Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Best tablet

The best has gotten better with the debut of the Apple iPad Air 2. It's even more breathtakingly thin than before, but the headline this time around is improved performance -- 40 percent better Apple claims, and testers say that the Air 2 delivers -- especially for serious gaming. The Retina display now has challengers among Android slates, but that doesn't mean that it's not as eye-popping as ever. You'll also still find more tablet-specific apps for the iPad than for any other device.
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Est. $500 and up Estimated Price
Apple iPad mini 2
Apple iPad mini 2

Small Apple tablet

Those who want the fit, finish and user experience of an Apple iPad Air 2, but in a smaller tablet. should skip the new Apple iPad mini 3 and stick with the last generation but still current Apple iPad mini 2. It's unchanged since its debut (when it was called the iPad mini with Retina Display), but has enjoyed a $100 price cut. That's significant since, internally, the two small iPads are nearly identical, and testing reveals they perform the same. Both have the same access to the hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimized apps Apple offers -- more than any other tablet brand. Both run the same generation operating system, and the few hardware enhancements -- such as Touch ID -- available on the mini 3 aren't worth its price premium, experts say.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Best Android tablet

Thinner and lighter than the iPad mini 3, the 8.4-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 also offers an even higher resolution display. Android is far more customizable than the iPad's operating system (even allowing for Samsung's TouchWiz add-on), but it's less seamless and there are fewer available apps overall -- fewer still that are optimized for a tablet's screen size. Performance is excellent overall, though graphics performance is not best in class. Versions with mobile data are available, as is a bigger and just-as-well-liked version, the 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Est. $500).

Dell Venue 8
Dell Venue 8

Best cheap tablet

The 8-inch Dell Venue 8 sits squarely at the intersection of performance and value. It's not the swiftest performer, but it's fully capable of doing the kinds of things most users expect from their tablets without breaking too much of a sweat. It runs a non-modified version of Android KitKat -- a major plus in the eyes of enthusiasts. The screen resolution is full HD, 1,920 by 1,090 pixels, perfect for enjoying movies and TV programs. A 7-inch version, the Dell Venue 7 (Est. $150) is cheaper and performs similarly, but has a smaller, lower-resolution display.
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Asus MeMO Pad 8
Asus MeMO Pad 8

Cheap Android tablet

If you want a good performing but cheap, small tablet, and don't care about an HD display, the 8-inch Asus MeMO Pad HD 8 can be a good choice. It's less expensive than the Dell Venue 8, and packs a more powerful quad-core Intel Atom processor. The display is a step back, however, with a resolution of just 1,280 by 800 pixels. The 7-inch Asus MeMO Pad 7 (Est. $125) is smaller and cheaper still, but delivers the same performance, reviewers say.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9

Value-priced tablet

The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is a near-9-inch tablet with top-notch performance, great features and terrific build quality, and a price that's more than $100 lower than similar-sized premium tablets from the likes of Apple and Samsung. The catch is that it runs a proprietary operating system based on Android, but so heavily modified that it bears little resemblance to its roots. On the plus side, that allows an easy-to-use interface and some features not found on other tablets. The downside is that customization is near impossible, and all content comes from Amazon.com and only Amazon.com -- not the larger Google Play or iTunes app stores.

Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition
Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition

Best kids tablet

With some of the best parental controls on the market, a no-questions asked two-year warranty, a rugged bumper case and a terrific lineup of kid-friendly content, the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition is the best choice for those looking for a tablet for now and for the future. It's a $50 upgrade to either the Amazon Fire HD 6 (Est. $100 and up) or the Amazon Fire HD 7 (Est. $120 and up), but the value of the upcharge is covered by the extras, including a free one year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a child-safe content streaming and app service.
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Finding the perfect tablet

Tablets emerged into the mainstream in 2010 with the launch of the original iPad, and the market has since become flooded with dozens of these portable devices. Buyers today face a confusing landscape with tablet computer choices segmented by operating system (Apple iOS, Android and Windows) and size.

Tablet computers take two main forms -- convertible tablets and slates. Convertible tablets look like regular laptops, but the screen either swivels 360 degrees to transform the computer into a touch-screen tablet or detaches completely. Almost all convertible tablets, such as the Dell Inspiron i3147 (Est. $400), run the Windows 8 operating system. For more information on these types of tablet computers, see our report on laptop computers.

Slates, on the other hand, get rid of the physical keyboard in favor of a virtual touch-screen keyboard. Slates are lighter than convertible tablets, but the touch-screen keyboard can make typing long documents a chore.

Tablet buyers have several decisions to make to find the right tablet for their needs.

Which operating system?

