August 2, 2019
The humble tablet has seamlessly transitioned from a fun plaything to a serious business tool in recent years, with powerful processors, extensive app stores, and keyboard support increasing their functionality.
In fact, in 2019, there’s very little that is done on a laptop or desktop PC that can’t also be replicated on a tablet – provided you choose the right one, of course. We think that the iPad Pro or the Microsoft Surface models should be your go-to tablets, although which model in the range to plump for will depend on your budget.
It’s not all about Microsoft and Apple, though. We’ve also picked out a Google and Samsung model that will serve you equally well; these will provide you with a lightweight alternative to a traditional laptop, with excellent battery life and versatility.
We’ve also tackled some of the major questions that you have about business tablets, such as whether or not they can run Microsoft Office, and if you should get a compatible keyboard too (the answer to that one is a resounding yes).
Which is the Best Business Tablet?
There’s no shortage of tablets out there, but not all are created equal – and they certainly aren’t the best for serious business users. We’ve picked out a selection of the best below:
- Apple iPad Pro – A premium tablet that is bound to impress
- Apple iPad Air – A compromise compare to the Pro, but an excellent tablet
- Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – The ultimate Windows 10 experience on a tablet? Maybe.
- Microsoft Surface Go – The budget Windows 10 tablet
- Google Pixel Slate – A great Android alternative to Apple and Windows tablets
- Samsung Tab S4 – With its Dex mode, the Tab S4 strives to replace your laptop
Scroll right on mobile to see full table
Any of these tablets would be a great choice for business use. But, with prices running higher than a standard consumer model, it's worth being extra canny with your money. Below, we explain the pros and cons of each of these models.
Best For: Demanding business users
The iPad Pro is Apple’s premium tablet, and you can get a lot done with it – whether you’re an accountant or a graphic designer, the iPad Pro will likely be the only device you need. Under the hood is Apple’s most powerful processor to date, the A12X, and the 11 or 12.9-inch display sizes give it a clear advantage over other tablets for those who like their screens on the larger side. We’ll admit it isn’t cheap – the 11-inch Pro starts at $799 – and you’ll need to add in the cost of the keyboard (another $179). It’s only set to get even more appealing later in the year, when the new iPadOS officially drops, which adds mouse support, keyboard shortcuts, and a new home screen. With improvements like this, the iPad is securing its place as a genuine MacBook alternative.
Verdict: A fantastic tablet for your business, no matter what your business does
- Gorgeous large screen
- Upcoming iPadOS
Best For: Those on a budget that also want raw power
If you can’t stretch to the iPad Pro, consider the Air instead. It may not be quite as powerful, with its A12 chip instead of the Pro’s A12X, but for a $300 saving (at least), it’s a hard compromise to turn down. While you might be eyeing up the standard iPad 9.7 for an even cheaper Apple solution, we think the Air pips it, thanks to its support for Apple’s Smart Keyboard. It’s also getting that iPadOS update later in the year. You’ll appreciate the battery life too, with the Air netting you around 10 hours between recharges – more than enough juice for a work day, plus overtime (or unwinding with Netflix at the end of the day). That 10.5-inch Retina screen also gives you a little more display space than other tablets.
Unsure on whether to opt for the Pro or the Air? Read our dedicated iPad guide
Verdict: A great choice for the everyday business tablet
- Excellent battery life
- Smart Keyboard compatible
- Small power compromise over the Pro range
Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Best For: Traditional laptop devotees
If you like the idea of swapping your tablet for a laptop, but still need the reassurance of Windows 10, then the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is a good bet. Despite its slim form, it still packs plenty of power, starting with an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. Entry price is $899, plus another $129 for Microsoft’s Surface Pro Type Cover (that’s a keyboard to you and me). What you end up with is a genuine laptop beater that is sure to impress. Naturally, it’s also mouse compatible, so if you deck it out with your traditional peripherals, you won’t miss that laptop at all.
Verdict: An excellent Windows 10 tablet experience
- Great battery life
- Can get pricey
Microsoft Surface Go
Best For: Business on a budget
The Microsoft Surface Go is the cheaper, less powerful alternative to the Surface Pro 6. We’ll admit that it’s no powerhouse, but starting at $400, it would be churlish to criticize it for that. If you’re mainly after a tablet for day to day activities, and you’re not looking to do anything too demanding, the Surface Go is a great alternative to a laptop. For Microsoft Office duties, social media and email, it’ll do the job just fine. Add a keyboard and mouse (and touch pen too if you like), and you’ve got yourself a neat little device.
Verdict: A cheap way to switch to a tablet
- Great value
- Full Windows 10 experience
- Will be underpowered for demanding users
- Adding keyboard saps battery life
Google Pixel Slate
Best For: Professionals with a passion for Google
Yes, its true – Google is exiting the tablet business. However, we’d say they’re going out on a high, as the Pixel Slate is a genuinely great device that it would be a shame to pass over. It’s based on the ChromeOS, so it’s a slightly different beast to your typical Android tablet, representing more of a Chromebook. Yes, the keyboard is extra (stop us if you’ve heard this before), but it’s also essential. The Slate is a powerful tablet with a lovely screen, a meaty 12 hour battery life, and surprisingly powerful audio. If we were to criticise it for anything, it would be that it needs to lose a little belly fat – it’s quite weighty for tablet, but then, it’s still lighter than your average laptop. As it’s Chrome-based, it syncs seamlessly with all of Google’s online offerings, which could help end your reliance on Microsoft’s Office package.
