Best Tablets For Photography : Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Dell XPS 12

Best Tablets for Photographers : 2016

Best Tablets for Photographers

Several years ago I bought a Google Nexus 10 (Android) tablet, hoping that it would make some of my photography work easier, and it did in some situations: it’s great for showing clients images during a shoot, or using as a live-view monitor for my camera. I quickly discovered, though, that it could never be a substitute for carrying a laptop when I’m traveling light. After a long day of shooting on a road trip, I can’t open my images in Photoshop for editing, which drives me crazy. With its storage limitations, I can’t even import the photos into my library and back them up. Editing with finger-touch would be tedious anyway, though a Bluetooth mouse would help.

But these days we have better options, and there are several tablets that will allow you to travel without a laptop. Which one should you get? First we should consider a more fundamental question:

What Tablet Features Are Most Important for a Photographer?

imaging software logos


At the bare minimum, for a tablet to be able to replace a laptop, it has to be able to run the necessary software, including Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, or equivalents1 Capture One Pro and Affinity Photo, or even OnOne Photo 10 . Adobe makes a limited version of Lightroom for iOS and Android, but there simply isn’t a professional-level, layer-based photo editor for mobile operating systems yet, and although there are probably some serious photographers who can get away with using only the full version of Lightroom most of the time, that’s not the case with the mobile version, and I hardly know any who can get away without Photoshop completely. And if you also use After Effects, Premier, and/or Illustrator, then iOS and Android become even more problematic.

Display Quality

For photography, the tablet’s display is of paramount importance. Needless to say, color gamut and accuracy are among top considerations. Photographers should also look for high resolution IPS or PLS displays, which have the widest viewing angles (without color shifts). The higher the pixel density, the sharper and less pixelated the photos will appear while editing. Luckily, most of the quality tablets available today have excellent displays.

My four-year-old Nexus 10 tablet has a screen resolution of 2560 x 1600, about 300 pixels per inch (ppi), which was a slightly higher pixel density than the iPad Retina displays at the time. Ideally, I’d like to match or best that, but at a minimum, I’d want a 1920 x 1080 display for any tablet with a 10″ or larger screen (190ppi for a 12″ screen). For comparison, the highest resolution 4K 28″ computer monitors have a pixel density of 160ppi, while 24″ 1080p computer monitors have a pixel density of about 94ppi.


I probably don’t need to explain why it would be an advantage for a tablet to have a full-size SD-card slot. A microSD slot is less helpful, but better than nothing.

Sufficient internal storage for installing the necessary software is important, as well as space for working with large files. For that purpose, I’d say that 128GB of internal storage should be fine, though you can never have too much.

When it comes to image storage, though, only the largest available internal SSD drives are likely to be large enough for storing extended shoots from today’s high-megapixel cameras. I fill up 32GB and 64GB CF and SD cards pretty quickly (without shooting video), and I’m not even using a Canon 5Ds R yet. Even though a 1TB internal drive, or even a 512GB, might be fine for importing images during most trips lasting a week or so, you’ll still need to consider a backup drive. A USB port to connect the tablet to an external drive (or two, if you opt for a smaller internal drive) is, therefore, necessary.

And just as a matter of convenience, I’d like to be able to connect a USB memory stick to be able to pass off files to clients or friends, among other things.

repeated external hard drives

CPUs and Battery Life

You’ll find three basic categories of CPUs in Intel-based tablets: Atom, Core M, and Core i7 (including i3, i5, and i7).

  • Core i7 Family are the most powerful, but also draw the most power, run the warmest and generally require a fan (though it may only turn on now and then).
  • Core M are not quite as powerful as i7/i5 processors of the same generation, but are still very capable processors. They don’t require a fan and they use less power2 though it’s worth mentioning that this doesn’t seem to translate into better battery life, for some reason . They’re used in some popular laptops like the MacBook Pro and Asus Zenbook.
  • Atom processors are generally small and cool running, but are generally intended for mobile devices like phones and are not well suited to running CPU intensive programs (like Photoshop). Consequently, I’ve tossed all Atom based tablets out of the running, with one exception.

