The Best Android Tablets – October 2018
Unfortunately for Android enthusiasts, it’s a bit of a down time to be shopping for an Android tablet. While there’s no shortage of great devices on the market from the last few years hardware advancement and development, there’s no doubt that plenty of Android manufacturers have outright stopped creating tablets for the platform because of a lack of interest in large-screened Android devices. It’s not that tablets are a bad idea—in fact, with the advancement of display and sound technology, tablets today can be the best way to watch movies or television shows while on the move today. And while both Android 8.0 Oreo and Android 9 Pie have made Android software a bit more usable on large displays, it’s obvious that consumers have focused more on purchasing phablet-sized phones instead of using tablets than can’t be pocketed on the go.
Still, tablets are a great device for lounging around the house watching browsing the web, or watching Netflix in bed as your partner sleeps. And even while the majority of tablet usage is reduced down to online media consumption, many people want to use their devices for more than just watching movies or reading books on the go. Still, these Android devices struggle to compete against devices like the iPad Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Tablet, and even face stiff competition from the likes of Google’s own Chromebook branch. For most, the best Android tablet really depends on what you personally want to do with your device. Do you want something you can play games on? Something just to watch Let’s Plays on YouTube? Do you want to take notes in a classroom, or type up minutes from a meeting? Maybe you need stylus support, or something with a smaller, portable device or a larger, laptop-like screen? And how much are you willing to pay for a device that mostly does things your laptop and your smartphone already do quite well?
These are difficulties facing all tablet devices in 2018, not just the ones that run Android. Tablets in general are facing a bit of an identity crisis this year—they want to be a computing revolution, but they’re stuck in evolution mode. But for some, a tablet can be a great choice for a third device that lets you consume media without using your laptop or desktop computer. There are a ton of tablets worth buying in 2018; you just have to truly consider what your use case is for the device before you drop your hard-earned cash down at Amazon or at your local Best Buy. With all that said, let’s take a look at the best Android tablets.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 has been on the market for two months now, and despite some older specs, it’s still the best Android tablet money can buy today by far. The S4 features a bright, sharp display, incredible build quality, a mostly-modern processor, and some of the best speakers we’ve seen on a tablet today, making it a must-have for unparalleled media consumption. Of course, all this is going to cost you: at $647, the S4 is not only the most expensive tablet on this list, it’s also directly competing with Apple’s iPad Pro lineup, and specifically going against the $649 iPad Pro 10.5. Still, the S4 is a beast of a tablet, with dedicated keyboard support, an included S-Pen, and so much more. So long as you can afford the costly asking price for Samsung’s newest tablet, it’s absolutely the device you should consider.
At its core, the Tab S4 is incredibly similar to the 10.5″ iPad Pro Apple released in 2017. It’s got minimized bezels around the display, allowing the screen size to increase without changing much of the body. The screen measures in at that very same 10.5″, with an near-identical 1600 x 2560 pixel resolution that measures out to taller dimensions than that of the current iPad Pro That said, Samsung takes their display technology a step further with the Super AMOLED display technology found on their flagship phones, making the screen on the Tab S4 ideal for watching movies. It even supports HDR, or high-dynamic range video, making it an excellent choice for movies. Netflix even supports HDR on the tablet, though you’ll need to upgrade your plan to the four-screen option at $13.99 per month in order to receive both HDR and 4K streaming.
In terms of specs, the S4 isn’t as advanced as some users might be hoping for, despite still managing to be one of the most powerful Android tablets on the market. Samsung’s newest tablet is powered by the Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and Android 8.1 Oreo. Despite being a tablet launched in 2018, these are decidedly 2017 specs. The 835 was the same processor that powered Samsung’s S8 and S8+ in the spring of 2017, and while they’re solid performers, they’ve been replaced by the Snapdragon 845. And while you might receive solid performance while using the tablet day to day, we have to mention that the iPad Pro’s A10X processor can run circles around the 835, especially when it comes to single core performance. If having the most powerful tablet on the market—of any operating system— is important to you, you’ll probably want to skip this device.
Outside of those core specs, you’ll also find a 7300mAh battery for up to sixteen hours of use, a USB-C port along the bottom of the device for charging, a 13MP camera on the back of the display for photos, a 8MP camera on the front for video chatting, and a full metal and glass build on the edges and sides of the device. One of the best parts of the tablet: the quad-speakers, two along the top and two along the bottom of the device, that make watching videos on this tablet sound fantastic.
There’s some “pro”-focused features here too, designed to compete against what we’ve seen from Apple. The S4 ships with a Note-style S-pen in the box, instead of being supported as an extra accessory like with the Apple Pencil. Samsung, for the most part, has long understood what makes a stylus great, and that’s no different with this device. Overall impressions of both the stylus and the supported features in the software were positive: you can doodle, draw, take screenshots, created animated GIFs from a portion of the display, and so much more just by using the stylus on the display. It’s all pretty impressive stuff, though unlike with other Note devices, the S-pen can’t be slotted into the body of the tablet. The S3 also includes support for a dedicated keyboard built by Samsung, which connects via POGO pins on the device, functioning as a stand when in use and a case when not. The keyboard, however, is a bit shallow and undersized, similar to the issues found on the iPad Pro 9.7″ keyboard (issues that were largely fixed with the move to a 10.5″ display). The keyboard is also missing a trackpad like the Surface Pro, and costs an additional $129.
