Best Android tablets of 2015
Find the perfect Android tablet with our buying guide and in-depth reviews (nope, there's not an iPad in sight)
Got your heart set on a shiny new Android tablet? Not sure which one to buy? Then you're in the right place. To help you spend your hard-earned cash we’ve put together a buying guide to run you through the features and buzzwords you need to know about, followed by a regularly updated list of the best tablets we've reviewed to date. Read on, and discover everything you need to know before reaching for the credit card. See also: what's the best tablet 2015?
Best Android tablets of 2015: how much to spend?
The first thing to think about is how much you want to spend. With basic but capable compact tablets such as the Tesco Hudl 2 and Asus Memo Pad 7 ME176CX costing little more than £120, it’s possible to pick up a quality Android tablet without spending the earth. These types of tablets are more than good enough for surfing the web, playing games and watching movies.
Spend a little more, however, and you’ll be able to afford tablets with faster processors for nippier performance and smoother gaming, as well as models with the latest in high-resolution ‘Retina’ style screens which improve the clarity and sharpness of onscreen images. Usually, the plasticky exteriors of cheaper devices make way for metal and more stylish designs as the prices rise, and you’ll begin to see features such as high-speed 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, 4G connectivity, high-quality cameras and some models even add styluses for scribbling notes or drawing on your tablet’s screen.
Best Android tablets of 2015: bigger is better?
Once you’ve decided how much you have to spend, it’s worth thinking about what size of tablet you want. Do you want a lightweight compact tablet you can sling in a bag? A full-sized tablet that’s perfect for watching movies on a transatlantic flight? Or do you fancy one of the new breed of ‘professional’ tablets with huge 12in screens? Whatever takes your fancy, shopping for an Android tablet means that there are lots of different products and therefore sizes to choose from. As a general rule, though, bear in mind that compact tablets with 7in or 8in screens tend to be cheaper than the larger models.
Best Android tablets of 2015: pixels and screen quality
A good quality screen can make all the difference to a tablet. While cheaper tablets make do with lower resolution and lower quality screens, the best models on the market employ super-sharp displays with millions of pixels and highly accurate colour reproduction – spend more, and you’ll get a display which is good enough to do even the finest photographs justice.
In truth, the best budget tablets do a surprisingly good job these days, and pretty much every Android tablet worth its salt uses IPS screen technology. That guarantees bright colours, and images that don’t wash out or change in colour as you view them from an angle. The best panels, however, pack in more pixels and use IPS panels which are brighter, offer better contrast (i.e. more detail from the darkest shadow to the brightest highlight) and that are capable or showing a much wider range of colours. We quote all these figures in every review, so you can compare image quality easily between different models.
Best Android tablets of 2015: durability
If you‘re worried about breaking your tablet, or you have a history of accidentally destroying your favourite gadgets, you should seek out a device that offers some added durability.
Screen protection is the first thing to think about, and Corning Gorilla Glass is one of the most well-known out there - it has a deservedly good reputation as a tough, shatter-resistant screen material. Some manufacturers employ their own, unbranded shatterproof glass, and others make a big deal of using screens with an oleophobic coating, which is more resistant to the oily smudges which your fingers leave on the display.
It’s worth noting that some high-end tablets are beginning to offer dust and water resistance. If you take your tablet everywhere, then tablets such as Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet will shrug off a soaking which would destroy a standard tablet.
Best Android tablets of 2015: Storage and RAM
Android tablets come with differing amounts of internal storage. The more GBs of storage a tablet has, the more photos, videos and music files it can store.
Note that you don’t necessarily have to shell out on a tablet with loads of internal storage - a lot of tablets come with expandable storage in the form of a microSD slot. This enables you to buy multiple external microSD cards, then insert them into your device and boost its storage capability, which is a cheap, easy way to store gigabytes of movies and music without filling up your device’s internal storage. The only drawback is that the read/write performance from a microSD card isn’t as efficient as the internal storage, so you will sometimes need to be patient when copying files to and fro, but it’s really not an issue in everyday use.