There’s not much to be said about battery life beyond the obvious: the more there is, the better. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus about how to test and report battery life, making meaningful comparisons almost impossible.

Input Devices

I had never given much thought to how tricky it is to edit photos on a touch screen until I tried to use Photoshop without a mouse on a touchscreen monitor. Detail work, and even making curves adjustments, can be nearly impossible.

Wacom Intuos Pen

Most tablets support Bluetooth input devices, but I prefer to use a Wacom tablet for editing work. A USB port on any tablet would make that an option, but a high-quality “pen” device would be even more convenient. In this case, high-quality would mean supporting at least 512 levels of touch sensitivity 3 This is a little arbitrary, since I don’t know how many are truly necessary or even helpful, but the cheapest Wacom tablets support 512 levels, and they’ve always been sufficient for my retouching work and a precision point.

It also really helps to have a keyboard if you’re accustomed to using keyboard shortcuts while working in Photoshop, not to mention its utility in writing blog posts, emails, keeping notes, etc., but since the topic under discussion here is tablets and not laptops, this won’t be a requirement.

Which Tablets are the Best for Photographers?

First, let’s get this out of the way: all Apple and Android devices are ruled out by the software requirements. The iPad Pro is cool and powerful, but it doesn’t run Photoshop, so it’s a non-starter. Until the iPad Pro can run OSX and Photoshop, or Affinity Photo, it’s not really a professional device, in my book. [Update: Affinity Photo will be available for iOS later this summer, they say. So, the iPad Pro will move up in the standings.]

So what’s left? Windows 10 devices.

Let’s take a look at the major players, sorted by screen resolution (best first):

(Announcement Date)
Screen Size/
Pixels Per InchInternal StorageCPURAMPortsPen InputWeightBase Price
Dell XPS 12
Dell XPS 12 (4K)
(Oct. 2015)
352256GBCore M5 6Y548GBSD Card
2x Thunderbolt 3
(Dell Active Pen)
1.75lbs$847 at Amazon
HP Pro Tablet 608HP Pro Tablet 608
(June 2015)
326128GBAtom x5-85002 - 4GBMicroSD Card
0.79lbs$429 from HP
Microsoft Surface Pro 4Microsoft Surface Pro 4
(Oct. 2015)
267128GB - 1TBCore m3-6Y30
Core i5-6300U
Core i7-6650U
4 - 16GBFull-Size USB 3.0
Micro-SD Card
1024 levels
1.73lbs.$799 at Amazon
Mircosoft Surface BookMicrosoft Surface Book
(Oct 2015)
267128GB - 1TBCore i5-6300U
Core i7-6600U
8 - 16GB2 Full-Size USB 3.0
Full Size SD Card
Mini DisplayPort
1024 levels
3.34lbs with keyboard
Microsoft Surface Pro 3Microsoft Surface Pro 3
(May 2014)
21664 - 512GBCore i3-4020Y
Core i5-4300U
Core i7-4650U
4 - 8GBFull-size USB 3.0 MicroSD card
Mini DisplayPort
Yes1.76lbs$699 from Microsoft
$559 from

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S
(January 2016)
216128GBCore M3
(Dualcore 2.2GHz)
4GBUSB-CYes1.53lbs$799 at Amazon
Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700
Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700
(Sept. 2015)
216256GBCore M3
Core M5
Core M7
8GB1 USB 3.0
1 USB 2.0
Micro HDMI
(active pen)
1.7lbs$489 - $549
Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140
(Nov 2014)
204Up to 256GBCore M-5Y10C
Core M-5Y71
8GBUSB 3.0
256 levels
HP Spectre x2HP Spectre x2
(Oct. 2015)
192128 - 512GBCore M3
Core M5
Core M7
4 - 8GB2x USB-C
1.87lbs (tablet)
2.68lbs (w/ keyboard)
HP Elite x2 1011 G1HP Elite x2 1011 G1
(January 2015)
1366 x 768
128 - 512GBCore M-5Y71
Core M-5Y51
Core M-5Y10c
(USB on keyboard)
Wacom Pen
1.92 lbs
1.71 lbs (power keyboard)
w/ Power Keyboard

