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Ever fantasize about sitting by the beach, breeze in your hair, sipping a cup of coffee and tapping out your latest commission as the waves gently crash onto the sand next to you?
That, my fellow writer, is the on-the-go dream – an unfathomable idea 20 years ago, but extremely achievable today thanks to modern tablet computers, which lend themselves to writing on the go.
For the first time ever, today’s tablets are viable alternatives to laptops for most writers, boasting large screen sizes, a bunch of different input options and the power to handle everything from word processing to image editing, spreadsheet analysis and accounting software.
If you’re wondering how that came about, you can thank the massive shift to cloud-based software (i.e. tools that run remotely via an internet connection, vs being installed on your machine) and the advanced operating systems running on modern tablets, which are edging closer to their laptop/desktop counterparts in terms of features and usability.
Combine all that potential with a decent keyboard (surely the most basic requirement if you’re averaging 5,000-10,000 words a week), and you’ve got yourself a machine that really delivers freedom from the office, and is small enough to slip into your bag. The question is, which is the best tablet for writers?
After spending weeks testing the top models on the market, we believe that the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is the best tablet for writers available on the market in 2020. It’s light, fast, compatible with all of the applications a writer might need day-to-day, and has a keyboard which outperforms the rest. Read the full review by clicking here.
Best Tablets for Writers At A Glance
Read on to learn more about our top picks, and what you should be looking for before you purchase…
Why trust our review?
Here at Clippings.me, we’re professional writers who have made a living from freelancing, portfolio services and blog management. We do a lot of words on a weekly basis, whether that’s emails to other people, copywriting for email marketing, blog posts or submissions to other publications/sites.
We’re also pretty tech-heavy (operating the largest writing portfolio site on the web), so we know our RAM from our flash storage and we’re pretty specific about the kind of screens we want to look at all day. We’ve written extensively about tech products in the past – including our guide to the best laptops for writers in 2020.
How we shortlisted
Sufficient screen size
Brass tacks on screen size – bigger is better, for almost every task a writer needs to complete, whether that’s researching, writing or admin tasks. That rule is tempered only by weight (portability) and battery life, as large screens are heavier and more power hungry.
For this reason, we can’t recommend models like the 9.7″ or 10.1” iPad Pro or the 10” Microsoft Surface Go – the screen sizes are simply too small for all-day, every-day use. It also rules out every model in the popular Samsung Galaxy range, which offer screen sizes of 10.5” and below. Writers need something which is comfortable to carry AND stare at all day, which realistically means the best tablet is going to have a screen size of over 11”, and ideally 12”.
That restricts our choice to the 12.3” screen on the Microsoft Surface Pro or the 12.9” Apple iPad Pro. The Apple iPad has a slightly larger “retina display” but in our experience, the difference between the two wasn’t noticeable.
We desperately wanted to include some smaller tablets in this roundup, not least because they’re often significantly cheaper. Sadly, after trying to work for just one day from the Apple iPad Pro 10.1”, we concluded that anything under an 11” screen simply isn’t a viable laptop replacement for writers.
Many large-screen tablets run Windows 10, which means they’re interoperable with most files and programs inside the Windows ecosystem. Office documents written in Word and Excel open without a problem, and you’ll be able to browse the internet using Internet Explorer.
Controversially, Apple has refused to port OS X (the operating system used by Mac laptops) to iPad, instead releasing a version of iOS which it terms iPadOS. For anyone who uses an iPhone, iPadOS feels very familiar and includes some enhanced capabilities such as split-screening, drag and drop functionality and the ability to read a USB stick.
That said… It’s still not a full operating system. Compared to Windows 10, iPadOS feels limited, and being forced to use iOS versions of apps (instead of full desktop versions) is frustrating too. As a writer, your workflow will adapt (using the split screen feature to do research in Safari and also having a document open for editing on the right, for instance), but it’s an annoying compromise to make.
All in all, if it weren’t for Apple’s huge market share (between 30% and 50% of the market, depending on which market you’re looking at), we probably would have excluded the iPad from this round up. Tablets running Android were excluded for the same reason – it simply can’t support much of the day to day stuff that’s required on the go (in fact, it offers an even worse experience than iPadOS).
