After spending hundreds of hours over the past several years researching and testing tablets, we think the best full-featured Android tablet for most people right now is the Asus ZenPad 3S 10. Other Android tablets are cheaper or more powerful, but the ZenPad offers the best combination of speed, display quality, and features for the price. That said, if you’re not already invested in Android, an iPad is a better tablet in general. The ZenPad 3S 10 has plenty of storage, a high-resolution screen, a fast fingerprint sensor, and a durable aluminum frame. It’s powerful enough to run apps in split-screen mode, which it can do thanks to the recent update to Android 7.0 Nougat. The ZenPad 3S 10 has much better hardware than our previous pick, the now-discontinued Nvidia Shield K1. The ZenPad has a crisp, bright 9.7-inch display with the same resolution as the 9.7-inch iPad (2048×1536). It includes 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM, which is the same as what comes in much more expensive devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3—but the ZenPad costs less than $300. The six-core processor provides snappy performance, and the USB Type-C port supports fast charging for the tablet’s large 5,900 mAh battery. This hardware wasn’t put to proper use until the ZenPad recently got its Android Nougat update—the updated OS makes the tablet faster and more capable, with a less-cluttered interface and split-screen app support. If you want a cheap tablet for watching videos, reading, or browsing the Web, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet is great. It doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store or any of Google’s apps, but it costs just $80 and makes it easy to access Amazon content (especially for Prime members). Amazon’s Fire OS (based on Android) runs very well on the tablet, and the Fire HD 8 offers better battery life than the ZenPad or Tab S3. The display is only 1280×800, but that’s fine for a budget media tablet. The Fire HD 8 also has more-extensive parental controls than other tablets, making it a great family device. The selection of apps in Amazon’s app store is small compared with what you can get via Google Play, but it includes most popular non-Google apps. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is the best Android tablet you can buy, with a handy S Pen stylus and a vibrant 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display. The Tab S3 has a sleek glass and aluminum frame like the Galaxy S8; its Snapdragon 820 is plenty powerful, and the 9.7-inch Super AMOLED screen has better colors, brightness range, and black levels than the iPad Pro’s LCD. The Tab S3 runs Android 7.0 with Samsung’s TouchWiz optimizations, but some of the changes allow the S Pen to do cool things, including systemwide handwriting recognition and quick screen captures—and unlike Apple’s Pencil, it never needs to be recharged. The Tab S3 also has the best multitasking features of any Android tablet we’ve tested, but Android still lacks tablet-optimized apps—for the price, the iPad Pro is a better choice for most.
After spending hundreds of hours over the past several years researching and testing tablets, we think the best full-featured Android tablet for most people right now is the Asus ZenPad 3S 10. Other Android tablets are cheaper or more powerful, but the ZenPad offers the best combination of speed, display quality, and features for the price. That said, if you’re not already invested in Android, an iPad is a better tablet in general.
The ZenPad 3S 10 has plenty of storage, a high-resolution screen, a fast fingerprint sensor, and a durable aluminum frame. It’s powerful enough to run apps in split-screen mode, which it can do thanks to the recent update to Android 7.0 Nougat.
The ZenPad 3S 10 has much better hardware than our previous pick, the now-discontinued Nvidia Shield K1. The ZenPad has a crisp, bright 9.7-inch display with the same resolution as the 9.7-inch iPad (2048×1536). It includes 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM, which is the same as what comes in much more expensive devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3—but the ZenPad costs less than $300. The six-core processor provides snappy performance, and the USB Type-C port supports fast charging for the tablet’s large 5,900 mAh battery. This hardware wasn’t put to proper use until the ZenPad recently got its Android Nougat update—the updated OS makes the tablet faster and more capable, with a less-cluttered interface and split-screen app support.
If you want a cheap tablet for watching videos, reading, or browsing the Web, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet is great. It doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store or any of Google’s apps, but it costs just $80 and makes it easy to access Amazon content (especially for Prime members). Amazon’s Fire OS (based on Android) runs very well on the tablet, and the Fire HD 8 offers better battery life than the ZenPad or Tab S3. The display is only 1280×800, but that’s fine for a budget media tablet. The Fire HD 8 also has more-extensive parental controls than other tablets, making it a great family device. The selection of apps in Amazon’s app store is small compared with what you can get via Google Play, but it includes most popular non-Google apps.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is the best Android tablet you can buy, with a handy S Pen stylus and a vibrant 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display. The Tab S3 has a sleek glass and aluminum frame like the Galaxy S8; its Snapdragon 820 is plenty powerful, and the 9.7-inch Super AMOLED screen has better colors, brightness range, and black levels than the iPad Pro’s LCD. The Tab S3 runs Android 7.0 with Samsung’s TouchWiz optimizations, but some of the changes allow the S Pen to do cool things, including systemwide handwriting recognition and quick screen captures—and unlike Apple’s Pencil, it never needs to be recharged. The Tab S3 also has the best multitasking features of any Android tablet we’ve tested, but Android still lacks tablet-optimized apps—for the price, the iPad Pro is a better choice for most.
