As the UK heads towards the holiday season, being able to easily entertain ourselves, read the news, play games and – more importantly than ever – video call our loved ones means having the right tablet can make a real difference.
Unlike most laptops, tablets have fairly good video cameras, support apps and make it simple to fire up that Zoom call. Here are the best available across a range of budgets.
Amazon Fire HD 8
View image in fullscreenAmazon’s Fire HD 8 gets the basics right for general media consumption without breaking the bank. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Amazon’s Fire tablets are low-cost media consumption machines that get the job done without breaking the bank. They start at only £50 with the Fire 7 but my pick is the larger, better Fire HD 8 costing £90.
It has an 8in HD screen and stereo speakers for watching video. The processor is fast enough for basic things and light gaming, while the 32GB of storage can be augmented with a microSD card.
It runs Amazon’s Fire OS, which is Android but only has the Amazon App Store, not Google Play, so while most media apps and games are there, none of the Google apps are available. You need an Amazon Prime account to really make the best of the tablet.
Battery life is a solid nine hours of video playback. Charging with the included power adapter takes ages and is best done overnight but the tablet does support faster charging via USB-C.
The 720p webcam is a bit weak but is good enough for video calling in bright light over Skype or similar.
If you want a cheap tablet for watching video, the Fire machines are great.
Full review: Amazon Fire HD 8 review: £90 tablet revamped for 2020
Apple iPad (8th generation)
View image in fullscreenThe 8th-generation iPad (2020) is all of the tablet you need and none of the iPad you don’t. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The best tablet for most people is the standard 8th-generation Apple iPad.
It retains the old design with large bezels and the traditional Touch ID home button but the 10.2in screen is crisp, clear and bright, while the recycled aluminium body is attractive and durable.
Apple’s App Store has essentially every app for video, productivity or chat services. Note there’s no WhatsApp tablet app, and Fortnite is not available.
Video calling is great with a decent camera. Performance is very good compared with most rivals and the battery lasts nine-plus hours of video watching, with the tablet taking three hours to fully charge via the Lightning port.
It supports the £89 Apple Pencil for drawing and handwriting or various keyboard cases for use as a surrogate laptop. You’ll get at least five years of software updates, too.
The best value general-purpose tablet.
Full review: Apple iPad 2020 review: all the iPad you need, none of the tablet you don’t
Microsoft Surface Go 2
View image in fullscreenThe Surface Go 2 is a small, low-cost Windows 10 tablet that nails the basics while being a full computer. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Surface Go 2, starting at £399 (the keyboard is £99 extra), has a great 10.5in screen, stereo speakers and a low-power processor that gets the job done.
It runs Windows 10 for traditional desktop apps including Google Chrome. Some media apps such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are available but most services can be watched in the browser.
It has an excellent kickstand in the back, plus a good webcam and decent mics for video calling. Battery life is about five hours. There’s a USB-C port for connecting accessories, including monitors and printers. Windows Hello face recognition logs you into Windows in a flash.
If you need a bigger screen or faster performance the £799 and up Surface Pro 7 is a better workhorse capable of fully replacing a laptop. Check for deals that bundle the keyboard too.
An excellent Windows 10 tablet PC that won’t break the bank.
Full review: Surface Go 2 review: Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper Windows 10 tablet
Apple iPad Air 2020
View image in fullscreenThe 4th-generation iPad Air (2020) is an all-round powerhouse, just as capable of getting work done as it is a great entertainment and video-calling machine. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Apple’s latest tablet is one of its very best. The new iPad Air inherits the stunning modern design of the more expensive iPad Pro, with slim bezels around a gorgeous 10.9in screen, flat sides and a recycled aluminium body.
It has a great set of stereo speakers, good mics, a good webcam and a Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the power button for unlocking the tablet. It runs iPadOS 14 with the App Store and a mountain of software, plus will get updates for at least five years from release.
The A14 processor has class-leading performance for photo editing, gaming and productivity. The battery lasts for almost 10 hours of video and charges in 2.5 hours via the USB-C port to which you can connect a range of universal accessories, too.
The iPad Air also supports the £119 2nd-gen Apple Pencil and a range of smart accessories, including the £299 Magic Keyboard if you want to turn it into a luxurious tablet-laptop hybrid – cheaper keyboards from Logitech and others are available.
If you need a bigger screen for work, the 2020 12.9in iPad Pro is tremendous but very pricey at £969. Look for deals on the 2019 model if going that route.
Not cheap but it is the all-rounder that will beat any tablet in its class.
Full review: Apple iPad Air 2020 review: a cheaper iPad Pro for the rest of us
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
View image in fullscreenThe Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ has a fantastic screen, but you’ll pay a pretty penny for it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The best Android tablet, which, with its 12.4in display, has a screen that rivals TVs let alone other tablets.
It has four Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers for watching video, a good webcam and decent mics for video calls, the top Android processor for games, and battery life in excess of 10 hours. It comes with a fab stylus in the box and can be run in a mode that mimics a desktop PC with multiple windows open at once.
The Tab S7+ has the Google Play Store, including all major media apps, games and productivity apps.
A fantastic screen and great speakers but a pricey option that is bettered by Apple’s iPad Pro for productivity.
Full review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ review: Android tablet to rival the iPad Pro