The Best Tablet for Architects and Contractors (Update 2019)
Looking for a tablet that will make working in the field simpler? It’s a jungle out there with a mind-boggling number of tablets on offer. But I got some good news: There’s light at the end of the tunnel (there really is, trust me).
If you’re an architect or contractor, we’ve explicitly created this guide for you. Our aim is to help you select a tablet that really suits your needs. We’ve done hours of research to present our top 3 tablets for architects and contractors.
Also, we’ve included 8 tablet selection criteria that architects and contractors should pay particular attention to when choosing a tablet. These criteria are based on feedback from ArchiSnapper users, who are people just like you.
So let’s dig into it, shall we?
Your article overview
- Why a good tablet is essential for architects and contractors
- 8 most important tablet selection criteria
- How did we test the tablets?
- Best budget tablet
- Best quality tablet
- Best small tablet
- In conclusion
Why a good tablet is essential for architects and contractors
A tablet is ideal for the kind of work you’ll be doing on the construction site because:
- it’s lightweight with many screen sizes to choose from, including large 12.9-inch screens for a great overview of floor plans and drawings.
- it comes with a camera for taking field pictures.
- it can be protected with a rugged case.
- you can “upgrade” it with a stylus and keyboard so you can easily write out notes.
We’ll be the first to admit that tablets aren’t cheap. However, when you consider if you need (a new) one or not, think about more than the immediate costs. More specifically, consider the costs of not having a tablet including:
- time you waste writing out worksite comments and notes with the small, less handy keyboard of your phone.
- time you waste searching for the correct zone on your floor plan on the tiny screen of your phone.
- time you waste recharging the battery of your old or less qualitative tablet because it’s always running low on power.
- time you waste spending minutes on simply opening PDFs on your old tablet.
- time you waste because an application or your complete tablet crashes and you lose important information!
It’s up to you of course, but if you do decide that the benefits outweigh the costs, your next challenge is to find the right tablet. That’s when it’ll really pay off to go on reading here.
8 most important tablet selection criteria
We know everyone’s different when it comes to tablet preferences. To give you the best possible framework for choosing the tablet that’s right for you, we’ve put together a list of tablet selection criteria that architects and contractors should pay particular attention to before making that important buy.
1. Screen size
First things first: Device sizes such as “7-inch or 10-inch tablet” refer to the size of the screen when you measure it diagonally (and not the size of the tablet itself). The ideal screen size is a matter of your personal taste. It really depends on what you want to accomplish with your device on the construction site and elsewhere.
Smaller screen sizes
If you prefer to keep it brief on the worksite (e.g. mostly taking pictures with the occasional note attached) then a smartphone could very well suffice for your needs. Of course, writing out longer texts or navigating floor plans is inconvenient on a phone, which generally offers a small 5- to 6-inch screen (or around 13 – 15 cm).
Larger screen sizes
You’re looking to use your device intensively on the worksite (e.g. writing out decent chunks of texts, looking at detailed documents etc.)? Then a regular tablet such as a Samsung Galaxy Tab or iPad Pro with a 10-inch to 13-inch screen (around 25 to 33 cm) will be your best option.
If you can’t make up your mind, consider a small tablet. It will fit into your coat’s pocket and still be more convenient than a smartphone for typing text, opening, reading and editing documents. A good example is the iPad mini with a 7.9-inch screen (that’s around 20 cm) or same size Android models. This is a popular format among our users.
What kind of connectivity do you need? Generally, tablets come with either “Wi-Fi only” or “Wi-Fi plus a cellular connection (4G)”.
You can save several hundred dollars for a device with no 4G. Plus you will save the cost of paying an internet connection provider for your data usage. However, most construction sites do not have (good) Wi-Fi. So consider these questions:
- How often do you need an internet connection on-the-go? Note down how many times you use your phone or the Wi-Fi connection on a worksite in a day.
- Do you work with apps that need an internet connection or not?
- Do you frequently need to download the most recent version of a blueprint, or send a field report or other document to a colleague?
If your answer is yes, you should probably go for a more expensive tablet with 4G to be online at any given moment without hassle.
