More Portable Than a Laptop
Although the tablet PC has long been a dream, it’s only in the last few years that it’s become a reality. Thanks to the popularity of Android and iOS Tablets, the advent of the Windows 8 and Windows 10 operating systems, and manufacturers’ ability to fit more powerful hardware into ever slimmer and lighter devices, it’s now possible to hold in your hand a tablet that can do almost everything your laptop does—and, in most cases, is even more portable.
Just as with any system, however, a Windows tablet requires you to make choices. How big and powerful do you want (or need) it to be? What sort of features are you looking for? And do you care about using it when you’re out and about, or will you only need it while you’re around a Wi-Fi connection? We’ll help you answer all these questions and more, and tell you which of the many Windows tablets on the market are our favorites.
Just as laptops come in different sizes and are built for different users, tablets fall into a few categories. There are inexpensive 8-inch models, designed to let you browse the Web and enjoy streaming a movie from Netflix or Amazon Prime, but because these budget-friendly devices usually rely on low-power processors and minimal storage, you’re better off getting one as a second or third device to serve alongside your laptop or smartphone. Then there are larger 10- to 12-inch models that come with a stylus or a docking keyboard, like the Microsoft Surface Pro. These give you a better way to take notes in class or type up an email or a term paper, and generally provide a well-rounded Windows experience. Finally, there are premium and business systems, designed as productivity tools rather than media consumption devices.
Tablets run the gamut from low-power entertainment devices to potent tools for productivity. A lot of this comes down to the processor. Intel’s Atom processors, which are built for low power usage and passive cooling, are perfect for inexpensive tablets. They don’t require built-in cooling fans, and they offer usable performance that lasts for hours on a single charge. They lack the processing oomph you might want for applications like Photoshop, but they are ideal if you want to check Facebook and Twitter, then kick back with some YouTube videos.
At the other end of the spectrum are Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, similar to the kind you’d expect to find in a full-fledged laptop. While these CPUs draw more power and require more cooling hardware, they offer a much higher level of capability, letting you get real work done. Tablets equipped with these processors are priced more like laptops, but you get performance to match the increased cost. Settling in between these extremes are Intel’s Core M processors. Like those in the Atom line, these chips keep cool without needing a built-in cooling fan, but they offer more muscle to drive productivity.
Features and Connectivity
The switch from laptop to tablet also brings some new features to these handheld PCs. Sensors previously seen in smartphones bring new ways to interact with your PC, with accelerometers, gyroscopes, and e-compasses providing positional awareness for both automatic screen rotation and new immersive applications. And let’s not forget touch. With capacitive screens that track five or 10 fingertips at a time, you can pinch, swipe, and tap your way through any task, even those that would have required a keyboard and mouse only a couple of years ago.
See How We Test Tablets
Then there’s the question of connectivity. With such mobile designs, it’s only natural that some shoppers will want tablets that feature the same sort of mobile data that they enjoy on their smartphones. While there are plenty of Windows tablets on the market that have 4G and LTE connectivity (and thus require a separate data plan), most Windows tablets stick exclusively to Wi-Fi.
Finally, what if you simply can’t live without a real keyboard, but don’t want the hassle of carrying a separate one around? Convertibles (also called 2-in-1s) have keyboards that fold around the back, so you can use them either as traditional clamshell laptops, tablets, or at any position in between. We’ve only included detachable hybrids here; to learn more about convertibles, read our roundup of the best 2-in-1 laptops.
The switch to a from a laptop to a tablet doesn’t come without issues, though. The thin confines of a tablet make worries about heat buildup all the more important—especially when that heat is literally in hand. Touch screens add a new opportunity for frustration when taps and touches won’t register properly, and the opportunities offered by docks and accessories also open up the chance to lose a valuable part of your PC while out and about—say what you will about tablets, but you’ll never misplace your keyboard while using a laptop.
We’ve waded through the current tablet offerings, and tested and compared dozens of tablet PCs to discover what works and what doesn’t. Here are our top picks for Windows tablets. If you’re not married to the Windows OS, read our report on the 10 best tablets overall, as well as our roundup of the best Android-based models.
Featured Windows Tablet Reviews:
Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review
Bottom Line: The Surface Book 2 is a feat of design, a top-of-the-line premium convertible 2-in-1 laptop that’s fast, long lasting, versatile, and portable. It’s even up for gaming.
Microsoft Surface Pro Review
Bottom Line: With faster performance, better battery life, and other welcome improvements over its predecessor, the Microsoft Surface Pro is still the standard bearer for 2-in-1 Windows tablets.
Panasonic Toughbook 33 Review
Bottom Line: The tough-as-nails Panasonic Toughbook 33 2-in-1 tablet packs in tons of durability, computing power, and battery life for those working in harsh or dangerous conditions.
Acer Switch 3 Review
Bottom Line: For half the price of Microsoft’s least-expensive Surface Pro with keyboard cover and stylus, Acer’s Switch 3 offers an appealing 12.2-inch detachable with a winning keyboard and USB-C conne…
Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 Review
Bottom Line: It may take some time to integrate into your workflow, but the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 is a powerful portable drawing device that offers the full Windows 10 experience, fast components, an…
Dell Latitude 5285 2-in-1 Review
Bottom Line: The Dell Latitude 5285 is a capable business-focused 2-in-1 Windows tablet with Core i7-processor power and enough battery life to last well into overtime. It could easily replace your work …
HP Spectre x2 (2017) Review
Bottom Line: With its subtle design improvements and good value proposition, the HP Spectre x2 is a good, if not revolutionary, update to this line of 2-in-1 detachable-hybrid tablets.