Tablet gaming is something you either love or hate. Haters can close their eyes for a bit, because we're doing this! What should you be looking for if you're in the market for a proper gaming tablet? Let's talk specs, money, and operating systems.
Ready to take your pick? Check out our Top 9 Best Gaming Tablets.
Why a Gaming Tablet?
What used to be a joke to hardcore PC gamers has slowly matured into a stronger and healthier industry. Mobile gaming is currently entering into an age of higher-quality content that isn’t designed to make a quick buck. Formerly a bunch of click oriented money gobbling games ruled the market. Now Mobile gaming is seeing AAA quality games in the pipeline such as Elder Scrolls Blades, Legends, Hearthstone, Fortnite, PUBG, and more. This means that gaming on the go is now fun, competitive, and rewarding. In 2016 the first full-scale GPU options for laptops entered the market that actually worked as good as a desktop GPU. Since then tablets have begun to cram more and more power into them and are on the cusp of being the best balance between lightweight mobility and blazing-fast gaming power.
Selecting a gaming tablet involves first selecting what operating system you want (Compatibility is a huge issue with mobile gaming) and secondly whether or not you want a full tablet or a hybrid that can double as a fully functional computer. You may specifically love mobile games and be interested in that, but most gamers will actually want a powerful device that plays normal games even to the exclusion of mobile games.
What makes a Gaming Tablet a Gaming Tablet?
There are actually two forms of gaming tablets, those that are running mobile OS systems and are designed to exclusively work as tablets and those that are actually running a desktop OS in a small form factor or even in the case of the Surface Pro, full-on computers capable of doing anything a traditional laptop or desktop PC could. Gaming tablets are defined by the form factor of having a panel which is often a touch-screen so that they can be used like a notebook or tablet would be used.
Can I play “Normal” games on a tablet?
It depends on many factors. Your OS, the power of the tablet, input options such as a keyboard, and developer support all affect whether or not the games you want will work on your tablet. Some tablets such as the Windows Surface are just fully-fledged laptops in a tablet form factor and will almost anything you throw at it. Others like the Amazon Fire HD or iPad can have slight compatibility options with modern PC games but often have a huge library of mobile-specific games. In fact, many of these games can’t be played on a PC. More high-quality mobile games are arriving all the time and some stellar options like the upcoming Elder Scrolls Blades are starting to pursue the hardcore gamers nestled in the mobile market.
Features to Consider
Tablet Type (Full or Hybrid Form Factor)
It’s important to decide whether or not you want a true mobile device with a mobile OS such as a Windows 10 Mobile, iOS, Fire OS, Android OS or other mobile operating system or if you want a device that is a full-on computer in Tablet form. Both have advantages and disadvantages, from the available Apps and Games to the price points. It’s crucial to know though because a Gaming Tablet can be many different things from a glorified Smartphone to a Desktop PC replacement. Some Tablets come with an attached keyboard or rotatable screen while others are thin and more like a clipboard.
This is by far the most important decision for playing games beyond the actual strength of the tablet itself. The OS is what allows you to play games and what systems will be compatible with your tablet. If you love mobile gaming, you can generally find great games for the iPad but any gamer worth their salt knows that Windows is king in the gaming world.
The three most common operating systems are Windows, iOS, and Android. Windows usually
iOS: Apple has an iOS-specific App store and many mobile games run exclusively on iOS or benefit from the OS over Android. iOS also syncs very well with other Apple devices
Windows 10: Windows 10 comes in a few flavors but in general, Windows 10 will run any non-mobile game without a compatibility issue. Steam, Origin, Bethesda, Blizzard. All the big league names are on Windows 10. For mobile games there are solutions to accessing the Google Play Store. It’ll take some work though.
Android: This Google Linux designed operating system is normally viewed as the underdog but underlies many different mobile products. Because of this the Google Playstore can be installed through various means on both Windows 10 and Amazon devices.
RAM or Random Access Memory is an important component of any device, modern gaming PC’s use a minimum of 8 GB and often use as much as 32GB. Tablets often won’t tout this as a full-on tablet might use RAM differently but tablets that are actually a full-on computer will usually need to have a significant amount of RAM. 4GB is expected for good mobile gaming performance although 8GB is the best you could get.