Of course, if you just need an internet connection from time to time, you can always create a hotspot with your phone to make a temporary connection. You can also buy a dedicated mobile hotspot. In both cases you need to be aware of the monthly fees for data usage.
In the end, you may decide that you’re fine without an anytime-anywhere connection for your tablet. Either way, consider your connectivity needs and weigh them against the price increase before you choose your tablet.
3. Operation system
The choice of operation system is also very personal. If you already own an iPhone or Mac, it makes sense to stay with iOS. You’ll immediately understand how the device works and all your individual devices can easily be synchronised (for example with iCloud).
If you already own an Android device you might be more comfortable with that setup. We used to have a slight preference for Apple devices because they were of a better quality. However, the latest Android devices perform very well too. Android devices also tend to be cheaper, which makes the choice less obvious.
For both iOS and Android devices there are a lot of useful apps available for construction professionals. For Windows, the selection of available apps is still limited.
4. Storage space
It’s frustrating to waste time removing files from a tablet because it’s reached its memory limit. Time is money. We advise you to get a tablet with at least 32 GB storage space or the capability to expand its inherent storage capacity. If you need to store a lot of pictures and videos on your tablet then 32 GB is more of a need-to-have than a nice-to-have.
Most Android devices let you add an external memory card (SD card) to expand the memory. This still isn’t possible with Apple devices so make sure to invest in enough storage space upfront if you’re considering getting an iPad.
The RAM memory is a decisive factor for the speed of your device including how fast your tablet will be able to render PDFs. 1 GB of RAM should be enough for most applications. However, for intensive use, you’ll need more than that.
To easily work on numerous projects with their associated documents, we advise ArchiSnapper users to go with 2 GB of RAM or more. If you want a tablet that will render floor plans and drawings in split-seconds, look into high-end options with 4 GB RAM such as the latest iPad Pro or Samsung Galaxy Tab S series.
6. Battery life
If you are often on the road the entire day, it’s a must to have a tablet that will last through the day without a recharge. So, look for devices with at least 9 hours battery power on a single charge.
A handy accessory is a tablet charger cable for use in your car. They generally don’t cost a lot and can prevent much misery. One of these babies will enable you to recharge your tablet while you drive from one appointment to the next. And in the meantime you can even listen to an interesting podcast. Just make sure you buy one that is compatible with your tablet!
A decent protection cover or rugged case is absolutely crucial to protect your tablet against life in construction including rain, dust, bumps or drops on hard surfaces.
The Otterbox Defender products are a solid choice, which has made them super popular in construction. Here, you’ll find a complete overview of the best rugged cases to protect your tablet at the worksite.
A pen or stylus is a handy tool to draw or sketch with on plans, pictures or on a white background. It also comes in handy if you like to jot down notes or comments.
Make sure the stylus you choose creates the kind of line you’re looking for. If you want to draw with it, you might need to look for special models that are optimised for a thinner, sharper line. You will find a big stylus selecting here.
Also a tablet keyboard, which you can connect to your tablet as needed, comes in handy if you’d like to to continue working on your tablet in the construction barrack, on-the-go or even in your office. It let’s you type as you would on your desktop so you’re less dependent on making the switch.
Last, but not least, the price will play a decisive role in your choice of tablet. Consider what your budget limit is and go for the maximum quality and value that it’ll allow. Also keep in mind that you will use a tablet for an average of 2 to 3 years.
And, of course, don’t forget that a work tablet is deductible from your taxes as a professional expense!
How did we test the tablets?
We tested a number of tablets using our ArchiSnapper App to rank their performance in:
- taking pictures.
- loading large floor plans.
- sketching on floor plans and pictures.
- reviewing huge inspection checklists.
- synchronising large volumes of reports and pictures to the cloud.
- working offline.
Using the above-mentioned criteria, we have selected three really good tablets for you to consider. We’ve also included a few alternatives to our favourites to make the selection a bit more nuanced.
Best Budget Tablet – Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (starting at $249.95)
Yes, it was released back in May 2016, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1-inch with the S Pen has yet to be beaten as our best budget tablet for architects, engineers and constructors.
