Best Tablet for College Students

by Reads (829,117)

Not too long ago, students wanted a laptop to do their homework on. Then tablets came along, and now an iPad or 2-in-1 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 for college, 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.

Best Tablet for College

Surface Pro 4 with Optional Keyboard

#1 Microsoft Surface Pro 4

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the flagship tablet running Windows 10. It has a 12.3-inch screen and comes with a stylus that is especially handy when running OneNote. Microsoft’s external keyboard is an optional $160 to $130 add on, but it’s recommended for taking non-handwritten notes.

While Windows 8.1 was never popular, Win10 is well suited for computers like this one that can easily transition between functioning as a tablet or a laptop.

Most students would be satisfied with the $899 version with an Intel Core m3 processor with 128GB of storage capacity, but there are are also more expensive  versions with i5 and i7 chips and more storage.

Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 4 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.

Best Tablet for College

Apple iPad Pro with Optional Keyboard

#2 Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro

The iPad is responsible for creating the tablet market we know today, and it is the best-selling option. Laat fall, the company released the first iPad designed to take the place of a laptop; the 12.9-inch version of the iPad Pro has 2.26GHz 64-bit dual-core processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, and 32GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage capacity, depending on price.

The Apple Smart Keyboard can turn this computer into a 2-in-1, or there are third-party options for doing the same. In addition, the Apple Pencil is pressure-sensitive stylus for taking hand-drawn notes.

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. Those who would prefer Google’s office applications can use them as well.

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 last fall brought side-by-side multitasking to this tablet.

Be sure to read our Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

Those debating these two computers should read our Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 4 head-to-head comparison.

Best Tablet for College

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S with Bundled Keyboard

#3 Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

Another good Windows 10-based option is the recently-released Galaxy TabPro S. This 2-in-1 has a 12-inch Super AMOLED display, and unlike many of its rivals it comes bundled with a clip-on keyboard.

It is powered by an 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of built-in storage. It has a minimal number of ports, depending on a single USB-C port for almost everything, including using removable memory cards.

Don’t miss our Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Review.

Anyone trying to decide between two of the best Windows tablet/laptops should read our Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4 comparison.


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.

Best Tablet for College

Apple Smart Keyboard with 9.7-inch iPad Pro

#1. Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro

The 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro has almost as much power as the larger version, but its smaller than 10-inch display makes it less suitable to be someone’s only computer. Still, it can run all the same applications as the 12.9-inch model, including Microsoft Office.

This tablet can be turned into a 2-in-1 with a reduced-size version of the Apple Smart Keyboard, and the Apple Pencil is available for handwritten notes.

The smaller iPad Pro has a  2.16GHz dual-core A9X 64-bit precessor, and is one of the few on this list available with optional 4G LTE built in. Apple doesn’t include a memory card slot, but there are microSD card readers that can attach to the Lightning port.

Read our Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro Review.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 in Gold

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7

#2. Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7

This is another tablet almost good enough to be someone’s only computer, just being held back by its 9.7-inch display. It runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

This model includes a Samsung Exynos 5433 processor, with one set of four cores running at 1.9 GHz for when performance is needed, and a second set at 1.3 GHz for battery saving. There’s 32GB of storage.

The Tab S2 9.7 doesn’t come bundled with a keyboard, but Samsung offers an optional Keyboard Cover ($149.99) designed to turn this tablet into a 2-in-1.

It’s available from a variety of online retailers for $399, and a handful of others have it for less.

Check out our Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 Review.

Best Tablet for College

Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855

#3. Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855

Those who want Windows 10 in a smaller formfactor can turn to the latest version of the Venue 8 Pro, which has an 8-inch display. Despite its somewhat diminutive size, this tablet can handle all but the most demanding applications.

It runs Microsoft’s operating system on a 2.24GHz quad-core Intel Atom x5-Z8500 processor.  Dell offers a range of configurations: 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, 2GB/64GB, and 4GB/64GB. Prices range from $349 to $449.

Students who want to turn this mid-size tablet inot a desktop PC can purchase the Dell USB-C to HDMI/VGA/Ethernet/USB 3.0 Adapter (around $50).

Don’t miss our Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855 Review.

Best Tablet for College

Apple iPad mini 4

#4. Apple iPad mini 4

Apple hasn’t forgotten about people who want a more portable tablet. The latest iPad mini has a 7.9-inch screen, making it suitable as an ebook reader that can also access the Web, email, and social network apps.

The tablet has front- and rear-facing cameras but no memory card slot. It is available with 16GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage capacity.

There are a number of add-on keyboards available from third-party accessory makers for those who want to run this mid-size model into an ultra-portable 2-in-1.

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

The iPad mini 4 is available with 16GB of built-in storage in a Wi-Fi-only version for $399, and add 4G LTE for $529.

Interested? Don’t forget to read our Apple iPad mini 4 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.