If you’ve used a Samsung device before, you largely know what to expect when it comes to the software on their tablet. It’s unfortunate that Samsung hasn’t updated the Tab S4 beyond 8.1, especially when Android 9 Pie was released right around when this device came out, but regardless, Samsung’s own software means you aren’t missing out on any major experiences. The device supports split window multitasking, now a standard in Android but previously featured for years on similar Samsung devices. For the most part, split-window mode works well enough, though occasional lag or stutters might appear when running two intensive apps at once. Unlike a traditional laptop, only one window can be active at once, meaning apps might freeze temporarily while they’re unselected. Some apps don’t support multitasking yet, though that problem has largely been ironed out in the year since Nougat launched.
Overall, whether the Tab S4 is worth your cash really depends on your own personal budget and whether a high-end tablet is truly worth the cash. If you’re planning on watching a lot of Netflix or Hulu on your tablet, it could be worth the upgrade. The speakers and display on this device make it an excellent way to watch content, and the stylus support helps build in some great productivity features. But at $649 (sometimes cheaper through Amazon), you could buy a cheaper tablet with a slightly-lesser display on this list, and invest the additional cash in a solid Bluetooth speaker that will provide you with a similar media experience, while also giving your other devices some extra features. Make no mistake: the Tab S4 is the best Android tablet money can buy. Whether that’s worth dropping $650 on, however, is really up to you.
- Fantastic build and display
- S Pen support
- Great speakers
- Already behind in software updates
- Multitasking issues
Our runner-up device—and formerly our best overall Android tablet on the market—is the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1, a device released way back in August 2014. Originally known as the Shield Tablet, both the launch version and the reworked K1 were aimed primarily at the typical PC gaming market Nvidia typically targets with its products. Due to the age of the tablet, we’ve decided to bump it down to runner-up, if only for the age of its specs and because of the increased difficulty in finding one available on the market without overpaying by hundreds of dollars. Despite the now-lackluster specs—an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor with a 192-core Kepler GPU, a 1920×1200 8″ display with solid viewing angles, 16GB of onboard storage and a middling 2GB of RAM—Nvidia’s tablet is still one of the best devices you can pick up on the market today, and we’re still disappointed by the lack of a follow-up device from Nvidia.
So what makes this tablet so much more special than other, newer tablets on the market? The Shield happens to be a great example of a device being far more than the sum of its parts. For one, despite the relatively-low resolution display when compared to more expensive, higher-end tablets (like the Galaxy Tab S3), the screen is still as vivid as you could expect from an LCD panel, and can be fine-tuned within settings for optimal color accuracy. The tablet supports Nvidia’s own stylus, similar to the Note line of devices and the Tab S3, though it’s worth noting that the K1 model doesn’t include the stylus in the box like the original, pricier Shield Tablet did when it released in 2015. The dual front-facing speakers are some of the best you can find on a mobile device, and arguably even better than some lower-end laptops and Chromebooks on the market today.
Perhaps best of all, despite shipping with Android 4.4 KitKat back in 2014, Nvidia has kept up with software updates better than nearly any other manufacturer on the market. The Shield Tablet and Tablet K1 have both been upgraded to Android 7.0 Nougat, and while Nvidia has finally announced that both devices won’t be seeing an update to Android 8.0 Oreo, we can’t think of another device that started on KitKat that managed to make it to Nougat. Even Google’s own Nexus 6, which started on Android 5.0 Lollipop, didn’t make it to an Oreo upgrade.
As mentioned up-top, the Shield Tablet was originally aimed at PC gamers as a supplementary tablet for their already-existing desktops and laptops, and this shows in both hardware and software features. In addition to a headphone jack and microUSB port (USB-C was not a standard when the device first shipped in 2014), the Shield supports HDMI-out using the included mini-HDMI port, support for both OTG-USB gaming controllers (like any Xbox 360 or Xbox One wired controllers) and Nvidia’s own Bluetooth-enabled Shield Controller—of which, the 2017 version is available for $59 and supported on any Shield Tablet running Android 7.0. And, of course, you can use any third-party Android Bluetooth controller of your choice, though some Shield-exclusive features might not be supported based on the controller you choose. All of this is in order to utilize Nvidia’s Gamestream service, which can beam your PC games over the internet to your tablet for portable play—though, of course, you’ll have to make sure your PC has the correct specs to support this, and you’ll want to ensure your internet connection is both fast and stable. Nvidia also offers a library of streaming PC games and their own exclusive titles—games you can’t get on any other Android device on the market.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the best feature of the Shield Tablet K1: the price. For $200, you’re getting a near-perfect media consumption device. While it might not be the perfect tablet for editing videos or photos, the size and screen are both good enough that, in a pinch, you could do some work on the device without too much of a hand cramp. The stylus—no longer included but still supported—and palm-rejection software is pretty good if you’re looking to take notes or annotate PDFs on the device. And, as far as watching videos go, it’s the perfect device to stream Netflix or Hulu. The speakers are loud, the screen is 1080p, and it’s small enough to throw in your bag without adding much additional weight. In many ways, the Shield Tablet could be seen as the perfect successor to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet of yore: a small, pocket-friendly device that’s cheap, runs the newest version of stock Android, and is good enough for almost anyone looking for a tablet. Unless you need a 10″ or larger screen, the K1 is the best bang-for-your-buck in the world of Android tablets.
