Tablets make a lot of sense for travelers. Entertainment, research, communication, and more are easily dealt with on a device that fits into a small bag and doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The last few years have seen the introduction of some exciting new models, and improvements to many others.
While most people who work while traveling are still better off with laptops, the line between those and high-end tablets is increasingly blurred. You can now buy tablets that will let you get real work done while still being lighter and having better battery life than most laptops.
If you’re looking for a device that you’ll largely use for web browsing and consuming content, a screen size of 8-10″ provides the best mix of usefulness and portability for travelers. If you’re planning to work as well, look for something larger, around the 11-13″ mark.
From low-cost models for watching movies and keeping the kids entertained to serious powerhouses that’ll handle any workload you throw at them, these are the best tablets for travel in 2023.
- Size: 7.7 x 5.3 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 0.7 pounds
- Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
- Storage: 64 or 256GB
- Display: 8.3″, 2266 x 1488 resolution
- Runs on: iPadOS
- Size: 7.9 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches
- Weight: 11.9 ounces
- Battery Life: Up to 13 hours
- Storage: 32 or 64GB, plus microSD slot
- Display: 8″, 1280 x 800 resolution
- Runs on: Android (FireOS)
- Size: 8.7 x 7.1 x 1.1 inches (in case)
- Weight: 18.3 oz
- Battery Life: Up to 13 hours
- Storage: 32-64 GB, plus microSD slot
- Display: 8″, 1280 x 800 resolution
- Runs on: Android (FireOS)
- Size: 9.6 x 6.1 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 1 pound
- Battery Life: Up to 13 hours
- Storage: 64 or 128GB + microSD slot
- Display: 10.4″, 2000 x 1200 resolution
- Runs on: Android
- Size: 8.8 x 5.2 x 1.7 inches
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
- Storage: 32GB + microSD slot
- Display: 8″, 1920 x 1200 resolution
- Runs on: Android
- Size: 9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 1.2 pounds, plus Type Cover
- Battery Life: Up to 11 hours
- Storage: 64GB eMMC or 128GB SSD plus microSD slot
- Display: 10.5″, 3000 x 2000 resolution
- Operating system: Windows 11
- Size: 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.4 inches
- Weight: 1.9 pounds (879g) plus Type Cover
- Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
- Storage:128GB-1TB SSD
- Display: 13″ IPS 2880 x 1920 120Hz touchscreen
- Operating system: Windows 11 Home
What to Look For
As mentioned above, when it comes to travel tablets, start by looking at the screen size. Generally speaking, tablet displays range from 7 to 13 inches on the diagonal–above that, you’re in laptop territory. These numbers shouldn’t to be confused with the dimensions of the device itself, although of course larger screens typically mean larger tablets.
Tablets with smaller screens typically weigh less and are easier to fit in a bag and hold in one hand, while larger ones provide a better viewing experience with more screen real estate. If you’re looking for a balance between portability and performance, we’d suggest an 8-10 inch tablet as the best option.
Sure, screen size is important, but the quality of that screen also matters a lot. Look for a tablet with a high-resolution display to avoid grainy images, that’s bright and vivid enough to see clearly in bright conditions. Many premium tablets now have OLED-based panels, which have better contrast than LCD versions.
What constitutes “high” resolution depends on the screen size, so the better approach is to look at pixel density instead. Measured in pixels per inch (PPI), you can calculate it manually with a bit of calculator work, but it’s simpler to just plug the horizontal and vertical width and screen diagonal into here.
A pixel density of more than about 200 is pretty good, and anything over 300 is excellent. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference beyond that.
Ideally, your tablet should also have good viewing angles, so you can use it in a range of different positions without noticing significant color or brightness shifts. It’s not easy to determine how much of an issue this is from the spec sheet: look at real-world reports to compare between different models.
Finally, if you’ll regularly be using your tablet outdoors or under bright lighting, screen glare is likely to become an issue. Most tablets are optimized for indoor use and have highly-reflective screens, but some are worse than others in this regard.
Cranking up the brightness to maximum will help, so look for a display that’s nice and bright (iPads are particularly good for this, but they aren’t the only ones). You can also buy and add your own matte/anti-glare screen protector, and even a pair of polarized sunglasses will help in a pinch!
Size and Weight
Unsurprisingly, the size and weight of your tablet are a key factor to consider. The thinner, smaller, and lighter the device, the easier it will be to fit in your day bag, use with one hand, and carry around with you on your travels.
