When you’re choosing a tablet, whether it’s because you want something for your next Netflix binge or your aims are rather more business-centric, you’ve got some hard choices to make.
When tablet computers come up, Apple’s iPad is often held up as the originator; that’s not actually the case in terms of true tablet computing, but it’s the effective template that most other tablets are judged against.
That leaves many taking the position that the only tablet worth buying is an iPad. The reality here is a tad more complex, because it depends on precisely what you need a tablet for as well as the budget you’re playing with. If you’re weighing up a tablet purchase, here’s what you should consider, as well as a few recommendations for models to consider.
As the name suggests, Android tablets run the exact same operating system as Android phones, with a wide variety of available apps and a very flexible model when it comes to configuration, accessing storage and device layouts.
That wide range in prices does mean that you’ve got to be realistic about what you want out of an Android tablet; lower-cost models are acceptable for simple web browsing, maybe a little streaming video or lower-end Android games, while the higher-priced variants are pitched more at a professional crowd that needs touch or stylus input for creative work.
Running the same Android OS as your phone is great – and for some makes (most notably Samsung) it does mean that you can do some neat tricks with sharing files between phone and tablet – but it does mean that there’s some apps that will run on Android tablets, but not full-screen. They instead take a more rectangular phone view, leaving a lot of the screen blank, which is less than optimal.
It’s also worth checking for each model what updates to Android OS are available, and what’s planned for the future; some brands are more upfront than others with this, but if you’re buying an Android tablet that’s already an OS upgrade – or sometimes two – behind the current release, that’s not a good sign.
Budget: Lenovo Tab M8
Mid-Range: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE
Professional: Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra
Apple’s iPads come in a range of sizes, from the tiny iPad Mini all the way up to the seriously large 12.9 inch iPad Pro. There’s something for everyone here, with all iPads running on Apple’s “iPadOS”, as distinct – slightly – from iOS that runs Apple’s very popular line of iPhones.
So why go different? Because the way you use a tablet, while similar to that of a phone isn’t quite the same. Apple’s been very strict with its developers since the first-generation iPad was released, with guidelines for apps that can appear using the full size of any iPad screen. That means that the given version of an iPad app – and especially if it’s iPad-specific, not just an iPhone app that can run on an iPad – is likely to be a little more refined visually than the Android counterpart. To be fair, it helps when you only have about half a dozen screen sizes to deal with, where Android has potentially hundreds of variants.
There’s also a fairly solid delineation between Apple’s consumer-grade iPads (and to an extent the iPad Mini/Air models) and its professional iPad Pro models. If you just want to surf the web and doomscroll your social media, the basic iPad is a great option; if you need a sketchpad for your art or a serious number crunching machine for your CAD designs, the iPad Pro is the model for you.
Apple is also rather good at continuing to provide operating system upgrades for its newer model iPads over a number of years. Will your iPad outlast the number of OS upgrades Apple offers? It’s quite likely – some users are still rocking original iPads more than a decade after they came out, despite them being solidly out of the upgrade cycle.
Apple’s controlled ecosystem is great for making sure that iPad tablet apps make the most of their hardware, but it also means that Apple’s absolutely in control; if you want to do a task a way that Apple doesn’t want you to, or if an app developer wants to work outside Apple’s guidelines… well, it just doesn’t happen at all. iPads are less flexible in this regard than Android devices for sure.
There’s also no such thing as a “budget” iPad when compared against their Android brethren. Apple sees itself as something of a luxury, aspirational brand and charges accordingly. There’s also no iPads that can take expandable storage via microSD card, so it’s important to make sure that you buy an iPad with enough storage for your needs.
Entry level: Apple iPad 9th Generation
Mid-range: Apple iPad Air M1
Professional: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 6th Gen
Are Apple tablets better than Android ones?
This is, honestly a really variable question, because it depends on exactly what you need and what your budget is. Apple has nothing in the low-price category at all, so if you only want or need entry-level, Android is what you’re going to get every single time.
Competitively, for most consumers the regular 9th generation iPad is the model I tend to recommend to most, because Apple’s done serious work to make its tablet OS really sing with its hardware, where Google’s Android is more a multi-use-tool that’s not been particularly optimised this way. Into more professional spaces, it can also depend on your other computing tools; an iPad matches up very nicely if you’re already using a MacBook and an iPhone – funny, that – but less so if your other devices are in the Windows or Android worlds.
Can I play PC Games on a tablet?
Not directly, no, because while there are applications that interface with popular PC game storefronts like Steam, they’re essentially there purely for shopping purposes, not game playing.
However, what you can do with either an Android or iPad tablet is stream games from these services, as well as through services such as Xbox Game Pass. That’s dependent on your broadband connection largely, with more action-intense games sometimes struggling to keep up on faster connections. Still, paired with a mobile game controller it can be one way to get your games fix in if the family TV is otherwise taken.