The best Windows tablets squeeze as much performance, battery
life, and features as they can inside their ultraportable form
factors. Also sometimes referred to as 2-in-1s, thanks to their
ability to function as a laptop with the aid of rotating or
removable keyboards, these compact PCs can replace a traditional laptop or an iPad for on-the-go work and play. Of the six
major tablets of the 2021 generation, two are particularly notable
and stand out above the others.
The five contenders are the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable, the HP Elite Folio, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+, and the new Surface Pro 8. We're still testing a sixth tablet, the Surface Go 3.
Historically, we've seen Microsoft push hard with generation after
generation of new Windows tablets. Third-party manufacturers
haven't been as consistent, but they've offered their own
improvements, including webcam covers, superior keyboards, and
powerful, sophisticated support utilities.
Our individual reviews delve deeply into each tablet's strengths
and weaknesses. In this article, however, we'll provide a top-down
comparison of the five we've tested, focusing on the areas that
should be of particular interest to a Windows tablet buyer. We've
also compared all five tablets using our standard benchmark suite,
and present our results alongside some traditional laptops.
The tablets we were sent for review by the four manufacturers
varied by price and configuration, but the lowest-priced base
option is the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+—though adding a pen and
keyboard elevates the price above the Lenovo ThinkPad X12
Detachable Gen 1. At the time of our latest update to this article,
the two cheapest Surface Pro 7+ options were also sold out, making
the standalone Surface Pro 8 the more affordable option.
Once kitted out with a keyboard and optional pen, each tablet is
roughly similar in price, though your preferred configuration can
alter that price significantly. Only the HP Elite Folio actually
includes both accessories as part of the purchase price, however.
Lenovo charges extra for a pen (US$51.98 / AU$94.60 at Amazon) with 4,096 levels of pressure, and Microsoft suggests
you buy its Surface Pro Signature Type Cover (US$139 / AU$219 at Amazon)
and Surface Pen (US$89 / AU$129 at Amazon)
for optimum functionality.
The Surface Pro 8 is designed for use with the US$129.99 / AU$189.95 Surface Slim Pen 2 and a US$179.99 / AU$249.95 Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, which accommodates the rechargeable
Slim Pen 2 in a special keyboard cubby. This also means that you
won't be able to use older Surface detachable keyboards (say, from
a Surface Pro 4) with the Surface Pro 8. Any detached Bluetooth
keyboard, of course, will work just fine.
Dell informed us that while the company provided us with a pen
and a tablet for our review, the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable Travel Keyboard with an included pen costs an additional US$199.99 / AU$522.50.
Dell's Latitude 7320 Detachable is one of two Windows tablets
and overall design
We prefer the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ and Dell Latitude 7320
Detachable here, as they offer the best combination of features.
Technically, only three are traditional tablets: We'd categorize
the HP Elite Folio as a 2-in-1, but the separate tablet and
keyboard are wrapped together inside of a faux-leather sheath that
connects both the tablet and keyboard as a single unit. Instead of
physically separating, the Folio's tablet can pull forward or
swivel back like a traditional tablet. The others use integrated
kickstands that allow the tablets to recline.
In all, the Folio is stronger and more stable than other
tablets, but its design adds weight and removes some of the
flexibility, too. On the Dell and Lenovo tablets, the connection
between the keyboard and tablet is especially weak, so consider
this if you like working with a tablet on your lap.
HP's Elite Folio plays with the notion of a traditional tablet,
with a non-detachable keyboard.
If your concern is which Windows tablet is the lightest, the
answer is both the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1 and
Microsoft Surface Pro 7+, which both weigh in at 2.4 pounds. We've
included the weights below from our scale:
- Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable: 1.70lb, 2.50lb with
- HP Elite Folio: 2.95lb
- Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1: 1.65lb, 2.40lb with
- Microsoft Surface Pro 7+: 1.75lb, 2.40lb with keyboard
From a peripherals perspective, only the Dell Latitude 7320
Detachable and Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1 offer
Thunderbolt-equipped ports. Both of the others offer more generic
USB-C connections. While all of the tablets offer Windows Hello
biometric depth cameras, both the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable
and the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable offer a fingerprint reader as
well, for an additional login option.
Display size and
There are noticeable differences in the displays. Both the Dell
Latitude 7320 Detachable and HP Elite Folio offer larger 13.3-inch
displays, while the other Surface Pro 7+ and Lenovo tablet include
smaller 12.3-inch displays. The Surface Pro 8 splits the difference
with a 13-inch screen. Which tablet offers the brightest display?
That distinction goes to the HP Folio, with a blazing 1,000-nit
option that's ideal for outdoor work, or the Dell Latitude, with
its 500-nit display. (We consider 250 nits the minimum for indoor
work.) The tablet with the highest-resolution display is the
Microsoft Surface Pro 8, at 2,880 x 1,920, though the others
include 1920×1280 displays that look just fine.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1 provides a solid mix of
Thunderbolt ports and biometric login options, making it a good
Keyboard and typing
Evaluating a keyboard is quite subjective, but all of them—with
the exception of the HP Elite Folio and its shallow keys—were
comfortable for prolonged work. (Keep those loose magnetic
connections we referred to earlier in mind, though.) You shouldn't
notice any substantive differences with the trackpads, either.
