Like the smart home hub market or robot vacuum market, the tablet market has no chill. The lineup is becoming overwhelmingly saturated with brands like Apple, Amazon, and Samsung trying to prove that their tablet is the best (and more than just an oversized smartphone).
And when you’re shopping for a new tablet (or looking to get one for the first time), it can be a challenge to compare features, screen size, apps, battery life, and more simply by jumping around from website to website.
Lucky for you, we’ve already done that.
Most tablets have the same basic touchscreens, game playing, and video watching features, etc., and it’s seriously hard to tell at first glance what the differences are. Like anything else, which tablet you should get depends on, well, what you want it for.
Do you care about artistic features or storing files? Are you a customization person or a straightforward, user-friendly person? Is this your first rodeo or are you an experienced smart device user?
These are the questions to keep in mind when comparing different brands and countless models — but don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it. We’ve broken down the differences between each tablet device in the Amazon, Apple, and Samsung families, and compared the features as well as customer reviews to give you an idea of which tablet will best suit your needs.
Apple iPad: Easy to use, large screens, integrates across Apple devices
First up is Apple’s infamous iPad, which set the tone for the future of tablets when it was launched in 2010. Like the iPhone, iPads talk to Siri and have a standardized display, uniform unlocking animations, the gray and white keyboard, etc. Limited customization options lead to that clean, user-friendly display, making iPads easy to get the hang of (an advantage for older people or a first-time tablet buyer who doesn’t care about having a leopard print keyboard).
Easily integrates with all your other (Apple) tech
If you already have an iPhone or Macbook, an iPad can sync seamlessly for file sharing, calls, notifications, and more. Currently, the newest models of the iPad are the iPad Mini 4, the 9.7-inch iPad, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro — and there’s also a rumor that two new iPads will be launched in the near future and at a lower price point.
Each iPad is said to have battery life up to 10 hours and is equipped with a front and rear facing camera — and while we all make fun of people who take pictures with their iPad, there’s a reason for it. Those iPad Pros have seriously sweet 12 MP cameras.
Another plus to the iPad is the productivity boosting Apple Pencil: Though it does cost an extra $99, its advanced artistic abilities for freehand drawing and shading, notetaking, Photoshop-comparable photo editing, or sculpting in augmented reality are definitely worth the money. The iPad also sees an advantage in the massive and extremely user-friendly App Store, which includes some one million apps specifically for iPad.
Challenges with extra storage, though screen sizes are HUGE
iPad does not support Adobe Flash and storage can’t be increased through external SD cards — so if your needs are file or shockwave-content heavy, iPad may not be the best bet. (iPad Pro smart keyboards are also pretty pricey starting at $152, but they don’t require paired charging.) That said, iOS 11 gives the iPad a huge boost when it comes to making it a well-rounded laptop replacement, with screen recording, insanely easy document management on the Files app, and quick note-taking features. And if you’re a media professional and need a lot of room for drawing and designing, the 12.9 inch Pro is a giant screen powerhouse you won’t find from another brand right now. Apple currently does not offer a kids version of the iPad like Amazon does, however, restrictions in the iPad’s settings and on apps like Youtube are available.
Multiple size options mitigates price tag
iPads are the most expensive tablets on the market as of now, with the newest model (just called “iPad”) clocking in at $329 — a really good price for a newly released iPad. The Mini comes in around $399, and the Pro models are anywhere from $549 to $949 — depending on size, storage, and whether you choose Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and cellular. (Note: The iPad Mini 4 and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are Wi-Fi only.) However, they are almost always on sale on at least one of these retailer sites, most times up to $200 off.
Fire HD Tablets: Customizable, affordable, kid-friendly
Of course, Amazon isn’t about to sell other tablets on their website without throwing in their own version. Formerly called the Kindle Fire, the Amazon Fire HD Tablets are Amazon’s Kindle version of the tablet. Unlike Kindles, these tablets operate similarly to an iPad in that they are a color touchscreen, talk to Alexa like iPads talk to Siri, and can be used to watch content (specifically Amazon Prime Video), play games, draw, and take live notes.
Multiple sizes and a special version just for kids
The Fire HD models include the Fire HD 7, Fire HD 8, Fire HD 10, Fire HD 7 Kids Edition, and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, with the numbers representing the display size in inches. (Bonus: The Kids Edition Tablets are pre-downloaded with kid-friendly content, come with a kid-proof case, and has a two-year guarantee. So if your little one breaks their tablet, send it back and Amazon will replace it for free.)
The cameras may suck, but the devices are totally customizable
Fire Tablets use the Android Nougat operating system, which excels in interface customization when compared to Apple’s iOS. While iOS is sleek, standardized, and would require jailbreaking for ultimate personalization, Android allows users to customize things like keyboard themes, fonts, unlocking animations, and more. However, this allowance for customization makes setup and navigation slightly more difficult than that of the iPad — this could be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on if you’re detail oriented tech-expert or a no frills kind of person. Fire HD Tablets do support Adobe Flash and storage can be maximized through external SD cards, so a Fire HD Tablet could be more ideal for file-heavy work if you’re using the tablet as a laptop replacement. The Fire HD 8 is said to have a 12 hour battery, while the Fire HD 10 is said to have 10 hours.