Chrome OS, Google’s cloud-based operating system, has huge potential in the tablet market – the Pixel Slate ticked many boxes in terms of screen size, keyboard support, power and battery life. However, initial reviews were extremely poor and after less than a year on the market, the device was canned. We’re still waiting for a machine which can deliver the promise of a cloud-based operating system such as Chrome OS – but for now, this is a two-horse race between Windows 10 and iPadOS.
Finally, we decided to discount any model that didn’t offer a satisfactory typing experience. This is a difficult thing to measure, not least because I enjoy thrashing keys to within an inch of their life (and not everybody does), but if you’re going to be bashing out thousands of words a day on this, you need a keyboard which will work.
This meant that we instantly discounted any device that didn’t include a mechanical (moving) keyboard – on-screen keyboards obviously aren’t viable for writers, and nor are the more ‘out-there’ dual-screen keyboards such as that sported by the Lenovo Yoga (a tablet so expensive we wouldn’t have bothered including it anyway).
At the outset, we thought the best tablet for writers would have a keyboard similar to a “traditional” plugin keyboards one might use with a PC, but actually, both our top picks had very different-feeling keyboards and were both very satisfying to use, even for extended periods of time.
Other things to look for
- Connectivity: One of the biggest advantages of a tablet device is that many come with built-in LTE/4G connections. This means no faffing around finding wifi hotspots, as your device is online all the time. You’ll normally need to pay for a data subscription in order to use this feature (some carriers bundle a free secondary data allowance with a primary cellphone line), but it’s incredibly convenient to be freed of the need to find a wifi hotspot when you’re on the move (and at home, your tablet just logs onto your home wifi network as normal). One consideration is that using LTE/4G has a significant impact on battery life.
- Storage: Storage is closely linked to the above, since modern operating systems increasingly rely on cloud storage, which in turn relies on an internet connection. While storing all your documents in the cloud has many huge advantages (including removing the need to backup your work in case you lose or change your device), one of the biggest is the reduced need for on-board storage. So while you probably wouldn’t consider a traditional laptop with only under 100GB of storage, the entry-level 64GB iPad Pro and 128GB Surface Pro 7 will be sufficient for most people.
- Screen Brightness: If you’re looking at a display all day, you need to be able to see it clearly. Our top picks have bright, clear screens with superb pixel densities that outclass many laptop screens.
- Battery Life: Many tablets and laptops offer an ‘all-day battery life’, which translates to about 10 hours of non-stop use – easily sufficient for a day on the go. Be warned though, your mileage may vary depending on the software you’re using and whether you’re running multiple apps at the same time (for instance, if you enjoy writing with a YouTube video playing in the background, prepare to have your battery life halved…).
- Ports: Increasingly, manufacturers are choosing to remove ports from devices in favour of wireless solutions powered by Bluetooth. If you don’t already own wireless headphones, factor this in, although our top pick offers both USB-A and USB-C ports.
- Stylus/Mouse: Modern touch screens were supposed to free us from the constraints of a mouse, but we found that all-day use often necessitates extra input types that aren’t as suited to our fat fingers. Both of our picks include support for a stylus (be warned, they’ll cost you extra), and our top pick includes a mouse too. Worth emphasizing that this is a personal preference though – our advice would be trying to get used to life without a mouse or stylus, before investing in one if it really proves impossible.
- Weight: A tablet should be portable – ideally more so than a laptop. This will be especially important if you’re a writer on the go (think, freelancer or cafe-hopper, for instance), rather than a staff writer or someone who sits in an office all day. Both of our picks landed at under 800g without their respective keyboard covers, with the covers adding a further 300-400g. So expect to be carrying around 1.2kg under your arm, which is around the same as a MacBook Air and compares favourably to other laptops weighing in at 1.5kg or more.
- Durability: Tablet screens are slightly more durable than laptop screens, as they’re designed as touch screens. That said, the reassurance of the ‘folio’ keyboard case designs used by both of our picks is welcome – they provide added protection for both sides of your device if you’re carrying it around in a bag, and keep scratching to a minimum. Overall, the best tablets we used felt study and showed no signs of damage after months of intensive use.
