What is the Best Tablet for College?
Updated: 6th Feb, 2016
There's a reason most backpacks come with laptop sleeves - laptops are as essential to a college student as a textbook, student ID card (for swagging up at half off), and a hairstyle that old people find offensive.
But wait! Laptops are HEAVY and EXPENSIVE. You want something about half the size, preferably half the price, that will still let you take notes in class, write essays, and maybe chillax a bit between class (bit of YouTube, bit of Kik, maybe whip up a dank John Cena meme - the usual).
The magical device you're dreaming of is called a TABLET COMPUTER and they are real. They will solve all your problems and they will make you more attractive to your fellow students. They are literally a panacea to all of life's problems! And best of all, you can probably convince your parents to buy it for you. You know, for college.
But seriously - a tablet is a real option. Some are complete laptop-killers - you literally will never need to lug around that monstrous old brick of yours again, and you'll be able to leave your books in your dorm (or not buy them in the first place if there's a PDF or kindle version).
Can a Tablet Really Replace a Laptop for College?
Some of the tablets we recommend are used by captains of industry - CEOs, CFOs. Did you see the World Economic Forum this year? They all had tablets. If the leaders of the free world (and the not free world) are using tablets to make shady deals and slowly take away all our freedoms, you can use one to get you through 'Philosophy and Star Trek'.
But maybe you plan to do most of your work on your laptop, but want something more portable to take to class? Good plan, bro! That's going to be a lot cheaper.
Let's look at our recommended tablets for college students, their specs, and hear from real-life studes who use them.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
|Tablet||Microsoft Surface Pro 4|
|CPU||Intel Core i7 - 2.4 GHz|
|Display||TFT LCD - 12.3 inch|
|Resolution||2736 x 1824 px - 267 ppi|
|Camera||Front 5.0 / Back 8.0 MP|
|Weight||0.77 kg / 1.69 lbs|
|Battery life||9.0 hours|
This is pretty much top of every list for everything, so it's no surprise that it's the perfect tablet for college students.
A quick history lesson - a few years back, Microsoft came out with this weird little mess called the Surface. Everyone laughed at it. The world was still in thrall to Apple and Microsoft were routinely mocked. There were videos like Top 5 Microsoft Fail Moments (#3 is about Surface, but #1 is the most insane):
Microsoft kept plugging away, making the Surface tablets better and better every generation, but it took a while for people to slowly start to realise - wait a minute! This Surface thing is actually pretty awesome.
It's just the flexibility that people love. When you've got the keyboard and stylus, you realise that you can do anything on it that you could do on a notebook. Detach the tablet from the keyboard dock, and you've got a normal tablet that you can use on the toilet (or yeah, in class).
What's extra special about the 4th generation models is the raw power you get. You could run intense programs like Photoshop on this one.
It runs Windows 10, which means being able to run all the programs you need for college. It has an app called OneNote that will sync any notes you make to your desktop or wherever. You can also use it to share notes with your peers - not only a modern way of passing notes in class, but also actually useful for doing collaborative work in your courses.
The Surface Pro 4 is ideal for artists and designers - the stylus is really good. If there's an artistic component to your studies, don't think your only option is an Apple device.
The battery will last about 8 hours, which should be enough to get you through your classes for day, but there might be times when you'd need to bring a charger with you. That sort of defeats the point of buying a tablet, but it's a realistic compromise. 95% of the time you will get through a day just fine.
Prices vary depending on the model you choose. The basic model was just under 1,000 dollars at the time of writing, though you could double that by getting versions with more memory, hard disk space etc. Just try to fit the keyboard into your budget - that will be somewhere between 100-150 dollars extra, but will make such a huge difference to how you use the tablet that you won't ever regret it.
If money is no object, check out the VAIO Z Canvas. If you're on a budget and the Surface Pro 4 is too much right now, head over to our sister site Tablet PC Bargains - they should have the latest price on the older, but still worthy, Surface Pro 3.
One Sentence Review
"Just bought the $1400 SP4 and it's easily the best investment in my education I've ever made."
Many-sentence Engineering Student Review
"I got the 16GB Ram version with the i7 processor. I'd say it's perfect for me. It can run all my CAD programs, and while it's tough on the battery, it's no worse than my laptop. If I was on a budget, I'd have gotten the i5 CPU, but I'm a bit of a geek and like having that extra horsepower. It's light, it's portable, and while I spent 2 months researching which tablet to buy, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again. One thing - I'd recommend adding an SD-Card. For 20 bucks or so you get even more storage."
Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
|Tablet||Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2|
|CPU||Exynos 5420 - 1.90 GHz|
|Display||TFT LCD - 12.2 inch|
|Resolution||2560 x 1600 px - 247 ppi|
|Camera||Front 2.0 / Back 8.0 MP|
|Weight||0.75 kg / 1.66 lbs|
|Battery life||10.0 hours|
The best Android tablet for college students. It's got a 12.2 inch screen, so it's big enough whatever college life throws at you. A big feature for students will be that it Android now has Microsoft Office available - though more and more people are turning to Google Docs for their spreadsheets and to make presentations. (Personally I use Excel for spreadsheets and Google Slides as a Powerpoint substitute.)
