Here’s the best tablet to send the kids back to school with

Kitting the kids out to go back to school is more significant this year than ever. They have a term and a half of lost lessons to make up, so any help they can get in the technology department is going to be welcome.

Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet costs only £90 - around a quarter of the cheapest iPad

Laptops and tablets have for some time been the most requested aids to studying, but while the range of the former is roughly similar to that of last year, iPads and their rivals have proliferated during the months in between.

Apple invented tablets and its iPad range is second to none. It’s also the most expensive, though, and arguably too valuable a piece of kit to be subjected to the knockabout routine of classroom life.

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That makes its newest competitor an attractive proposition. The latest version of Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet costs only £90 – around a quarter of the cheapest Apple tablet – but does almost everything an iPad does, if a little more slowly.

Amazon markets its range of Fire tablets as “media devices” rather than educational tools, but they are capable of running exactly the same kind of apps, albeit those developed for the Android operating system rather than Apple’s iOS.

The 2020 Fire HD 8 is the tenth generation of Amazon tablets and is said to be around 30 per cent faster than its predecessor – which, confusingly, is also called the Fire HD 8 and is still available for £80. You can tell it apart because it has 16 gigabytes of storage instead of a minimum of 32. With its plastic case, the Fire HD lacks the premium feel of an iPad but it does have front and rear cameras and a half-decent quad-core processor.

It also has adverts, and quite a lot of them. Amazon calls these “special offers” but they are really just plugs for its other services and their presence helps to underwrite the subsidised cost of the hardware. If you don’t want them, you can pay an extra £10 either at the time of purchase or thereafter to have them removed. You can also choose to pay £20 extra for the Fire HD 8 Plus, which has wireless charging and an extra gigabyte of memory to speed things up. This is probably the better buy.

Apple’s closest competitor is the iPad Mini, which has roughly the same size screen but a much higher resolution and a greatly enhanced processor. It interacts not only with your finger but also with the Apple Pencil, which turns it into a credible artists’ tool. Apple’s own pencils cost at least £80, though you can get third-party products for around a quarter of that.

But quality doesn’t come cheap. The iPad Mini starts at just under £400 and rises to £670 if you want extra storage and connectivity over mobile networks as well as wi-fi.

The cheapest Apple tablet is currently the iPad itself, the seventh generation of which sits below the iPad Air and iPad Pro in the line-up. With a 10.2-inch screen, this is somewhat bigger than the Mini and is powered by an older processor. The front-facing camera is also less well defined – a factor that may deter buyers who have suddenly become used to video conferencing. The iPad starts at £349, rising to £579 with all the options.

Meanwhile, the slightly-bigger yet lighter iPad Air, which starts at £479, beats the basic iPad on resolution, camera and processor.

Apple and Amazon’s tablets are not the only ones on the shelves. You can get own-brand models for as little as £45 at Argos, but they are quite long in the tooth, and as a general rule, the older and cheaper they are the longer they will take to load your work. For general purpose use, the 2020 Fire 8 HD is probably the best trade-off between speed and price – at least until next year.

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James Mitchinson