Word Processing on a Tablet
If you going to be writing, you need a word processor, and in the early days of tablets finding a suitable app with which to write was often a real problem.
Fortunately, as tablets have gained in screen size and processing power, many of the most popular software packages you’d pick to write with on your regular PC have made the jump to tablet, in one form or another. Here’s a quick roundup of how well they work.
You’ll need a Microsoft Office 365 subscription ($5.99/m) to use Microsoft Word, but it’s a price worth paying if you’re looking for maximum compatibility and convenience, or you’re using a Microsoft device instead of an Apple iPad.
Microsoft’s tablet port of Word is simply superb, retaining almost all of the features of the desktop version and feeling extremely familiar (the “ribbon” at the top of the screen acts as a nice anchor for those who are wedded to the Office suite of software). Impressively, you’ll have access to almost everything the desktop version offers, including WordArt (yes, really), track changes, drawing tools and Wikipedia add ons. The only thing we’re missing is Clippy…
Despite offering almost all of the features of its desktop counterpart, the app remains snappy and didn’t seem to have any bugs (something we’ve come to expect from Microsoft products) in day-to-day usage.
The big difference to be aware of, especially if you’re switching from a desktop-only setup, is that the tablet and browser versions of Word will save your work to the cloud, rather than to your local machine. That might require a bit of workflow adjustment if it’s your first time working in the cloud, but the short adaptation period will be well worth it. Courtesy of Office 365, all of your work will be automatically backed up, and you’ll be able to access it from anywhere.
Apple Pages is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word, and after years of lagging behind, it’s finally come into its own in the mobile era.
Pages still feels clunky on the desktop, but as an app, it’s very well designed and makes writing very enjoyable. It’ll take a while to figure out where everything is, but all of the goodies – from paragraph styles to change tracking, tables of contents, line spacing and collaboration – are there.
A slimmed-down version of a desktop app this is not – kudos to Apple here, because crafting such a powerful native app from the ground up can’t have been easy. They’ve managed it all the same, and Pages is now my go-to choice for writing on a mobile (iOS) device.
Google Docs, normally in conjunction with Grammarly, is my go-to piece of software for writing, whether I’m at home or on the move. It doesn’t require any installation, works on every device, backs up and version controls to the cloud, and is great for collaboration, making it a strong choice for most journalists.
Unfortunately, the native mobile apps Google rolled out for Google Docs leave a lot to be desired. In an apparent effort to eliminate errant screen taps, there’s an irritating “click to edit” button you need to tap before you can actually do anything. When you do, you’re presented with an editing screen which is hobbled by the lack of common formatting functions (e.g. you can’t select a header), which means that while you probably could type out a full article in the app, you probably wouldn’t want to.
The good news is that tablet browsers seem to be widely supported, so instead of using the app, you can fire up Google Docs in Chrome or Safari and edit inside the browser exactly as you would if you were on a desktop. And it works well! You’ll get all of the features you expect, just on a smaller screen. Of course, you’ll also lose some tablet functionality, including the ability to edit offline (it’ll simply bar you from doing any editing at all) and stylus functionality (if you use a stylus).
Because of these limitations, it’s pretty hard for us to recommend Google Docs for heavy usage on a tablet device (although it’s still a fantastic option on desktop).
The best word processor for writing on a tablet
Unless you have an extremely good reason to use Google Docs (e.g. it’s mandated by your organization), we’d recommend Microsoft Word for your everyday writing needs on a tablet (whether that’s a Window tablet or an Apple one).
It’s simply a joy to use, with all of the functionality you’ll need, underpinned by the power of the cloud. It’s been about a decade since we’ve been able to wholeheartedly recommend a Microsoft Office product, but the advanced that have been made in Office 365 have tipped the balance back in favour of Office, in our opinion.
Conclusion – the best tablets for writers
Winner: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Sold from $999.99 on Amazon (link opens in new window)
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to hand-on-heart recommend a non-Apple product to users on an unlimited budget. Traditionally, the best technology picks for writers who have some money to spend are normally Apple products – they tend to have the highest tech specs, best usability, and return/repair policies which outstrip other bands in the market.