Who this is for
Few people really a tablet, but if you’re reading this, you probably want one because of what they’re good for: watching video, browsing the Web, reading, checking email and social networks, and playing games. They’re great for media consumption, but some people even manage to get most of their work done on one.
Tablets are also great first devices for kids. Both the Google and Amazon stores have a large selection of kid-friendly content, and you can give your kids individual accounts so each can access only the content you’ve selected for them. Kids are also less likely to need exceptional performance, making a more-affordable tablet a good choice for them.
But if you aren’t already committed to Android, the iPad line offers a better combination of hardware, software, and accessories. Compared with their Android counterparts, iPads currently have better build quality, a smoother and more responsive UI, better long-term OS support, larger available internal storage, far better cameras, and much more tablet-optimized software. Many Android tablet apps still feel like stretched phone apps, while iPad apps have been designed to take better advantage of the tablet’s screen size.
If you have an older Android tablet that’s slow in day-to-day use, you might want to upgrade. The faster processors and increased RAM of the latest tablets make them much more responsive for gaming, content creation, and general use, and newer tablets often have better, higher-resolution screens than older ones. In addition, your older tablet probably won’t get Android 7.1 Nougat, nor the latest version of Android (8.0 Oreo), so you won’t be able to take advantage of the latest software features, including picture-in-picture multitasking, the ability to reply to notifications directly from their notification dots, and longer battery life.
On the other hand, if you have a recent tablet that can get an update to Marshmallow or Nougat, and you’re mainly using the tablet for Web browsing, email, streaming video and audio, or other lightweight tasks, you’re probably fine sticking with it. As always, if you’re happy with what you already have, you don’t need to upgrade.
As an alternative to a tablet, you may want to consider getting a larger phone the next time you upgrade. An Android phone with a 5.7-inch screen will let you do the same things as a 7-inch tablet. The screen will be smaller, of course, but in many ways it will be just as usable as a tablet—even more so at times, thanks to its better portability.
How we picked and tested
We’ve tested about two dozen Android tablets over the past few years—we test any promising new model we find—and we’ve found that many are budget models with poor performance and old software. Companies just aren’t releasing many great tablets. Specifically, these are the criteria we use to decide which tablets are worth buying:
- Display: A good tablet must have a high-resolution screen with a wide brightness range. Watching video is one of the most common uses for a tablet, and no one wants to be staring at a dingy, low-res screen while they binge on Netflix.
- Battery life: Unlike your phone, tablets aren’t always with you, so it can be easy to forget to plug them in. The last thing you want when coming back to your tablet is a dead battery. If a tablet’s standby time can’t be measured in days, it’s not good enough. It should also be able to make it through at least a full day of heavy use—eight or more hours of browsing, video streaming, and running apps.
- Performance: Tablets need to be able to keep up with increasing app requirements, so we considered only those with a powerful CPU and at least 3 GB of RAM. Every tablet will feel slower over the next two to three years as apps grow larger and demand even more power, and as the Android operating system adds useful but demanding features like split-screen multitasking. A tablet’s large screen also makes it better for gaming than a phone, so it’s nice if the tablet has the horsepower to play the latest mobile titles.
- Software: It’s important for a tablet to run a recent version of Android. Right now we draw the line at Android 7.0 Nougat—a tablet running anything older than that isn’t worth buying. Nougat added native split-screen apps and improved the low-power Doze mode that saves power while the screen is asleep, both of which are particularly important for tablets. Plus, tablets tend to get software updates less frequently than phones, so you don’t want to start at a disadvantage. We also prefer tablets with mostly stock versions of Android. Samsung, LG, and many other vendors like to put their own software UI on top of Android, and include duplicate apps for photos, browsers, music, email, calendar, and so on. More often than not, these apps are worse than the Google apps and take up space you could use for other things.
- Storage: While streaming your media is convenient, there are times you want to download video, music, and documents to your tablet—for example, if you’re going to be on a plane without Wi-Fi access. A tablet should have at least 32 GB of internal space to ensure you have the breathing room to do that. A microSD card slot is nice, as it lets you add storage, but not all apps will take advantage of external storage and microSD cards are slower than built-in storage.
