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It’s never been easy to shop for an Android tablet, but with Apple’s entry-level iPad ruling the market, it’s harder than ever. It’s hard to justify spending more than $329 for an Android tablet when iOS has so many exclusive apps, not to mention the incredible library of cases, chargers, and many more accessories that makes the Apple ecosystem so appealing.
But we here at TechJunkie think that Android tablets get a bit of a bad reputation among gadget enthusiasts and consumers alike. Tablets are great devices for around the house use, and with many of us now working from home, being able to switch away from your laptop during leisure time is a must. And as cheap as Apple’s iPad is, many Android manufacturers are still able to beat them on price. If you’re looking for the must-buy Android tablets of 2021, you’ve come to the right guide.
Samsung might face fierce smartphone competition from Google and OnePlus, but when it comes to Android on tablets, they’re undefeated. While Amazon’s lineup of tablets appeal to consumers looking for low-end, low cost hard, Samsung is the only company competing in the high-end against Apple. To that end, 2019’s Galaxy Tab S6 was our pick for the best Android tablet money can buy, and as we head deeper into 2021, we can officially recommend Samsung’s successor, the Tab S7.
As an iterative update, the Tab S7 keeps most of the things we liked about the S6 before it. This isn’t a simple spec bump, though. Samsung has upgraded the S7 in some key ways to better compete with Apple’s iPad Pro and the redesigned iPad Air. While the Tab S7 still falls victim to the same problems that plague Android tablets, it’s easily the best choice on the market today, at an affordable, competitive price.
Let’s start with the display, easily the biggest point of contention for most consumers. Samsung offers two versions of the Tab S7 this year, and the biggest difference between them comes down to AMOLED. Although Samsung included an AMOLED display with the 2019 Tab S6, only the more expensive Tab S7+ holds onto AMOLED this year, with the standard Tab S7 using an LCD display instead.
Despite the switch in screen technology, this is still an outstanding display. With a 120Hz refresh rate, the Tab S7 looks buttery smooth, matching the refresh rate seen on the iPad Pro and beating out Apple’s new $600 iPad Air. The AMOLED display on the larger S7+ makes a big difference, but for most buyers, it’s just not worth the upgrade cost.
It’s not all bad news. Samsung did keep the quad speakers from the Tab S6 around on this model, so even without AMOLED, it’s a great movie experience for anyone who loves to watch Netflix in bed.
Outside of the changes to the display, most of what made the Tab S6 our top pick last year remains in the Tab S7. Samsung upgraded the processor from a Snapdragon 855 to a Snapdragon 865+, while also boosting the RAM to either 6GB or 8GB, depending on which model you pick. The included S Pen keeps the same look as last year’s model, but sees a major drop in latency to just 9ms.
Samsung continues to sell an optional keyboard case, and the new Dex mode helps make productivity that much easier. It doesn’t solve all the issues Android tablets are known for, but Samsung’s continued support for Dex show the company is committed to improving Android on larger screens.
The Galaxy Tab S7 doesn’t reinvent itself as we’ve seen with many of Samsung’s previous tablets, but it’s a good piece of gear perfect for everything from streaming new episodes of WandaVision on Disney+ to finishing essays on Sunday night. At $549, its immediate competition is the new iPad Air from Apple, which loses the high refresh rate display and included stylus, but gains access to Apple’s lineup of seriously impressive iPad apps. Ultimately, if you’re dead set on an Android tablet, this is the one to get, but as always, Apple’s iPad lineup is as strong as ever.
Even before launching the Tab S6, Samsung used the first half of 2019 to launch the Tab S5e, a midrange tablet with a focus on design rather than performance. It may be nearly two years old, but with a a much lower starting price of just $399, anyone who likes the design of the S7 while being put off by the price will want to take a look at the Tab S5e, which gets you a similar experience while saving plenty of cash on your purchase.
If you’re willing to settle for older hardware, the Tab S5e is a solid alternative to Apple’s entry-level iPad. With a 10.5″ AMOLED display, quad speakers, and a large battery, this is a great grab-and-go tablet, perfect for Netflix, YouTube, and any other casual apps. Unfortunately, you lose your high-end Snapdragon 865+ processor, dropping down the a Snapdragon 670. Even with its age, its a solid-enough performer for watching movies or browsing the web, but if you want the most powerful Android tablet money will buy, you unfortunately have to jump up to the Tab S7. Likewise, the Tab S5e offers 4GB of memory, down from 6GB, which may push apps to reload more often.
Other small changes: the fingerprint sensor moves from under the screen to resting on the power button, the starting storage space is reduced to 64GB, and finally, the second camera lens is removed from the back of the tablet, leaving the single 13MP lens instead.
Although its age makes it a tough recommend for many readers, if you don’t mind picking up a tablet nearing on its second anniversary, the Tab S5e is a solid choice—especially at less than $400. Just make sure you know the limits of its processor before forking over your cash.