Tablets typically range from 6-11mm in thickness and weigh anything up to a pound, depending on their size. Don’t forget that adding a case (and we suggest you do when you travel) will make your device larger and heavier as well, sometimes by quite a lot.
The amount of RAM is surprisingly important, especially for Android-based devices that tend to be a bit more memory-hungry. It helps your tablet run intensive apps and games more smoothly, and lets you switch between multiple apps more quickly.
For basic use like reading and browsing individual web pages, you can get away with as little as 4GB. If you plan to use your tablet for anything like gaming, streaming HD or 4K video, or multitasking between different apps, however, you’ll want more: at least six, and ideally 8GB or more.
How you use your tablet will have a big impact on the amount of storage you need. If you plan to install dozens of apps and download all your favorite shows and movies to watch offline while you travel, you’ll need more space than someone who just browses a few web pages and emails their friends.
Apple’s tablets don’t let you add extra storage after purchase, so you’ll need to give yourself plenty of breathing room when you buy. Some Android tablets let you install a microSD card later, so you can add extra capacity if you need it.
Typical capacities these days run anywhere from 32GB to 256GB or more. We’d suggest at least 64GB of onboard storage for most people, and more if you can’t add a microSD card later or know you’ll be saving lots of video and other large files.
The next thing to consider is the operating system. Generally, you’ll want a tablet that runs on either Android or iOS. Both offer plenty of apps and games for entertainment purposes, as well as productivity tools like Microsoft Office and Google Docs.
Amazon tablets like the Amazon Fire HD 8 (below) run a version of Android, but have certain limitations, including not having direct access to Google’s app store. You can add it via various unofficial methods, but if you’re not comfortable doing that, you’ll likely miss out on at least a few popular apps.
If you’re planning to use your tablet largely or exclusively for work, you may also end up with a Microsoft Surface or similar. These run Windows 11, and are more like a laptop than a tablet in the way you use them.
Like most electronic gadgets you travel with, tablet battery life is key. Whether you’re using it for entertainment on a lengthy flight or bus journey, or just as your go-to device for navigation and photos around town, you want something you can rely on to last the distance.
Manufacturers will give you a maximum battery life number, often 10-12 hours or more, but how close that is to reality depends on how you use your tablet, how bright the screen is, and other individual considerations.
Don’t worry about the exact number, therefore, but rather compare the manufacturer’s estimates between models to figure out which is likely to give better battery life. Fast-charging also matters: if you can get several extra hours of use from a quick top-up, the capacity from a single charge may be less important.
Note that the charger that comes with a given tablet may not always be able to charge it at its highest possible speed. Annoying but true, so check to see whether the power rating of the charger matches or betters what the tablet can handle.
Being able to charge your tablet at 20W isn’t much good if the charger can only put out five watts! If that’s the case, check to see if you can buy a faster charger for it, or in some cases, use one you already have for a phone or laptop.
Price is always an important factor when purchasing any device, and the range in the tablet market is huge. You can pay as little as $50 for a basic model, through to thousands of dollars for top-tier devices with the latest hardware.
For travel purposes, you don’t necessarily need (or even want) the most expensive tablet on the market, but bear in mind that cheap tablets may not have all the features or performance capabilities you’re looking for. It’s a balancing act, so set your expectations based on how much you’re prepared to pay.
Many tablets have add-ons like keyboards, styluses, and stands that can enhance your travel experience. Sometimes you can buy those accessories directly from your tablet manufacturer, other times you’ll pick them up from third-party vendors.
If you do a lot of typing, pick up a travel-friendly Bluetooth keyboard to go with it. Likewise if you expect to sketch or take handwritten notes as you travel, look for a model that supports a stylus. If running out of juice is a concern, pick up a 10,0000-20,000mAh power bank to charge it on the go.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, it’s worth buying a protective case for your tablet. How rugged it needs to be depends on whether you plan to take it and how much rough treatment it’s likely to get, but some degree of protection from drops and spills is important regardless.
While we don’t recommend using your iPad or other tablet as your main camera while traveling (the size makes it much harder to hold steady versus a phone or compact camera), you may still find yourself taking the occasional shot with it or making video calls to friends and family back home.
Don’t make the camera quality a key aspect of your buying decision, but if other aspects are more or less equal, look for somewhere around a 12MP rear camera and 8MP front-facing sensor. Other features like 4K video recording are nice to have, but unlikely to get a lot of use for most people.
Audio quality probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind on the list of important features of a tablet, but for some people, it will make or break your experience. Poor-quality speakers can quickly such all of the joy out of a shared movie night or video call with friends and family.
