|Best overall||iPad Air M1||SEE IT||
This tablet strikes the right balance of power and price.
|Best laptop replacement||Microsoft Surface 9 Pro||SEE IT||
This Windows tablet can do everything a typical PC can and more.
|Best Android||Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+||SEE IT||
This powerful tablet offer everything you’d expect in a high-end Android device.
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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 excel when taking notes, reading textbooks, and staying organized. However, with so many options available on the market, it can be a daunting task. We’ve scoured the internet to make our list, 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.
- Best overall: Apple iPad Air M1
- Best lightweight: iPad Mini (2021)
- Best Android: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+
- Best laptop replacement: Microsoft Surface 9 Pro
- Best budget: Amazon Fire 10 HD
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 it is for a number of users), 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 M1
Why it made the cut: With their iPad, Apple has cornered the tablet market for good reason. The iPad Air M1 is simply a great piece of tech. Slimline, powerful, and equipped with a powerful camera, this is our top-rated choice.
- Display Size: 10.9-inch
- Storage: 64GB/256GB
- CPU: Apple M1
- Great design
With the additional choice of a Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil (sold separately), the iPad Air M1 is capable of handling almost any academic task. Apple Pencil allows 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. 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 M1 chip, it’s a performance powerhouse with speeds up to 60 percent faster than previous generation models. 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 camera includes an automatic pan feature to keep you in shot no matter how fast you move around. The back camera is perfect for scanning documents and shooting videos. It comes in five colors and boasts long-lasting battery life.
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.
Best lightweight: iPad Mini (2021)
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.
- Display Size: 8.3″
- Storage: 64GB/256GB
- CPU: Apple A15 Bionic
- Touch ID-enabled
- Very compact and portable size
- Sharp display
- No headphone jack
This very small and portable tablet slips easily into your bag or even a pocket. It fits comfortably in the hand but offers a better screen size and performance than simply using your cell phone. Gameplay, photo editing, and content creation are more than possible because of the impressive A15 bionic chip. You’ll be able to stream content without slowdowns and download quickly with 5G connectivity. You won’t be able to use the magic keyboard with this size iPad but can use it with a separate Bluetooth keyboard to expand its use beyond simple note-taking or entertainment.
Available in four elegant muted colors including space gray, pink, light purple, or starlight, a champagne tone. Choose from a range of complementary different color smart folios (sold separately) to suit your unique style. The 12MP webcam helps you stay in touch with family back home or log in for virtual classes or group seminars.
Best Android: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+
Why it made the cut: Fast speeds, impressive battery life, and a large screen make the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 a great choice for students who prefer Android products.
- Display Size: 12.4”
- Storage: 8 GB/128 GB
- Weight: 17.6 ounces
- Included S pen
- Large storage included in the base model
- Bright screen
Unlike Apple tablets, this option’s base model comes with an included S pen and 128GB storage, making it a great value choice without having to purchase additional products and extra memory. It has a large and bright display featuring a 12.4-inch AMOLED screen. The battery life helps you work, and watch for hours, and when you do find it running low, it recharges at a lightning speed.
Expect beautiful graphics with high resolution, and super quick processing speeds to make all your school tasks, including content creation, photo editing, surfing the web, and lab work easy to complete. If the included 128GB isn’t enough space for your documents, photos, and schoolwork, the micro-SD card slot allows for further upgrades. The ultra-wide camera produces great shots and clear video calls for remote learning or catching up with friends. Choose from three colors, including graphite, silver, and pink gold.
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.
- Display Size: 13”
- Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
- Weight: 31.3 ounces
- Preloaded with Windows 11
- 1080p webcam
- Excellent performance
- 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.
- Display Size: 10.1″
- Storage: 32GB/64GB
- Weight: 16.4 ounces
- Compatible with Alexa
- Good battery life
- 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 12 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.
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 as well as battery life on a main device.
Things to consider before buying the best tablets for college students
Assess your needs
When you’re selecting any of our top tablet picks, you’ll want to make sure 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.
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 make sure you plan ahead and buy the best model to meet your needs and price point.
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.
Final thoughts on the best tablets for college students
- Best overall: iPad Air M1 – Apple
- Best lightweight: iPad Mini (2021)
- Best Android: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+
- Best for Windows: Microsoft Surface 9 Pro
- Best budget: Amazon Fire 10 HD
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.