Though the original Fire HD 10 was immensely disappointing, the last three years have seen Amazon’s largest tablet become a great value on its own. After being reinvented in 2017 with a new design and a lower price, Amazon’s 10″ tablet was updated again in late 2019 with new colors, a new processor, and a USB-C port, all for the same $149. The newest edition of the Fire HD 10 comes in a variety of colors, including muted blues and reds that look fantastic and help make the device feel a bit more adult, despite their plastic builds. As mentioned, the aging microUSB port has finally been replaced with a USB-C port, so you can finally recycle your old cables, while the processor has been bumped up to be 30 percent faster.
Amazon might’ve improved many of the elements we didn’t care for, they haven’t gotten rid of what always worked. The 1080p display still looks as sharp as ever, and at this price point, it’s truly hard to beat. Same goes for the quad speakers arranged along the sides of the device. You simply cannot outdo the speakers on this tablet for under $200—hell, even the $329 iPad lacks true stereo sound. Don’t get us wrong—this is certainly a budget tablet, and you’ll have to make do with installing Google apps manually if you need them. But for under $200, this is the perfect device for watching Netflix around the house.
The evolution of the original Kindle Fire tablet, the 2019 Amazon Fire 7 is the only $50 tablet on the market you should even consider purchasing. While the price of the tablet itself is really the main feature here, $49.99—or five monthly payments of just $10—gets you a pretty good tablet experience for the money. The device features the same processor as the more expensive Fire HD 8, 1GB of RAM, up to eight hours of mixed usage across the board, and an IPS display that, while relatively low-res (1024×600), is capable of displaying decent colors and solid viewing angles. Even though the tablet costs more than one sixth as much as an iPad, performance on the device is actually pretty solid. So long as you go into the Fire 7 expecting a budget experience, you’ll be please with what comes your way with the device.
Of course, we do have to nitpick some of the tablet’s weak points. As we’ve seen across the board, the actual cameras included on the device are terrible to say the least, and the build quality on the cheapest Fire is about equal to the other three devices. That single gigabyte of RAM means multitasking on this device is basically a no-go, and even keeping apps in your Recent Apps list will be a real pain when using the device. The device only has a mono speaker on the back of the device that makes watching media on the go a real pain if you don’t have headphones.
We do have to ask if it’s worth buying a 7″ tablet in 2021, since it isn’t all that much larger than some smartphones on the market today. One thing’s for sure: the Amazon Fire 7 is a great starter tablet, especially for something you’re looking to simply keep around the house for quick browsing or the occasional YouTube video. We think upgrading to the Fire HD8 is the better buy, especially considering the larger, higher-res display, but there is one thing the Fire 7 has that no other tablet on the market can sell you: a six pack of the devices available for only $249.
Amazon did roll out a new version of the Fire Tablet in 2019, and while the processor speed hasn’t changed, it has more memory bandwidth, as well as double the storage space for the same price. It also comes in some sharp new colors. That said, if your current Fire Tablet is running fine, there’s no major reason to upgrade to the new ones.
If you’re looking for a budget offering without switching to Amazon’s Google-less operating system, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A is a decent place to start. Samsung updated the Tab A7 last fall, and it makes for a great barebones entry level Android device. With a large, 10.4″ 1080p LCD display, the Tab A7 is perfect for watching movies, even if the screen isn’t quite as bright or vivid as the display on our other Samsung-made recommendations. Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 662 and 3GB of RAM, this is perfect for light browsing, looking at photos, streaming Netflix or Disney+, or catching up on Facebook without having to lug around your laptop.
The basic model includes 32GB of storage that can be expanded via microSD card, and unlike the top-tier Tab S7, the Galaxy Tab A7 still features a 3.5mm headphone jack for use with wired headphones. Unfortunately, you lose out on the fingerprint sensor, and the battery drops from roughly fifteen estimated hours down to ten.
Samsung has learned a lot from their last A-series tablet. Unlike that model, the A7 includes stereo speakers, fixing our biggest complaint about the previous model. Although there is a price increase over the Fire HD 10, this is a great tablet for anyone who prefers standard Android (with Samsung’s enhancements) rather than Amazon’s Fire OS. It’s a seriously great budget tablet.
If the Tab S7 goes head to head with the iPad Air, the Tab S7+ challenges Apple’s iPad Pro. Though Samsung’s high-end tablet keeps most of the the features from the standard Tab S7, the display is completely new. At 12.4″, this is the largest tablet on this device, and the switch to AMOLED also makes it one of the brightest and most vivid. It keeps the 120Hz refresh rate as well, for butter smooth scrolling and gameplay.
Otherwise, almost everything here is the same. Same processor, same RAM options, same selection of available storage. The ‘plus’ model of the Tab S7 really only changes the display, and for many users shopping for a full laptop replacement, that might be enough to pony up the extra cash. Still, starting at around $800 (depending on whether the tablet is on sale), it’s tough to recommend the S7+ over the standard S7 for most shoppers. It’s worth considering if you can get a good deal, but otherwise, just stick to the smaller tablet. It’s cheaper, easier to use, and still features most of the things that make the Galaxy Tab series so special.
If you don’t see an app that should be here, let us know what it is