The humble tablet came of age during the pandemic; according to Canalys, global tablet shipments increased by more than a quarter in the second half of 2020, jumping from 29.7 million to 37.5 million.
The increase has been partly attributed to the rise in remote working, which has also accelerated shipments of laptops and Chromebooks. Tablets are seen as a versatile option for home workers because, according to Canalys analyst Ishan Dutt, they “tick so many boxes for remote work and education use”.
“The ability to collaborate virtually as well as view and interact with digital content has become paramount, especially in the education space,” he told IT Pro last year, commenting on Q2’s 26% rise in worldwide tablet shipments.
“The coronavirus pandemic has increased competition for communal screen access between household members forced to stay indoors. Tablets help overcome this problem by allowing each family member to have their own device. And they are more budget-friendly than desktops and notebooks,” he added.
The top five tablet vendors – Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Amazon, and Lenovo – all saw double-digit growth with shipment levels we would normally see at Christmas time (Q4). Each has a range of devices available and to help you make the right choice for business or pleasure, IT Pro has rounded up the best of the best.
Microsoft Surface Pro X
The Surface Pro X is unlike Microsoft’s other 2-in-1 devices; it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, rather than Intel, in order to take advantage of the chip built-in4G and advanced battery-saving features. The rub, however, is that it can’t run the full gamut of x86 Windows apps. Saying that, this isn’t nearly as much of a problem in reality as we anticipated. While there are some apps which aren’t available, our experience was untroubled by performance woes.
There’s a lot to like about the Pro X, too; it’s sleek, it’s lightweight, and the 4G optimization makes it absolute perfection for on-the-go working, and it’s undoubtedly an impressive feat of engineering. Hopefully, too, it’s the start of a very promising sub-category.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9in (2021)
The iPad Pro 12.9in is a fabulous piece of hardware and arguably the best tablet you can buy. It’s as powerful as the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, it has great battery life for a device this compact, and the new Mini-LED display tech puts it in a different league to most other devices of its kind.
It’s almost as good as a traditional laptop, but just slightly held back by an inability to make full use of a second display and, of course, its eye-watering price. If you buy both the tablet and keyboard, it’s considerably more expensive than the equivalent Apple MacBook Air, although the iPad does, admittedly, have a touchscreen and a far nicer display.
It’s £999 for the 12.9in Wi-Fi model with 128GB of storage. The Smart Keyboard Folio adds a further £199, while the Magic Keyboard with touchpad adds £329. That brings the price of the 12.9in iPad pro up to £1,328 if you want the full laptop alternative experience.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ is clearly intended as a direct competitor to Apple’s market-leading iPad Pro. Just like its rival, it comes in two different screen sizes, with the regular S7 costing £619 and including an 11in screen. Unlike the iPad Pro, it comes with a bundled stylus – now even more responsive thanks to the 120Hz screen – and you can expand the Tab’s 128GB storage via the SD card slot by up to 1TB.
Build quality is excellent, despite skinny bezels and a 5.7mm thickness, and performance is impressive. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+ pushed it to a single-core result of 965 in Geekbench 5, with a multicore score of 2,814; that’s twice as fast in multicore processing than our work laptop, a 2016 MacBook Prowith a dual-core Intel Core i5-7267U.
There’s no denying that the iPad Pro is the more versatile tablet, whether that’s due to its extra features, range of apps or richer ecosystem of accessories. But the Galaxy Tab S7+ is a great tablet for everything from working on Word documents to watching Netflix. And the price, which is considerably less than the iPad Pro equivalent, makes it a tempting purchase.
Google Pixelbook Go
The original Google Pixelbook was an absolute home run for the tech giant, demonstrating that Chromebooks have more potential than their reputation of being rinky-dink rubberised laptops for schoolchildren. On the downside, its professional appeal came with a rather hefty price tag of almost £1,000.
Now, Google is hoping to distil the Pixelbook’s charm to a wider range of consumers by introducing with the budget-friendly Pixelbook Go. We were certainly impressed – the Pixelbook Go offers all of the things we loved about its predecessor – including an elegant, well-designed chassis, smart software capabilities and a gorgeous screen – in a much more approachable and wallet-friendly package.
However, there are some downsides. The performance isn’t quite what it could be, for one – although we’re not sure we’d sacrifice that outstanding battery life for a bit more oomph, given that ChromeOS still can’t run a lot of the intensive software that needs it. That in itself is still a bit of a problem, and as withthe Surface Pro X, organisations looking to roll out this laptop are advised to make sure they can access all the apps and services they need to within the constraints of ChromeOS.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a smaller and cheaper version of the highly desirable Surface Pro with a 10-inch display, a lower-powered processor and less storage than the flagship, but retaining many of the same features as its bigger brother.
Although in principle, the Surface Go 2 shouldn’t be included in the same bracket as its bigger brother, it works extremely well for what it is and you’ll probably quickly start to respect its might in such a small package.
Even when demanding pretty strenuous workloads, the Surface Go coped well, despite only packing in an Intel Core m3-8100Y processor compared to its peers’ i5 and i7 models. And, with USB-C support included, it means you can easily add peripherals including a mouse or external display if you so wish.
The small size and lack of multithreading muscle might put off power users, but this was never meant to be the kind of machine you’d use at a desk for eight hours. It’s a portable slice of Windows utility that can go anywhere, and a brilliant one at that.
Huawei MatePad Pro
The Huawei MatePad Pro has all the capabilities of an iPad or Surface Pro, except for the fact it can’t access certain apps due to the fact it doesn’t have Google’s Play store . This is a little bit of a turn off for many, particularly as most users are hooked into Gmail and services like WhatsApp, but if you’re willing to be adventurous with your operating system, the MatePad Pro has a lot to offer.
The screen is superb, scoring 96.3% of the sRGB gamut and its brightness peaking at 454cd/m2. There is also the Kirin 990 processor under the hood, making it one of the fastest tablets around. What’s more, its battery lasted 12hrs and 21mins in our test. So it might not have all your favourite apps, but it can do a lot of other things, all for the tidy sum of £400 (exc VAT)
Like the Surface Pro and iPad Pro, Huawei is marketing its MatePad Pro tablet as a PC replacement. It’s is actively pushing people to buy a MatePad Pro bundle, which adds the M-Pen stylus (sold separately for £100) and MatePad Keyboard (£130) with the tablet for £610.
The feeling of a desktop in disguise is enhanced by the operating system’s Desktop mode, which you can activate from the settings bar. Similarly to Samsung’s DeX mode, click it and you switch to a windowed environment, complete with a Start menu and the ability to work with two windows side by side. However, the Huawei MatePad Pro is arguably poor value compared to the iPad Pro;