An Android tablet makes for an excellent digital companion for students. The vast customization options and deep ties into the Google ecosystem can help you stay productive without having to lug a laptop to class.
Unless you are fortunate enough to attend a school that is subsidizing the cost, there is no reason to delay hitting the stores to grab one, especially as the back to school discounts and price wars are in full swing.
Trying to sort through the substantial number of different Android tablets can be overwhelming. We have narrowed it down to those that offer the best value for students with good screen readability, build quality, and essential accessories.
Nexus 7 is for Android purists
Google’s seven-inch tablet is still a great buy, even almost a year after its launch. It has an decent 1280x800 resolution screen and good build quality, with the rubberized back that’s easy to grip. Its size also makes it easy to hold in one hand, perfect for reading or using as a presentation aide.
A Nexus device also gets you the advantage of a pure Google experience, as it is first in line for Android updates straight from the mother ship.
The Nexus 7 is in short supply from the Play Store, as a successor is likely to come along soon. The only model for sale directly from Google has 32GB of storage and LTE connectivity for $350.
It’s certainly higher than the $230 for the base WiFi-only version, but if you think that your campus network is unreliable or you’ll be out of range often it may be a sound investment. The best value here is the T-Mobile model, as the scrappy network gives you 200MB of data every month for free.
If you are looking to save money, the Nexus 7 is offered by various online retailers and appears frequently on eBay auctions, so do some extensive Googling if you are focused on finding the best price.
There are some decent accessory options, as Google sells several different cases, including a rather robust folio for $50. There aren’t a lot of keyboards specifically built for the Nexus 7, but you can find a few online that will do the job. The tablet should also work with other keyboards and cases built generically for tablets of similar size.
Probably the only drawback to the Nexus 7 is if you plan on doing a ton of note-taking or sketching with a stylus, as the screen may be a bit too narrow. If that’s the case, consider one of the other options that have a minimum of 8.3 inches of screen real estate.
Galaxy Tab S offers a brilliant screen, lots of software
If you require a larger screen and don’t mind some extra software, then the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a solid choice. We called it Samsung’s ”best tablet yet” in his review.
It features a great-looking 2560x1600 resolution display, 3GB of RAM, and comes out of the box running Android 4.4 KitKat. As the name implies, it has an 8.4-inch screen, which is a great size for students who want room to type or take notes. It comes with 16GB of storage with a MicroSD slot for expansion.
As is typical with Samsung devices, it has plenty of software options, though one highlight is the Multi-Window mode that splits the screen for better multitasking.
If this isn’t enough size, Samsung always offers a 10.5-inch model as well.
The 8.4-inch model retails for $400, which inches it closer to iPad territory. Factor in the large number of accessories available, as Samsung and many third-party retailers make folios, stands, and keyboard cases for their tablets.
LG G Pad has solid build quality with minimalist UI
The LG G Pad also hits the 8.3-inch screen size sweet spot and has a very sharp display. It also is one of the better looking Android tablets out there with a faux metallic design.
LG’s custom UI is minimal and has some clever features. The QSlide function lets you swipe away an app quickly and QPair enables you to get phone calls notifications or transfer notes from LG’s notetaking to any Android phone—you just have to grab the app from the Play Store.
The G Pad retails for $280 at many online outlets.
If you crave the stock Android experience you can still track down the Google Play Edition of the G Pad online at sites such as Expansys. However, the warranty and support is likely to be minimal when buying it from a third-party.
Asus Transformer Book Trio is best of both worlds
A tablet is a great companion, but sometimes you still need a PC. So why not get both in the same device?
The two-in-one concept doesn’t work for everyone, but if you want a Windows computer and Android tablet paired together, then the Asus Transformer Book Trio is a solid choice. The reviews have given it only tepid approval, but primarily because hybrids tend to appeal to a niche group.
When in traditional laptop mode, the Transformer Book is a Windows 8.1 computer, with an 11.6-inch screen, and running an Intel Core processor with 4GB of RAM.
If most of your productivity is focused on the browser, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or a few file-editing programs, it should be enough power. However, resource-intensive software like PhotoShop or InDesign may slow things to a crawl.
Detach the screen and it transforms into an Android tablet with a 2GHz Intel Atom 2580 processor.
It could be a very powerful combination, as long as the nearly 12-inch sized tablet screen isn't too bulky for you.
It lists for about $1,300 on Amazon, though keep in mind you are getting a computer and tablet in the same package.