Read our full review of the Google Pixel Slate.
Verdict: Google’s tablet swan song is a sweet one
- Powerful specs
- 12-hour battery
- Bit chunky
Samsung Tab S4
Best For: Android lovers
Samsung’s Tab series of Android tablets has been somewhat overlooked in recent years, but with the Tab S4, Samsung has really tried to appeal to those looking for a laptop substitute. Key among its features is Dex, Samsung’s own ‘Desktop experience’, which allows for easier multi-tasking on a tablet – it even serves up a task bar, just like you’d find on (whisper it) Windows 10. It’s easy to move windows around and resize them, making for a much more laptop-adjacent experience than you’d expect from a tablet. There are some issues – for one thing, switching between Android and Dex mode can mean having to reopen some of the apps you’re using, but it’s no deal breaker. Oh, and another thing – the battery lasts 16 hours. Not a typo.
Additionally, this tablet is soon to be superseded by the newer Galaxy Tab S6 (never mind, “what happened to 5?”). That means you can plump for the upgraded model or make a saving on the very respectable Tab S4 as it drops in price.
Verdict: An interesting approach to an Android ‘laptop' experience, and fantastic battery life
- Remarkable battery life
- Dex mode is great for traditionalists
- Switching between modes can be clunky
- Newer Tab S6 on the way
Should I Get a Tablet for Business?
A few years ago, the answer to this question would have been a resounding no – or at least, it wouldn’t have been recommended without a laptop on standby too. Now though, the line between tablet and laptop is becoming increasingly blurred. All of the tablets we’ve recommended above are keyboard compatible, and some also have mouse support. The iPad range is rolling out its iPadOS update later in the year, which makes the tablet more like a laptop than ever.
Tablets can offer everything your laptop can do, but in a more compact form, and usually with better battery life. However, it’s worth considering a couple of elements before throwing your laptop in the trash for good. Do you need to run any specialist software for your business, and is it supported on tablet platforms? Ditto for hardware – do you need to connect to any particular devices? Tablets are pretty flexible when it comes to peripherals, but they’ll never match the versatility of a laptop.
How Much Does a Business Tablet Cost?
The cost of a business laptop really depends on what you need to use it for. At the lower end, you can get away with something like an iPad 9.7-inch if you don’t need to run any demanding software. These start at $329, but naturally, you’ll need to add in the cost of a keyboard too.
At the top end, a business tablet can run you over $1,000+, plus that additional keyboard cost. However, if you’re talking about a vital bit of business kit – something that lets you run or work for your company efficiently on a daily basis – we think it’s a small price to pay.
Yes, we know that you can get tablets cheaper – you could go out right now and buy one for under $100. However, your experience is likely to be poor, and you’ll be left with an underpowered, disappointing slate that hinders you, rather than helping you. Don’t scrimp on the cost of a tablet: if you pick well, a really good one will become another essential member of your team.
Do I Need a Keyboard for a Business Tablet?
Yes. We may sometimes overlook the humble keyboard, but go without one for a few hours, and you’ll soon learn to appreciate it. Not only is typing on a screen not very comfortable for a long period of time, it also means that the display real estate is half occupied by the virtual keyboard.
Not only that, but many keyboards also double as a stand for the tablet itself, propping it up and emulating a laptop design. Not many tablets come with a keyboard out of the box, and for a decent one, you’re looking at around $100. With that said, we really do recommend it if you’re serious about making a tablet your main business device.
Which Tablets Can Run Microsoft Office?
All of them! That’s right – you don’t need to buy a Windows 10 tablet to have access to everyone’s favorite office suite. While Microsoft used to be fairly protective of its software in the past, in recent years it has seen the logic of opening it up to as many people as possible, meaning that you can now download the Office app on Android, and even Apple tablets.
As is the case with Microsoft Office on any platform, you’ll need to sign up for a subscription to make full use of the software.
Should You Get a Data Plan?
Wifi points are pretty ubiquitous these days, especially if you’re in a populated location, but if you absolutely rely on an internet connection to carry out your business, a data plan is a good investment. There are two ways to tackle this – firstly, you can choose to pick up a tablet with a dedicated SIM-card slot. Be aware that these tend to be more expensive than those without: for example, there’s a $150 difference between the wifi iPad Pro model and the cellular model.
A cheaper way to tackle the problem is to tether your mobile to your tablet, and use your existing data plan. There’s a few caveats to this – you’ll always need to have your phone with you, and you’ll be using up your phone’s data allowance – but for those that need to connect to the internet without wifi sporadically, it can be a smart move.
Can You Get Business Tablet Deals?
As with most business buying, you’re most likely to get a discount if you’re buying in bulk. Kitting out your entire office with tablets? You’re bound to be able to strike a deal, either with the manufacturer directly or via a reseller. Pick up the phone and ask for a quote, and feel free to ask for a little movement if you’re not happy with the price.
For smaller companies however, there’s less chance of making a saving, especially if you’re just after one tablet. In this case, it’s worth keeping an eye on seasonal sales like Black Friday, and buying at the right time.
Can You Set Admin Rights on a Business Tablet?
If you’re a sole owner of a business, then you probably won’t be too worried about administrative rights. However, if you work in a large company and want a little more control over what your staff can access and change on a tablet, then you’ll be pleased to hear that it is possible to set different levels of access with administrative rights on all the main platforms.
The actual method for doing so varies slightly for each one. For example, Apple has its dedicated Apple Business Manager portal, which gives administrators granular control over company devices via the cloud.
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