The best tablets for college students

These tablets offer all the power a college student needs in a portable package.

Best overall

iPad Air

Best laptop replacement

Microsoft Surface 9 Pro on a stand on a plain background

Microsoft Surface 9 Pro

Best budget

Fire Tablet 10 on a plain white background.

Fire Tablet 10

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Tablets made for college students offer the power and usability of a laptop with the versatility and portability of a much smaller device. Whether you’re researching topics, typing up essays, making presentations, or using design tools, choosing the right tablet for college can make all the difference. These devices—like our best overall pick, the Apple iPad Air—excel when taking notes, reading textbooks, and staying organized. However, with so many options on the market, it can be daunting. And if you’re a student, you already have enough research to do, so we’ve scoured the internet to make this list for you, considering factors such as battery life, screen size, processing power, and price. Whether you’re a freshman, a senior, or a parent shopping for your college-aged child, our comprehensive guide will help you make an informed decision when selecting the best tablets for college students. 

How we picked the best tablets for college students

Tablets truly lend themselves to college work. They’re easy to carry around, offer tons of battery life, typically cost less the high-powered laptops, and they pull double duty as content consumption devices. In our quest for the perfect tablet for college students, we surveyed the entire tablet market from major manufacturers. There are tons of cheap and less reliable options out there, but for a device that’s going to be so crucial to work and recreation, we want to recommend something durable and reliable.

We relied on a mixture of research, personal experience, spec comparisons, user reviews, and editorial opinions to come up with a list of devices that offer a solid mix of price and performance. We also gave extra credit to devices that work with a wide variety of accessories, so they’re easier to customize to a student’s own personal requirements.

The best tablets for college students: Reviews & Recommendations

The iPad may seem like the obvious choice here (and an iPad Air is the most practical choice for most people), but needs vary, and so do devices. Here are some options to consider before you plunk down that college cash.

Best overall: Apple iPad Air (11-inch M2)

Why it made the cut: With their iPad, Apple has cornered the tablet market for good reason. The iPad Air is simply a great piece of tech. Slimline, powerful, and equipped with a powerful camera, this is our top-rated choice.

Specs

  • Display Size: 11-inch (there’s also a 13-inch)
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
  • CPU: Apple M2

Pros 

  • Powerful
  • Lightweight
  • Great design

Cons 

  • Expensive

With the additional choice of a Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil (sold separately), the iPad Air can handle almost any academic task. Apple Pencil turns an 11-inch iPad into an excellent note-taking tablet, allowing you to mark up documents, draw, or take notes, which are then translated from your handwriting into typed notes ready to share or save to the cloud. (There’s also an all-new 13-inch version if you’re in need of more screen real estate.) The Magic Keyboard has a trackpad and responsive keyboard to take your tablet to the next level and make typing comfortable even during those seemingly endless classes.

Thanks to its M2 chip, it’s a performance powerhouse with speeds up to 50 percent faster than previous-generation models, so it can run the latest AI-enabled iOS and apps easily. The Liquid Retina display and 8-core GPU provide crisp images and fast graphics across video calls, gaming, content creation, and design apps. An impressive 12-megapixel Ultra Wide landscape front camera includes an automatic pan feature to keep you in shot no matter how fast you move around. The 12MP back camera is perfect for scanning documents and shooting 4K videos. It comes in five colors and boasts up to 10 hours of battery life, even if constantly streaming videos off the Wi-Fi 6E.

Particularly power-hungry students could step up to the iPad Pro to get even more processing oomph and an upgraded screen. While the upgrades are nice, they’re likely only necessary for students who want to do a ton of media creation or other resource-intensive activities—and, in those cases, it’s probably worth considering a proper MacBook. Apple recently introduced the M4 iPad Pro (below), which can almost replace a laptop with the right accessories, but the iPad Air M2 is still plenty powerful for a student’s needs while costing significantly less.

