page-sized tablet comparisons

Edited: August 7, 2023, 3:21 AM · Many discussions on tablets are from a few years ago or older, so the device comparisons could have changed. I've read recommendations of good apps for the 3 operating systems. I hope for a tablet to run reliably and fast for 5+ years for rehearsing and performing: opening documents, flipping pages with pedal, annotating, etc. I prefer to stick to Android or Windows, especially if I ever use the tablet for file transfer or some general computer use with keyboard. But for now I'd rather pay a low price for used/refurbished and use it only for the music.

I'm considering iPad Pro 12.9" 4th generation, Microsoft Surface tablets, and Boox e-ink tablets (Tab X, Lumi, Lumi2).

I looked briefly at display models of iPad, Microsoft, and Samsung. I think the best stylus was the Microsoft, while Samsung was worst (and not an option, because the screen dimensions are not close to 8.5x"11"). The 13" Boox is probably only available from the company, and I would have to find out how and where possible repairs or replacements are done.

My main question: which model of the Microsoft Surface would be sufficient for my use, and what is your experience using it? Someone at BestBuy said that they are not as [dedicated? advanced?] of a tablet. For example, supposedly there is no way to lock the screen rotation while I move it around on my lap as a smartphone can do. I'm wondering if there are other basic design limitations that I will discover that make it not a smart choice.


Replies (22)

August 6, 2023, 1:32 PM · Would a 2-in-1 laptop count? I just got a new Dell 2-in-1 for work but I haven't tried the stylus or many of the other tablet features yet. The screen is nice and big though with a really thin border, very elegant.

My main comment here is that software matters too. You have to have a system that you find easy to use otherwise either you won't end up using it, or you'll be hating it the whole time. I think this is one reason why the iPads seem to keep rising to the top -- because ForScore is only available for iOS, not Windows or Android as far as I know.

August 6, 2023, 1:52 PM · The surface can lock its screen rotation. They are nice devices, however they tend to be more expensive than 2 in 1 laptops that paul mentioned. They are lighter as they do not have built in keyboards.

One issue with older devices is their batteries. They may not hold a charge well.

Like Paul, I recommend a 2 in 1 laptop preferable new. They will be competitively priced. The 2 in 1s also can have larger screens than the iPad and surface

August 6, 2023, 3:03 PM · i started with a cheap 10" android tablet, now i have a 12" and wanting to buy a 15" portable monitor to plug my phone and use it as pdf viewer. i think with 15" you can even fit 2 entire pages (albeit a little smaller to fit on the screen) if you wish.
Edited: August 6, 2023, 3:56 PM · Mark made the point about the weight of the device. The new 2-in-1 that I just got for work is a tank.

I have a friend who has two of the large tablets somehow working together to show him two pages at a time, just like you'd see with regular chamber parts. With the foot switch for turning pages and so forth.

August 7, 2023, 2:39 AM · I would say something like the Surface 7+ would probably fit your needs. I haven't personally used it, but I have two friends that do use a surface tablet like this (not sure if they have the 7+ or a different generation). One of them mainly uses it for their work as a science major, but when he plays his viola and used it for his music he wasn't too fond of it and opted to use paper instead and is planning on getting an iPad to use for music.

My other friend seems to like it since it still uses Windows and can be paired with a Bluetooth page turner and has no problems with it when performing. I'm sure if the other friend had a pedal he might like it more for music, but he still wants the iPad.

Personally, I use a 12.9-inch iPad Pro and would recommend it to pretty much everyone even if you don't have the other Apple products. To me, it's one of if not the best choice for musicians due to its bigger size over the 11-inch (although a bigger one like a 14-inch or something would be better) and the forscore app is amazing which to my knowledge is only available for ios. I'm not sure if there is a Windows or Android alternative that is as good as forscore.

August 8, 2023, 8:02 AM · I recently needed to give a recital of Brahms Sonata 1 without the benefit of someone to turn the pages for me and no convenient rests to turn the pages myself.

So I bought a second-hand 1st generation iPad Pro off ebay and installed ForScore. I scanned my printed score with my pencil annotations direct to ForScore, and further annotations were made using the inbuilt annotation tool without a stylus.

A bought a Bluetooth foot-operated page turner from Amazon and it all worked very successfully, so I'm sure with a bigger budget you'll be fine.

August 9, 2023, 11:08 PM · I think it's hard to beat an iPad Pro 12.9", especially since a 2017-era refurbished model with wifi will work just fine for ForScore and a page-turning Bluetooth pedal of your choice.

I prefer to use mine as a dedicated music device.

August 10, 2023, 9:58 AM · The iPad is certainly the device used by many.

I am shocked people settle for it. A 12.9 inch screen is small. You only get one set of eyes.

The 2 in 1 computers have larger screens and can be less expensive than the iPad.

August 11, 2023, 12:34 AM · I “settle” for it because of how seamlessly it works with my iPhone and other people’s Apple devices. Sharing scores is stupidly simple due to airdrop to where if someone needs music for whatever reason I can simply airdrop it to them. The 12.9 iPad isn’t that small it’s certainly useable, but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a bigger one if the rumored 14 inch variant ever comes to fruition.
August 11, 2023, 3:38 AM · @Tony - it really doesn't seem necessary to go to all that techno-trouble, never mind have a slave on hand to turn the pages for you. The turns in the first movement are perfectly doable if your pianist is aware of the need for a little rubato at that point. In days of old there existed a device called a "photo-copier" and today there is no law against scanning and printing a second copy of one page to attach to the part. There are also other tricks, like cutting the page horizontally and turning the two halves at convenient moments.

In my view the printed copy has yet to be superseded.