Probably the main advantage of this over most tablets is its fantastic screen. It's really gorgeous to look at. 3 full-sized USB ports let you plug in a mouse, a USB stick etc. That's very convenient and makes possible a lot of potential setups that tablets without full-size ports can't match. Apple tablets, for example, don't have USB ports, greatly limiting what you can do with them.
Useful apps include OneNote for note sharing (see above) or S-note - both work flawlessly. There's also a split-screen feature, which is great. You can read text in one half of the screen while writing a document on the other half. Just like on your laptop!
Again, you'll want to get a keyboard to make it a true laptop replacement. That will be about the same price as with the Surface Pro 4, but the tablet itself will be much cheaper. At the time of writing, I found the 32GB version of the Samsung at 650 dollars - a bit more affordable than the high-end Microsoft and Apple options. You can spend more on the 64GB version but that might be overkill - the 32 will be fine for the average college-goer.
"It's great for taking notes in class, and does well in every other respect, too. I love mine, and recommend it to everyone else."
Apple iPad Pro
|Tablet||Apple iPad Pro|
|CPU||Apple A9X - 1.30 GHz|
|Display||IPS LCD - 12.9 inch|
|Resolution||2732 x 2048 px - 264 ppi|
|Camera||Front 1.2 / Back 8.0 MP|
|Weight||0.71 kg / 1.57 lbs|
|Battery life||10.0 hours|
This is selling by the bucketload because it has that magical Apple mark of quality. It's powerful, attractive, and is backed by the millions of apps available in the App Store. Something fairly new to the App Store is the Microsoft Office suite - pretty essential for life in higher education. There are also loads of note-taking apps, including OneNote.
Apple also have some interesting educational apps, included enhanced textbooks that feature multimedia content.
The display is 12.9 inches, a little bigger than the Surface or Galaxy's. If your family have Apple products, this will let you start a video chat with them at the press of the button.
The specs are good (e.g. 2.26 GHz processor) and the keyboard is sexy (sold separately, as with the tablets above).
So this is a great tablet for college students who are already locked into the Apple ecosystem (e.g. they already have an iPhone) and is perfectly fine for those who don't have Apple products already.
In terms of price, at first flush it's higher than the Samsung, but cheaper than the Surface. When I checked, it could be had for 929 dollars. But when you add the keyboard (169) and the Apple Pencil (99), it starts to look expensive.
All in all, I'd say the iPad Pro is a bigger, more powerful iPad... but not a true laptop replacement. You can a LOT on it, but you'll still pine for your desktop or notebook when you have some serious work to do.
"This is great for classes in college."
Apple iPad Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Comparison
These are the ones that you'll take to campus - to take lecture notes, to do some homework on during breaks, to read textbooks on while traveling. And maybe the occasional bout of Angry Birds: Star Wars or a quick Big Bang Theory sesh.
Asus Zenpad S 8.0
|Tablet||Asus ZenPad S 8.0|
|CPU||Intel Atom Z3580 - 2.33 GHz|
|Display||IPS - 8.0 inch|
|Resolution||2048 x 1536 px - 320 ppi|
|Camera||Front 5.0 / Back 8.0 MP|
|Weight||0.30 kg / 0.65 lbs|
|Battery life||8.0 hours|
Offering similar performance to tablets 100 dollars more expensive, the Zenpad rates well as a tablet for school
It's light and sleek with front-facing speakers (most tablets stick the speakers on the sides and the sound quality suffers). The power button is annoyingly positioned below the volume buttons so you'll turn it off a few times until you get used to it. A minor gripe.
The processor is sharp, so the Zenpad will open your textbooks in a jiffy. If the storage isn't enough (it should be) you can slot in a cheap micro-SD card.
The battery will last you through a day of school, and turning the brightness down will let it keep going till night.
"A really nice, inexpensive tablet with a stunning screen."
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4
|Tablet||Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0|
|CPU||Quad Core - 1.20 GHz|
|Display||WXGA TFT - 7.0 inch|
|Resolution||1280 x 800 px - 216 ppi|
|Camera||Front 1.3 / Back 3.0 MP|
|Weight||0.30 kg / 0.66 lbs|
|Battery life||10.0 hours|
We've got something of a love affair with the Galaxy Tab 4 - how can a tablet this good be this cheap? Seriously, you can get it on Amazon for 140 dollars (at time of writing). That's better than affordable - that's practically theft.
It's light, easy to use, has great cameras, and decent all-round tech specs. Download the CleanMaster app to keep it free of clutter and keep it running as fast as possible. Download Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and do schoolwork on the go.
It even plays games pretty well.
Of course, it's not top end, so it isn't going to do everything you want. That's why we recommend it as an accompaniment to your laptop.
"I love it! I use it all the time for my schoolwork, as my college no longer has hard-cover books, and everything is done online now! It's perfect for what I need it for. "
That's it! We hope you found this article useful, and best of luck with your exams!
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