Best student tablets 2021: top slates for work and play

The best student tablets for going back to school, college or university

Best student tablets 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

As T3's notes in its can students use an iPad instead of a laptop feature, many of the the best tablets on the market today absolutely can be used as a student laptop substitute. That's why we've created our best student tablets buying guide, which caters to every budget and intended usage scenario.

Indeed, today more people than ever before are heading back to school, college or university equipped with a tablet and some well-chosen accessories, and not a traditional laptop. Students are going back to college with one of the best iPads for students, or a top slate running Android or Windows.

That's because the boundary between laptops, 2-in-1 laptops and tablets for students has completely blurred over the past few years, in power, functionality and even, accessories included, appearance and form factor.

And, simply put, when most students are shopping on a budget, why would they not choose a product that can act as both a tablet and laptop? Well, they would if the experience offered by the tablet is compromised or poor in any way, but that is why we created this best student tablets buying guide – we make it easy for students to get the best, compromise-free slates that offer fantastic hybrid laptop/tablet experiences.

We've got Apple iPads, as well as Android and Windows tablets, that we feel are ideal for productivity, creativity (thanks to digital stylus functionality), study and entertainment, too. So let's get stuck in to the best tablets for students available today in 2021.

The best student tablets available to buy today

Best student tablet 2021 Apple iPad AirT3 Best Buy Award badge

The latest Apple iPad Air should be the first tablet any student considers.

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iPad Air (2020)

The best student tablet for most people

Specifications
Weight: 458g
Dimensions: 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm
OS: iPadOS 14
Screen size: 10.9
Resolution: 2360 x 1640
CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB/256GB
Battery: 28.6-watt-hour
Rear camera: 12MP
Front camera: 7MP
Reasons to buy
+Very fast and slick+Magic Keyboard is good for typing+Detailed screen+Stylish and light+Apple Pencil 2 support
Reasons to avoid
-Mediocre cameras-No 120Hz or OLED screen-Screen only medium brightness

Our number one tablet recommendation for students is the latest Apple iPad Air, which as we make clear in our iPad Air (2020) vs iPad Pro (2020) comparison feature, delivers a fantastic tablet experience which, when partnered with Apple's Magic Keyboard, a really strong laptop experience, too.

Another reason we recommend the Apple iPad Air to students is that it comes with Apple Pencil 2 support, which makes it a perfect companion to any learner who needs serious illustrating capabilities. From drawing and digital painting, to 3D model work, annotating and note taking, with the Apple iPad Air in your college bag you're covered.

As you would expect from a tablet that calls itself "Air", this tablet is also incredibly light and portable, meaning that it's no problem at all to lug around between classes and seminars. Setting it up also takes a matter of seconds and, thanks to a strong all-day battery life, students don't have to concern themselves with carrying around a power supply either. It's a super convenient hybrid.

In terms of out-and-out power, you get much stronger specs and hardware than the standard iPad, but not quite the full works that you get on the iPad Pro. And if you're a student that needs serious computational power for rendering, say, then this isn't the best choice, but for everything else it's the 'just right' product that we feel will be ideal for most students on the market in 2021.

Price-wise this choice isn't the cheapest, as we're recommending this definitely with the Magic Keyboard accessory (and ideally an Apple Pencil, too), and that needs to be factored in to the cost, but included we feel it is still affordable to most students.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 best student tablets 2021T3 Approved badge

The premium Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) is the best student tablet in the world if money is no object.

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)

The best premium student tablet

Specifications
Weight: 682g
Dimensions: 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4 mm
OS: iPadOS 14.4
Screen size: 12.9
Resolution: 2048 x 2732 pixels
CPU: Apple A12Z Bionic
GPU: Apple GPU (8-core graphics)
Storage: 1TB or 64/256/512GB
Battery: 9720 mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 10MP + TOF
Front camera: 7MP
Reasons to buy
+Unbelievably powerful and slick+Great battery life+The best tablet screen ever+Strong typing experience on Magic Keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-No change in typical brightness-iPadOS can be limiting-Face ID is awkward at times

As we noted in our full iPad Pro (2021) 12.9-inch review, this is just Apple showing off. That's because the package that the new Apple iPad Pro delivers is, simply put, orders of magnitude greater than any other tablet on the market today. Seriously, nothing even gets close and if you're a student looking for a powerful tablet that can also act as a powerful laptop at college or university, and money isn't a consideration, then you simply should go buy the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021).

