With so many tablets on the market, it can be hard to pick out a new business slate. But whether you want a small, affordable tablet for checking email; a powerhouse tablet that can double as a desktop computer; or something in between, there's something for you. Before you buy, read on for five important factors to consider.
How are you going to use it?
Email and apps: If your idea of a work tablet is something that can let you check email on the go and run simple productivity apps like Evernote, then just about any tablet will suit your needs. Your choice really boils down to which operating system you like, and how much you're willing to spend for a sharp screen and fast performance.
Typing: You can buy a Bluetooth keyboard that will work with just about any tablet, but some slates come with a keyboard. For example, the Asus Transformer Book T200 is a solid Windows tablet with good performance and a detachable keyboard. Other slates, like Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3, are compatible with keyboards made especially for those models.
Taking notes: A stylus can help you take notes and draw diagrams right on your tablet's screen. While it's true that you can buy a capacitive stylus for just about any tablet, some slates are better suited for the task than others. For starters, a few models, such as those in Microsoft's Surface line and Samsung's Galaxy Note line, come with a stylus. More important, those tablets feature pressure-sensitive displays that make writing on a digital screen feel more accurate and natural.
Replace your desktop: If you're tired of juggling so many gadgets, then you might want to invest in a premium tablet that can also stand in as a desktop computer. A Windows tablet with a powerful processor and compatibility with a desktop dock is your best bet. A dock will let you easily connect accessories such as a large monitor and mouse.
7 inches: If you want a tablet that slides easily into your bag — or maybe even your pocket — then a compact 7-inch tablet is worth a look. But while a 7-inch tablet is portable, it doesn't give you much screen space to work on.
8 to 9 inches: Tablets in this size range give you a bit more room to breathe. They're pricier and heavier, but the bigger screens strike a better balance between portability and productivity than smaller slates.
10+ inches: For serious productivity, you'll want a slate with a display that measures 10 inches or more. That's the minimum amount of space you'll want for screen-intensive tasks like editing spreadsheets.
Which operating system?
iOS: Apple's iPad runs on iOS, which has some definite perks for business users, despite some drawbacks. Perhaps its biggest advantage is its huge selection of tablet applications. While Android has nearly as many apps in total, iOS has more that have been optimized to take advantage of larger displays. Tablet-optimized apps will often feature extra panels and easier access to menu items than their smartphone counterparts.
The iOS platform is known for its great security. Much of that advantage comes from the locked-down nature of the platform; you can't install applications from outside sources, and apps inside the App Store are rigorously screened. Plus, newer iOS devices are compatible with Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which lets you unlock your tablet by holding your finger over the home button. Make sure you choose an iPad that includes Touch ID if you're interested in the feature.
There are also many new productivity-boosting features in iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile OS. For starters, there's the revamped Notification Center, which lets you install widgets inside the new Today panel. Widgets are like miniature apps that update in real time, letting you view your upcoming schedule, the weather, stock updates and more at a glance, in one convenient location. Another useful new feature, called Handoff, lets you pair your iPad and iPhone, and then quickly switch between devices while composing a new document or email.
Android: Android is an open platform, which means that hardware manufacturers are free to put their own spin on it when they release their devices. That means your Android experience will vary widely depending on which tablet you choose.
First, there are pure Android options, like the Nexus 9, which run on a stock version of Google's OS. This is your best bet if you want an Android tablet that's free from useless software that can't be uninstalled, and if you're interested in getting upcoming software updates as soon as possible.
Tablet makers like Samsung release tablets with a slightly modified version of Android that includes extra features. For example, Samsung's Multi Window multitasking feature lets you run two applications on-screen at the same time. Tablets in the Samsung Galaxy Note series also include handy note-taking software, if you're interested in writing on your tablet's screen with a stylus.
Finally, Amazon's tablets run on Fire OS, a heavily modified version of Android with an easy-to-use interface and features like Mayday, which gives you 24/7 live video tech support right on your tablet's screen. The biggest downside of Fire OS is that it can't access the Google Play store, so you can't download Google apps such as Gmail or Google Calendar.
If you use common sense, Google's platform is reasonably secure. Don't download applications from unknown sources, and consider installing an antivirus app that scans new files for malware. Some Android tablets also include a fingerprint scanner, so check for that feature if you want it.
Windows 8.1: The biggest advantage to choosing a Windows tablet is that you probably already use a Windows computer at your business. That means that all of the desktop applications you use at work will also run on your mobile device. Although you can probably find good alternatives to most of your favorite programs on Android and iOS, Microsoft's platform might be your only real option if you depend on a specific piece of Windows software.
That doesn't mean there's not a learning curve to using Windows on a tablet. After all, the desktop environment was designed to be used with a mouse, not a touch screen. That's why the Start screen in Windows 8.1 lets you launch touch-optimized apps, which feature bigger buttons and swipe-based navigation. Unfortunately, its library of roughly 300,000 apps is a bit limited compared to the selection for other mobile platforms. Notably absent are Google apps like Gmail, Maps and Drive.
