Best Tablets for College Students

by Reads (488,249)

Not too long ago, students wanted a laptop to do their homework on. Then tablets came along, and now an iPad is just as likely to be on their list of school supplies.

Laptops certainly still have a place, but tablets have found a market among people who like their very small and light designs, long battery lives, and simplicity. Those still trying to make up their minds should start by reading College Students Should Consider Tablets Instead of Laptops.

For parents and students trying to decide on the best tablet option, the editors of TabletPCReview have put together a list of recommendations. Combined with the right software and accessories, these can earn a place in almost any backpack.

Stand-Alone Tablets

Some of the tablets on the market today are capable of being a student’s only computer. These are more portable than any laptop, while offering much of the same functionality, from word processing to running educational apps.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

#1 Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the flagship device running Windows 8.1. It has a 12-inch screen and comes with a stylus that is especially handy when running OneNote. Microsoft’s external keyboard is an optional add on, but it’s recommended for taking non-handwritten notes.

While Windows 8.1 has drawn complaints from some users, it is well suited for running touchscreen-based devices like this one.

Most students would be satisfied with the $799 version with an Intel Core i3 processor with 64GB of storage capacity, but there are are also more expensive  versions with i5 and i7 chips and more storage.

Read Our Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review

Microsoft also offers the Surface 3, a 10.6-inch Windows tablet whose $499 starting price might make it a better option for some students. Those debating these two models should read our Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface 3 comparison.

Both models will be upgradable to Windows 10 when it is released this summer.

Apple iPad Air

Apple iPad Air 2

#2 Apple iPad Air 2

The iPad is responsible for creating the tablet market we know today, and it is the best-selling option. The most recent full-size version has a 10.1-inch display, 1.5GHz 64-bit dual-core processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, and either 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage capacity, depending on price.

The release of Microsoft Office for iPad was a paradigm shift for iOS tablets. With this productivity suite, users can work with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and take classnotes with OneNote.

There are over a million iOS apps available, in a wide variety of categories, from ebooks to games. In addition, there is a section of Apple’s book store dedicated to textbooks that have been enhanced with video and other multimedia content. The  release of iOS 9 this fall will add side-by-side multitasking to this tablet.

There is a thriving market for add-on keyboards for the iPad Air 2, and those looking to take handwritten notes should consider the AluPen Digital from Just Mobile.

Read Our Apple iPad Air 2 Review

There are persistent rumors that Apple is working on a 12.9-inch iPad for release this fall. Those who want an iOS device that’s larger than 9.7 inches might consider waiting for this.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

#3 Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Samsung is the world’s largest smartphone maker, and it makes some of the best Android tablets, too. This includes the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, which includes a stylus and a suite of apps that take advantage of it, like one for taking handwritten notes.

Its 12.2-inch screen makes this the largest device on this list, an advantage when deciding on what will be someone’s one-and-only computer, but it was the release of Microsoft Office for Android Tablet earlier this year that truly makes this a contender.

In addition to several WiFi-only models, a version of this device can connect to Verizon’s 4G LTE network, but seeing as WiFi networks are essentially ubiquitous on college campuses, this is probably unnecessary.

ZAGG makes an add-on keyboard specifically for this model. A physical keyboard is another item essential for a primary computer.

Read Our Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Review

Just keep in mind, this tablet has been on the market for over a year now, and an updated replacement could be released before the beginning of the fall semester.

Second-Computer Tablets

Many of the most popular tablets are ones that, while very useful, are best used in combination with another computer, like a desktop PC. The tablets are good for taking notes in class, serving as electronic textbooks, or keeping the user entertained, but might not be able to do everything a student requires.

These are mid-size or smaller tablets, but many prefer them for hand-written notes because they are smaller and easier to hold. They aren’t the best option for watching video or playing advanced games, which makes them secondary computers.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 AnyPen with Windows

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 AnyPen with Windows

1. Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 AnyPen with Windows

Thanks to a unique feature called AnyPen, someone taking hand-written notes with a pen and paper could switch to using that same pen as a stylus on the latest versions of the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2. With this technology, any object that conducts electricity can be used to write on the display, and the screen is built to stand up to the abuse.