It has a pretty handy dimension (10.1 inch or about 27 cm) and can be bought together with the S Pen for comfortable drawing / note taking. If you don’t like to work with a pen on your tablet, you can save some money by buying the even cheaper version without the S Pen (starting at USD 204.95 for 16 GB). Just be aware that if you get this version, the screen is not set up to work with a stylus, so you can’t just decide to buy an S Pen separately later on.
The battery life time is still ahead of the pack when compared to similar devices and easily stays charged for 12 to 15 hours, which is a huge advantage for use at construction worksites and on-the-go. Further advantages is the very decent screen quality and camera with flash.
One disadvantage to take into account is that the screen can be hard to read in bright sunlight. So, if you’re really going to work with your tablet outside a lot, you might want to consider a tablet with a so-called AMOLDED screen, which deals with sunlight better. However, if you’re used to Android and really want the best price possible, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A remains our #1 recommendation for you.
Screen size: 10.1-inch or about 27 cm.
Connectivity: Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 4G.
Operating system: Android.
Storage space: 16 GB or 32 GB.
Speed: 2 GB or 3 GB.
Battery life: 12 to 15 hours.
Keyboard: The Fintie Keyboard case is a good option for this device.
Stylus: The S Pen is often bought together with this model, see here for the combo.
Protection cover: The MoKo Rugged cover is available for the 10.1-inch model. The Otterbox case is only available for the smaller 9.7-inch model, e.g. this one.
Price: $204.95 for the 16 GB version without 4G/cellular and without S Pen compatibility. With the S Pen, prices start at $249.95 for 16 GB and no cellular. Check current prices here.
Alternative budget tablet – Huawei MediaPad M5 with M Pen Lite
If you would like an alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Tab A, we recommend that you look into the Huawei MediaPad M5 Lite 10 with M Pen Lite. It starts at USD 299 including the pen. Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab A, it comes with 32 GB storage space, 3 GB RAM and a similar battery endurance (13 hours).
The main difference is that it also has a fingerprint sensor. That’s a very valuable security feature, if you don’t like typing in a passcode every time you start working on your tablet. Depending on your personal preferences, the fingerprint sensor might tip the scale for you.
Best Quality Tablet – iPad Pro 2018 11-inch (starting at $699)
Last fall, Apple announced their latest iPad Pro, which comes with a very convincing set of features. The only real downside here is the price. However, if you think of what you could get for the same amount of money a couple of years ago, it’s still a really good deal. You get the new iPad Pro in an 11-inch version starting at USD 699 or in a 12.9-inch version starting at USD 999.
New features include a near edge-to-edge display, a lot more storage space, a 12 megapixels camera for insanely sharp pictures and a 35% faster processor. That means this iPad outperforms many laptops speed-wise. Be aware that the new iPad Pro does not come with a home button and that you unlock it with face recognition.
The iPad Pro 11-inch is compatible with the new second generation Apple Pencil. If you use a stylus a lot – to draw and do more detailed work – the new Apple Pencil has some updates that might interest you. It’s technically more advanced meaning it’s even more pressure sensitive and will react in absolute unison with your hands movements.
You can also charge it with a magnetic connection, which means it automatically recharges while you’re not using it. No need to plug it into your iPad to charge it, which gives it a clear edge over the first generation of Apple Pencils.
And while the old pen was completely round –which made it easily roll away on uneven surfaces – the second generation pen has a flat side, that generally makes it stay put.
Moreover, the new iPad Pro comes with a USB plug – something the older versions didn’t offer. That might come in handy if you like to transfer files the old-fashioned way.
One feat that Apple has yet to overcome is creating truly competitive battery endurance. However, with ten hours of battery life, you should be perfectly fine for a full-day of hassle-free work.
Screen size: 11-inch or 12.9-inch (28 cm or 33 cm).
Connectivity: Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 4G.
Operating system: iOS.
Storage space: 64 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 Tb.
Speed: 4 GB or 6 GB RAM.
Battery life: Up to 10 hours.
Keyboard: Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio will cost you around $179 depending on the model. If you don’t want to spend too much on accessories, we recommend the Soke iPad Pro Case with pencil holder for about $19.99.