Highlights on this premium student tablet include a new mini-LED screen which is the best panel on any tablet, ever. The slate's M1 processor that is mind-blowingly fast and leaves many laptop processors dead and buried in terms of benchmarks. A stunning Magic Keyboard accessory that makes typing, even at length, a pleasurable experience. And on-board RAM and storage (up to 16GB and 2TB! respectively) that take on and best many laptops, too.

There's also a 12MP wide camera and 10MP ultra-wide installed, 2x optical and 5x digital zoom, panoramas up to 63MP and 4K video recording with five studio-quality microphones. So, without shadow of a doubt, with the iPad Pro you're covered for any virtual seminars, classes or lectures while studying, and you're even covered if you need to record professional video for coursework, too.

Seriously, we can't think of any student course where you'd need more portable computing power, from engineering to the sciences and on to mathematics. While that 12.9-inch mini-LED screen in partnership with an Apple Pencil is the top-shelf creative option for illustrators on the market, too. You're literally getting a system here that combines the very best of both the tablet and laptop market together.

Of course, the big caveat to an instant purchase is the price attached the Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch is its price, which is very high before you factor in purchasing extras like a Magic Keyboard and digital stylus. If you can afford it, though, then it's by far the best tablet for students.

iPad 10.2 best tablets 2021 best student tabletsT3 Approved badge

The best student tablet in terms of value for money? That's the 10.2-inch iPad.

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iPad 10.2 (2020)

The best budget student tablet

Specifications
Weight: 495g
Dimensions: 250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5 mm
OS: iPadOS 14
Screen size: 10.2 inches
Resolution: 1620 x 2160 pixels
CPU: Apple A12 Bionic
RAM: 3GB
Storage: 32GB/128GB
Battery: 8827 mAh
Rear camera: 8MP f/2.4
Front camera: 1.2MP f/2.2
Reasons to buy
+It's the best value iPad+Apple Pencil support+Keyboard support
Reasons to avoid
-Small internal storage-Light computing only-Beaten by iPad Air and Pro

Completing a top three clean sweep for Apple in terms of student tablets is the latest  10.2-inch iPad. And there's very good reason for this, too, as despite the core hardware spec of this slate being beaten comfortably by Apple's other slates, it comes with support for both a keyboard cover accessory and Apple Pencil. As such, with both these accessories bagged you've got a system that can be used easily for typing and illustrating or note taking – ideal for the student life at college or university.

These traits make it a great fit for students who are looking for a lightweight computing system (we're talking about reading texts and papers, taking notes, writing emails and essays, and doodling up new designs), but due to the limited hardware power not a great fit for anyone who needs more.

For example, we wouldn't ideally want to write a 50,000 word dissertation on the Apple iPad, and you simply can't do any sort of remotely heavy duty photo or video editing, either. If you're a design student, for example, and need a system that can handle editing huge files or process raw video footage, then you're simply not catered for here.

If you're a student on a course where the vast majority of work is document and text  book based, though, then you've got a hybrid system him that can handle it during work time and then transition seamlessly into an entertainment device in the evening for streaming Netflix, checking social media and browsing the internet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 best student tablets 2021T3 Approved badge

Want an Android slate at college or university? Then the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is a great choice.

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

The best Android student tablet for most people

Specifications
Weight: 420g
Dimensions: 244.5 x 159.5 x 5.7 mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 10.5
Resolution: 1600 x 2560 pixels
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
RAM: 6GB/8GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Battery: 7040 mAh
Rear camera: 13MP f/2.0 + 5MP f/2.2
Front camera: 8MP f/2.0
Reasons to buy
+Streamlined, minimal design+Screen is fantastic, as usual+Comes with the impressive S Pen
Reasons to avoid
-Productivity just isn’t as good as iPad-No headphone jack-Some odd One UI foibles

There's no escaping the fact that Apple has the tablet (and student tablet) market sewn up, but if you're an Android users and would prefer to shop from the wide-array of (typically cheaper) Android slates on the market then here at T3 we recommend Samsung as a brand to consider before any other.

