Which Windows tablet is best?
Desktop and laptop computers are great, but sometimes a tablet is the most useful way to consume media or complete work and school assignments. In those cases, it’s not always easy to switch from a versatile Windows PC to a slightly more limited iPad or Android-based tablet.
If you need the ultimate in portability and convenience but don’t want to sacrifice functionality, consider a Windows tablet. The best one right now is the Lenovo ThinkPad X12. It sports powerful hardware and a better battery life than most competitors.
What to know before you buy a Windows tablet
Why to use a Windows tablet
Windows is the leading desktop and laptop operating system in the world by a large margin, and for good reason. It’s not only highly versatile and suitable for a variety of enthusiasts’ needs, it’s also easier than ever for beginners to use. With the current, highly refined Windows 10 release and the upstart 11th generation of the iconic OS, there are more straightforward and convenient apps, widgets and other integrations than ever.
There are some limitations
It takes some compromises to pack enough hardware into a half-inch-thick package to run Windows quickly and reliably. At a basic level, there’s just not enough space for most high-end chipsets and components. There’s also the issue of heat buildup, one of the biggest hurdles for PCs in general.
Tablets also tend to compromise in terms of battery life. Batteries — especially high-capacity ones — take up the most space and generate the most heat of any component in an ultraportable laptop.
Convertible vs. detachable 2-in-1s
A 2-in-1 laptop is one that works as both a laptop and tablet. Windows tablets fall into this category by necessity, as it would be immensely difficult to use a Windows tablet for a very long time without connecting a keyboard.
As their name implies, detachable 2-in-1s let you remove the keyboard and use the device like a true tablet. In contrast, convertible 2-in-1s sport extended-range hinges so you can fold the keyboard underneath the display, creating a de facto tablet.
There are plenty of convertible 2-in-1 Windows laptops from major manufacturers. They’re generally similar to standard laptops in terms of size and weight, which means they’re usually tough to use with one hand. Detachable 2-in-1s, however, deliver nearly the same portability, convenience and performance as Android tablets and iPads (although Windows tablets are almost always heavier).
What to look for in a quality Windows tablet
To keep costs down and battery life up, a decent number of manufacturers make significant compromises when it comes to performance. The problem is that Windows is somewhat of a resource hog that can easily bring an old processor or tiny solid-state drive to its knees. Avoid Windows tablets from generic or otherwise questionable manufacturers, as you’re unlikely to have a good user experience.
None can compete with full-size laptops, but some Windows detachables do offer just about all-day battery life. Most commonly, though, you’ll see roughly six hours of real-world run time from a Windows tablet. To get more from your device without plugging it into the wall, consider a USB-C Power Delivery power bank that can put out at least 45 watts.
Microsoft claims you can install Windows on a 32-gigabyte drive, but don’t believe it. You’ll need at least 64 GB for a passable experience, and 128 GB is a much better target. If you opt for a tablet with only 64 GB of storage, you might have a better time keeping the Windows installation in high-efficiency S Mode.
Once again, Microsoft claims that 4 GB is plenty of RAM for Windows. It’s certainly possible to get by with just the bare minimum, but you’ll have a noticeably better experience with 8 GB of RAM or more.
How much you can expect to spend on a Windows tablet
The most budget-friendly options run about $350, although you’ll have to spend a bit more on accessories such as a keyboard and stylus. At the top end, you can invest as much as $2,000 in a Windows tablet that performs as well as a normal laptop.
Windows tablet FAQ
Can you play games on Windows tablets?
A. You can absolutely play casual games on a Windows tablet. There are even some that work better on tablets than notebooks due to touchscreen controls. You won’t have any luck playing graphically intensive games, though, due to the inherently bad heat dissipation and relatively below-average performance of Windows tablets.
How do you improve battery life?
A. Some changes to the way you work can offer minor battery life increases. Keep the screen brightness as low as comfortable. Minimize multitasking, as background programs siphon valuable power from the memory and processor. Keep the Windows Battery Saver option turned on whenever possible. Make sure to disconnect and turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them.
Then there’s undervolting. The opposite of overclocking, undervolting involves reducing the amount of electricity your CPU and GPU use. You can do so without reducing the processors’ clock speeds, and you may see a noticeable increase in battery life. If you reduce clock speeds or disable your CPU’s turbo boost, you’ll see even better results.
You’ll want to find a guide on undervolting. There are many such guides. Unlike overclocking, undervolting works with a huge range of everyday laptops and isn’t dangerous, especially if you exercise caution.
What’s the best Windows tablet to buy?
Top Windows tablet
What you need to know: It’s packed with premium hardware and, surprisingly, doesn’t cost an absolute fortune.
What you’ll love: Move over, Microsoft, because there’s a new sheriff in town when it comes to ultraportable Windows machines. Part of arguably the most famous laptop family in history, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X12 offers the kind of performance you’d expect from a full-size notebook PC. While most competitors cost an arm and a leg and come in limited configurations, you can get a surprisingly good deal on the X12, especially if you order the perfect model for your needs directly from Lenovo.
What you should consider: It doesn’t have any USB-A, HDMI or Ethernet ports, and the keyboard is sold separately.
Where to buy: Sold by Lenovo and Amazon
Top Windows tablet for the money
What you need to know: This highly compact option truly fills the role of a tablet, as the smallest and most affordable model that actually works well.
What you’ll love: It’s tiny compared to almost all its competitors, and indeed it’s the smallest device we’ve ever seen that can run Windows without any major issues. It’s also reasonably priced, which you can’t say for most of Microsoft’s in-house laptops. It’s even available with optional 4G LTE connectivity for the ultimate in portability.
What you should consider: While handy, its performance is somewhat limited by the high-efficiency CPU. To mitigate the performance issue, the Surface Go ships with a special Windows S Mode that limits which programs you can install and how fast they run. You can disable S Mode and run the standard Windows 11 installation at any time.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: For a long time, the Surface Pro lineup was the only high-performing Windows tablet in existence.
What you’ll love: It runs just about as smoothly as any traditional clamshell laptop and comes in several configurations to meet your specific needs. The display, though, is where it really shines. It’s bright and colorful, with high contrast and a 120-hertz refresh rate, something even most standard notebook PCs can’t claim.
What you should consider: This kind of engineering feat and feature set does not come cheap. In fact, you still have to purchase the keyboard separately.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.