In a world full of hybrids, two-in-ones, and convertibles, defining a tablet can be a bit nebulous these days. Because of that, this list comes with a couple of caveats. First is that the thin line we will be drawing is most notable in the categorization of two particular products: the Surface Pro 4, which will not appear in this list and the iPad Pro, which is included. Don’t start crying yet though: the excellent Surface Pro 4 will be found on our forthcoming Best Laptops of 2015.
One other caveat is the new product from Google, the Pixel-C. It’s a great tablet that works as a hybrid productivity device in Android, but hasn’t quite been released yet. It’ll be available at the end of December, but we haven’t gotten our hands on it yet for a full review.
So without further ado, here are the 10 tablets of 2015 that stood out from the pack and delivered the kind of experience that must remember why we liked tablets to begin with:
So you’re looking for an ultra-cheap tablet? Normally, I’d say keep saving your money and spring for something bigger, but this year, a tablet from the new line of Amazon Fire HD devices is actually not a bad option. The 6-inch Fire HD is a bit too close in size to your smartphone to be useful, but the 8-inch and 10-inch are really inexpensive ways of getting a tablet experience (at just $129 and $179 respectively). These are still primarily just content consumption devices though due to the pretty limited Amazon software, so don’t expect to get much work done here.
When it comes to laptops, Lenovo couldn’t be more by-the-books. In the tablet world, it makes some of the most interesting and experimental devices you could imagine. The Yoga Tablet 2 with Windows is an inexpensive way to get in the game with a full version of Windows. The keyboard needs some work, but as a cheap alternative to the Surface, it’s not a bad option for a hybrid machine.
It doesn’t nearly have the reputation of Apple or Samsung, but Sony has a great lineup of tablets this year. The Z4 Tablet is Sony’s sleek 10-inch tablet, which is a strong competitor with the iPad Air 2. It’s lighter than the iPad Air 2 and is every bit as refined in its design and display. What’s more, it’s one of the only tablets on the list that is waterproof, which makes it a great companion in the kitchen. The only real drawback is the price, but it comes in a cheaper “compact” 8-inch size as well.
Despite Apple’s drop in sales of iPads, the company is pushing harder than ever with its tablet line. The eagerly anticipated “big iPad” was rumored for years, but finally was announced and released this year.
At a whopping 12.9-inches, the iPad Pro is a beast of a tablet, but that’s because it’s meant more as a productivity device than the iPad Air, similar to what Microsoft has done with the Surface Pro line of hybrids. It’s quite expensive though—and does not come with Apple Pencil, making it a purchase really only appropriate for people who don’t need the power of an operating system like OSX in their daily lives.
It seems like pretty much ever very tech company is taking a shot at a 2-in-1 hybrid tablet these days. Until the Pixel-C drops though, the go-to hybrid in the Android space is the Dell Venue 10 7000.
With a pricetag of just $399 for the base model, the Dell Venue 10 7000 is a pretty amazing value. On its own it looks a little lopsided, but the 10-inch tablet has a unique magnetic hinge that seamlessly fits into the optional keyboard. It’ll cost you an extra $130, but the keyboard is spacious and responsive—definitely worth the cash.
The first great Samsung tablet was the Tab S, which showed that Samsung was finally serious about making an iPad competitor. The Tab S2 takes everything that was good about that tablet and ups the ante even further with its full metal body and cheaper starting price, the Tab S2 9.7 is a good way to go in a year without an iPad Air update. It comes in both 9.7-inch ($399) and 8.0-inch ($349) form factors.
Tablets under $200 don’t have a great reputation, but there have certainly been exceptions over the years. This year’s big exception is the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet K1, which comes at a mind-blowing $199. Not only does this tablet have the unique selling point of being a gaming tablet that stream directly from your PC using GeForce Now, it’s also a high-quality Android tablet in its own right.
Dell isn’t usually the first company you think of when you think of tablets, but it is doing a great job of changing that. The Dell Venue 8 7000 is a fantastic Android tablet with a really unique bezel-less design, full aluminum body, impressive performance, and a super high-res display. The jaw-dropping design is sometimes more for looks than practicality, but that doesn’t stop this affordable ($299) slab from also being the best Android tablet out there.
I’ve always been a fan of Microsoft’s Surface Pro line, but the lighter Surface products have always struggled to impress and find their sweet spot. This a true hybrid product, but for the purposes of distinguishing between laptops and tablet, the Surface 3 falls into this list and really stands out. It’s impressively powerful to set up and use as a productivity device, as well as a tablet you can just recline and watch videos with.
The iPad mini 3 from 2014 was one of the biggest disappointments in recent Apple memory. The product was essentially the iPad mini 2—same specs, design, and all—except with a new color option and the ability to use Touch ID.
But with the iPad mini 4, Apple gave us the update we all wanted from its 7.9-inch iPad line: a Retina Display, a thinner (and lighter) design, and an updated 64-bit chip. For those looking for a smaller, content consumption tablet, the iPad mini 4 is simply the best one you can buy.