If that’s how you plan to use your tablet, look for one with stereo speakers that are loud and clear enough to fill a small room without distorting. In our experience, somewhere around 3W per speaker is the minimum here, and more is better.
If the inbuild speakers aren’t up to scratch, you can always connect headphones or a portable speaker instead. Bluetooth is the most common approach, but if you prefer a cabled version, just make sure your tablet has an audio jack or comes with a dongle that converts the charging port into one.
Best Tablet for Travel: Apple iPad Mini
Apple has dominated the tablet market since the first iPad, and continues to do so in 2023. It’s greatly expanded the range over the years, though, so even if you’re committed to an iPad, it’s not always obvious which one to buy.
We’d been recommending the base model for quite a while, since it covers the needs of many travelers at a reasonable price. It’s still a good option, but with the recent-ish upgrade to the iPad Mini, the smaller sibling is now our top overall travel tablet pick.
Apple had largely ignored the Mini for a long time, to the point where it seemed likely to be discontinued. Thankfully it wasn’t, and instead the company improved everything from the screen and processor to the camera and design, making it a compelling option once again.
While no longer the absolute fastest chipset that Apple makes, the A15 version inside the iPad Mini is still blazingly fast. The super high-resolution 8.3″ display is a little larger than the previous model, bright and colorful, with an anti-reflective coating that’s a godsend in direct sunlight.
Battery life is fine at ten hours, with fast charging thanks to the bundled 20W USB C charger. Gone is the old Lightning port, which depending on what other tech you’re traveling with, may be a blessing or a curse.
The design has had a long-overdue refresh, and the slimmed-down bezels now help it look a lot less dated than the old model. The Mini now comes in a wider range of colors as well, including pink, purple, starlight (whatever that is), and Apple’s usual space gray.
The cameras, too, have had a significant boot. You’ll now get 12MP sensors across the board, with an ultrawide version for selfies on the front. We’re really not fans of using your iPad for taking photos if you can avoid it, but the Mini’s smaller size and improved cameras make it usable if it’s all you’ve got with you.
The standard model is Wi-Fi only, but there’s also a version with 5G support that you can drop a local SIM card in for cheap access to cellular data as you travel. You’ve got options with storage as well: either the standard 64Gb model, or a 256GB version if you need the extra space.
A strong selling point of any iPad is access to the App Store, with its vast array of quality apps and games. Most are available on Google’s Play Store as well, but you’ll still tend to get the better apps first on iOS.
There’s no support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard, although the small screen size means the Mini isn’t the ideal work machine anyway. Bluetooth keyboards are an option if extended typing on a screen doesn’t work for you. The Apple Pencil (sold separately) is supported, though, and both sketching and taking notes works well on the smaller device.
There are better options if you’re on a budget or have more intensive work requirements, but for general travel use, it’s very hard to fault the latest iPad Mini, and it’s our top pick overall in this category.
Best on a Budget: Amazon Fire HD 8
Amazon has been the best option in the low-cost tablet market for years, offering devices that are surprisingly useful for not much money. The latest version of the Fire HD 8 is no exception, and if you’re on a budget, it’s the best mix of performance and price out there at the moment.
The 8″ display makes this model easy to carry while still being big enough to comfortably watch movies on. While the 1280×800 resolution is quite low these days, it’s ok for most purposes and gives better battery life than higher-spec screens.
You’ll pay slightly more to double the inbuilt storage from 32GB to 64GB, and while not absolutely necessary, it’s worth doing if you plan to download a few shows to watch on the plane or install a bunch of games. There’s also a microSD slot onboard for adding extra storage later.
Alexa voice assistant support is built-in, and unusually for an inexpensive device, the tablet is unlikely to break the first time you drop it on the table. Still, as with any piece of electronics, it’s worth picking up a case for it before you head out on the road.
Less impressive is the 5W wall charger in the box: that’s pitifully weak for a USB C charger these days, and it’s no surprise that it takes a full five hours to charge the tablet from flat. On the upside, if you have a better (15W+) charger lying around for your phone or laptop, charging time will drop to under three hours.
The biggest caveat? There’s no access to the Google Play store by default, although there are certain unapproved methods for adding it. While most apps you’re likely to care about are available on the Amazon app store, it doesn’t have as wide a range and you may find your favorite game or tool isn’t available there.
