If you’re an artist, designer or illustrator looking for a new tablet or tablet PC in 2019 then you’ve got a lot to weigh up. A model’s price, size, screen resolution and stylus pressure sensitivity can all make a huge difference, so take a look at our list of the best tablets for creatives, including ‘mobile’ tablets, tablet PC and 2-in-1 models.
Before we start, we’re going to have to define what we mean by a tablet in this article. We don’t mean traditional graphics tablets with flat drawing surfaces that connect to your Mac or PC such as the Wacom Intuos Pro Paper Edition (which you can buy from Amazon here), often called ‘Wacom tablets’ even if made by other manufacturers. We’re also not including graphics tablets with built-in displays such as Wacom’s Cintiq Pro range. You can read our round-up of these ‘tablet displays’ in our guide to the best cheap Cintiq alternatives.
What we’re concentrating on here are essentially computers with screens you can sketch, draw and paint on. Some of these are what the wider world call tablets e.g. Apple’s iPad Pro (below) and Android tablets that run mobile operating systems. These are thin, light with a 9- to 12-inch screen and have very long battery life.
Tablet PCs like Microsoft’s Surface Pro (below), HP’s ZBook x2, Wacom’s MobileStudio Pro are bigger with 13- to 14-inch screens and offer the full version of Windows – so you can run same apps as you do on your desktop or laptop, such as Adobe Creative Cloud. Most of these models offer clip-on keyboards, so manufacturers sometimes call them ‘detachables’ as they can also function as laptops.
Tablet PCs are usually thinner and lighter than the kind of laptop you’d consider as a designer/artist, and as such have less powerful components. If you want the performance of the likes of the Apple MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 15 – and a 15-inch screen – you’ll need to look to a ‘convertible’ such as HP’s ZBook x360 (below) or Dell’s own XPS 15 2-in-1 (note, the term 2-in-1 is often used for both detachable and convertible models). They’re called convertibles as they’re laptops that you can also fold in the opposite way to closing it, flipping the bottom behind the screen to create thick tablet shape ready for you to draw on.
They’re also different from tablet PCs in that their processor, RAM and storage are in the base rather than behind the screen – so as such are as thick as traditional laptops.
(One oddity here is Microsoft’s Surface Book, which is a tablet PC with a clip-on keyboard that has a graphics chip built into it, boosting performance when it’s connected one way round like a laptop or the other way round and folded around.)
Here we list all the best in each class. Most devices have been reviewed by digital illustrator Sam Gilbey.
iPad Pro 2018
- Screen-size: 11- or 12.9-inch
- OS: iOS 12
- Stylus: Apple Pencil 2nd generation (sold separately)
To Apple’s credit, artists can get a lot out of the iPad Pro – you can create fully finished artwork all on the device using tools like Procreate 4, but for designers it’s probably not be the best choice because it still doesn’t support full Adobe Creative Cloud apps such as Photoshop and XD. This should change soon with the forthcoming release of Photoshop for the iPad and the Illustrator-esque Project Gemini, but how long you’ll need to hold on for we’re not sure as release dates aren’t confirmed yet.
Released late last year, the iPad Pro 2018 comes in sizes of 11 inch or 12.9 inch, the former replacing the older 10.5 inch model. In our review we noted how they’re thinner by half a millimetre and less curved at the back – and without the top and bottom bezels, nor home button. Resolutions though are practically the same.
Very impressive is the new Apple Pencil, which holds onto the Pro magnetically to charge. No need to have it sticking oddly out the bottom of your iPad to create some kind of giant flyswatter – but note that if you buy a 2018 Pro, then you’ll need to fork out for the stylus too as older versions of Pencil won’t work with it.
The iPad Pro remains an incredible creative tool. For artists and illustrators who want a portable drawing and painting device, it’s more than a match for the Microsoft Surface Pro or Wacom MobileStudio Pro (unless you prefer the extra three-inches of screen that you get from the 16-inch Wacom).
For designers, editors and the rest though, Windows-based tablets still offer the ability to finish projects in a way that the iPad Pro doesn’t. However, if you’ve the budget then the 11-inch model is an excellent roughing/ideation tool that you’ll want to pair with an iMac or desktop PC (and the Duet Display Pro app lets you use your iPad Pro like a Cintiq).
Read our review of the 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro. See also our guide to best drawing and painting apps for the iPad.
iPad Air 2019
- Screen-size: 10.5inch
- OS: iOS 12
- Stylus: Apple Pencil 1st generation (sold separately)
While Apple says that the new iPad Air isn’t for pro artists and designers, there are a few features with this third generation model that we prefer to the iPad Pro – and it comes at a great price.
It sits between the entry-level, 9.7-inch iPad for consumers and the 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, essentially replacing 2017 10.5-inch’s iPad Pro that Apple was also selling previous to today by offering higher performance at a lower price.
The iPad Air has a resolution of 2,224 x 1,668, which is 264dpi. There’s no Face Unlock on the Pros, but some creatives may see this as a benefit, as when the iPad is flat on your desk – the natural drawing position for many – unlocking an iPad with a finger is easier than looming over it or tilting it up so it can recognise your face.
Note that the iPad Air supports the older, first-generation Apple Pencil rather than the newer model.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
- Screen-size: 9.7-inch
- OS: Android 7.0 (Nougat)
- Stylus: Samsung S Pen (included)
This is Samsung’s best rival to Apple’s iPad Pro. It’s considered to be the best Android tablet to be launched in years, so if you’re an Android fan, this is your best bet. The screen has 2,048 x 1,536 HD resolution and HDR support for better colour and contrast.