Best splurge: Apple M4 iPad Pro

Specs

  • Display Size: 13-inch (there’s also an 11-inch)
  • Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB
  • CPU: Apple M4

Pros 

  • OLED Display
  • Up to 2TB of storage (for a price)
  • More powerful than Apple’s laptops

Cons 

  • Expensive

Apple’s M4 iPad Pro is the only tablet students can realistically use to replace their laptop, but the power inside will come at a huge cost. The 11-inch base model starts at $999, while a tricked-out 13-inch M4 iPad Pro can set you back an eye-watering $2,599—and that’s before you add a keyboard and Apple Pencil and probably some AirPods into the equation. The reason for this iPad’s high price is the technology inside. It runs Apple’s M4 processor, an ultra-powerful chip with a 10-core GPU that hasn’t even made its way into the Mac yet. It also features Apple’s largest OLED Ultra Retina XDR display for perfect contrast and better brightness. Plus 12MP cameras, a LiDAR scanner, Wi-Fi 6E, a four-microphone/four-speaker audio system … and much more. Oh, and it is Apple’s thinnest device ever, making it easier to carry around in a backpack.

We reviewed the tablet, and came away from the experience impressed. The M4 chip allowed us to use 3D modeling software like SketchUp with no lag, and we could edit uncompressed 45-megapixel images with ease. Adobe’s Lightroom CC ran flawlessly, as did Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a professional video editing app previously only available for macOS. The display Apple packed into this tablet was on par with a color-calibrated monitor our reviewer used for professional work.

All of this power means you can get professional work like 4K video editing, high-resolution photo editing, and multi-track audio editing (just add headphones) on a device that weighs as little as 1 pound. If your course load is jam-packed with media-related classes, the iPad Pro will probably serve your needs just fine. The iPad’s large, beautiful screen and processing power will also be fine if you’re editing documents and creating presentations using Apple’s Pages, Numbers, and Keynote programs, the Microsoft Office Suite, or Google’s cloud software suite. However, it’ll be overkill for those tasks.

Apple’s iPadOS supports tens of thousands of apps, but its software library is still more limited than the ones on macOS or Windows. You can’t just download a program off the internet and run it, which may cause a problem depending on your major. Certain courses may require specialized software, and if the developer hasn’t created an iPadOS version, you’ll have to rely on your computer lab to get work done. However, in the world of tablets, the M4 iPad Pro stands alone in terms of both build quality and overall performance.

The M4 iPad Pro is the most laptop-like tablet a student can use, but iPadOS restrictions are still present in a device that costs as much as a traditional computer. If you’ve decided to give the tablet-only lifestyle a shot for school and want a machine that won’t feel underpowered and outdated even if used through grad school, the iPad Pro is well worth the investment.

Best lightweight: iPad Mini (6th Generation) 

Why it made the cut: Small but perfectly formed, this handheld tablet features an edge-to-edge screen and vivid colors. Ideally suited for note-taking with the optional Apple Pencil that magnetically attaches to the side of the screen.

Specs

  • Display Size: 8.3″
  • Storage: 64GB/256GB
  • CPU: Apple A15 Bionic

Pros 

  • Touch ID-enabled
  • Very compact and portable size
  • Sharp display

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No headphone jack

If you’re feeling the weight of your backpack digging into your shoulders, the 6th Generation iPad Mini may help lighten your load. It weighs just .65 pounds—roughly half the weight of the iPad Pro—yet it’s perfectly capable of replacing traditional notebooks. In our experience, text, photos, and videos look sharp 8.3-inch high-resolution “retina” display, which comes in handy if you’re reading digital textbooks. Depending on their format, you can mark up those books using the Apple Pencil, a low-latency stylus that’s perfect for note-taking. As far as good cheap tablets go, the iPad Mini is the best value choice—even though it’s not the most budget-friendly choice on this list.

The iPad Mini’s greatest strength is that it’s small enough to carry around in a small bag (or even jacket pocket!) but is still powerful enough to run the tens of thousands of apps in Apple’s App Store. Your scholastic software of choice is likely available, and we couldn’t find a single piece of software—even newer games—that felt like it pushed the iPad Mini to its limits. One of the benefits of using iPadOS alongside other apple devices is that your data—notes, photos, videos—will automatically sync to any of your other Apple devices. This is especially helpful if you’re using the iPad Mini to take notes in class, but want to review or edit them on a MacBook later on. Similarly, any work you get done on your Mac will be accessible on the iPad Mini, which is easier to take to the library or a coffee shop. Apple doesn’t offer its Magic Keyboard with this size iPad, but third-party accessory makers have picked up the slack by offering alternatives.