Still, with up to 13 hours of battery life and available in a range of colors, the Fire HD 8 is easily the best budget travel tablet in 2023. It’s also available in a Plus version, which has wireless charging and extra RAM for greater performance.
You can buy the Plus by itself, or with a custom wireless dock that will be useful around the house but unlikely to make it into your carry-on.
Finally, if you plan to watch a lot of movies and want something with a bigger screen, higher resolution, and faster processor, it’s worth considering the Fire HD 10 instead. I personally prefer the smaller version for travel, but the 10″ version is very reasonably priced for what it is, and I reviewed and earlier version of it here.
Best for Kids: Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition
The sheer volume of games, apps, and shows aimed at kids is incredible. If you’re traveling with junior members of the family, there’ll likely be times you’re very happy about that fact.
While it’s all accessible on almost any phone or tablet you like, several companies make add-ons or specific versions of their products that are particularly kid-friendly.
Never ones to miss an opportunity, Amazon’s done exactly that, with a solid mix of hardware, software, and services that nudge it into first place in this category.
The size of the Fire HD 8 is ideal for little hands, and the same things that make the standard version our budget pick (13 hour battery life, 32GB+ storage, low pricing) make it a great option for kids as well.
The most noticeable difference with the Kids Edition is the colorful (and very durable) bumper case that wraps around the tablet to protect it from drops. There’s a lengthy two-year replacement guarantee for when even that isn’t enough.
On the software side, Amazon has built in the ability to restrict content to only things that are age-appropriate, along with usage limits, and lets you manage those settings either on the device or via a remote dashboard.
There’s also a year of Freetime Unlimited, Amazon’s service that provides access to 15,000+ movies, books, games, and educational apps for 3-12 year-olds.
The company also markets 7″ and 10″ versions of its Kids Edition tablets, but the 8″ offers the best mix of price and specifications. Especially given the price, it’s the ideal option for traveling kids.
Best for Value: Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite
Looking for a tablet from a major manufacturer that does everything well, at a price that won’t break the bank? Check out Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Lite, a model that ticks all the right boxes and includes some handy extras for good measure.
The tablet is available in a small range of colors, with either 64 or 128GB of storage and a microSD slot that handles anything up to a 1TB card. The 10.4″ screen is more than large enough to comfortably watch your favorite shows, at a slightly-unusual 2000×1200 resolution that’s a touch higher than Full HD.
The combination of a midrange Exynos processor and 4GB of RAM is powerful enough in all common situations, with only the occasional stutter in demanding games.
Like most tablets, the cameras are functional rather than good, but still fine for video calls and the occasional photo if you’re desperate. Similarly, the stereo speakers do a decent job indoors or in quiet locations, but you may want to switch to headphones in noisier environments or for extra bass.
The inclusion of the Samsung S Pen stylus is a welcome addition, adding handwritten notes and sketches to the list of things you can use the tablet for. Small icons for things like notes and annotations appear automatically when you hold the pen close to the screen.
There’s a headphone jack at a time when many models are shipping without one, and a USB C charging port. Battery life is good, lasting around 13 hours, although the 15W charger in the box takes a while to power the tablet up again afterward.
Samsung pitches this model as a competitor to the base iPad model, and it’s not hard to see why. A similar size, weight, and price, the Galaxy 6 Lite is a reliable all-purpose device that fully covers the needs of most tablet users at a price they can afford.
While those on a strict budget will probably still opt for Amazon’s Fire 8 or Fire HD 10 (above), the Galaxy S6 Lite offers plenty to those with a bit more to spend. Upgradeable to Android 12, with a faster processor, better cameras, and a stylus thrown in for good measure, this is the best value Android tablet you can buy right now.
Runner-Up, Best for Value: Vastking KingPad SA8
Value is a subjective term, and while we think the Galaxy S6 Lite (above) offers a lot for the money, the fact remains that it’s still fairly expensive as far as as Android tablets go. If you’ve got less to spend, but still want a full-featured tablet with a decent set of specs, check out the Vastking KingPad SA8 instead.
You’ve likely never heard of the Vastking brand, which is one of the reasons behind the tablet’s cost advantage. The company hasn’t spent a lot on design either: it’s a pretty generic device, available in one color, and functional rather than attractive. If you want beauty, you’ll need to spend (a lot) more on the iPad Mini instead.
The 3GB of RAM and 32GB of inbuilt storage are pretty standard for a budget tablet, but you can always drop in a microSD card for anything up to 128GB of extra space.