However, it doesn’t have the iPad Pro’s True Tone display (all you can do is optionally switch on the blue light filter) and it can be a little reflective with certain lighting. It does however include Samsung’s S Pen, which has four times the amount of pressure sensitivity to that of the Apple Pencil.
And while Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro is available on Android, Procreate sadly isn’t. However, here’s our list of the best Android apps for artists.
Read the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review on our sister site Tech Advisor.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)
- Screen-size: 12.3-inch
- OS: Windows 10
- Stylus: Microsoft Surface Pen (sold separately)
The Microsoft Surface Pro is a tablet PC that runs Windows 10 Pro on a 12.3-inch screen display. It can be used as a drawing tool fairly easily, even if you’re not well versed in Windows software. The design is sturdy, if a little chunkier than a tablet, but bear in mind this is a fully fledged PC as well. The screen has a 2,736 x 1,824 resolution and 10 point multi-touch. It takes Intel’s HD graphics cards and 7th Gen Core m3 processor (for the most basic model).
The pen (not included with Surface Pro) supports tilt and offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Because this model comes with a keyboard, it’s generally only easiest to work from a table, so if you’re looking for something more portable this might not be the best choice for you. We think the Microsoft Surface Pro is a better option for designers wanting to use Adobe Creative Cloud, but may not be the easiest device to draw on freely.
Read Sam Gilbey’s Microsoft Surface Pro review.
Wacom MobileStudio Pro
- Screen-size: 13.3 or 15.6-inch
- OS: Windows 10
- Stylus: Wacom Pro Pen 2 (included)
Wacom’s tablet PC option comes with the Wacom Pro Pen 2, and runs Adobe apps such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. It’s available in two sizes – 13.3-inch and 15.6-inch – and has a screen resolution in competition with laptops such as Dell’s Precision 5510 or HP’s ZBook Studio. It displays 96 percent of the Adobe RGB colour space, and the screens are multi-touch.
As with other Wacom pens – and unlike the pens used by the Microsoft Surface and the Apple Pencil – the pens don’t need charging. It offers 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. The MobileStudio Pro can detect up to 60-different levels of pen tilt at angles from vertical to 40-degrees – which varies the effect of your stroke depending on what’s possible in the application you’re using. This would be a great option for both designers and artists wanting a portable tablet PC to work on.
Read Sam Gilbey’s Wacom MobileStudio review.
reMarkable Paper Tablet
- Screen-size: 10.3-inch
- OS: proprietary
- Stylus: proprietary
The reMarkable paper tablet is an independent offering that aims to replicate the experience of pen and pencil on paper. It offers a resolution similar to the XPS 15, but only offers a greyscale display. Simplicity is the keyword with this model.
The stylus is battery-free, and offers 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. It also supports tilt, and has a special high-friction tip. The tablet itself has a good battery life, probably as it only has drawing capabilities; view the reMarkable more as an early e-reader you can draw on rather than as an iPad substitute. Storage-wise you get 8GB of space, and an extra 8GB in the cloud. Exporting is straightforward, but we were disappointed to find that it currently only outputs in PDF and PNG form. The PDF export also caused us a few problems.
Read our hands-on review of the reMarkable tablet.
HP ZBook x2
- Screen-size: 14-inch
- OS: Windows 10
- Stylus: ZBook x2 pen (optional)
This 2-in-1 is powerful but much chunkier than an iPad Pro or Surface Pro. You can sketch within apps and edit using Photoshop – or even render in 3D using Maya, Maxon and SolidWorks – all on this one device, but it’s a lot heavier and clunkier than Wacom’s range or an iPad Pro. It’s designed for freelance artists and designers, with the idea that multiple creative apps can be run at one time for when you’re outside the office or meeting with a client. Instead of sketching on a smaller tablet and editing on a laptop, you can work through an entire creative process with the HP ZBook x2.
You can use it as a traditional tablet like the Apple iPad, in laptop mode by attaching the clip-on keyboard, and in dock mode connected to a monitor, more like the Wacom Cintiq Pro.
The HP ZBook x2 comes with a 14-inch, 4K touchscreen. It’s anti-glare and there’s a Dreamcolor option that can output 10-billion colours – including the full Adobe RGB gamut for smooth shades, shadows and highlights. The Wacom-powered stylus is sold separately.
Read our HP ZBook x2 hands-on review.
(HP has just announced a more-powerful convertible that it’s selling alongside the x2, the ZBook 15 x360.)
Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
- Screen-size: 15.6-inch
- OS: Windows 10
- Stylus: Dell Premium Active Pen (included)
This is a ‘convertible’ variant of the XPS 15, Dell’s competitor to Apple’s MacBook Pro 15. It offers a Wacom-based, tilt supporting pen (with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity), 100 percent of the Adobe RGB colour space and decent frame rates at 1080p resolution, using medium to high graphics settings. As both a drawing tablet and PC, you can either use the large 15.6-inch screen in tablet or tent mode. The laptop supports 10-point inch also.
Read more about the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. We expect to see a review unit soon.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (2018)
- Screen-size: 13-inch
- OS: Windows 10
- Stylus: ThinkPad X1 Pen (included)
This Windows 2-in-1 is Lenovo’s best offering for designers and artists. With a 13-inch, 3K screen and its Active Pen which offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity – the same as what Dell’s offering with its PS 15 2-in-1 model – this acts as a light, portable tablet PC with a large screen you can draw on.
Read more about the Lenovo ThinkPad x1 Tablet. We expect to see a review unit soon.
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