In 2020, this is no longer the case.
The Microsoft Surface Pro is a worthy challenger to Apple’s iPad and in our view, the best tablet for writing (and writers) on the market.
The Surface Pro 7 retails at $749 / £799 / AU$1,249, but, there’s a catch. As standard it comes without the keyboard cover which (obviously) is required for all writers, so you’ll need to pony up a for the official Surface Type Cover ($129, £149, AU$249) and potentially the Surface Pen ($99, £99, AU$139), if you want a stylus.
With the added kit, the Surface Pro 7 will set you back just short of $1000, which puts it on par with our top-end laptop pick for writers, the Apple MacBook Air. But there are good reasons to choose this instead.
- Next-gen, best-in-class laptop with the versatility of a studio and tablet, so you can type, touch, draw, write, work, and play more naturally
- Faster than Surface Pro 6, with a 10th Gen Intel Core Processor – redefining what’s possible in a thin and light computer.
- More ways to connect, with both USB-C and USB-A ports for connecting to displays, docking stations and more, as well as accessory charging
- Standout design that won’t weigh you down — ultra-slim and light Surface Pro 7 starts at just 1.70 pounds
- All-day battery life up to 10.5 hours, plus the ability to go from empty to full faster — about 80% in just over an hour
Why buy the Surface Pro 7?
Put simply, you should buy the Surface Pro because you won’t need to buy anything else. For 95% of writers, it’s good enough to be a standalone machine to be used at home or on the go.
Compared to other tablet devices running Apple’s iPad OS or Android operating systems, Microsoft’s Windows feels like a full computing experience, on a tablet.
That means it’s far more likely to be able to effortlessly cope with those edge cases you’ll experience if you’re using this device as your main machine. Need to install a printer driver? Encryption software? A weird software package mandated by your coworking space? This device should be able to take them all, as long as they support Windows.
It’s not just software where the Surface Pro 7 feels like it’s been designed as a full-time machine either. It’s got standard USB ports, so you don’t have to worry about buying and carrying finicky USB-C adaptors like you would do with the iPad Pro or low-end devices. It can also connect to a mouse and monitors, so you won’t be tethered to the 12” screen, although we didn’t really find staring at the Surface Pro’s screen all day particularly tiring.
Despite the additional price tag, we’ll also mention that the Surface Pro Type cover was the best keyboard we tested, because you’ll be doing a lot of words on it. No joke – this thing feels like a real keyboard, with satisfying key travel depths and a familiar, somehow reassuring sound to every tap. It’s an upgrade from the Surface Pro 6, and one of the main reasons we’d recommend the 7 over the 6 for writers.
While the iPad Pro keyboard is good, it doesn’t feel ‘real’, and we never really accustomed, even after extensive use. There’s even a small trackpad embedded in the Type Cover, although you can also pair the Surface Pro with a mouse if you want the full PC experience.
Why shouldn’t you buy a Surface Pro 7?
It’s close to perfect, but as always, there are some niggling issues with the Surface Pro we wish Microsoft would address.
The battery life isn’t spectacular – if you’re heading to an office and planning to do a full day’s work of writing and intensive tweeting, you’ll need to bring a charger along. According to several reports, battery life has actually fallen from the Surface Pro 6 to the 7, although in all-day use, you’ll realistically need a charger with either of them.
The design, while pleasant enough, is also slightly chunky – there’s something industrial about those big bezels and clunky metal wraparounds, even though they feel solid to touch. We can only assume that the next generation of Pros will have a much-needed design refresh.
Overall, though, this is the machine we’d recommend if you want a highly portable machine that will be on the road with you for the next 2-3 years. True, it offers only marginal gains over the Surface Pro 6 (even a slightly degraded battery life due to the increased power), but that keyboard makes it an extremely solid choice for writers, and the compatibility means it’s a far stronger option than our second pick, the Apple iPad Pro. It’s a powerful tablet that’s more than capable of chewing through an average writer’s day, whether that involves writing, researching, presenting, designing or accounting.