Of Samsung's range of Android tablets we feel the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the best choice for most students, as it delivers plenty of power without demanding a big pay packet. It's also really stylish in our opinion and, crucially for our recommendation, comes with an S Pen digital stylus included in the box. That's a huge bonus and makes this a much cheaper option for students.

The official Samsung keyboard cover for the Galaxy Tab S6 is also much cheaper than Apple's Magic Keyboard, meaning you can bag up a complete tablet with light laptop computing experience for, compared to the Apple iPad Air, for example, which this slate is very much a direct rival to, for noticeably less spend.

There's decent cameras onboard, too, capable of 4K video recording, and naturally as an Android tablet you have complete access to the Google Play app store, so you're 100 per cent covered for applications and games. The 10.5-inch, 1600 x 2560-pixel screen is obviously smaller than most laptops deliver but it's crisp and bright and, crucially for study, has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is better for reading texts and writing essays.

You can also bag the Galaxy Tab S6 in both a Wi-Fi only and 4G LTE variant, meaning that if desired you can load it with a mobile data connection for true all-places study. We'd say most students will probably be OK with the Wi-Fi only model, though, as almost all schools, colleges and universities have their own student Wi-Fi networks now.

Overall, then, a great student tablet that also can easily deliver a strong light computing laptop experience, too.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 best student tablet 2021T3 Approved badge

The best student tablet running Windows 10 is the Microsoft Surface Go 2.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

5. Microsoft Surface Go 2

The best student tablet running Windows 10

Specifications
Weight: 1.15 pounds
Dimensions: 245 x 175 x 8.3mm
OS: Windows 10
Screen size: 10-inch
Resolution: 1,800 x 1,200
CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Pentium Gold
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB
Battery: Unknown
Rear camera: 8MP
Front camera: 5MP
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant ergonomics+Fantastic pen and keyboard +Can run full fat Windows 10 
Reasons to avoid
-Not as slick app experience compared to rivals-Keyboard is good but not great

To make your student tablet experience super close to that of a laptop's, in that it is actually running Windows 10, then a student should consider the Microsoft Surface Go 2. This system blends tablet and laptop together for a Windows user in a really neat way, delivering a super portable and light system that leans towards the latter rather than the former.

Indeed, while the iPad and Android tablets above lean toward tablets first and laptops second, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 arguably leans slightly more towards been a laptop first and tablet second. That doesn't so much come from its hardware, which doesn't really match that of many full-blown laptops, but more from the fact that it runs Windows 10 Home in S mode out of the box (a lighter, streamlined version of Windows 10) and can, if the user so desires, be installed with a full fat version of Windows 10.

Students that are comfortable with working in Windows 10 will therefore likely find this a very comfortable fit to study on. You've got access to the Microsoft Store for apps in S Mode, too, so you've got access to both productivity and entertainment software, while you've obviously also go the option to buy a Microsoft Surface Pen digital stylus and Surface Go Type Cover. With these accessories bought the Microsoft Surface Go 2 delivers a very capable student tablet/laptop hybrid experience.

Caveats to a purchase include the solid but unspectacular core internal hardware, which while is great for tablet use and light computing tasks, limits the system in terms of more resource-intensive computing such as 8K video editing.

How to choose the best student tablet for you

When deciding which student tablet is right for you we feel you have to ask yourself two key things: firstly, do you want a tablet first and laptop second or a laptop first and tablet second, and then once that is decided, what are your actual needs in terms of computing performance?

Many students prove their knowledge and progress on their course by reading literature and then writing essays about them, and for that level of computing any tablet with keyboard accessory is likely adequate. However, as soon as you start to need more serious computing out of a tablet, such as for image of video editing, rendering, number crunching or processing, then many tablets just won't cut it.

And then, if you're a student on a creative course at college and you need to be able to product digital art, illustrations, 3D models or annotated schematics, you need a tablet with a good touchscreen and digital stylus, as trust us when we say this, not all screens and styli are made equal. The last thing you want is a horrible delay on your actions, but that's what you can end up with if you're not careful.

As such, be sure to enter in to a tablet purchase with your eyes open to your needs, as well as just what performance the slate (especially in a laptop mode) and its accessories offer.

Robert Jones
Robert Jones

Deputy Editor for T3.com, Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology and more for over 15 years. You can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket two favourites. Feel free to contact him with any related products, events, and announcements.