We used each tablet for general tasks such as browsing the Web, checking email, watching movies, and listening to music. We also played games, took photos, and edited documents stored in Google Drive.
Our pick: Asus ZenPad 3S 10
The ZenPad 3S 10 has plenty of storage, a high-resolution screen, a fast fingerprint sensor, and a durable aluminum frame. It’s powerful enough to run apps in split-screen mode, which it can do thanks to the recent update to Android 7.0 Nougat.
The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 offers the best combination of features, performance, and price for most Android tablet buyers. The high-resolution 9.7-inch screen produces crisp text and detailed images; it’s not as bright or vibrant as the screen on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3, our upgrade pick, but the Tab S3 costs almost twice as much. The ZenPad 3S 10 costs less than $300 and has enough power to run apps in split-screen mode, a feature of its recent upgrade to Android 7.0. The ZenPad has the same screen size and resolution (2048×1536) as the 5th-generation iPad, and a similarly durable metal frame, but it’s even thinner and lighter.
The ZenPad offers a visual experience that Pocket-lint calls “pleasant enough.” The colors are accurate, and brightness is good for use in bright rooms or outdoors. The viewing angles are sufficiently wide that you don’t have to hold it at a particular angle when watching video, but the squarish 4:3 screen ratio means you’ll have black bars on most videos. The upside is that apps running in split-screen mode will make better use of screen real estate. The ZenPad’s display lacks the vibrant colors and deep blacks of the Tab S3’s AMOLED, but it’s better in every way compared with the screen on the Fire HD 8, our pick for the best cheap tablet.
The ZenPad 3S 10 includes a 5,900 mAh battery, which is nearly as large as the 6,000 mAh in Samsung’s Tab S3. The Asus tablet is less demanding, so you may need to recharge this tablet only two or three times per week. CNET got more than 10 hours of screen time, which matches our testing. When you’re not using it, the ZenPad sips battery, letting it sleep for more than a week before shutting down—a significant improvement thanks to the update to Android 7.0. The ZenPad has a USB Type-C port with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0.
Many tablets, like the Nvidia Shield Tablet we previously recommended, have plastic bodies. The ZenPad 3S 10 is made from sturdy aluminum, and it’s slightly lighter than the 5th-generation iPad. Below the display (in portrait orientation) is a physical home button and capacitive back and multitasking buttons. We prefer on-screen buttons because they’re easier to press and they rotate with the tablet, but these buttons are responsive and brightly lit. The home button also doubles as a fingerprint sensor, and it’s extremely fast and accurate.
The ZenPad 3S 10 has a six-core processor and 4 GB of RAM. It’s a MediaTek processor rather than the more common Qualcomm Snapdragon, and we’ve found MediaTek chips too slow in the past. However, this is one of the faster processors MediaTek sells—the ZenPad is actually a surprisingly snappy tablet that almost matches the performance of the Tab S3. Corbin Davenport at Android Police agrees, writing, “Applications open extremely quick, animations are smooth, and switching between apps is instant.” If you want to save a large amount of video or music offline, the ZenPad comes with 64 GB of internal storage space plus a microSD card slot.
We tested the ZenPad 3S 10 with a number of games, most of which performed very well. However, heavy 3D graphics will push the MediaTek GPU to its limits, which can lead to stuttering in especially demanding games. Overall performance is close to that of the Galaxy Tab S3, and far better than with the Amazon Fire HD 8.
The ZenPad 3S 10 launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but was updated to Android 7.0 Marshmallow during the summer of 2017. This update added a number of important features, including split-screen apps. Nougat-powered phones have this feature as well, but it makes much more sense on a tablet’s larger screen. Nougat also brought a more-efficient version of Android’s low-power Doze mode, which saves battery life when the tablet is asleep. Asus also made some changes to its ZenUI software layer, which had some serious issues in Android 6.0. Colors are now more consistent, there are fewer pre-loaded apps, and the home screen includes access to the personalized Google Feed.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Asus still has some work to do on its version of Android, however. In general, it takes too long to get things set up because of strange default settings. For example, split-screen mode is turned off, so you need to enable the button shortcut in the settings, and the Mobile Manager app is also set to deny newly installed apps the ability to run in the background. (You can turn this feature off in the settings, thankfully.) You’ll also find bloatware to remove. For example, Asus still insists on including its own versions of apps like the music player and keyboard; Google’s apps are much better.
Our main concern about the ZenPad is software updates. Asus has already delivered one major Android update, so it’s unclear if this tablet will get Android 8.0 when available. Nougat serves this tablet well, though, and the ZenPad’s sub-$300 price is extremely good.
