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Tablets and e-readers

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 17 tablets and 2 e-reader brands.

We also look at conflict minerals, the use of tablets by children, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Samsung and give our recommended alternatives to Amazon.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying a tablet or e-reader:

  • Is the model independently certified? The TCO-Certified mark certifies brands in this sector for having higher environmental standards.

  • Is it second-hand or refurbished? A whole host of ethically troublesome materials and processes go into each and every tech device on the market. Buying second-hand or refurbished tablets will extend the life of these devices and reduce the negative impacts they have.

Best Buys

No tablets or ereaders were awarded Best Buy status. The best buy action you can make is to buy a refurbished or second hand one.

Recommended buys

We recommend that you buy a second-hand or refurbished tablet or ereader whenever possible.

However, for new tablets there are­ a couple of models from companies that score comparatively well. They get our best rating for Carbon Reporting, Conflict Minerals and avoid our worst rating for Supply Chain Management.

These are the Lenovo 10w TCO tablet (£279) and its other tablets (from £80), followed by Apple iPads (from £319).

E-readers: For those of you who want to read e-books on an e-reader, rather than a tablet, we recommend Kobo (from £90).

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a tablet:

  • Does the brand score badly for its conflict minerals policy? It is still the case that all of our tech requires minerals mined in some of the most unstable and war-torn places on the planet. Do not buy from companies that aren’t taking concrete steps to monitor and improve their mineral sourcing.

  • Does it score worse for supply chain management? Workers’ Rights abuses and socially destructive supply chains are commonplace in the tech world. Make sure that your tablet is made by a company that is tackling these issues downstream in their supply chain.

Companies to avoid

Amazon is at the bottom of the table scoring poorly across all our categories. Plus it is the subject of our a boycott called by Ethical Consumer for its tax avoidance.

HP is also the subject of a boycott call for providing the Israeli regime with computer technologies of surveillance and control used in the occupied Palestinian territory.

  • Amazon
  • HP

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Lenovo 10w tablet [TCO]

Company Profile: Lenovo Group Limited
9.5

ACER tablets

Company Profile: Acer Inc.
9

Lenovo tablets

Company Profile: Lenovo Group Limited
8.5

Apple iPad

Company Profile: Apple Inc
8

Nokia tablets

Company Profile: HMD Global Oy
8

Asus tablet

Company Profile: ASUSTeK Computer Inc
7.5

Oppo tablet

Company Profile: OPPO Mobile UK Ltd
7.5

Realme tablets

Company Profile: RealMe Chongqing Mobile Communications Co., Ltd.
7.5

Alcatel tablets

Company Profile: TCL Technology Group Corporation
7

TCL tablets

Company Profile: TCL Technology Group Corporation
7

HP tablets

Company Profile: HP Inc.
6.5

Microsoft Surface

Company Profile: Microsoft Corporation
6.5

HTC tablets

Company Profile: HTC Corporation
5.5

Huawei tablets

Company Profile: Huawei Investment & Holding Co. Ltd
5.5

Kobo e-reader

Company Profile: Rakuten Kobo
5.5

Xiaomi tablets

Company Profile: Xiaomi Corporation
5

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Company Profile: Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
4

Amazon Fire tablet

Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc
0

Amazon Kindle e-reader

Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc
0

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Our Analysis

The first smartphone, IBM’s ‘Simon’, was launched in 1994 and it took 18 years before the Fairphone gave ethical consumers an ethical option. Will consumers have to wait as long before an ethically conscious tablet is produced? If you count Apple’s iPad as the first tablet, launched in 2010, we’d be waiting until 2028 for a Fair-tablet or Fair-ereader!

For now, consumers are stuck trying to distinguish between a number of ethically compromised brands, a task that this guide will help you with. It covers 15 of the largest tablet companies in the UK, focusing on the traditional ‘slate’ tablets that are sold without a detachable keyboard but there are a couple of TCO certified models that come with detachable keyboards. After which we look at two e-reader brands in the UK, comparing Amazon to its nearest competitor, Kobo.

The ethical dilemmas in the tablets market mirror those of mobile phones and laptops, with supply chains often riddled with conflict minerals, dangerous toxic chemicals and poor labour standards. As well as ethical issues arising from manufacture, this article will also consider the impact that tablets have on children’s development and discuss the shifting landscape of the tablet market.

tablet

The market

While 39% of all tablet owners have an Apple iPad, it increases to 44% for Younger Millennials and 54% for Generation Z.