The Windows environment can be pretty secure, but it requires more security maintenance than Android or iOS. If you pick up a Windows slate, make sure to install a good antivirus program, just as you would on a desktop PC.
What about specs?
Processor: Your tablet's processor is responsible for its overall speed and performance. So how much power is enough? It really depends on your needs. But if you need speed, the Snapdragon 805 chip is the current top-of-the-line processor for Android tablets, delivering superfast performance in tablets like Amazon's Fire HDX 8.9. Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip (in the Nexus 9) and Intel's Bay Trail chips (in the Asus MeMo Pad 7) are also good options.
If you want good performance, you can't go wrong with Apple tablets. The iPad Air 2 packs a punch with the powerful new A8X chip, while the original iPad Air, as well as the iPad mini 2 and 3, are plenty speedy with last year's A7 chip.
Finally, Intel's Bay Trail processor is a good option if you want a snappy Windows tablet. For desktop-class performance, you can opt for a more premium tablet like the Surface Pro 3, which comes with an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 chip.
RAM: Your tablet's RAM determines how responsive it is when loading apps or switching between tasks — so the more, the better. For a serious business tablet, we recommend at least 2GB of RAM, especially for a Windows slate. Real workhorse tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, actually come with 3GB. Never settle for less than 1GB of RAM.
Storage: This is the amount of space you have on your tablet to store documents, photos, videos and other files. It also influences how many apps you can have installed on your device. We suggest you look for a minimum of 16GB of storage, though 32GB will give you a lot more breathing room, especially if you want to store large work files on your tablet. Some Android and Windows tablets also come with a microSD card slot, which lets you add extra storage.
Battery life: Long battery life is especially important for business users who depend on their tablet to last through the end of the workday. In our battery tests, which involve continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi, the average tablet lasts for about 8 hours and 40 minutes. Check out our list of the longest-lasting slates if you want a device with serious staying power.
How much do you want to spend?
Note: Tablet prices are constantly shifting. Check around online and you can probably find many of these items at lower prices than listed here.
Less than $100: Budget-minded business users might be tempted to grab the cheapest tablet they can find, but I wouldn't recommend it. Very few tablets costing less than $100 are worth a look, even for the most dedicated bargain hunter. Expect small screens, weak performance and outdated software from tablets in this price range. Serious cheapskates might be able to get away with the Amazon Fire HD 6, which costs just $99 and earned 4 out of 5 stars in our full review for being such a good value — but remember that it's held back by a tiny 6-inch screen and a limited app library.
$100 to $200: There are plenty of solid tablets in this price range for business users who want a device for checking email and running basic aps, but don't expect keyboard add-ons or big displays for less than $200. Most models in this price range are Android tablets with 7- or 8-inch screens. One of the best is the $149 Asus MeMo Pad 7, which delivers zippy performance, a sharp 7-inch display and 16GB of onboard storage. And for $199, you can get the Dell Venue 8, another Android tablet with a larger 8-inch display and a microSD card slot so you can expand the storage later on.
$200 to $300: If you want a tablet that can run desktop Windows programs like the full version of Microsoft Office, this is the minimum price range to shoot for. The Toshiba Encore 2 is a decent Windows 8.1 slate for $249, with a slim design, 10-inch display and a one-year subscription to Office 365 included. Meanwhile, the original iPad mini (first released in 2012) can be had for $249. It's a pretty good value for anyone who wants to take advantage of the huge selection of tablet-optimized productivity apps on iOS.
$300 to $400: You can get a premium work slate if you're willing to pay more than $300. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 ($399) has a supersharp display, a fingerprint scanner for extra security, and great productivity features, like dual-window multitasking. And the original iPad Air ($399) has the best fingerprint scanner on any tablet and a thin, gorgeous design. But the best overall business tablet in this price range might be the Asus Transformer Book T100 ($399), which runs on Windows 8.1 and comes with a keyboard dock.
$400-500: Here's where work tablets start to get really fancy. The Asus Transformer Book T200 ($459) is a great choice, with a bigger display and a better keyboard dock than the T100. Or, you can get the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 ($499), which has all the perks of other Galaxy tablets, plus an included stylus that's great for taking notes and drawing diagrams. Another great option is the Apple iPad Air 2 ($499), which might be the most well-rounded tablet on the market.
More than $500: For more than $500, you can get a slate that doubles as a solid desktop computer. The 2014 edition of Dell's Venue 11 Pro ($529), for example, is a Windows tablet with a big screen and plenty of power. But Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 ($799) is my pick for the best business tablet of the year, with an unmatched combination of great software, sleek and functional hardware, and excellent accessories. Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 ($599) is also an excellent choice, with a huge screen and enhanced multitasking that lets you run four windows on-screen at the same time.