version of Android. It’s a shame then that the actual version of Android is older than we’d like.
There’s enough power inside to get the job done, 4GB RAM and expandable storage. Battery life is good too.
- Read our Lenovo Tab 4 Plus review
Those are our top picks of the best tablets. If you want to know more about what to look out for when buying a tablet then read on.
Tablet buying guide
When picking a tablet there are a few key questions you should ask. The biggest are which operating system is right for you and what do you need it for?
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, but given their emphasis on being used with an attachable keyboard we classify these as convertibles and list them in our separate best laptops guide.
In general, we find iOS is more suited to tablets as Apple has put significantly more investment 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 UI and delay how quickly the devices can receive software updates.
If you are firmly embedded in either Google’s software ecosystem you should still consider an Android tablet though as many are significantly cheaper than Apple iPads and generally remain fine for basic things, like web browsing and video streaming.
What do you need a tablet for?
Before you buy a tablet, you should always consider your specific needs. There’s no point shelling out oodles of cash for a top end tablet with a digital stylus if you just want something to watch TV on, or use to distract the kids during long journeys. The extra investment is only really worth it if you’re a designer or plan to use it for work/school. If you just want something to read on you’d also do well to avoid tablets entirely and invest in an e-reader.