Some tablets, however, don’t come with a microSD slot, and in this instance we’d recommend shelling out on a model with the most internal storage you can afford. It might be tempting to save cash by opting for the cheaper 16GB model, for instance, but you’ll regret it in the long run if you run out of space for games and movies.
RAM is different in that it’s more entwined with a device’s real time performance. Generally, though, the more of it you have, the smoother experience you can expect. Lower-end devices tend to make do with 1GB of RAM, and this can manifest itself as laggy performance on image-heavy webpages or stutters and lag when loading the latest games. Mid- and high-end tablets now tend to use 2GB RAM as a bare minimum, and some high-end tablets are now beginning to use 3GB.
Sussing out if the processor in an Android tablet is good is a little trickier than simply counting the numbers, but it’s still a pretty good place to start. Today’s Android tablets are likely to use either dual-, quad- or octa-core processors, and these cores operate at anything up to and beyond 2GHz. Processors are spilt into cores in order to multitask better, so a general rule of thumb is that the more cores a processor has the more tasks it can handle at once. However this isn’t a completely reliable indicator of performance, as different processors run at different clockspeeds and are designed with very different architectures. In truth, the only way to test a tablet’s performance is to benchmark it, and that’s why we run the same selection of browser, CPU and graphics benchmarks on every tablet we test. Click through to the individual reviews and you can see how the different Android tablets compare when they’re put to the test.
Best Android tablets of 2015: connectivity and features
Connectivity and features are also important things to think about. Budget models will typically make do with the bare minimum, often only providing single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and poor-quality cameras. Up your budget and you’ll find tablets that are equipped with good quality front and rear cameras, super-fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 4G networking, NFC and infra-red emitters for controlling TVs and set-top boxes. Some premium tablets such as Samsung’s Note family also include pressure-sensitive pens for sketching and writing.
Thankfully, though, most tablets make it easy to play movies, videos or music through your TV – some use SlimPort or MHL connectivity to send videos to your TV through third-party cables which connect to a tablet’s microUSB port, while others use wireless streaming technology such as MiraCast to beam video to compatible TVs and set-top boxes. It’s worth checking which features your favoured tablet has before making the plunge, though – if you have a smart TV with MiraCast support, for example, it makes sense to buy a tablet which supports the same standard!
If there’s anything we haven’t covered, then let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page. We’ll be updating the chart regularly to include the best Android tablets we review, and we’ll be adding to this buyer’s guide to keep you up to date as and when new features and technologies hit the market.
Price when reviewed: £129 inc VAT
Tesco’s budget wonder takes a huge step forward from last year's model, with an attractive new design and a larger, brighter, higher-resolution 8.3in screen. Pound for pound, it's among the best tablet deals around.
See also: how to root Android.
Price: from £319 inc VAT
The much-hyped Nexus 9 is a fast, featuring Google's latest Anroid update, and it has a bright, super-high resolution display, but a few niggles here and there fall it short of perfection.
Price when reviewed: £120 inc VAT
The same price as a Tesco Hudl, but slimmer, lighter and much faster: this compact tablet is an outright bargain.
Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT
An extraordinary compact tablet that improves on the original in almost every way, once again showing rivals how it's done.
Price when reviewed: £399 inc VAT
An excellent display and superb battery life make Sony's tablet the best of the Android bunch.
Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT
Stupendously good hardware, but lags narrowly behind the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet as our Android tablet of choice.
Price when reviewed: £319 inc VAT
A great, if pricey, compact tablet, with a top-quality screen, fast performance and superb battery life. There’s no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is an excellent Android tablet, but there are too many little niggles to secure a place on the top steps of the podium.
Price: £149 inc VAT
A lovely piece of hardware, but the Nexus 7 is almost as good, boasts more features and is more flexible. The recent price drops make it all the more appealing, however.
Price when reviewed: £329 inc VAT
The Amazon Kindle Fire started life as a smaller cheaper alternative to the iPad, but with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in, it's now a serious rival.