The down side: Fire HD Tablets do have the front and rear cameras, but according to the Mashable review, they’re “total garbage.” Screen resolution of the Fire HD is pretty comparable to that of the iPad. The Google Play Store is also far less advanced than the App Store, with significantly fewer apps. As one reviewer described it, it’s kind of a “hot mess,” so the selection of utilities and games won’t be as vast. However, if you sign up for Amazon Prime, you’ll get access to free video, music, and a lot of other content.
Fire Tablet prices start at just $49.99 for the Fire HD 7 and are $200 less expensive than even the cheapest iPad, making Fire Tablets a much more affordable entrance into the tablet world.
The Kindle E-reader: Okay, it’s not exactly a tablet, but it’s definitely still a main competitor. While the Fire HD is the “tablet” version from Amazon that’s made for video content, the Kindle is Amazon’s no BS, dependable e-reader. These puppies are black and white, but it doesn’t make them a tech downgrade by any means — one tech writer at Mashable even claims that his Kindle Paperwhite is his favorite gadget.
No BS and long lasting battery life
The main difference is in the title: e-readers are really just for reading. Whether you’re a book junkie, are in school, or travel a lot and don’t feel like lugging a ton of titles around. The screens are touch screens, but not like of that of a tablet — they display like actual paper pages in books, complete with zero screen glare even in the sunlight. (Reviewers even claim that you don’t lose the coveted feel of holding a physical book). They’re also equipped with e-ink backlight for reading in the dark (plus adaptive lighting that changes depending on your surroundings in the Voyage and Oasis models) and no-contract 3G for web browsing. The grayscale display isn’t exactly ideal for reading webpages as you would on a tablet, but if hardcore web surfing isn’t your main concern, it’s more than doable. Because of the lack of battery drainers like apps, videos, audio, and Alexa, a fully charged battery lasts a long time. Like, a few weeks. On one charge.
The Kindle Paperwhite is the best selling of the family at $119.99, with the classic Kindle behind it at $79.99 or $99.99 for the Kindle for Kids bundle, complete with the two-year worry-free guarantee. One step up from the Paperwhite is the $199.99 Kindle Voyage, which is also six inches long but replaces the plastic back with a lighter magnesium material, has a sleeker design, and uses PagePress haptic buttons, which are basically page turning sensors that vibrate when touched — similar to the home “button” on the iPhone 7 and 8.
The largest and most expensive one in the line is the $249.99 Kindle Oasis, which offers physical page-turning buttons and is the first waterproof Kindle. Regardless of your model, you’ll get access to millions of titles under three bucks, with Prime members getting free unlimited access to over a thousand reads. (Check out the most popular titles of all time here.)
Samsung Galaxy Tab: A great camera and a souped-up smart pen
Image: lili sams/mashable
Possibly the closest competitor to the iPad is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, which comes as no surprise as Samsung’s Galaxy phones are the iPhone’s biggest competitor. This Android tablet has an uncanny resemblance to the 9.7-inch iPad, with the same display size and a home button with a fingerprint sensor. Where it actually beats the iPad is with its 13 MP rear camera, the insanely futuristic HDR screen, and the new and improved S Pen. Samsung’s S Pen is the stylus equivalent to the Apple Pencil and has numerous hovering air commands like note taking and creating GIFs from videos. The S Pen is actually included in the purchase of a Galaxy Tab, while Apple’s is an extra $99). It also never needs charging.
Though the wireless Pogo keyboard isn’t included, it’s worth the extra cost if you’re looking to make this a makeshift laptop — especially because it doubles as cover (which you’ll want, because the S3 has an all-glass exterior) and doesn’t require pairing or charging. The Tab S3 is extremely portable and allows for multitasking with split screen options and is said to last up to 12 hours on one charge.
A tablet for kids, plus HDR streaming — though there are limitations
While the Tab S3 is probably the best Android tablet to date, Samsung does have numerous other models of the Galaxy Tab like the A, E, and S2, all ranging in sizes from 7 to 10.1 inches. Like iPhones and iPads, the Tab S3 easily syncs with Samsung phones for file sharing, calls, notifications, and more. Samsung also offers a kids tablet: The Galaxy Tab E Lite is a 7-inch Wi-Fi tablet that comes with a case, controls for parents, and is pre-downloaded with kid-friendly content.
The down side: Netflix and Amazon Video have not yet given the green light to HDR streaming, so the fancy screen on the Tab S3 still can’t be used up to its full potential. App quality is still not comparable to that of the App Store, as Samsung Galaxy Tabs also use the Google Play Store. Basically, the Tab S3’s technology and screen are ahead of their time and are just waiting for some content to play catch-up.
From a value standpoint, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, which starts at $599, with the included S Pen, for the 32 GB model (and offers the ability to upgrade storage without buying a different tablet – not possible with an iPad Pro) wins. If I were an Android person, I’d spend the $728 to get the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and Pogo keyboard and never look back.
The Tab S3 price is pretty comparable to that of the iPad Pro, rolling in at a new low price of $549 (that’s without purchasing the keyboard.) Other Samsung Tab devices are closer to Amazon Fire HD prices, with most being within the $119 to $329 range. However, if you’re balling on a budget and looking for a cheaper tablet, we’d suggest one from the Amazon Fire HD line as they are far more advanced than the rest of the Samsung Tab line.