We’ve seen a long lineup of new tablets this year at sizes big, regular, and small. But the everyday things we use tablets for — watching movies, playing games, browsing the web, checking email, and getting some light work done — still haven’t changed much in 2015. And the key things we look for when buying are also the same; a tablet should have a screen you can get lost in for hours; it should be fast and powerful, have a huge selection of apps, and the battery should last all day and beyond. And though we often leave them at home, it’s important that tablets are portable when we need them to be, a requirement that’s disqualified some particularly massive contenders this year.
More and more, we’re seeing devices that try to bridge the gap between a laptop and tablet. But despite everyone’s best efforts, those hybrid devices don’t quite replace PCs and don’t feel great when you want to do “tablet stuff.” Tablets still work best when they focus on leisure and entertainment. They’re still that middle thing between your smartphone and computer, and the best ones embrace that position. They put amazing technology into something that’s simple and genuinely fun to use — and they do it without costing too much money. That’s where our top choice excels.
When you look at all of those things, Apple’s iPad Air 2 still stands alone as the best tablet for most people. It’s starting to age a bit, but checks all the boxes better than any other product on the market. From a hardware perspective, nothing else has bested Apple’s design. The aluminum-and-glass build remains second to none, the display is a joy to stare at, and the Air 2 offers the performance and longevity needed to run today’s best apps and games for more than a full day.
It’s also got the most apps and games compared to other tablets. The App Store contains hundreds of thousands of apps designed for the iPad’s screen and for holding in your hand. And the iPad’s iOS software remains easy to understand for newcomers, while new features like split-screen multitasking have made it a more powerful productivity tool. Anyone can pick up an iPad and feel comfortable within seconds, but it’s also starting to build in features that are truly useful for power users.
You can buy it with Wi-Fi alone or with LTE built in, which could be important if you’re on the road often. But the 64GB Wi-Fi model should be plenty for nearly anyone. And since it’s been around so long, it’s not hard to find a good deal that’s cheaper than buying from Apple directly. Plus, you’ve got an endless array of covers, keyboard cases, and other accessories to pick from, all of which can help make the iPad feel more yours. The iPad’s 9.7-inch screen is the best choice for videos, ebooks, apps, and games, but if you need something that’s easier to toss in a bag or carry on the train, our runner-up is the right pick.
The iPad mini 4 is essentially a shrunken-down iPad Air 2. It’s nearly as powerful with a screen that’s just as vivid and sharp — only smaller at 7.9 inches. With that miniature size comes a noticeably lighter weight; the mini 4 is far more comfortable to hold for reading than Apple’s full-size counterpart. You’ll barely feel it in your bag. The iPad mini 4 runs all the same apps, and performance is lightning fast, so you’re not really compromising anywhere in the decision to go small. It’s a perfect way to check Facebook or tackle your inbox, and there are thousands of games to help make your commute go a little faster. And the battery, while not quite as long-lasting as the iPad Air 2’s, will power you through a cross-country flight without issue.
There are a ton of accessories, too, though older iPad mini cases are unlikely to fit the new model. But you should definitely get the iPad mini 4 over the iPad mini 2 that Apple’s also still selling, which can feel a little slow in comparison — with a screen that’s not as nice. And there’s nothing more important on a tablet than its display. This one isn’t quite as immersive as what you get with the Air 2, but the gains in portability could make that a worthwhile trade-off for many people.