This Windows 8.1 tablet (upgradable to Windows 10) has an 8-inch display, and an unusual design that makes room for a very large battery, allowing it easily last a full day on a single charge. It sells for $350.

Read our Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 AnyPen with Windows Review

Toshiba Encore 2 Write 8-Inch -- Bottom Edge

Toshiba Encore 2 Write 8-Inch

2. Toshiba Encore 2 Write

Toshiba created this model specifically for people to take handwritten notes on it.  It comes with a stylus, and can run Microsoft OneNote and the full range of other applications that support Windows 8.1, including all the Office suite.

The Encore 2 Write is another 8-inch, Windows 8.1 model, and it also sells for $350. It comes with 64 GB of built-in storage, with additional capacity available from a microSD expansion slot that supports SDXC.

Read Our Toshiba Encore 2 Write Review

Asus MeMO Pad 7 (2014)

Asus MeMO Pad 7 (2014)

#3 Asus MeMO Pad 7 (2014)

Those looking for a very inexpensive and highly portable computer for light use should consider the latest version of the MeMO Pad 7 from Asus.

It runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a 1.33 GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor which gives it far better performance than one would expect from a $149 computer. Its 16GB of internal storage can be increased by up to 64GB with a microSD card. The tablet has a 7-inch  display.

Google offers textbooks for every Android tablet on its ebook store, and when it’s time to take a study break, Google Play offers movies, ebooks, and music, as well as all types of software.

Read our Asus MeMO Pad 7 (2014) Review

Apple iPad mini 2

Apple iPad mini 2

4. Apple iPad mini 2

The second-generation iPad mini isn’t Apple’s newest mid-size tablet, but at $300 it is the most affordable. This makes it more appealing to those who are just looking for a device to be an ebook reader that can also access the Web, email, and social network apps.

The tablet has a 7.9-inch screen. It uses an older Apple processor, but is still capable of handling the latest version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 8.3. It has front- and rear-facing cameras but no memory card slot.

It connects to iTunes and the App Store for movies, music, and software of all kinds.

The iPad mini 2 is available with 16GB of built-in storage in a WiFi-only version for $300, or with 4G LTE for $430.

Read our Apple iPad mini 2 Review.



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  1. HildyJ

    I would be very careful before I tried to use an iOS or Android tablet as a primary computer. I would put them in the second computer category and promote the Lenovo and Toshiba to the top tier and add the Surface 3 (non-Pro). The problem is that a University is a corporate environment populated with people using Windows equipment. To work with a University’s security software, email and scheduling software, teleconferencing software, etc., a PC operating system may be required. It is virtually guaranteed that a new Windows tablet will operate in the full environment but it is far from guaranteed that an iOS or Android tablet will. Also the University tech support staff will have far more experience with Windows. Phone OS tablets are great for personal use but in the corporate world, which includes Universities, I’d stick with Windows for a primary computer.

  2. Ed Hardy

    When doing research for this article I spoke with college students around the country, and I always asked whether Windows was a requirement on their campus. Universally, the answer was No. I asked how they turned in their homework, and was told that while it almost always needed to be in electronic form, Office was also not a requirement… any similar app will do. Based on this research, if you’re working at a campus that absolutely requires Windows, then you should tell your IT department that they are doing a disservice to the students and staff.

  3. mondotone

    Yeah if you got money to burn. I’d say the best bang for the buck right now is the Asus T100ta 32g ver is around 200 ish. Running full win 8.1 which you can upgrade for free to win 10. you just need to buy a 64g micro sd card, screen protector and a portfolio case and you’re set. oh and a micro hdmi to hdmi cable so you can connect it to your tv/monitor. Long battery life and a real keyboard. It’s for a student right? not for someone where mommy and daddy is paying for it all.