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Micrsoft Surface Pro 4

Best Overall Tablets

It may not come as much of a surprise that Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 4 is probably the best option when it comes to Windows tablets. The display is excellent, rating even higher than the (also excellent) Apple iPad Pro, especially in color accuracy, where it ranked as the highest ever measured. It can be equipped with the most powerful processor (the Core i7), the most RAM, and the largest SSD drive, and its full-size USB port makes adding additional storage and accessories a snap. The new Wacom pen is capable of 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity for easy control of Photoshop tools, and of course, it runs Windows 10. It may not have the highest pixel density, but considering that 28″ 4K computer monitors have a pixel density of only(!) 160ppi, the Surface Pro’s 276ppi will still look amazing. You can configure and purchase it directly from Microsoft starting, or if you prefer ordering with Prime shipping, they’re at for the same prices.

Some users have reported problems, and although Microsoft claims to have fixed them all with software updates, they persist in some models. My Surface Pro 4 is the i5 model with 256GB SSD, and I have not experienced any significant problems with it, and the battery life is good (5 hours of constant use, roughly).

Dell XPS 12 with 4K Screen 2015
The 2015 Dell XPS 12 with 4K display.

[Updated 6/20/2016] While the Dell XPS 12’s impressive 4K display originally made it a top contender, early customers had a variety of problems with the software. It seems that it’s mostly been fixed with updates, although users still point to erratic battery life. However, now that the price has dropped several hundred dollars (from $1250), the Dell is a very tempting deal.

Get the 4K version (or check on customer reviews) from Amazon for $629.

Best ‘Might-As-Well-Be-A-Laptop’ Tablet

Surface Book TabletYes, it has excellent specs and looks pretty slick, but the Microsoft Surface Book is also just as large and heavy as most laptops, and even more expensive. It doesn’t really count, here, because its keyboard (which holds most of the battery power) is so important as to be indispensable.

Still, if you’re looking for a laptop that can occasionally function as a tablet, the Surface Book is as good as it gets. Buy direct from Microsoft, or from for the same price.

Best Compact Tablet

HP Pro Tablet 608
The HP Pro Tablet 608. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps you’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and every ounce counts. Maybe you just have a bad back. Whatever the case may be, if size and weight are the most important to you, but you still want a tablet with all the benefits of Windows 10, the HP Pro Tablet 608 may be perfect for you. Its 8″ screen is smaller than those of the other tablets listed here, but it weighs a full pound less than the larger tablets, too. And that screen has a pixel density that’s even higher than the Microsoft Surface devices, making your images even smoother. Oh, and it only costs about $430 directly from HP, when it’s available.

Despite its size, the HP Pro 608 is still well equipped with a USB-C port and MicroSD slot, and an optional pen device ($50) that provides 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. A dock and a keyboard cover are also available.

The downside to all of this compact prowess is a hit to processing power: it will not be a joy to spend hours in Photoshop on this device. Benchmark tests indicate that the 608’s Quad-Core Atom processor will take about 20% longer to process files when multi-cores are used compared to a (two core) Core M5Y10, and about twice as long for processes that only use a single core. However, if you don’t require the tablet to do much heavy lifting, or if you have some patience, the HP Pro 608 tablet will still get the job done.

Good But Less Expensive Tablets

It should be apparent from the table above that there are still quite a few other good options for photographers, each having its own strengths and weaknesses. Many of them are less expensive than the new Surface Pro 4 line and are worth considering.

The Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 is a good option; it is very similar to the older Surface Pro 3, with the same size and screen resolution, but comes with a better keyboard and an extra USB port. Although the Lenovo uses Core M processors, they compare very favorably to the older generation of i3/i5/i7 processors used in the Surface Pro 3, so performance should be similar but with less noise and heat. At, prices currently range from $ for the base model up to $ for a model with twice the RAM, a larger SSD, and a faster processor.

Nearly the exact same thing can be said of the HP Spectre x2 (2015 model), although its screen resolution is a bit lower and the base model costs about $100 more than the Lenovo. It has an excellent keyboard and two USB-C ports, and the latest Core M processors. It can purchased directly from HP, starting at $799.