Three operating systems dominate the tablet marketplace:

iOS: The Apple iPad line -- including the new Apple iPad Air 2 (Est. $500 and up) and iPad mini 3 (Est. $300 and up) -- run Apple's iOS operating system, the same one used by the iPhone line. It provides a seamless user experience, albeit one that's less customizable than what's possible under Android or Windows. The iTunes store still offers the largest library of apps, and that advantage is even more pronounced when it comes to apps optimized to run on a tablet's larger (compared to a smartphone) screen.

Android: While the tablet landscape is segmented by operating system, Android tablets are segmented further still. That's because Android is a more open operating system, with manufacturers able to modify it to a great degree to fit their devices and to add (or subtract) features. Google Play still trails Apple's iTunes in terms of the sheer number of available apps, but the gap is small, and except for some specialized apps, it's getting tougher and tougher to find a mainstream or even offbeat app that doesn't come in flavors that run on both Apple and Android devices. However, many Android apps are optimized to look their best on smartphones and smaller tablets. While these apps will mostly work just fine on a larger tablet, they won't look quite as sharp or won't display full screen.

Android comes in lots of different flavors. Android 5.0 (code named Lollipop) is the latest version at the time of this report and reviews say it is the most polished version of the OS to date, with a more intuitive and attractive interface and improved performance. As is the norm with Android, roll out is slow and staged, with only a handful of devices -- including only some just-released tablets -- getting it initially, and with some slated to never receive the update at all. For now, the vast majority of tablets still use Android 4.4, code named KitKat. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as KitKat itself is considered stable and easy to use. Some cheap Android tablets still use Android 4.1, commonly known as Jelly Bean. Google has put together a history of Android page that explains the different versions of Android in more detail.

Very few tablets actually run the "stock" version of Android. Instead, manufacturers will put their own spin on things with different interfaces and functionalities -- though most are relatively minor.

Some manufacturers will take things further -- a lot further, in fact, to the point where the underlying Android operating system is barely recognizable. These "forked" versions of Android are created to give a manufacturer's devices unique features or restrictions not found elsewhere. Many "kids" tablets run a forked version of Android to create a child-safe "walled-garden" to play in, preventing -- in theory -- any exposure to parts of the Internet that parents deem to be undesirable. Amazon's Fire tablets also run a forked version of Android, in this case to create a more seamless user experience, albeit one tied tightly to Amazon's content products. Forked Android tablets can't access Google Play for app downloads. Instead, users must depend on independent App stores set up by the manufacturers.

Windows: Windows tablets also come in multiple versions. Windows RT was developed to run on the lower-powered processors found in Android and Apple slates. They can't run standard Windows applications -- only Windows Store apps -- and the selection pales compared to what's available under Apple or Android, though many Microsoft products, including a version of Office, are offered. Currently, the Microsoft Surface 2 (Est. $450 and up) is the only Windows RT tablet available.

Slates that run the full Windows 8.1 operating system are also available. These run more powerful processors, the Intel Atom or better, and can run Windows Store apps as well as any program that runs under Windows. That makes Windows tablets a good choice where productivity is important -- though any real productivity will also demand budgeting a little extra for an accessory keyboard.

What size tablet?

Slate tablets come in a host of screen sizes, from around 7 inches to more than 20 inches. They can be broken down by size, with those that are roughly 9 inches or more considered large tablets, and those below that considered small. The very largest tablets are intended for use on a coffee table or conference table for collaborative work or play. More commonly, tablets in the 9-to 12-inch range are ideally sized for consuming media, such as high-definition movies, while sitting on a sofa or in an easy chair. Smaller tablets are usually less expensive than their large-screen counterparts and are perfectly sized to be used when held in one hand -- more comfortable for reading in bed, and more practical for strap-hanging commuters.

How we made our recommendations

So which tablet is best for you? To help answer that question, we look at the best available advice from expert reviewers such as CNET, PCMag.com, Laptop Magazine and many more. We then cross-check those reviews with feedback from tablet users. To find the best choices, we rate tablets in important categories including performance, ease of use and features to find the ones most likely to please and to determine which models more often disappoint. The result is our Best Reviewed recommendations, along with some other tablets that are very much worth considering.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Tablets: Looking for the best tablets you can buy? We discuss top performing, premium tablets from Apple, Samsung and more.

Best Cheap Tablets: Low price doesn't have to mean low performance. Editors discuss small tablets that score big.

Best Tablets for Kids: Just because a tablet is child-safe, doesn't mean it needs to be a toy. These kid-friendly tablets will fill the bill for parents and youngsters.

Buying Guide: Not sure what matters when picking out a tablet? Editors spell out the key considerations to steer you in the right direction.

Our Sources: Editors look at reviews from top experts and hundreds of users to weed out the best tablets from the also-rans. These are the sources we relied on to make our picks.

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Dell Inspiron i3147-3750sLV 11.6-Inch 2 in 1 Convertible Touchscreen Laptop
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Apple iPad Mini 2 with WiFi 16GB Space Gray | ME276LL/A
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