Half of tablet owners prefer to use their smartphone at home, rising to 72% of Millennials. Baby boomers are more likely to own a tablet and prefer to use them at home over a smartphone.

Despite the efforts from manufacturers to pitch tablets as a potential laptop replacement, they remain secondary items to either a traditional computer or a phone and one that is predominantly used for media consumption.

Boycott Amazon

This guide is one of the guides in our alternatives to Amazon series.

Amazon produce both a Fire tablet and the eponymous ereader, the Kindle. We are calling a boycott of Amazon over its tax avoidance and would urge you not to buy either of their products, opting instead for one of our Recommended brands above. There are many alternative tablet brands.

For ereaders, this guide pits Amazon's Kindle ereader against its nearest competitor, Kobo. Kobo, though not a top scoring brand, scores better than Amazon. If you don't want to opt for Kobo, buy one of the better scoring tablet brands and use it as an ereader.

More on ereaders in the box below.

Carbon reporting and management

We rated all the companies on what they were doing to reduce their own carbon footprint and the footprint of their suppliers.
The following companies got our Best rating for saying how they were cutting their own emissions, reporting their emissions (including their indirect emissions – of their supply chain and use of their products) and having a reduction target in line with international agreements:

Acer, Lenovo, Apple, Microsoft, HP, Amazon.

About half of the companies got our worst rating and only two companies - Asus and Samsung got our middle rating.

Conflict minerals

All tablets contain the 3TGs (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold), minerals that are largely found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries. Profits from the sale of these minerals are the most significant financier of the armed conflicts that have plagued the country since the 1990s. This has made control of the mines that produce them an important military objective in itself.

According to research by the International Peace Information Service, 56% of mines have an armed presence from either the army or independent armed groups. This puts companies in a position of responsibility to ensure that their money is not finding its way into this conflict. On this front, there have been some signs of positive change.

Since January 2021, companies have been required to check their supply chain in order to respect human rights and prevent them from contributing to conflicts. Importers will be required to publicly disclose their due diligence practices and policies on an annual basis.

This piece of legislation was inspired by the Dodd-Frank Act which has been in place in the US since 2010.

More than half of the companies get our worst rating for conflict minerals. The exceptions are:

  • Best rating - Lenovo, Apple, Microsoft, HP
  • Middle rating  - Acer, Asus, Samsung.

Student forced labour

Headlines about workers’ rights abuses in tech factories are depressingly frequent. So much so that it is easy to forget the individuals trapped in these abusive systems.

A 2017 investigative report by Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) gave voice to Chinese students who’d been forced into workplace ‘internships’ on the production lines of major tech company suppliers.

Image: electronics factory

SACOM found that student interns worked as much as 12 hours a day, sometimes overnight, without the standard labour protections afforded to regular workers. Shockingly, around half of the workforce at Quanta Computer’s Chongping factory were student interns. The report named Apple, Acer, HP and Sony as clients of Quanta.

One 18-year-old student said: “We were forced to come ... Every semester, our school recruits new students but our campus is small. When they don’t have enough space in the classrooms or dormitories, they force current students out to do internships and then let the new students stay in our dorms.”

Another 16-year-old intern said: “If we refused [to go on an internship], we would not be able to get our graduation certificates. Also, our dining and accommodation subsidies would be cancelled.”

Tech companies are regularly exposed for workers’ rights abuses such as this in their supply chains. Perhaps instances would be reduced if companies had clear and robust supply chain management processes which were transparently managed and regularly audited. But this is rarely the case.

Supply chain

Our supply chain management category is designed to weed out those companies who are yet to develop these processes.

In our research 12 companies received a worst rating, and only 5 scored middle - Acer, Lenovo, Apple, Microsoft, HP. No one scored our best rating.

and one scored best (this was HP). This represents a significant improvement from the last time we looked at this market in 2016, with five companies improving their score from worst to middle.

Image: burning electronics
Boys burning electronic cables and other electrical components in order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring. This burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the environment.

Toxic chemicals

There are many chemicals that are used in electronics manufacture – in our ratings we focus on three of these brominated flame retardants: (BFRs), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates.
There are a number of different health problems with toxic chemicals. During production workers are exposed to carcinogens, and several studies have shown significantly elevated risk of lung, pharyngeal, nasal, breast, bladder, and brain cancers. They are also exposed to reproductive toxicants, which studies have shown to increase rates of spontaneous abortion and birth defects. As well as being released in the factories that assemble electronic goods, these compounds can be released during their use phase with toxic chemicals often found in household dust.