August 11, 2023, 8:40 AM · I'm with Steve - but for two other reasons (mentioned elsewhere). The first is I like to read urtext copies and these are not available by PDF (and its illegal to scan, though I am sure many do). The other is that I can go in my library and look through my collection, get lost in it and pull out a gem from the shelf that I have not played for a while. It connects me to a musician's tradition going back hundreds of years - one that I simply can not emulate on a computer screen.
Edited: August 18, 2023, 9:18 AM · I have an iPad Pro 12.9 with the stylus. I’ll tell you I haven’t looked back. I do all my note taking using the stylus, write on pdf books etc.

I find that the screen is perfect for sheet music. With the IMSLP app you can download any music and start playing immediately while the iPad is on your music stand.

Or you can use apps like forScore etc. However, I’ve found that the current set of apps are just not really that useful. Yes you can edit your scores, add fingerings etc, but still somewhat clunky. Others disagree with me though…

Get a used one from ac reputable places like (I’m not affiliated with them in any way) , I buy all my electronics used through them. There are some others sites too but I haven’t used them. Or but refurbished from Apple, but it’ll cost more of course.

Edited: August 18, 2023, 4:02 PM · @Steve - you're clearly a better man than I. I play it around 140 per minute. In my score, the rest at the bottom of page one is 3 beats (less than 1.3 seconds). There are four beats where a turn can be made at the bottom of page 3 (1.7 seconds). Not doable for me.

And an iPad with a foot switch isn't really a bother - try it, you might like it and not have to put in rubato where none should be.

August 18, 2023, 5:19 PM · Paul, ForScore is able to control, in a coordinated manner, two iPads. So you can set up two 12.9" iPad Pros side by side and use a foot pedal to control a turn of two pages at once, the way you'd turn normally with your hand. This gets you about as much real estate as you'd get with paper. (The cellist in my usual group does this.)

12.9" diagonal is pretty darn big -- an iPad Pro's 8.5x11 screen is the same size as the 8.5x11 printouts that most people use these days. (9x12 is typical for published music.) I generally trim the margins of all my music to make it even bigger. And if I really need to, I can turn the iPad on its side (landscape mode) to blow things up to huge proportions.

Urtexts are available in the Henle and Baerenreiter apps. Henle's app is excellent in many ways (the ability to see bowings and fingerings from a dozen players across eras is wonderful), and it'll export PDF, too, so you can work in ForScore if you prefer that.

Edited: August 19, 2023, 6:59 AM · The printed part, not the margins, is what you are interested in displaying. Only a handful of scores I've seen have printed area that's significantly larger (like Ravel/Durand), as long as you don't mind losing the page numbers in the margins. ForScore makes it pretty easy to zoom and crop each page if you want.

I've noticed also that both my kids have stopped using the Apple pen. Instead, they zoom in on the area for a note and write with their finger; after zooming back out, the text is pretty legible.

August 19, 2023, 6:42 PM · I would love it if there were decent competition for music tablets but really there isn't. The Ipad Pro 12.9 is the industry standard for a reason.

The good news is, you can buy a 1st generation 12.9 Ipad Pro for around $200 these days, and it will run ForScore just fine. Add a decent bluetooth pedal for around $100 and you're in business. Ipad Pro 12.9 has always been given Apple's best processor so even the old ones have good performance.

If you can spend a little more, I'd pay around $500 for a 3rd generation (2018) Ipad pro (you only need 64GB for music) because it will have more years of software upgrades. But functionaly it's not much better than the 1st generation -- screen is marginally brighter.

August 19, 2023, 8:59 PM · How many amino acid mutations are there on the spike protein of the Third Generation iPad compared to the Second?
August 20, 2023, 5:52 AM · Thomas, I was unaware that there was an industry standard for tablets in music. High profile orchestras have used Samsung and other brands. I would like to know why you think the ipad pro 12.9 is the industry standard.

I urge musicians not to settle for machines that are less than ideal. The screen size of many tablets is small.

August 20, 2023, 9:59 AM · This guy does a great job comparing different tablets with the specific use case of reading music on them.

August 20, 2023, 9:59 AM · This guy does a great job comparing different tablets with the specific use case of reading music on them.

Edited: August 21, 2023, 8:50 AM · Mark, I play with a lot of gigging musicians and go to a lot of concerts and I just don't see anything but Apple out there (I've seen hundreds of tablets in musical settings). A lot of musicians do use the 10 inch Ipad instead of the bulkier 12.9. I think for people who perform a lot, it's a trust issue -- Apple seems a safer choice.

The Samsung tablet works well and I've owned it. It runs MusicNotes which is pretty full-featured and comparable to ForScore. But the Ipad is slightly bigger than the Samsung 12 inch tablet. Especially now that used Ipads can be bought so cheaply....

I see Samsung has just brought out a 14 inch tablet (S9 Ultra). That might be a game changer for musicians! But it runs about $1500 so I doubt too many people in my world will be buying it any time soon.

I'm a Windows PC user but I would be very cautious about a Windows tablet (or any small company) because the user base is small and probably the tablet software won't be as well supported (and might be more expensive).

In some ways the software is more important than the hardware. Features can be so important. The half-page turn that ForScore does is so valuable for me.

August 21, 2023, 2:34 PM · I've been using the iPad Pro 5th Gen (bought "open box" for $750) and haven't looked back since. Using ForScore - it is great for the ability to crop pages - I usually cut the margins and fill the screen with the music. Air-dropping scores, setting up playlists, etc. All of this has really made the quartet gigs MUCH easier. Two of us are now on this platform, and I suspect the other two will get there soon. I just got the Manhasset tablet attachment that goes on the "traveler" stand base. No going back for me!

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