The best cheap tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8
Most people use tablets for streaming video, browsing the Web, and reading. The Amazon Fire HD 8 excels at all three and is the best budget Android tablet we’ve tested. The Fire HD 8 starts at just $80 (with lockscreen ads), but it lacks the powerful hardware or high-resolution screens of the ZenPad or Galaxy Tab S3. The base model of the Fire HD 8 has only 16 GB of storage, but it accepts microSD cards. It also uses Amazon’s services, not Google’s, which means no easy way to use Google Play Store or Google apps—adding them yourself requires some technical knowledge.
The 8-inch screen’s 1280×800 resolution is a lot lower than what you get on the ZenPad or Galaxy Tab S3, but it’s good enough to watch video or get some reading done. (If you mainly plan on reading, the high-contrast, higher-resolution e-ink screen on one of Amazon’s Kindle models makes those better as reading devices.) And the lower-resolution screen gives the HD 8 amazing battery life: With a few hours of use per day, this tablet can last most of a week. That’s quite a bit longer than the Galaxy Tab S3 or the ZenPad.
An $80 tablet still involves a lot of compromises, but Amazon has refined its tablet formula over the years. Despite a low-end, quad-core processor and only 1.5 GB of RAM, David Carnoy from CNET says, “Apps loaded reasonably quickly and the device didn’t feel sluggish.” We found the browser can be a bit slow with multiple tabs open, and complex games may lag, but everything else is quick.
The snappy performance is thanks in part to Amazon’s Fire OS, a version of Android that’s optimized for content consumption. It provides easy access to Amazon ebooks, videos, apps, and music, without a ton of services and apps running in the background slowing things down. According to PCMag’s Sascha Segan, “If you love Amazon, there’s a lot to love here.” If you care about voice commands, the Fire HD 8 supports Amazon’s Alexa assistant. Fire OS’s extensive parental controls also make this a good tablet for younger children.
The Fire HD 8 works best with Amazon Prime, as subscribers get access to a selection of free music, books, and videos. Plus, any content in Amazon’s ecosystem that you’ve purchased or uploaded (such as documents and music) is easily accessible.
The flip side of this Amazon-service focus is that the Fire HD 8 doesn’t include the Google Play Store, Gmail, or any other Google service, and Amazon’s app store is much sparser than Google’s. But you can earn rewards in the form of Amazon Coins when buying items, which you can then spend on other apps and games. (With a little tinkering, you can get the Google Play Store on the Fire HD 8 and make it much more like a standard Android tablet.)
The $80 base model of the Fire HD 8 includes ads on the lock screen, which you can disable for $15. That’s a tolerable trade-off when you need a media-consumption tablet on the cheap.
Amazon sells a 7-inch Fire tablet for just $50, but it has a lower-resolution screen, a slower processor, less RAM, and less storage. It’s worth spending $30 more for the Fire HD 8. Laptopmag sums it up well: “If you need a bare-bones media tablet that won’t break the bank, then the Amazon Fire HD 8 with Alexa is perfect for you.”
The best high-end Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
Most people who have $500 to $600 to spend on a tablet should get an iPad Pro, but if you insist on Android, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is the best you can get. It’s priced to compete with the iPad Pro, and it’s actually better in some ways. It has a vibrant 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display with vibrant colors, HDR support, a huge brightness range, and perfect black levels. The S Pen stylus has been redesigned to be more comfortable and accurate as well. Samsung’s version of Android 7.0 Nougat isn’t as good as the stock version on the Google Pixel C (our previous upgrade pick), but it’s optimized for the S Pen and has cool multitasking tricks. However, like all Android tablets, its app ecosystem falls short of Apple’s.
The Tab S3 has a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a 4:3 aspect ratio, just like the iPad and the ZenPad 3S 10. It’s a beautiful display with accurate colors, perfect viewing angles, and excellent high/low brightness levels. It’s also the first tablet with support for HDR video, not that there’s much of that available right now. The four speakers pump out loud, clear audio. “There’s no arguing that the Tab S3 is remarkable for media consumption,” according to Android Authority.
Unlike previous versions of Samsung’s S Pen stylus, the one that comes with the Tab S3 is the size of a regular pen. That makes it very comfortable to use, and the finer tip of the redesigned stylus allows for highly accurate interaction with the screen. The S Pen is ideal for things like sketching, taking notes, and taking screenshots. Unlike previous S Pens, it’s too large to be docked in the tablet, so you have to carry it separately. Still, this is by far the best stylus experience on Android—vastly better than buying a clunky capacitive stylus and using it with a regular touchscreen.