Note: Don’t confuse this with disk space (Both are measured in GB) because they are very different in function and often both referred to as memory informally.
Traditionally a good desktop PC relied on the GPU more than any other part to gauge its graphical ability. GPU options in tablets are very different than desktop computers. As a rule of thumb, an integrated GPU won’t get you the highest quality graphics at high resolutions. Yet they’ll play a lot of games. If you want to game non-mobile games without streaming, you’ll want a real dedicated GPU. Many games actually aren’t that intensive on the graphical capability of your device especially if they are designed for mobile.
Disk Space is incredibly important when selecting a tablet, especially if you plan to use media a lot or install many different apps and games on it initially. An OS can use up to 4GB alone so getting a tablet with 16GB might in all practicality only really have 12GB of usable space. This can be taken up fairly quickly by some HD movies, normal apps, and larger games. Expandable Disk Space is ideal. Most Tablet Disk Space is designed to be Solid-State though, thus it is usually incredibly fast.
Processor or CPU
The processor is used heavily during non-gaming activities and several modern games (Such as Assassins Creed Origins and Final Fantasy VX) but in general this is more important for tasks such as video editing, photoshop, multitasking, and the occasional game. Tablet processors are a bit hard to nail down in strength and power because they are usually unique to the manufacturer. Reading good reviews on processor strength can help you make a more informed decision.
Screen Quality (And Resolution)
Resolution is very important in making a game look great. Tablets have a hidden blessing though in that a lower resolution isn’t nearly as noticeable due to tablets being so small. Resolution is measured in pixels (tiny dots that when put together form an image) and pixel density is a really important aspect of the quality of a screen. When screens grow, they naturally have to increase the distance between pixels or make the pixels appear larger. With a 4K television or a 1080p monitor, you have to sit a reasonable difference for optimal viewing (Where no pixels are seen but the image is clear and crisp). With a Tablet even, a resolution less than 1080p can look clear and crisp because the pixels aren’t enlarged. For Gaming Tablets though we do recommend never going below roughly 1800 X 1200 or something close to 1080p.
Besides resolution, gaming tablets can offer HDR, fantastic color technology, and a higher refresh rate for smoother gameplay as well.
Screen size is important to consider but make sure that size isn’t confused with resolution or pixel density. In general, any tablet you get should be 1080p or above if you plan to use it for gaming. Screen Size usually boils down to preference and Tablet weight. For reference, a small laptop screen (MacBook Air) is usually around 13-inches and a small tablet is usually around 8-inches, although exceptions exist such as full-scale desk-sized Tablets that are designed for architecture work.
Tablets often have a very flat sound and so most people opt to use high-quality Gaming headsets. Some though offer newer technology such as Dolby Atmos, 5.1 Sound quality, or other awesome audio fidelity improvements. Consider how often you’ll be using your Tablet for playing music or watching shows.
Sim Card Slot
Some Tablets also double as cellular devices and if this is the case having a Sim Card Slot is very useful. If you live internationally or use a carrier that allows Sim Cards, then you can switch between cell service providers quite easily.
Battery life wavers between different tablets and what they are used for but expect around 10 or more hours for normal use. Intensive gaming can drain a battery quickly though. Most opt to charge a device while gaming, but you have to be careful because some products will overheat in those circumstances lowering the overall lifespan of your device.
Weight and Size
A practical consideration is the weight and size of your tablet. Often, they are designed to be thin, lightweight, and usable in a wide variety of environments. Ultimately tablets are best when they are lighter than 4 pounds, but a really good tablet will usually be under two.
Input and Output Method
Most games for mobile have great touchscreen oriented controls but you may find you want a keyboard, mouse, or another similar styled peripheral. Some tablets have the USB support, Bluetooth, or whatever else is required to add these in. It’s very important to consider how you can play your games when selecting a device. Steam Controllers are a great option if you need something to game with and are using a compatible tablet.
Got another question? Try our Gaming Tablet FAQ.