Best Tablet 2015: what’s the best tablet to buy right now?
Discover the best Android, iOS and Windows 8.1 tablets with our buyer's guide and in-depth reviews
Update: Some esctions have been reworded and updated Surface Pro 3 with a review.
Ask yourself the question "what's the best tablet?" and you're most likely to think of Apple's iPads first. It's understandable: Apple effectively created the tablet market with its original iPad back in 2010 and it hasn't looked back since.
However, the water gets somewhat muddied when you bring value and flexibility into the equation. No matter how good Apple and its iPads are, its operating system and premium price tag won't suit everyone.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. But before we jump straight into our chart of the 17 best tablets of 2015, here are a few key points to consider when deciding which tablet is right for you.
Best tablet of 2015: what to look for
Software and operating system
Most tablets sold today run one of the three major mobile operating systems: iOS, Android and Windows 8.1. Android and iOS are the most popular two, with Windows 8.1 trailing behind. However, you'll only find Apple's iOS on iPads.
As a general rule of thumb, if you're familiar with iOS, you'll be able to pick up and use an Android device without too much effort, and vice versa. Both operating systems share a roughy similar layout and mode of operation.
Watch out for Android tablets with heavy customisation, though. Amazon's Kindle Fire range, for instance, not only alters the layout and design, but also places restrictions on the OS' renowned flexibility, replacing the Google apps and Play Store with Amazon's own services and tools.
Users tend to take a little longer to familiarise themselves with Windows 8 tablets with their sideways-scrolling, tile-based layout. That isn't to say it's a bad OS; it simply does things differently. Plus, with a Windows tablet, you get the added bonus of being able to run full desktop software packages such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office, alongside tablet specific apps.
Storage and RAM
Storage and RAM is much easier to understand. Simply put, you want as much of both as you can afford. The more storage you have, the more apps, games, movies and music you can store locally, without having to use up your data allowance when you're on the move. The more RAM you have, the more responsive your device will remain when you've got a lot going on.
It's worth looking for a tablet with a microSD slot, too, since this provides a means of cheaply expanding storage with external memory cards. If you plan on moving apps to your SD card, though, do bear in mind that microSD cards generally aren't as quick as internal storage.
You won't see storage expansion on iPads, however, and some popular Android tablets also neglect to include this feature.
With a tablet's processor, it's once again a case of the faster the better. It's important, however, to recognise that clock speed, which you'll see expressed in GHz on a tablet's specifications sheet, is only a partial indicator of overall performance.
The number of cores a processor has affects its ability to multitask effectively; the way a processor has been manufactured affects its efficiency and, therefore, battery life; and its integrated graphics capabilities dictate how smoothly it will be able to render the latest mobile games.
The most common processors found in tablets today are based on British company ARM's designs. You'll find ARM processors (manufactured by various different companies) in Apple and most Android devices. Windows tablets are invariably powered by Intel chips.
When it comes to a tablet's display, you might think that the more pixels the better, too, but that isn't the case. Here, you need to look at the pixel density.
This is a useful figure, because unlike resolution it gives you an absolute measurement of screen sharpness, independent of screen size. What it doesn't tell you is how sharp a display needs to be at normal viewing distances. This is where Apple's handy Retina definition comes in.
Simply put, a "Retina" display is one where, when held at a "typical viewing distance", the individual pixels are not visible to the human eye.
For example, if you view your tablet screen from a distance of 50cm, a pixel density of only 170ppi is enough (here, an 8in 1,280 x 800 screen). If you'd like your tablet screen to look crisp from 30cm, you'll need a pixel density of 280ppi (here, an 8in 1,920 x 1,080 screen will do).
Since most tablets are sharp enough, we find that brightness, contrast and colour accuracy are better indicators of a panel's quality. We test for these values using a colorimeter and you'll find the results of our findings if you read the reviews linked to below.
All tablets come with at least 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4 connectivity these days; a few will support the new 802.11ac standard, though note that you'll need a matching router to make the most out of it.
Also look out for capabilities such as Miracast, Wi-Di, "beaming" or "throwing". These technologies allow you to display what's on the screen of your tablet on a smart TV over your local wireless network. Apple's equivalent is AirPlay, but iPad owners need an Apple TV to make this work.
A simpler way to connect your tablet to a TV or monitor is HDMI: if a tablet doesn't have an HDMI output (most don't) look out for Slimport or MHL compatibility. These allow you to use a converter cable to display a video signal over USB.
17 best tablets of 2015
Price when reviewed: £399 inc VAT, 16GB Wi-Fi
Apple shaves a little off the thickness of its iPad Air 2, adds Touch ID and a new triple-core A8X processor, setting a new standard in the tablet market.
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: from £319 inc VAT
The iPad Air is now cheaper than ever, yet it's still a highly competent tablet. The 32GB version is an absolute bargain at £359.
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 it just falls short of greatness.
Price: £239 inc VAT, 16GB Wi-Fi
A major upgrade to the original iPad mini, with a top-notch Retina display and fast processor. The result is a superb compact tablet, that's even better value now that the barely different iPad mini 3 has pushed the price down to £239.
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: £100 inc VAT
The age of low-cost Windows tablets is upon us. A potent quad-core Atom processor, 32GB of storage and a good quality 8in IPS screen make for one of the most affordable and competent budget Windows tablets yet.
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: £329
Sony's super-skinny Z3 Tablet Compact is so thin and light we mistook it for a 7in tablet at first. In fact, it has an 8in display, and a top-quality 1,200 x 1,920 resolotion one at that. All-round, this is the best compact Android tablet on the market right now - but it's a a little on the pricey side.
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 podium.
Price: from £639 inc VAT
The Surface Pro 3 represents a confident step towards the best-possible hybrid device. It still isn’t brilliant in every scenario, but it feels considerably less compromised than the previous generations.
Price when reviewed: £200 inc VAT
The first compact Windows 8 tablet we'd seriously consider buying, packing in usable performance and a generous software bundle for a very tempting price.
Price when reviewed: £199 inc VAT
A lovely piece of hardware, but the Nexus 7 is almost as good, boasts more features and is more flexible.
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.
Price when reviewed: £349 inc VAT
Thanks to Intel's new Atom CPU, the Transformer Book T100 delivers full Windows 8.1 in a tiny, affordable package. As a tablet or laptop, this hybrid remains a real bargain.
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.
Price when reviewed: £150 inc VAT
Asus' budget compact is a little more expensive than the Tesco Hudl 2, and the screen is an inch smaller, but in some ways it makes a more sensible choice. It's faster, for a start, but the big advantage is superior battery life. A good alternative as long as you don't mind spending a touch extra.