The Tab S3 runs Android 7.0 Nougat with the TouchWiz Android skin on top, and for once there’s good reason for Samsung to modify Android. The S Pen is tightly integrated with the software, allowing you to record GIFs from your screen, copy almost any text on the device, and use handwriting input wherever you want. This tablet has the standard Android split-screen app mode, but Samsung has kept its own “pop-up view” in addition to that. Pop-up view lets you shrink apps down into floating windows, like on a desktop PC. As I say in the Android Police review, “The combination of split-screen and pop-up view works surprisingly well.” It helps compensate for Android’s lack of tablet-optimized apps. This is the best Android tablet for multitasking we’ve ever tested.
The Galaxy Tab S3 feels faster than the ZenPad 3S 10 and on a par with the Pixel C, our previous pick for high-end Android tablet. However, the S3’s battery life is weaker than the Pixel C’s. It’s good enough to last more than a day of heavy use or two of lighter duty. The Tab S3 is only 6 millimeters thick, so there’s not as much space for battery in there. The slender frame is all glass and aluminum, like the Galaxy S8, a step up from Samsung’s previous plastic tablets. Engadget says, “It’s not the most inspired or exciting design, but it succeeds in making the tablet feel classier and more expensive.”
Samsung makes a keyboard case for the Tab S3 in addition to a regular case. The keyboard case costs an extra $130 and connects to the tablet via pogo pins on the edge. The keys themselves feel nicely tactile, but the layout is too compact to be comfortable for long periods. It’s not worth the price.
Price is the Tab S3’s biggest flaw. The $500-ish tablet has just 32 GB of storage, though it does have a microSD card slot. Most people looking for an Android tablet should get something cheaper like the ZenPad. And most people who want a high-end tablet are still better off with an iPad Pro, because iOS has so many more tablet-optimized apps than Android does, even after all this time.
What to look forward to
Lenovo announced a new 8-inch tablet, the Tab 4 8 Plus, and a new 10-inch tablet, the Tab 4 10 Plus. Both variants, which run on Android Nougat, have a 1920×1200 resolution, a Snapdragon 625 processor, up to 4 GB of RAM, and up to 64 GB of storage. The 8-inch Tab 4 Plus costs $200, while the 10-inch model is $250.
At the Computex trade show in May 2017, Asus announced the ZenPad 3S 8.0, which replaces the S 8.0 model we tested and dismissed. Offering 4 GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of storage, it will launch with Android 7.1 Nougat. Asus has not yet announced pricing or availability, but we will include that information when it’s released.
Amazon has announced that its Fire HD 10 tablet, available in October 2017 for $150, will have 32 GB of built-in memory, 10 hours of battery life, and a 10.1-inch, 1080p screen. We’ll test this new version of our current budget pick as soon as we can, and will report back with our thoughts on how it compares.
Many of the Android tablets we’ve tested over the years have been discontinued, and few Android tablets are worth your money at all.
Amazon sells a $50 Fire with a 7-inch display. The price is right, but the screen isn’t very good. The HD 8 costs only a little more and offers a better screen, more storage, and longer battery life.
The Google Pixel C was our previous upgrade pick, and it’s still a good Android tablet. It’s fast and gets updated directly from Google, but it doesn’t have as many distinctive features as the Galaxy Tab S3. There’s no stylus, and apps can’t use windowed mode, which makes multitasking harder. And despite the fact that it’s a year old, it’s still expensive, at $600. We only recommend the Pixel C if you care about fast Android updates above all else.
The Asus ZenPad S 8.0 offers a lot of performance for your dollar: The base model costs less than $200 and has 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage; for $300 you get 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. However, the ZenPad S 8.0 didn’t get an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow until Google released Android 7.0, and the Marshmallow update has to be installed manually, so we’re not optimistic about this tablet’s update prospects.
The Huawei MediaPad M3 has a great 8.4-inch 2560×1600 display. It’s light and well-built, but it runs Huawei’s older Marshmallow-based Android software, which has a lot of awkward interface elements and clunky features that require constant babysitting. Huawei’s Nougat update on phones has been much improved, so we’ll take another look at this tablet when and if it’s updated.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A 10.1 offers a cheaper way to get a tablet with S Pen support, but it’s the older S Pen, which is smaller and less comfortable than the Tab S3’s version. The display is high resolution at 1920×1200. The Tab A is limited to 16 GB of internal storage, so a microSD card is a necessity. It’s cheaper than the Tab S3, but still rather expensive for what it is, at $350 with the bundled S Pen. It ships with Android 6.0, and there’s no word on when or if it will be updated.
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Xiomara Blanco, Asus ZenPad 3S 10 review, , December 8, 2016
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