Additional Considerations

Unless you buy a tablet with a massive internal drive (512GB or 1TB), you’re going to want additional storage space for your images. In fact, even if you can fit them onto your internal drive, you should still back-up your images to an external drive, in case your tablet is stolen or destroyed. Luckily, storage is not very expensive these days.

Samsung External SSD
A tiny 500GB Samsung external SSD, which weighs only 1.1 ounces!

Since we’re talking about tablets, we’ll assume that you’re on the move, which means that you won’t want an external drive that requires external power. Instead, a portable drive that is powered through the tablet’s USB cable would be most practical. These are now quite inexpensive: a 1TB drive costs only $60, and a 2TB drive costs only $83 from These are compatible with all Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4 tablets, but may require driver updates with some tablets. Sustained write speeds will be around 60-75 MB/sec.

Even better than standard hard drives, though, are external SSDs. Because they have no motors or moving parts, they require less power to operate (saving your tablet’s battery), they’re small and lightweight, and they’re faster to access and transfer files (also saving time and battery power). But they’re more expensive: a 500GB drive will run $180, and a 1TB drive about $370. However, you can save some cash by purchasing an external drive enclosure (about $15) and buying an SSD separately to put in it, in which case a ~1TB drive will cost about $220. Either way, sustained write speeds will be around 500 MB/sec.

Comments and Questions

Know of something that I missed? Disagree? Think that iPads are a serious option? Think that Android tablets can get the job done? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Hi Matthew!

I am a beginner photographer and I’m looking for a tablet that I can use for fixing pictures using the full versions of Lightroom and Photoshop. Do you have any new info since this article was published?


Will the HP Pro Tablet 608 do a decent job with photoshop and lightroom. I know its not the fasted, but i’m just looking for something small and light that I could take traveling that could handle quick photoshop and lightroom edits.


Hello Matthew
May I start with a great web site. I just pickup my first DLSR Nikon D5100 camera. I am in the learning stages of taking photos. I find that my view screen on the DLSR way to small to really study the photo’s I have taken. I am looking for something to pull my SD card out of my camera to tablet or laptop. for screening on the road or out on the field. I am mostly looking for memory and maybe Photoshop once I get better with shooting photos. Just something simple and easy for now.


Hi Matthew

I read this with awe and interest. I am a painter who uses my own photographs as an ‘aide memoire’ for paintings and want to get a tablet so that I am not tied to the PC, but can have the images beside me in the studio to work from.
Photoshop would be way overkill for the amount of editing I have to do – also I can’t afford it, and to be honest it drives me insane (ie I’m not clever enough to make sense of it). I use an old version of Nero Photosnap which probably nobody has ever heard of, and Serif PhotoPlus X7 for the minimal amount of editing I have to do. I don’t aim for paintings that are photo-realistic, otherwise they might as well be photographs!
I have looked a gazillion tablets but don’t really have any idea what might fit the bill. I need a decent sized screen say 10″ minimum, and something with good saturated colour and resolution. The option to crop out a section of the pic and enlarge it would be good, and PhotoPlus allows me to pick a colour on the pic and either add something in that colour, change a shape or erase it as well as the usual basics of upping or downing the exposure/brightness/contrast. The programme does a lot more than that but I like to keep it simple. I didn’t even know it was possible to install an editing programme on a tablet – if you use Photoshop, presumably it is, with some. Or an acceptable alternative for me would be to edit the pics on the PC and transfer them to the tablet for when I am in the studio. In fact that might be preferable, as on the PC I have a keyboard and a larger screen to work with.
I am not a fan of Windows 10, to put it mildly, but could probably bear it if I had to. I have an android phone (Galaxy Note, an old one), which I seem to be able to find my way around, but the screen is far too small for my needs.
I realise I am not in the same league as you guys, and we probably don’t even speak the same language – my serious photography days are behind me as I couldn’t keep up with the cost of the equipment. Everything I read about ‘best tablets’ seems geared towards kids and people playing video games, and might as well be written in Swahili for all the sense it makes to me. So I would be hugely appreciative if you could give me a few ideas of something I might look at. Yours is the first blog/website which has given me any hope! Thank you.