When the school day is over, the iPad Mini becomes the ultimate ultra-portable media consumption device. Graphic novels and videos look especially vivid on the tablet’s screen, but it’s also a credible e-reader. Similarly, its 12 MP front-facing camera works just fine for video calls with friends and family, while the 12 MP rear-facing camera will take solid-looking photos and 4K video. The iPad Mini is available in two storage configurations: 64GB and 256GB—the former is ideal for the student who streams everything, while the model with more storage is for those who want to lean more heavily on the iPad Mini as a primary device. It’s available in four elegant muted colors, including space gray, pink, light purple, or starlight (a champagne tone).

Best Android: Google Pixel Tablet

Why it made the cut: Fast speeds, impressive battery life, and a large screen make the Google Pixel Tablet a great choice for students who prefer Android products. 

Specs

  • Display Size: 11
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB
  • Weight: 17.44 ounces

Pros 

  • Minimalist design
  • Large storage included in the base model
  • Long battery life

Cons 

  • Expensive

Google has expanded its Pixel branding from phones to a tablet for the first time, and students who prefer Android over iOS—or rely heavily on Google’s digital services to get work done—should take notice. There are two primary reasons for choosing the Pixel Tablet over its competition: It starts at 128GB of storage, which is plenty for getting work done with plenty of room to spare for games and recreational apps, and it runs a clean version of Android free from bloatware that comes preinstalled on other tablets. Google also took the time to build the Pixel Tablet with enough power that it shouldn’t struggle with any software you throw at it.

It runs on Google’s custom-designed Tensor G2 chip, which was designed with AI processes and productivity in mind, and has a high-resolution 11-inch display, so text and media will look good. Google says you can get up to 12 hours of battery life out of the Pixel Tablet—this is dependent on the software you run and brightness settings—which is more than enough time for note-taking during class and late-night study sessions. Eight-megapixel cameras on the front and rear of the tablet are suitable for amateur photography and video calls when you’re out of class.

Google’s services—Google Docs in particular—have become a core part of many student’s lives. You can access all of your documents from on-device apps or the web, and all of your data syncs in real-time. Similarly, Google Photos and Google Drive can hold more personal data, and keep it safe even if something happens to your tablet. It’s impressive that Google fit all of this functionality, which can be expanded using an external keyboard into a device that weighs just over a pound. Any student who wants the flexibility of Android in a compact package shouldn’t hesitate in picking one up.

Best laptop replacement: Microsoft Surface 9 Pro

Why it made the cut: A true replacement for even the top laptops for college, this powerful and versatile tablet offers excellent gameplay and graphics with a high-resolution display for a premium experience. 

Specs

  • Display Size: 13”
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
  • Weight: 31.3 ounces

Pros 

  • Preloaded with Windows 11 
  • 1080p webcam
  • Excellent performance

Cons 

  • Very expensive

This incredibly capable and powerful tablet can easily replace a laptop and make an excellent investment for academic use. The responsive and comfortable keyboard allows for extended typing and note-taking during lectures. A stylus is available for a separate purchase and it comes equipped with Windows 11. Although it is one of the more expensive tablets reviewed, it really offers the most bang for your buck and is regularly on sale for discounts of at least a couple of hundred dollars of the list price. 

The battery can last an incredible 15.5 hours, more than enough for class use and homework after hours. The versatile edge-to-edge touchscreen and adjustable built-in kickstand ensure you get the perfect angle for media viewing or video calls. The two USB-C ports allow you to transfer documents, dock to monitors, or connect and charge various devices and accessories, so you’re ready for any task.

Best budget: Amazon Fire 10 HD

Why it made the cut: This budget-friendly option makes a great educational addition if you already have a more powerful laptop for most of your school work.

Specs

  • Display Size: 10.1″
  • Storage: 32GB/64GB
  • Weight: 15.29 ounces

Pros 

  • Affordable 
  • Compatible with Alexa
  • Good battery life

Cons 

  • Not compatible with Google apps

Perfect for loading up books and after-class entertainment, this affordable tablet is more than worth the modest investment of less than $150. The battery life of up to 13 hours works well for a day of learning, followed by surfing the web or watching your favorite shows. 

