With the race to build the best tablet for business needs and the arrival of mobile app versions of popular software like Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Microsoft Office, tablets are a hot back to school category.
That may run contrary to the overall sales trend of declining sales for Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad and its competition, but for parents and students, a tablet makes a lot of sense.
Compared to a traditional laptop, a tablet is thinner, lighter and easier to carry. It also costs less than many laptops. With the arrival of the Surface Pro and clones, along with Apple’s iPad Pro, tablets gained the power to run productivity software. They also gained accessories like keyboard cases to compete with laptops.
Plus, tablets remain a great device for casual use, including playing games, watching video, web surfing and even reading e-books.
Which is the best tablet for students in 2016? There’s no single choice that covers everyone, so we put together a list of five of the best tablets for back to school.
The 5 Best Tablets for Students: 9.7-inch iPad Pro
While Apple is rumored to be releasing a 10.5-inch iPad Pro in 2017, for now the obvious choice for students in its line-up is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
Apple claims it has the best tablet display in the world, the brightest and least reflective screen you can buy. It has plenty of power on tap and 10-hour battery life in a device that’s less than a quarter of an inch thick and weighs under one pound.
That makes it very backpack-friendly and the $599 price is reasonably wallet-friendly, too.
Plus, if you buy from Apple, you can snag an education discount. Apple will also throw in a free pair of Beats wireless headphones as part of its back to school 2016 promotion.
Now that iOS supports split screen capability and Microsoft Office apps are available with native support, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a top choice for best tablet for students in 2016.
Just make sure you spring for the $149 Smart Keyboard for a combination of screen protection and laptop-like typing capability.
The 5 Best Tablets for Students: iPad Air 2
If the iPad Pro is a little on the pricey side, Apple is still selling the iPad Air 2.
It’s not the most powerful tablet on the market these days — it has been nearly two years since Apple updated it after all — but it’s still a good tablet. It has a 9.7-inch Retina display, and it’s as thin and light as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
It runs more than one million iOS apps, including Microsoft’s mobile Office applications, so finding software shouldn’t be an issue. And the iPad Air 2 also gets those free Beats headphones and is eligible for student pricing.
Doing the math, the iPad Air 2 is $379 for students, and you get a free pair of Powerbeats 2 Wireless headphones that currently sell for $200. That’s a pretty good deal, and you can pick up a third party Bluetooth keyboard cover to complete the package.
The 5 Best Tablets for Students: Surface Pro 4
If you have the budget, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is probably the best laptop-replacement tablet on the market, especially if you need to run Windows software.
It’s not cheap, though.
The base model with an Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) Core m3 CPU starts at $899 and a Type Cover adds another $130. However, Microsoft is currently running a back to school promotion that knocks up to $300 off a Surface Pro 4 purchase.
The display is a whopping 12.3-inches, but it looks fantastic and thanks to small bezels and a magnesium alloy case, it still weighs less than most laptops at just 1.69 pounds.
Microsoft also includes a touch sensitive Surface Pen, making the Surface Pro 4 a great device for drawing, hand-writing notes or copying diagrams in the classroom.
The 5 Best Tablets for Students: Surface 3
Given that Microsoft has killed the Surface 3 and it seems unlikely to replace it, why would it make any sense to buy one?
Sometimes the best tablet isn’t necessarily the latest and greatest, especially if you’re in a program where you don’t need maximum horsepower.
The Microsoft Surface 3 is a nice size for students, with a 10.8-inch display that makes it much more compact than the Surface Pro. In fact, it weighs just 1.37 pounds.
It may not have the latest Intel CPUs, but it still packs decent processing power that’s more than sufficient for Windows 10, word processing and casual use. Like the Surface Pro, you can buy a Type Cover that turns it into a decent little laptop replacement.
And with the Surface 3 officially dead, sharp-eyed back to school shoppers should be able to snap one up for considerably less than its $499 MSRP.
The 5 Best Tablets for Students: Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 12
The final entry in this list of back to school best tablet choices is from Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF).
The company makes some excellent tablets, notable for their thin design and brilliant AMOLED displays. While most run Android, the Galaxy TabPro S 12 is meant to take on the Microsoft Surface Pro.
That means it runs Windows 10 and Windows software. Like the Surface (and iPad Pro), there’s also a type cover, but instead of charging extra, Samsung includes it with the Galaxy TabPro S 12.
It has won a bunch of awards, including a Best of CES 2016 — so any student should be pretty happy with it.
Just in time for back to school, Samsung is currently discounting this tablet to $750, which is a decent price considering the beautiful display, Windows 10 support, 128GB of storage and the included, full-sized keyboard cover.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.