Stylus: If you want to do some serious drawing on your tablet, the Apple Pencil is your best option. Be aware that the iPad Pro 2018 only works with the second generation version, which will cost you $129. Alternatively, the Wacom Bamboo Sketch for $64.99 is one of the best on the market.
Protection cover: Consider the ZUGU Muse Case, which costs $59.99 for an 11-inch size ($69.99 for the 12.9-inch version). It protects against drops up to 5 feet and includes a cradle for the Apple Pencil.
Price: $699 for the 11-inch version 64 GB without 4G/cellular. Check current price here.
Alternative quality tablet – Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 with an S Pen
If you really love the Android operating system and don’t mind spending a bit more on your tablet, it’s worth considering the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. It does cost about USD 700 with an S Pen included, which is a lot for an Android device, but it comes with quite the line-up of neat features.
Amongst others, it has an impressive battery life time of 16 hours, 4GB RAM, 13 MP rear camera resolution (that beats Apple’s latest line of iPads) and a practical USB slot. If you’re not into iOS but you want a superior quality tab, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S series is a good place to look.
Best Small Tablet – iPad 9.7-inch 2018 (starting at $249)
Apple’s latest iPad 9.7-inch is a true value-for-money champ starting at just USD 249. Yes, its price is comparable to the 2017-version, but the 2018 comes with some really cool upgrades that makes it a true value-for-money champ.
Upsides include a decent size screen (9.7-inch screen or 24.6 cm) with an amazing resolution (2,048 x 1,536), the option to choose between 32 or 128 GB storage models and the famously powerful Apple processors to make your tablet fast as lighting.
Downsides? Ten hours of battery life time and 2 GB RAM should be more than enough, but it’s nothing to boast about if you look at the competition. Also, the accessories tend to be quite pricy (a second generation Apple Pencil is 129 USD although the iPad will work with other pens too) and you can’t expand the storage later on.
Screen size: 9.7-inch (around 24.6 cm).
Connectivity: Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 4G.
Operating system: iOS.
Storage space: 32 GB or 128 GB.
Speed: 2 GB RAM.
Battery life: Up to 10 hours.
Keyboard: We recommend the super light, aluminium Brydge Keyboard for $99.99 or the ZAGG Rugged Messenger for the same price. The latter is build to protect your iPad and lasts up to 2 years on a single charge.
Stylus: For a superior drawing experience, go for the more expensive Apple Pencil second generation ($129) or Wacom Bamboo Sketch ($65.99). For a good budget option, we recommend the Hahakee iPad Stylus for $34.99.
Protection cover: A very strong, water-proof option is the Pelican Voyager iPad Case for $66.
Price: $249 for the 32 GB version without 4G/cellular. Current price check here.
Alternative small tablet – Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7-inch
If you’re an Android fan and you want a small tablet, we recommend that you consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7-inch starting at just USD 179.99 (32 GB, without 4G). It comes with 32 GB storage space that can be expanded, 3 GB RAM and quite the powerful 1.9 GHz tablet processor, which makes it nice and fast to work on.
It has the same screen size (2048 x 1536 pixels) but with a lower resolution than the iPad 9.7-inch. Worth noting is that it comes with a SuperAMOLED display, which makes it easier to read the screen in bright sunlight. Furthermore, the 12 hours of battery time should serve you well on the road. It’s also available in an even smaller 8-inch size, if you’re really looking for something light and handy.
Wondering what happened to the Surface Pro?
We know that a lot of architects and contractors love Microsoft’s Surface Pro. However, we’ve not included it in our list of best tablets because it’s more of a lightweight laptop in our opinion. Nevertheless, we felt it deserved a mention.
We hope this review helps you select a tablet that you will love because it truly fits your needs on and off the worksite. However, our most important advice to you is that you sit down for a couple of hours, consider what you really want to use the tablet for and jot down your most important criteria for it. Only then, can you find that perfect tablet that will ultimately increase your productivity and free up your time for more important things as a construction professional.
To round up and give you a nice overview of our recommendations (including the criteria we deemed particularly important), here’s a table that you can easily download and print out to help you in your future research.
If you have any questions or suggestions, we would like to hear from you. Feel free to email me at “stinne at archisnapper dot com” or leave a comment in the field below.