Best Tablets for College Students

by Reads (535,933)

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.

Surface Pro 4 with Optional Keyboard

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.

Smart Keyboard with iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro with Optional Keyboard

#2 Apple iPad Pro

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

Read Our Apple iPad Pro Review

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

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 one of the largest Android tablets available, 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 that truly makes this a contender. Naturally, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are also available.

In addition to several Wi-Fi-only models, versions of this device can connect to Verizon’s or AT&T’s 4G LTE networks, but seeing as Wi-Fi 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

The. Galaxy TabPro S was recently announced. This has the potential to be well-suited for college students, but is not yet on the market.

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 10 tablet 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 the entire 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

ZenPad S 8.0 with ZenUI

ZenPad S 8.0

#3 Asus ZenPad S 8.0

Those looking for an inexpensive mobile computer for light use should consider the latest offering from Asus.

It runs Android 5.0 Lollipop on a 2.33 GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor with 4GB of RAM, which gives it far better performance than one might expect. Its 64GB of internal storage can be increased with a microSD card. The tablet has an 8-inch, 2048 x 1536 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 ZenPad S 8.0 Review

Apple iPad mini 2

Apple iPad mini 2

#4. Apple iPad mini 2

The second-generation iPad mini is far from Apple’s newest mid-size tablet, but 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 9.2. 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 Wi-Fi-only version for $269, or with 4G LTE for $399.

Read our Apple iPad mini 2 Review

Those looking for a considerably more powerful mid-size iOS tablet should read our Apple iPad mini 4 Review.

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3 Comments

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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.