The Best Android Tablets for 2021

What’s the Best Android Tablet?

The biggest strength of Google’s Android OS is its flexibility. Android lets manufacturers build useful tablets at prices ranging from $50 to $1,000, fitting a broader range of niches and tastes than the Apple iPad, which has dominated the tablet market since it first came out.

In 2021, most Android tablet options cluster at the lower end, an endless array of no-name, plasticky sub-$100 slates sold at your local CVS or through mysterious “fulfilled by Amazon” drop-shippers. Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and Samsung used to deliver solid iPad competitors for folks who prefer Google services, but they’ve all slowed down their tablet production. The Galaxy Tab S7+ is the main exception, but Samsung’s One UI still lags behind iPadOS when it comes to productivity and user experience.

Android seems to have lost the fight with the iPad and Windows tablets at the top of its range, but its strengths at smaller sizes and lower price points are hard to beat. Android tablets also sometimes show up with interesting and unusual features, such as the Onyx Boox Note Air’s large E Ink screen.

Walmart's onn. 8-inch tablet displayed in landscape mode

The onn. 8-inch tablet is a serviceable, low-cost Android option.

Start With Software

Android tablet manufacturers don’t tend to keep their software up to date. The most recent version of Android is Android 11, and most tablets are still on an older iteration. Try to find a tablet running Android 10 or higher.

Large companies such as Amazon and Samsung like to put their own spin on Google’s OS, adding a bevy of features, new app stores, and completely revamped user interfaces. It’s not for everyone, but those who are familiar with Amazon’s Fire OS or Samsung’s One UI should give the latest devices from each company a try. And if you’re already heavily invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, you might want to stick with one of the latest Fire tablets.

Even if you don’t have the most recent OS iteration, Android continues to be the most configurable tablet operating system you’ll find. It’s a master multitasker, with an excellent notification system and top-notch integration with Google services like Gmail, Meet, and Google Maps. Android is home to plenty of great apps, but there still aren’t as many tablet-specific options as you’ll find for the iPad.

Should You Buy a Cellular or Wi-Fi Tablet?

All of the major carriers sell cellular-enabled tablets. You can add them to a monthly family plan or pay for data by the day. T-Mobile tablets are unlocked; AT&T and Verizon tablets are locked by default, but Verizon will unlock tablets 60 days after purchase, provided they’re paid off.

Person holding Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet in landscape mode.

Amazon’s Fire HD 10 tablet is great for media streaming.

Cellular tablets are great for people who require a data connection everywhere they go, but most people will do just fine with a Wi-Fi tablet. Most carriers allow you to use your phone as a hotspot for those times when you’re not close to Wi-Fi. Of course, hotspotting will quickly burn through your battery, but that’s where power banks come in. You’ll want to check out your plan before making any decisions, though, because carriers limit the amount of LTE data that can be used with a mobile hotspot.

Don’t Forget About Design

Performance on even the least expensive devices tends to be passable these days, so pay extra attention to design and display quality. The software experience might improve over time, but that chintzy plastic body isn’t getting any upgrades.

Low-cost tablets also tend to have dull, 1,024-by-600 or 1,280-by-800 screens that can look grainy to eyes used to even midrange smartphones. Higher-quality tablets are often in the 2,048-by-1,536 range, which is notably sharper.

Alcatel Joy Tab 2

The Alcatel Joy Tab 2 has a beautiful clear screen.

There are plenty of bargain bin options out there promising the same Android experience as big names. Many of these off-label tabs are perfectly serviceable, but we recommend choosing a brand you can count on for software support and hardware quality control. For more, see our favorite budget-friendly models.  

Check out the selection here for the best Android tablets we’ve tested. If you’re looking for a great phone to complement your new tablet, head over to our best Android phones roundup. Or if you want to look beyond the realm of Android, check out our roundups of the best tablets for our favorite iOS options.