(Note: The K1 version of Nvidia’s tablet does not ship with an AC adapter or a USB cable. Just make sure you have a powerful-enough brick and cable to charge this thing; if you don’t, you can pick one up by Anker from Amazon for a few bucks.)
- $200 is a great price
- Still being updated nearly 3 years later
- Gaming features
- Screen could be sharper
- Probably nearing end of support
- 2GB of RAM is poor for multitasking
The Asus ZenPad 3S 10 is a perfect middle ground between something like the Nvidia Shield Tablet and the Pixel C: for just under $300, the ZenPad gives you an iPad Air-like body, complete with thin bezels and an aluminum build, solid specs for the price, and a great screen. It’s not an amazing tablet by any means, but for a 10″ device, it has almost everything a tablet owner could want out of their device. The display is excellent, with a 9.7″ IPS 2048×1536 display that presents everything with vivid colors and high-resolution text. It’s great for both movies and watching television, and compares well to the display you’ll find on Apple’s iPad. The tablet’s nice and thin, with a solid-if-not-exceptional 5900mAh battery and 64GB of internal storage.
The ZenPad does have 4GB of RAM, making it an excellent choice for multitasking; unfortunately, the tablet still hasn’t received an update to Android 7.0 after nearly a year of Nougat being available on the market. At Computex 2017, the device was shown off running a build based on Android 7.0, so we have to assume an update is coming soon for the tablet. The other problematic part of this device: the speakers aren’t great, and neither is the camera. If you can make due with these shortcomings, the ZenPad 3S 10 is a great buy for the price, and will satisfy your need for a large display without having to drop $600 or more on a secondary device.
- 10" display for under $300
- 4GB of RAM
- Still running Marshmallow
- Poor speakers and camera
The original Fire HD 10 was a disappointment in almost every way, enough for us to tell our readers not to buy the device. At $229, it was the cheapest product on the list, but that price came at the loss of a full HD display, a weak quad-core tablet, and a middling 8 hours of battery life, far below most of its competition. We also originally claimed the line was seemingly being phased out in order to focus on the more popular line of Fire 8 tablets, which sell for $79 while having better specs than the old Fire HD 10. All that said, we’re proud that we can now recommend users buy the Fire HD 10 again. Amazon’s 10″ tablet has finally been upgraded to meet 2017 standards, with a full 1920×1200 display, a more powerful quad-core processor, and double the RAM and storage of the original model. Battery life on the new model has been increased up to 10 hours, but perhaps the more important feature is the updated price.
At only $149 for the 32GB of model (with Amazon’s ad-supported lock screen), it’s by far the cheapest 10″ tablet worth buying on the market, making it a great buy for anyone looking to pick up a new, larger display for watching media around your home. Amazon’s Fire tablets still run on FireOS, which means you won’t find the Play Store on this device, but for generic media consumption, this tablet is an excellent choice. It’s certainly a budget model, complete with a plastic build and low-resolution cameras on the front and back, but with dual-stereo speakers, you won’t be complaining while watching Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.
- Bright, new 1080p display
- Amazon's software features
- Brand new lower price
- Plastic build
- Budget price means budget performance
On the cheap side of the tablet market, we have Amazon’s basic Fire 7 Tablet, a 7″ device that sells for just $49—and sometimes less when you grab them on sale. The Fire tablet’s specs don’t necessarily matter too much, because it’s absolutely an example of “you get what you pay for.” A cheap, 7″ 1024×600 IPS display fills the front of the device, accented by large bezels on every side of the device. It’s a good-enough display for reading books or watching movies, but do remember any text on the device will be a bit pixelated due to the low-resolution screen. The back of the device is made of plastic, but it feels solid in the hand—though adding a bit of extra weight would go a long way in making the Fire feel like a more premium device. On the software side of things, the Fire uses Amazon’s Fire OS 5.0, which is designed to make it easy to consume Amazon content as easy and quickly as possible.
There’s no Play Store support; Amazon’s App Store is used as a replacement here, and you’ll constantly be pushed towards buying products, games, movies, and more from Amazon, but their digital services aren’t bad at all. Paired with an Amazon Prime membership, the Fire tablet actually works decently well as a consumption device. Of course, if you’re looking for something with an amazing processor, high-res display and pro-focused features, the Fire isn’t for you. For most people, though, this is exactly what they want out of a tablet—something cheap and replaceable. The Fire is like the Coca-Cola of the tablet market: anyone can buy one, regardless of the price.
- It's $49
- Amazon's digital services have gotten pretty good
- You get what you pay for
- No Play Store support