However, the toxic exposure in the use phase pales in comparison to the end of life phase. When thrown away, our gadgets often find their way to e-waste scrap heaps, which are predominantly in developing countries, most famously in West Africa. Once in these e-waste areas electronics are cannibalised for any sellable parts. To the extent that wires encased in PVC are burnt to retrieve the copper inside. Research has revealed “elevated concentrations of heavy metals, dioxins and other hazardous substances in the dust, air, soil, fresh water and sediments surrounding [e-waste] sites”.

Ethical Consumer expects companies to have clear cut-off dates for the use of these substances and transparent reporting on their use. Apple led the way on this front. Back in 2008, it phased PVC and BFRs out of its goods, its products are also free of phthalates. So, it is definitely possible.

In this guide, only three companies were not marked down for their approach to toxic chemicals because they got our best rating - Apple, Microsoft and Nokia. Five others - Amazon, Lenovo, Samsung, Oppo and Acer - received a middle rating. The majority, 9 companies, have been deducted a whole mark under our Pollution & Toxics category.

Tax avoidance

We have scored all companies on their likely use of tax avoidance strategies. Unfortunately, the vast majority scored worst by having two or more ‘high-risk’ subsidiary types in jurisdictions considered to be tax havens at the time of writing.

No one got our best rating. Nokia and BBK (Oppo and RealMe) got our middle rating. The rest got our worst rating for Tax Conduct.

TCO Certified tablets

Look for the TCO Certified label when sourcing a tablet. This label looks at social and environmental factors in the lifecycle of a product.

For a product to achieve the TCO Certified label, it must meet numerous criteria relating to both the design and manufacture including criteria on worker’s rights, conflict minerals, hazardous chemicals, user health and safety, durability, and recyclability.

When viewed in October 2022 on https://tcocertified.com/product-finder we found the following one TCO certified tablet which is essentially a 2-in-1 laptop with detachable keyboard:

  • Lenovo 10w (82SU, 82ST) with detachable keyboard – around £279

There were no ereaders listed.

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HP boycott

Since 2014, we have been reporting on the boycott of technology giant Hewlett-Packard. The boycott began in response to the pivotal role HP’s technology and software had in the development of the ‘BASAL’ checkpoint system, used by Israel to control the movement of Palestinians.

However, since then, Hewlett-Packard has split into two separate companies. Perhaps in an attempt to clean its slate, the company separated its consumer goods business from its government and military supply services. The BDS movement’s website states that it is continuing its boycott of both HP companies, “Because the companies share facilitates, branding and supply chains, and collaborate in a wide range of ways, both remain deeply complicit with Israeli apartheid.”

HP has been described as the “Polaroid of our times”, a reference to huge mobilisations against the use of Polaroid technology by the South African apartheid regime for its racist passbook system. Polaroid’s 1977 withdrawal from South Africa marked a turning point in the international effort to end apartheid there.

In response to the boycott, HP has stated that it is, “strongly committed to socially responsible business practices ... We abide by a strong human rights policy and adhere to the highest standards of human rights … It is not our policy to take sides in political disputes between countries or regions.”

Greenpeace guide to green electronics

If you are still thinking of buying a tablet, Greenpeace USA’s ‘Guide to Green Electronics’ is a useful resource, although it has not been updated since 2017. This report analyses and compares how 17 tech companies fare on their transparency, performance and advocacy efforts in three areas critical to putting the sector on a sustainable path: reduction of emissions through renewable energy, use of recycled materials, and elimination of hazardous chemicals.

It gives each company a score card, ranking them from A to F on each category. It also tracks the commitments each company has made and whether they have stuck to their word or not. Of the companies in this guide, Apple, HP and Dell scored best and Amazon scored worst. 

Samsung is the second biggest maker of tablets behind Apple, but its manufacturing system heavily relies on fossil fuels. The company used more than 16,000 GWh of energy in 2016, with just 1% coming from renewables.

Image: greener guide greenpeace

Should children use tablets?

Children love tablets, we’ve probably all been amazed at one time or another when an infant picks up a tablet with more confidence and ability than most adults.

According to Ofcom, tablets are the second most used device amongst children (after TV). The sheer proliferation of these gadgets had led many parents to worry about how this increase in ‘screen time’ could affect their children during early-years development, both in terms of learning, but also inactivity and socialisation.