Personally, I preferred both the Dell Latitude and Microsoft's
keyboards over the others. The Surface Pro Signature Keyboard
designed for the Surface Pro 8 feels the same under your fingers,
but grips the tablet tightly. The rechargeable pen is especially
Webcam and audio
While we're not going to show you representative images from all
of the webcams here, one tablet stands out: the Surface Pro 7+.
Both the Surface Pro 7+ and the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen
1 offer 1080p resolution on their user-facing cameras, but the
color and white balance on the Surface Pro 7+ is head and shoulders
above the others. The Surface Pro 8 is further optimized for color
exposure as well, but overcorrects for skin tone.
The webcam on the Surface Pro 7+ offers superior color balance
and resolution over the others.
The Surface Pro 7+ does not offer a physical webcam shutter,
however, or even a button on the keyboard to turn it off. Both the
HP Elite Folio and Lenovo ThinkPad Detachable offer physical webcam
We simply let our ears be the judge of which tablets offer the
best audio. Here, we found that only the Lenovo's speakers
disappointed us. All of the other tablets performed well, with the
usual caveat: Don't expect that much in the way of bass from a flat
tablet. You can always use headphones, though.
Windows on Arm laptops have a reputation for long battery life,
and the HP Elite Folio absolutely lives up to the stereotype. The
Elite Folio delivers 932 minutes (15.5 hours) of battery life,
which is 54 percent more than either the Surface Pro 7+ or the Dell
Latitude Detachable. The Surface Pro 8 slips a bit under those two,
tying the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1.
Tablets and laptops
with Qualcomm Snapdragon chips inside them tend to have long
battery life, and the HP Elite Folio certainly does…just not as
long as some older Snapdragon-powered devices. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
You may not care about what sort of applications are bundled
with these tablets, but we do. All of them were refreshingly free
of the bloatware cheaper PCs come saddled with. Two of them shipped
with their own vendor-developed system utilities. These apps
supplement or replace operating system tools, in that they can be
used to update firmware, drivers, or other utilities without
Windows getting in the way. Neither the Elite Folio nor the Surface
Pro tablets do anything noteworthy here.
Lenovo's Vantage software and Dell's suite of Dell utilities are
both superb, providing a central repository for warranty
information, a hardware and software dashboard, manuals and more.
While the Vantage suite is probably a bit more comprehensive,
Dell's utilities are more straightforward.
Aside from the HP Elite Folio, all of the tablets listed in our
roundup include an 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake Core chip inside and
The Elite Folio uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G, an Arm
chip that doesn't quite allow you to run all of your preferred
applications, even with emulation. (We'll let the Elite Folio review explain further.) That
limits which benchmarks we can run to test the performance of these
tablets, and which laptops and thin-and-light PCs we can compare
What we've done is use three representative benchmarks: PCMark 8
Creative, PCMark 10 Apps, and Cinebench R20. All three apps ran on
all four tablets, giving us a comprehensive view of their
performance. PCMark 8 Creative tests everything from general office
work to light gaming and video/image editing. (PCMark 10 provides a
more up-to-date, comprehensive test suite, but it won't run on the
Elite Folio.) PCMark Apps is a test of pure Office performance in
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the Edge browser. Cinebench is a
synthesized CPU test, but it tells us how well a more generic
CPU-intensive application will perform.
In the graphs below, we've highlighted the four key tablets,
alongside some older tablets and a couple of laptops. For a deeper
dive into other benchmarks, our Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable review and Surface Pro 8 review includes results of all
four tablets, save for the specialized Elite Folio results.
Lenovo captures the
top spot in our list of tablets and thin-and-light PCs in the older
PCMark 8 Creative test. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
In the PCMark 10 Apps
test, however, the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 tablet easily tops them
all. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Surface Pro 8 turns in an excellent performance in the Cinebench
R20 benchmark. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
It's true that the Arm processor forces some of our benchmark
applications to run via emulation, which slows them down. But the
performance gap is still profound.
Which Windows tablet should you buy? As you've seen, we crowned
the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable and the Microsoft Surface Pro 8
with our Editors' Choice award for different reasons. The Surface
Pro 8 offers cheaper configuration options, a solid keyboard, a
high-resolution screen, and the best webcam. It's best for
consumers. The business-focused Dell's Latitude 7320 Detachable
offers more viewable screen area, a great keyboard, Thunderbolt
ports, and a decidedly useful suite of utility apps. Of the two,
battery life favored Dell's tablet.
Your choice will likely be determined by the nuances. Yes,
Microsoft's tablet is far superior for lap work…but your tablet may
be most often used on a desk. Do Dell's robust system utilities
matter? Perhaps you've already purchased one of our best 1080p webcams, and so Microsoft's superior
integrated webcam won't influence your decision. Either way, we
declare both the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable and the Microsoft
Surface Pro 8 as the best Windows tablets of 2021.
Correction (9/8/2021): Through a miscommunication, Dell
informed us that while the company provided us with a pen and a
tablet for our review, the Dell Latitude 7320's detachable keyboard
with an included pen costs an additional US$199.99 (AU$522.50). Since this is
primarily a business-focused tablet, we have not adjusted our
rating. Update (10/14/2021): We have updated this roundup
to add the Microsoft Surface Pro 8.