Note: The Surface Pro 7 was released at the time time as the Surface Pro X, a slightly thinner sibling with a larger screen and a marginally longer battery life. While the Surface Pro X is a bleeding edge machine, it’s a tough recommendation for most writers – it’s more expensive, lacks traditional USB ports and has a new processor which *might* cause compatibility issues with standard Windows apps (it’s brand new, so it’s tough to tell right now). We’d still recommend the Surface Pro 7, unless you desperately need a thin machine or longer battery life.
Runner Up: Apple iPad Pro 12.9
Sold from $831.05 on Amazon (link opens in new window)
Why buy an iPad Pro?
If your life is already intertwined with the Apple ecosystem, the familiarity of our iPad pick will be reassuring. Like Steve Jobs once promised, “it just works” – all of your apps will transfer from iPhone, your cloud storage will sync automatically, and all your passwords will stay the same and your AirPods will work without a hitch. There’s an extremely short learning curve from the iPhone (managing drag and drop and opening multiple panes are probably the only things you need to learn to be a power user), and the ability to use neat features such as Airdrop to move files between your devices makes life easier.
Secondly, hardware-wise, this is an impressive device. The retina display feels brighter and sharper than our main pick, and the Apple Pencil felt fantastic to write with. Screen size wise, you’ve got 11″ or 12.9″ options, and as we explained earlier, bigger is always better (note that we’re deliberately excluding previous generation 9.7″ iPads here, since the screen is too small).
On either iPad Pro device, browsing is lightning-fast, and the battery life really is all-day (compared to the Microsoft Surface Pro, the super-efficient architecture of iPadOS means that the battery life really shines through).
The audio quality is superb (there are four speakers tucked away inside that wafer thin shell, and they really pack a punch) and the camera quality is fantastic too. If you’re regularly making video/audio calls, your teleconferencing companions might thank you for making such a high-quality pick, which suffers from none of those annoying echoes or tinny sound reproduction which often plagues lower quality devices.
As you’d expect from Apple, the thing looks beautiful, and it’s somehow light but reassuring solid at the same time. Maddening, but much nicer to hold in the hand than the Surface Pro 7.
Finally, the Apple Pencil gets an honourable mention here too – notetaking on the iPad Pro is a dream, and that’s without awesome pieces of software such as Nebo which can automatically convert your scrawls into text. If you loath tapping notes on a keyboard but are more than happy to fill up reams of lined notebooks, we’d recommend giving the Apple Pencil a shot, as it’s really fun to work with.
- 12. 9-Inch edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display with Promotion, true Tone, and wide Color
- A12X Bionic chip with Neural Engine
- Face ID for secure authentication and Apple Pay
- 12MP back camera, 7MP True Depth front camera
- Four speaker Audio with wider Stereo sound
Why shouldn’t you buy an iPad Pro?
As we noted in the operating system section above, this is an operating system pushed to its limits. For some of the day, the iPad might just work as a main device – in fact in many cases, it feels much snappier and more productive than the Surface Pro, because multitasking is discouraged by the operating system. However, if you work in a field where there’s any chance you’ll need to install/buy/review specific software (that’s not cloud-based or an Apple iOS app), the Apple iPad will not work for you.
It can take a while for this to become obvious, but it will. As a small example, one of our banking services required Google Chrome to be installed in order to access online banking. The Chrome iOS app, which can be installed on the iPad, wasn’t supported, which meant we couldn’t access the online banking service via our main computer. There were workarounds, eventually, but it was a pain.
While the Smart Keyboard cover is nice in its own way, it doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ keyboard. It never failed us, and its sealed, rubbery exterior is probably far more suited to the various damp and dusty environments an intrepid writer may discover themselves in, but it just doesn’t feel… real. The key travel isn’t what it should be, all of the keys are a shade too small, and there aren’t “traditional” keyboard features such as function keys or a light for the Caps Lock. There’s also no trackpad – if you want to use a cursor with your iPad Pro, you’re out of luck.
Is iPad a good choice for writers?
