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Best computers and tablets for indoor cycling: our favourite devices for Zwift

Zwift computers
(Image credit: Wattbike)

During this unsettling period, riders are flocking to indoor cycling apps to not only keep their fitness up but also to pedal away worries and stress — as evidenced by nearly the entire world being sold out of smart trainers. 

While many places are still locked down, even in areas where you are allowed to ride outdoors, people have realised the value of training indoors and continue logging mile after mile inside. 

Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest and many other training apps can run on devices ranging from smartphones to fully-fledged gaming PC's; here are our picks of the best ways to get your pain cave set up for the best possible experience.

Best computers and tablets for training apps

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Apple TV

The cheapest device to get you Zwifting

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Mains power: Yes | Screen Size: N/A | USB port: No

Performs almost as well as computers three times the price
Limited to Bluetooth and only a few at that
You'll need to airplay other apps

If you're looking to jump into Zwift or see your intervals on a big screen, an Apple TV is cheaper than a computer or tablet to run the app. Available in both 1080p and 4k editions, if you're just buying an Apple TV to ride Zwift, save a few bucks and go for the lower resolution versions because the game is only rendered in 1080p. When Apple TV support was added, many (including this writer) wrote it off, but the tiny black set-top box handles the load surprisingly well, offering smooth graphics, even on crowded bunch rides that cause a MacBook Pro to sweat

You'll be limited to two Bluetooth connections (or three if you unpair the remote), with the Apple TV capable of full trainer control. If you're someone who is riding with an ANT+ only power meter or sensors, there are workarounds like the 4iiii Viiiva translator. While TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest don't have Apple TV apps at the time of writing, you can AirPlay your phone, tablet or computer to the screen without having to faff around with cables, adaptors and the like — plus you can then use the same device to catch up on The Last Dance or Homeland while you down your post-ride nutrition.

(Image credit: Courtesty)

iPad Air

The best Zwift tablet if you're already in the Apple ecosystem

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Mains power: No | Screen Size: 10.5in | USB port: No

Retina Display 
Battery life
ANT+ not native 
10.5in display is small by comparison

The iPad Air is a surprising performer when it comes to Zwift, offering smoother graphics and detail than quite a few laptops that are double the price. While the graphics run smoothly, i.e. don't get jerky on a crowded group ride, you do lose a bit of detail like rider shadows and reflections. As with the Apple TV, you can only natively use Bluetooth, and if you'd like to utilise ANT+, you'll need a dongle or converter like the 4iiii Viiva.

With a 10.5in Retina Display and a zippy chipset, the graphics are surprisingly crisp and boot times are lightning-fast. Plus with the claimed 10-hour battery life, the iPad Air won't leave you running for a charger mid-ride. 

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Samsung Galaxy Tab

The fastest tablet in Fuego Flats

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Mains power: No | Screen Size: 10.5in | USB port: No

15-hour battery life 
More RAM than the iPad Air
Price

It took some time for Zwift to launch its Android app but, as of the beginning of 2020, the app is officially out of beta testing. Zwift has an extensive list, last updated in February 2020. Of the recommended Android devices we like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6.

As with all new apps, there were quite a few growing pains; however, the bag of bolts that was the first beta version of the app has been progressively moulded into a finely sculpted, three-dimensional, watt-powered world. 

The Galaxy Tab S6 limits connections to Bluetooth, so that crusty, old ANT+ only HR strap won't do the trick without a dongle. The 10.5in screen is bright, sharp and responsive, even with sweaty hands; and both the 125GB and 256GB models have more RAM available than the iPad, so the app runs smoothly — even when Watopia is crowded. 

Zwift and other training apps are power sucker, but the battery life is claimed at 15-hours so the tablet should easily last through your session provided you're not vEversting. 

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Dell G3 15

For those looking to get the best possible graphics, but don't have a boatload to spend

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Mains power: No | Screen Size: 15in | USB port: Yes

High-end GPU 
Can also be used as a laptop
15in screen isn't big compared to some gaming setups

Pretty much any laptop with at least 4GB of RAM and a moderate graphics card will run Zwift or any other indoor cycling app, though it may struggle to render smooth visuals, especially if the servers are busy. It's in these aspects that gaming laptops excel and if you're looking to get the best performance on Zwift.

It's easy to spend thousands of dollars on a top-end gaming laptop, but when it comes to bang for the buck, we like the Dell G3 15. With a 15.6in screen, it has an Intel i5 core, and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Graphics Processing Unit can support a 60fps refresh rate at 1080p and above. Plus, it’s also a regular computer, so it can double up as a work or study option, too. 

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Intel NUC

If you like ANT+ and have a TV lying around

Connectivity: Bluetooth | Mains power: Yes | Screen Size: N/A | USB port: Yes

USB port for ANT + Dongle 
Can also connect to keyboard and mouse 
Detail graphics like shadows and sun flares
Not all that much better than the Apple TV
Peripherals not included

If you have a spare TV lying around in your basement, a mini PC like the Intel NUC allows you to take advantage of the screen without having to pay for display — though you will need a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.  The Intel NUC has about the same form factor as the Apple TV, it also offers a bit of extra computing power to render graphic details like rider shadows, reflections and sun flares. The Intel NUC also has a USB port so you can use an ANT+ stick if that better suits your indoor riding setup.

The other advantage is that it's a computer and can run TrainerRoad or The Sufferset, and then, of course, a web browser to watch Netflix, Youtube or whatever else. NUC computers are very customisable and you can pick graphics chips, ram and internal memory, and, the Intel Unit with 16GB of ram and Iris Plus Graphics 655 GPU is well up to the task. 

Need to know

1. Hardware Requirements

If your laptop, desktop or tablet was purchased within the past couple of years, it will more than likely run Zwift or any other training app with no issues. But, as a whole, cyclists are a group that struggles to leave 'good enough' alone. If you are using a device you already own, make sure all the software and the Zwift app are up to date, and there is at least 4GB of free space on your hard drive. 

If you're running Zwift on a laptop or PC, the Graphics Processor Unit or GPU will have a significant impact on how the graphics are rendered. Our friends over a Zwift have put together a handy guide that lays out exactly what hardware you will need. 

Zwift hardware requirements

Zwift hardware requirements (Image credit: Zwift)

2. What does your pain cave look like?

Are you cramped into the laundry room? Or do you have a dedicated training space? Is there a TV available or do you need to BYO screen to your pain cave? Are there outlets available? Most importantly, what is your budget?

All of these are essential considerations to make, if you don't have a lot of space, a laptop or tablet will be the way to go. If you have a spare room however, a mini computer hooked up to an old TV or and Apple TV is going to give you the best experience.

With space, you'll also want to consider how many power outlets are available. There is nothing worse than getting to the crux of a Zwift race and having the device you're running it on die. Zwift and other training apps are battery heavy, and, if access to outlets is a problem, tablets seem to last quite a bit longer than laptops in our experience.