Hi Lynsey,
Like you I am a painter and small time photographer. I use an iPad 3 ( Retina display ) , $200 on Craigslist, Lightroom and Photogene for editing on the iPad and Flickr for a modest display of photos.
Hope this helps

Robert of Prague

Hi Mathew;

Thank you very much for the thorough review. However, I need a different setup. Having an eyesight handicap (partially blind in R-eye, the injury is next to the macula/optical nerve – can’t see much straight out), I need a tablet/ext monitor tethered via USB/HDMI (or Wi-Fi) to my 1. Sony Alpha APS-C e-mount &/or Nikon D700 or Nikon 1 J4 cameras, so that I can see clear & sharp & accurate copy of the LCD screen & the camera settings -before- I shoot. I shoot in hybrid RAW + JPG & bracketed HDR (AF [cannot see/focus MF] + rest manual; f2-22; ISO 100-800; bulb, 1/4K-30 secs shutter). Have all the HW & SW, the remotes work but the LCD even on the FX D700 is too small for me.
My specialty is deep backcountry (on foot) alpine (Rockies) & desert (US-SW) pix of unusual formations & wide panos & blue/golden light. I am a ret. geologist & semi-pro photographer finishing my 1st book being printed in Germany by CEWE. The tablet has to be Android OS for the remote control app & SD card slot for backup (128 GB is fine). I do all editing on home PC in Lr, Topaz Labs, Nik & CaptureOne Pro9.
I’ve looked at the Galaxy Tab S2 8″, very impressed but 400$$ blows the budget since I need a new wide angle prime glass for the Sony: 700-1000$$ – the 1st camera I take backpacking. All 3 w/ diff. lenses on day hikes.
I am looking for a 7-8″ tablet/ext monitor for ~200$ – even used/refurb, w/ best HD screen available; don’t care about other use/apps but as my 2nd eye & backup.
If you could kindly point me in the right direction (I’ve been doing my homework for 2 months), I’d be very grateful.
I’m heading to S-UT/N-AZ in 2 weeks, Zion, GSENM, Waterpocket Fold, Lake Powell, White Pocket, Cedar Mesa Anasazi ruins, Canyonlands. Been going there for 26 years & just scratching the surface. Some of the most surreal morphology on this planet.

Thank you & have a great magic-light weekend.

Robert of Prague

Robert of Prague

Hi Mathew;

Thanks for the quick response & the tip re: Nexus 7; 10″ is too big to schlepp &/or attach to the tripod.
Would you know if a latest off-brand Android tablet would work, too, or where could I find out:

I’ve been to B.C. many times including snow covered; not much of ‘backcountry’ there, though. I’d recommend Hwy 12 btw B.C. (best at sunup) & Capitol Reef (best before sundown) – W. Fold monocline (best early AM) is the S-part w/ Henry Mntns.
100+ miles vistas!
I’ve seen all 5 UT-NPs snow covered & empty, however, the blooming cacti & the golden quackies seasons are my fave.
In the last ~2-3 y alone, I’ve taken ~10K of pix btw Zion & Moab (Hwy 95). Each ‘small’ trip is 1500-3000 miles, 1000 miles off-road.
I’m lucky living in the Foothills of the Rockies – great skiing & Moab is ~3 h & Zion 5 h down S.



Robert of Prague

Thanks Mathew;

I mulled over the pixels & you nailed it.
I’m getting this toy, even though I missed the sale:
Better than Nexus 7 & almost at Tab S2 for 200$. Fast OS, needed in burst/bracketed mode.
Thanks again for the advice.

CO is my ‘home-state’ where I started in CO-Springs in 1983 coming from ‘CH’ (12 y there) after escaping communism & Soviet tanks in Prague in 1970.
I dig SW-CO & San Juans; bagged a few 14ners. My daughter loves B.C.
Where do you live now?


Benni k


thanks for the reviews, i’m wondering what a laptop withc touh screen capabilities is worth/compared to the most powerful tablets.

Also, Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet was reviewed everywhere and most of those reviewers conclusion was that is is the best Android Tablet available, whats your opionion on that?


Andy Bryant

What do you think about the new HP Elite x2 1012 devices. They look more cost effective than the surface pro 4 and come with a Wacom pen.