There has been a lot of research around the impact of TV ‘screen time’ on early-years development, and these studies have largely found that overuse is detrimental to learning. But there hasn’t been quite the same academic scrutiny on the use of tablets, largely because their use amongst pre-school children didn’t boom until around 2013.

As you can see in the infographic below, children’s use and ownership of tablets has rocketed. But it would be unwise to conflate the findings about TVs with tablet use. Unlike TVs, tablets are interactive and often require problem solving skills.

Infographic: Media Use and Attitudes Report
Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report

Some preliminary studies into tablets and children under 5 have concluded that responsible use of tablets has positive effects on levels of Math, literacy and science. Although other research has suggested that children struggled to transfer problem solving skills learnt on a screen into the real world. Moreover, it should be noted that there is a distinct lack of research surrounding the social and emotional effects of these devices, which have the potential to be significant.

Of course, the results of any research into this topic revolves heavily around the idea of regulated and responsible use. It feels highly unlikely that rates of maths, literacy and science would improve if a child uses their tablet solely for YouTube. On this topic, many parents have praised apps which are specially designed for children. Parents we spoke to all mentioned the CBeebies apps produced by the BBC. It was felt that these apps had good problem-solving elements which promoted interaction and active thinking.

Professor Lydia Plowman of the University of Edinburgh stresses that moderation and supervision are the key factors in promoting positive interactions between children and tablets. Supervision is especially important when children are using tablets that are connected to the internet.

Many parents fight daily battles against their children’s screen addictions. We spoke to Antony, father of three, about screen time and children. He said that, “screens are junk food for the mind, they are easy but you feel gross afterwards.”

In his experience tech devices are consumed passively by children, they don’t promote active play or imagination. He said that, “during active play the kids expend more energy and sleep better because of it. Whereas screens make them irritable.”

E-readers

If you already have a tablet, we wouldn’t advise that you buy a separate e-reader. There is plenty of software available for both Apple and Android platforms that lets you read e-books on your device.

But, if you don’t have a tablet, here are some reasons why investing in a dedicated e-reader might be a good idea:

  • They can be lighter than a tablet or a book, yet store hundreds of books.
  • Most e-readers have an E-Ink screen which looks much like paper and is easier on the eyes than the colour LCD screen of a phone or tablet. It also won’t stop you going to sleep like the blue light emitted from an LCD screen can, so e-readers are better for late-night reading.
  • E-Ink screens excel in bright sunlight, which can cause reflections on the glossy screens of other mobile devices.
  • Most e-readers are around six inches and weigh around 200g, an ideal size and weight to comfortably hold for prolonged periods and carry around with you.
  • Battery life is also much better on dedicated e-readers compared to phones and tablets.

Note that with Kindle e-readers you have to use Amazon’s online bookstore, while Kobo e-readers let you download content from other stores.

If you had a Kindle and want to move away from Amazon but keep your existing e-books, you would need either an Android tablet, or you can use the Kindle app on a tablet or smartphone.

Paper vs. screens

Over the last two years, sales of ebooks have been falling in the UK. Consumers appear to be moving back to print books or choosing the increasingly popular audiobook. On the whole we see this as a positive trend for ethics.

Although e-readers negate the need for reams of paper being produced, on the whole this does not seem to justify the complex ethical dilemmas associated with the manufacturing of e-readers. Similar to other electronic devices, issues with conflict minerals, toxic chemicals and supply chain management are not being adequately addressed by the companies in this market, who score worst for all of them. Not to mention the fact that this market is dominated by Amazon, a company whose tax record and workers’ rights abuses are all too well known.

Alternatives to Amazon

Finding alternatives to Amazon in the markets it dominates, such as e-readers, can be tough. For e-readers we found the next best selling brand after Amazon, Kobo, which scores better than Amazon’s Kindle.

We would recommend buying second-hand books from independent bookshops. However, if ebooks are your thing, you can either purchase a second-hand or refurbished e-reader, or read ebooks on a tablet if you already own one.

E-readers and libraries

If you use your tablet or e-reader for reading books, you may be able to borrow e-audiobooks and ebooks from your local public library. Most public libraries in the UK have contracts with third party suppliers of e-book to offer free downloadable content for library members.

Some public libraries also lend the devices as well as the content - which is handy if you want to try one to see if you enjoy reading on a tablet or e-reader.

Company Profile

Samsung supplies several products to the military, such as "defense-grade security" for mobiles and computers, virtual reality devices for military training and "mission-ready" tablets and mobiles "tailored for deployment in tactical environments".
Its CEO received over £7 million in 2021.

 
Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table.

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