Digital Music Reader Buyer’s Guide | Updated for 2022


It’s been a couple of years since I put together my last music reader tablet guide, so I thought it was time for an update.


Here’s the short version:

Best Apple tablet for (most) musicians: iPad Air
Best Android tablet for (most) musicians: Galaxy Tab S7


Apple

If you’re into the Apple ecosystem, your choices are limited (but also pretty easy). The two main decisions you’ll need to make are your budget and your screen size.

Biggest screen/High budget

If you need the biggest screen, or you have a high budget, you should go for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch. This is the biggest iPad (with the biggest cost), but it is worth it if you’ve got the budget!

If you’re reading a part with multiple staves (piano, organ) or a score, this is probably where you should look. The larger screen lets you easily use it in landscape or portrait mode, and keeps busy scores legible.

The one exception to this may be SATB voice music. Since choir members often hold the music up for an entire performance, page turns are easy (just a tap) and the lighter weight of the smaller iPad options (see below) is greatly appreciated.

The best iPad for most

I think the best iPad for most musicians, though, is the iPad Air.

While the screen is smaller than the big iPad, it’s almost the same as the small iPad Pro (Air: 10.9-inch; iPad Pro: 11-inch), and the Air is $200 cheaper.

You do lose some of the “pro” functionality, but most of those features are not important for music reading. The features you miss out on include:

  • Max storage size (Air: 256 GB, Pro 2 TB)
  • Rear Camera (Air: 12 MP wide-angle, Pro: 12 MP wide and 10 MP ultra-wide)
  • Front Camera (Air: 7 MP HD, Pro: 12 MP True Depth ultra-wide camera).
  • USB-C with Thunderbolt support
  • ProMotion (120 Hz) display
  • Speakers (Air: 2-speaker, Pro: 4-speaker)
  • Security (Air: Touch ID in the power button, Pro: Face ID)

While this seems like a long list, most of these features aren’t really important for a music reading tablet. Both iPads are fast and thin, and they both support the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil.

If you’re on a budget, I don’t think the Pro features are worth $200. However, there is one exception.

If you get the bigger storage size of the iPad Air (256 GB vs 64 GB), that bumps up the price to $750. This gives you a harder choice – this is only $50 cheaper than the base iPad Pro 11-inch (which only has 128 GB of storage at the $800 price point).

This makes the choice a bit harder. If you’re on a budget or are using the iPad for music reading and web browsing, then you should get the 64 GB iPad Air. If you’re looking at upgrading the storage, and planning on using the iPad for media creation or as a laptop replacement, then it may make sense to go for the smaller iPad Pro.

The Cheapest iPad

If you’re looking for the cheapest possible iPad, then the standard iPad is a good value for the price ($329). There are better options, though, if you can increase your budget (mainly the iPad Air).

The main drawbacks for the regular iPad are:

  • A smaller screen (10.2 vs 10.9 inches)
  • Only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil
  • The processor (while fast enough) is on the older side, and will have less long-term support than newer processors.
  • No trackpad support (if you want to use it like a laptop replacement)
  • Larger bezels make this iPad a bit more bulky for its screen size than the other options.

However, the screen is pretty good, the tablet is almost the same size as the iPad Air, and the internals are more than fast enough for music reading. If you’re really on a budget, the base iPad is a good entry point into digital music readers.

Android

While there are lots of companies that make Android tablets (and phones), I’m only going to recommend products by well-known companies. Some Android devices from lesser-known makers have serious privacy issues, and so I won’t be recommending them.

High(est) End Android Tablet

If you want to spend (close) to iPad money on a premium Android tablet, your only real option is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+.

This is Samsung’s flagship tablet and features a 12.4-inch AMOLED screen (almost as big as the larger iPad Pro) and many models include an S Pen stylus in the box.

While it’s not quite as polished in hardware and software as the iPad Pro, you can get an S7+ with stylus and 512 GB of storage for about the same price ($800) as the iPad Pro 11-inch with 128 GB of storage (and no Apple Pencil).

Good Mid-Range Options

This is an area with a lot of choices – I’m going to try and limit my recommendations to just the most popular models from well-known Android OEMs.

The Galaxy Tab S7 (not to be confused with the S7+), is a good all-around Android tablet. The S7 has a slightly smaller screen (11-inches), but with the same 120 Hz refresh rate as the S7+. The S7 also has similar performance to S7+, and plenty of battery life to boot. Starting at around $500 (for the 128 GB model), this is a good choice if you don’t need (or want) a big screen but still want a high-quality Android tablet.

If you’re looking to save even more money, and you can manage with a smaller screen and less onboard stoarge, there are a couple of options. The Galaxy Tab A7 10.4 has a 10.4-inch screen, 32 GB of memory (SD cards are also supported), but no S Pen support (you can still use a regular stylus). The Galaxy Tab S6 Lite also has a 10.4-inch screen, 64 or 128 GB of storage, and an included S Pen. The S6 Lite is a bit more expensive and harder to find than the A7, but both of them are good mid-range tablets of music reading.

Lower End Options?

Both the Samsung S6 Lite and A7 come in close to the price of the basic iPad. While there are tablets that are cheaper with reasonably-sized screens (most notably Amazon’s Fire 10 tablet), I do not recommend them for music reading.

The primary reason I don’t recommend them: both the Amazon software and App Store leave quite a bit to be desired and I don’t trust the hardware to be reliable.

On the first point, navigating around these devices is – compared to the other Android and Apple offerings – slow and confusing. There are a lot of settings, and knowing where to look for things can be frustrating. Plus, you’re forced to use the Amazon App Store, which doesn’t have the same quality or quantity of apps as either Google’s or Apple’s app stores.

Finally, these devices are cheap, which means there will be a certain percentage of “duds”. This the case for any electronic device, but I imagine they aren’t spending a lot of time or money on quality control for these devices. These “dud” devices may randomly restart, have apps that crash, touch screens that are unreliable, etc. The last thing I want to be worrying about in the middle of a concert is whether my sheet music reader will restart right before a big solo.

While they may be fine to carry around as an inexpensive way to keep your music library in your pocket or bag, I wouldn’t recommend these to be used in any sort of live performance scenario.

What Did I Miss

While I’ve been using digital music readers for a long time, I the sheer number of devices means that I simply can’t get to everything. Is there an Android tablet that I’ve missed, or are you using something else for digital sheet music that I haven’t mentioned here?

If so, I’d love to hear about it!


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!