This tablet doesn’t support Google products so you’ll need to switch over from G drive and docs to the Microsoft Office suite of products if applicable. Compatible with Alexa straight out of the box, it can also be used as an organizer and personal assistant. Optional extras include Bluetooth keyboards and standing cases to improve functionality and ease of use. If you’re a student who wants a good tablet for reading, or a good cheap tablet in general, this is it.

This tablet is definitely not the most powerful or responsive around, but at this very low price point, it makes an excellent option for cash-strapped students. It can also work as a solid secondary device for consuming content and reading (textbooks or anything else) to save wear and tear and battery life on a main device.

What to consider before buying the best tablets for college students

There are many factors to consider when deciding which tablet is right for students. Below are the factors we considered most important when writing this guide.

Screen size

A tablet’s screen size dictates its portability, which is why we consider this to be the most important decision you’ll make when deciding which one best fits your needs. Larger-screen tablets are heavier, but you’ll have a more expansive digital workspace. Smaller-screen tablets, which are typically thinner and lighter, are easier to slip into a backpack without weighing you down.

Storage

All of our tablet recommendations come in at least two storage configurations, with many of them being non-upgradable once you’ve made your purchase. A tablet can last four or five years, and your needs may change within that time—especially after graduation—so make sure you get a model with enough space for your needs. If you mostly stick with streaming your media and using cloud services to get your work done, it’s possible to pick up a tablet with 64GB of space without running into trouble. If you like to sync videos to your tablet for offline viewing, or want to use the machine for video, photo, or audio editing, it’s worth paying extra to get a more specced-up model.

Assess your needs

When selecting any of our top tablet picks, you’ll want to ensure your tablet works well with all the apps and platforms you regularly use. For example, if you prefer a particular data management, file storage, or design program, you’ll want to make sure your new tablet is compatible. The way you intend to use your tablet will also dictate which model you opt for. For example, you’ll want to consider whether you need a keyboard if you intend to play games or stream movies, and your preferred screen size for optimum viewing comfort.

Price 

Students are often on a budget, so the cost of your new tablet is an important consideration. Luckily, there are lots of choices for top tablets under $500. However, that doesn’t always mean the cheapest option is the best. Consider how you’ll use your new piece of hardware and how long you want it to keep working to ensure you plan ahead and buy the best model to meet your needs and price point.

FAQs

Q: How much does a tablet for a college student cost?

Depending on features and storage size, a tablet for a college student will cost between $135-$1,350.

Q: Do students need keyboards for their tablets?

It really depends on how you’ll be using your tablet. If you intend it as an addition to a laptop, a keyboard may not be essential. However, if it’s your only way of taking notes and completing coursework, a keyboard may be a must-have feature. 

Q: Do tablets come with pre-installed operating systems?

Whether you choose Windows, Android, or Apple iOS products, most tablets come preloaded with their associated operating system. 

Q: Do I get a pencil for a tablet?

The touchscreen on tablets allows you to swipe, enlarge, and control what you see on the screen with your hands. However, a stylus or pencil can give you more control and opens a world of design and artistic possibilities. They can also be very useful for photo editing, especially very fine and small details.

Q: Do tablets help students learn faster?

No. While a tablet is a convenient tool for students, it will not help them learn more quickly on its own.

Q: Can a tablet replace a laptop for college?

This will depend on your major, the software you’ll need to use for school, and whether you pair your tablets with accessories. A tablet with a keyboard paired to it can perform many laptop-like tasks, but be sure to thoroughly consider your current and future computing needs before deciding to choose one over a laptop.

Q: Do students learn better with electronic devices or textbooks?

This will depend on the student. Electronic devices allow you to easily search through pages of text to find the exact passage you’re looking for in an instant. You can also use a note-taking app to store relevant information for future reference and ensure it’ll be synced to all of your devices. However, electronic devices may also be distracting unless they’re being used in Airplane mode or a do-not-disturb feature, as random notifications can derail a student’s focus.

Final thoughts on the best tablets for college students

Balance your needs as a student with price concerns, and make sure your tablet pick is lightweight and easy to transport from your dorm to the classroom and back again. Tablets can be an excellent choice for college students, especially as many of our top picks are powerful devices capable of research, data management, and content creation to help you meet all your academic targets. 

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.