You get an 8″ FHD (1920×1200) IPS screen that’s bright and colorful, although this does have an impact on battery life. Don’t expect more than about ten hours of use out of it, likely less if you’re pushing it hard with demanding games or applications.
Unusually for a tablet, especially one in this price bracket, the cameras aren’t terrible. The 5MP selfie camera is complemented by a 13MP version in the rear, and while you’re still better off using your phone or a dedicated camera, the pictures are at least usable. That doesn’t sound like a high bar, but for a tablet, it is.
For the price, we didn’t find many cons with the KingPad SA8. Other than the battery life, the only other thing we didn’t feel was up to snuff was the tablet’s speaker system. While its SA10 sibling has dual speakers, the SA8 only has one, so you’re getting somewhat tinny, mono sound when not using headphones.
Best for Work & Play: Microsoft Surface Go 3
Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 is an interesting device that straddles the border between casual use and real work. With a 10.5″ screen and sub-$400 starting price, it sounds very much like a normal tablet until you realize it runs Windows 11.
The Pentium Gold processor inside the base model of the Go 3 isn’t going to set any speed records, but you can still run most Windows apps and even play a few basic games without the machine becoming unusably slow.
That said, we’d still recommend upgrading to the Core i3 model instead. The processor is dramatically faster, and since the upgrade comes with double the RAM and extra, faster storage as well, the end result is a much quicker machine.
The keyboard cover is surprisingly enjoyable to type on, and includes a trackpad so you’re not reduced to poking the screen at arm’s length. The keyboard is optional, but if you’re planning to do any amount of typing on it, it’s definitely worth buying.
Battery life is rated at up to 11 hours, but you’ll likely get around six or seven in the real world. It’s an attractive device, with the build quality and bright, colorful 1920×1280 display both much better than you’d expect from any Windows machine at this price point.
Since storage is somewhat limited, being able to add a microSD card is very welcome, since it’s the perfect place to dump photos, TV shows, and other stuff you need occasional access to on the road.
The adjustable kickstand makes the Go equally useful whether you’re writing emails, watching movies on the plane, or reading in bed, and if you buy the Surface Pen, it’s a pretty good graphics tablet as well.
It runs Windows 11S out of the box, which can only access apps from the Windows store, but there’s a one-way upgrade to Windows 11 Home available. If you want to be connected anywhere you go, there’ll be model with an LTE modem built-in arriving in the coming months.
So what’s not to like? The price tag, mostly. Sure, it starts at $399 RRP, but for that you’ll only get the base version with 4GB of RAM, a Pentium Gold processor, 64GB of sluggish storage, and no Type cover.
Those specs aren’t enough to run most Windows apps well, and if you’re planning on using it only as a tablet without keyboard or trackpad, you’d be better off buying an iPad.
By the time you make it a good productivity machine with a keyboard, faster processor, and double the RAM and storage, you’ll have spent over $700. That’s not unreasonable for a machine of this quality, but it’s a fair jump from that starting price.
There’s nothing else quite like it on the market, though, and that’s why it’s still easy to recommend. If you’re after an attractive, lightweight machine that does double duty as an entertainment device and true productivity tool, it’s very much worth considering.
Best Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface Pro 9
As good as Microsoft’s Surface Go (above) is, you’ll soon hit some limitations if you’re a full-time road warrior.
The screen is a bit small to look at all day, the battery life is a couple of hours too short, and if you get the base model, you’ll notice the slow CPU and storage as soon as you fire up Photoshop or have several tabs open in your browser.
If you want a tablet that can be a complete laptop replacement, you’ll need to step up to the Go’s big brother, the Surface Pro 9. With Windows 11 and the latest generation processors, and configurable up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, performance is the match of any other travel-sized Windows laptop.
The 13″ screen is a more appropriate size for working on all day, and at up to 15 hours, battery life is dramatically longer. There’s a pair of USB C Thunderbolt 4 ports for plugging in your accessories, and you can always connect a USB hub if you need more or different options.
The typing experience remains enjoyable, more than the Go for long typing stints since it’s closer to being a full-size keyboard, and the Surface Pro 8 is significantly lighter than almost any standard laptop on the market.
The i5 version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB is the sweet spot of performance versus price, and what we’d recommend for most people. Just like the Go, though, the keyboard cover still isn’t included by default. We’d really like to see Microsoft start bundling it in the future.
Even so, though, there’s nothing else out there with the same mix of performance, weight, and usefulness. Its few competitors are similarly priced but just don’t perform as well.
Main image via cuncon, other images via respective manufacturers.