We believe the iPad Pro 12.9″ is a good choice for writers, as it offers excellent screen size, sufficient processing power to match most laptops, and a keyboard which can keep up with the most demanding writer. That said, we can’t recommend the iPad Air, iPad, or iPad Mini as a good option – they are too small to work on for an entire day, and rely on third-party keyboards.
The best budget tablet for writers
Sold from $359.99 on Amazon (link opens in new window)
We’re not huge fans of the clunky design, slightly wobbly kickstand or massive bezels on this model, but as a budget option, it’s a good pick. It runs Windows 10, has enough processing power for day-to-day tasks and comes with the keyboard as standard, which is pretty impressive for its under-$400 price tag. The screen quality and screen size is very respectable, although battery life isn’t this machine’s strongest suit. Still, the X2 is a strong budget pick and one of the best tablets for writers on the market.
- 12" FHD UWVA eDP ultra-slim LED-backlit Touchscreen (1920 x1280) Corning Gorilla Glass 4
- Intel Core m5-6Y54 1.10 GHz Processor (Turbo 2.70 GHz, 4MB SmartCache, 2 Core 4 Threads)
- 256 GB SSD | 8 GB DDR3 RAM | 802.11ac WiFi + Bluetooth
- 2MP Front Camera | 5MP Rear Camera | Includes Travel Keyboard and HP Active Pen
- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Sold from $528.98 on Amazon (link opens in new window)
This machine is much clunkier and heavier than our top picks, but it’s a good alternative to the HP Elite and packs more of a power punch. Battery life promises are impressive too. The one MASSIVE drawback is that its keyboard isn’t detachable, which in our view, makes this more of a laptop than a tablet. Still, it’s a high-quality product for its RRP of around $500 and is a strong pick if you’re not so worried about the weight.
- With a 1920 x 1080 Full HD touch screen Display and the powerful and efficient AMD Ryzen 5 3500U mobile Processor, you can work, stream, and game for hours, along with Radeon Vega 8 for fast video and photo editing. Includes HDMI, USB-C, and USB 3.1 inputs
- Comprehensive, built-in, ongoing protection with Windows 10 helps protect you against viruses, malware, and ransomware
- Convenient true block privacy shutter allows you to physically close your PC's webcam whenever you're not using it
- With the included active Pen, you can draw or take notes directly on the screen, anywhere you go
- Up to 10 hours of battery life with recharge Technology to power your laptop computer up to 80% in just one hour
Sold from $300.00 on Amazon (link opens in new window)
Although these models are no long so widely available, they were strong contenders for the title of best tablet for writers just a couple of years ago.
Sporting Windows 10 and high-quality, detachable keyboards, Samsung’s build quality shone through on both models, with brilliant screens and long battery life.
Unfortunately, they seem to be a neglected part of Samsung’s product line nowadays and are comparatively underpowered, making them tough to recommend for writers when placed alongside our headline picks. Still, if you can grab one on offer, the Samsung Galaxy Book could be worth investigating (it’s available renewed or from third-party sellers on Amazon). Be sure to avoid the newer Samsung models, as they all run Android, which is not recommended for all-day working.
- Samsung Galaxy Book 12" Windows 2-in-1 PC Silver 4G Ram 128GBSSD LTE
We had fun working on a tablet for a few weeks – we’ll admit, we’re surprised by how far they’ve come on in the past decade. For most writers, it should be perfectly possible to switch to using a tablet device full-time, rather than lugging around a clunky desktop computer.
The main thing to be aware of is that quality seems to matter more in the tablet world – cheaper devices *feel* cheaper, and if you’re going to spend eight hours a day tapping away at something, it needs to feel like it will last. Having to pick the best tablet for writers (instead of the best tablet overall, for example) means we’ve paid attention to build quality more than we would normally – we weren’t willing to accept a great screen size if it came with a poor keyboard or lower battery life, for example, because in our view, writers need those things more.
What about you? Would you consider switching to one of our tablet picks for writers? Let us know, by tweeting @clippingsme!
Note: This article contains affiliate links – if you buy after clicking through, we may earn an affiliate commission, which helps us to support the site. Our editorial picks are NOT affected by this.