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Best tablets and computers for Zwift: Top devices for indoor cycling

Man riding a Wattbike Atom with an Apple iPad tablet affixed to the handlebars
(Image credit: Wattbike)

The best tablets for Zwift are one of several options to get your indoor training environment up and running. Zwift and most other training apps will also run on a laptop computer, smartphone, smart TV and more, and we'll cover those too.

The immersive experience and ride-anytime offering of indoor cycling mean that it has become a real alternative or supplement to outdoor riding for many cyclists, and if you've splashed out on one of the best turbo trainers, an app will help you get the best out of it and keep you motivated, letting you vary your routine and making the experience interactive, rather than just following a workout profile on a cycling computer

Zwift, TrainerRoad, Wahoo Systm and many other training apps can run on devices ranging from smartphones to fully-fledged gaming PCs. They're constantly adding features and new routes to keep you interested and developing the technology platform that underpins them. 

If you're not sure which training app to go for, you'll find our guide to the best indoor cycling apps very useful. 

It's not just a question of subscribing to Zwift, or one of the Zwift alternatives, you'll also need to ensure that you've got the hardware and operating system software to make it happen smoothly and realistically to avoid a frustrating, sub-optimal experience. You may have an adequate starter set-up available already, but even so, you may find that a tech upgrade will improve your experience. Faster devices help apps to run more smoothly, which can be particularly beneficial if you want to ride at peak times, and they also allow you to take advantage of features like shadows and added scenery that make the whole thing a lot more realistic.

Here are our picks of the best computer, tablet and smart TV technology to get your pain cave set up. However, if you're not sure what to look for, scroll down for our guide on how to choose the best computer or tablet for indoor cycling.

Best tablets, computers and smart TV tech for Zwift

(Image credit: Courtesty)

iPad Air

The best iPad for Zwift

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 10.9in
USB port: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Retina Display 
+
Battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
ANT+ not native 
-
10.9in display is small by comparison

The latest 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 use ANT+, you'll need a converter. 

With a 10.9in 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 S8

Best Android tablet for Zwift

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 11in - 14.6in
USB port: No

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

-
Price

The Galaxy Tab S8 limits connections to Bluetooth, so an ANT+ only power meter or HR strap won't do the trick without a converter. However, the 11in 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 suckers, but the battery life is claimed at eight hours so the tablet should easily last through your session provided you're not Everesting. 

You can up your screen real estate by heading up to the S8+ with a 12.4-inch screen. The S8 Ultra gives you a 14.6-inch screen and up to 518GB storage and 16GB RAM, but this starts to look like a seriously expensive option.

Macbook

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple MacBook Pro

Best MacBook for Zwift

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 13in - 16in
USB port: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
The Mac experience

Reasons to avoid

-
Smaller screen than many alternatives
-
Not the best rendering of Zwift

If you're a dedicated Mac user, you can run Zwift on a MacBook or a MacBook Air. Experience varies, with newer machines able to run at higher settings, but MacBooks more than a couple of years old are likely to limit you to the lower settings in Zwift.

With Apple switching to Apple Silicon for its latest computers, Zwift does not yet run native on the latest MacBooks but works fine through emulation, although other apps like Wahoo Systm offer both Intel and Apple Silicon downloads.

Although the MacBook Pro starts off at 13-inch screen size, which might be a bit small for the optimum Zwift experience, the 14-inch and particularly the 16-inch models will give you that bit more screen real estate and you can perhaps justify the extra cost if you're using your MacBook for work too. There's always the option to hook up an external display.

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Dell G15

Best value Windows laptop for Zwift

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
High-end GPU 
+
Can also be used as a laptop

Reasons to avoid

-
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, although Zwift recommends 8GB. A lower spec may struggle to render smooth visuals, especially if the servers are busy. It's in these aspects that gaming laptops excel 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 G15. With a 15.6in screen, it has an Intel i5 core, and its NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Graphics Processing Unit allows it to 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)

Apple TV

A low cost, high-power solution, assuming you already have a TV

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Performs almost as well as computers three times the price

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited to Bluetooth and only a few connections at that
-
You'll need to Airplay other apps

If you're looking to jump into Zwift and already have a TV that you'll use, an Apple TV is cheaper than a computer or tablet to run the app. Available in both HD 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 to Zwift, 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 Viiiiva HRM which can act as an ANT+ to Bluetooth bridge. Most newer sensors are either Bluetooth only or connect via both ANT+ and Bluetooth though, so this is a lot less of an issue than it was in the past.

While TrainerRoad and Wahoo Systm don't have Apple TV apps at the time of writing, you can AirPlay your phone, tablet or computer to the big screen without having to faff around with cables, adaptors and the like, but this will obviously require you to run the app on a separate device. 

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Intel NUC

Best mini-PC for Zwift, but you'll need to bring a TV or monitor

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
USB port for ANT+ Dongle 
+
Can also connect to keyboard and mouse 
+
Detail graphics like shadows and sun flares

Reasons to avoid

-
Not all that much better than the Apple TV
-
Keyboard and mouse not included
-
Expensive

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 Wahoo Systm, 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. 

How to choose the best tablet or computer for indoor cycling

What hardware requirements do I need for Zwift and other apps?

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 at Zwift have put together a handy guide (opens in new tab) that lays out exactly what hardware you will need. But bear in mind that with upgrades to Zwift and new functionality added, you're only going to need more power in future.

Zwift hardware requirements as at Mar 2022

A brief outline of Zwift's hardware requirements (Image credit: Zwift)

Note that system requirements are updated regularly. You'll future-proof your set-up and likely get a better experience with newer, more powerful hardware that hits the optimal requirements noted above.

Note that some Windows PCs like the Microsoft Surface Pro X use ARM processors that are incompatible with Zwift. If you're planning to run Zwift on a tablet or phone, there's another set of requirements your device will need to meet, as shown below.

Zwift tablet hardware as at Mar 2022

Zwift's phone and tablet requirements (Image credit: Zwift)

What connectivity do I need for indoor cycling?

You need to get all your indoor cycling equipment to link up, and the two channels that cycling fitness technology uses are Bluetooth and ANT+. 

We've all heard of Bluetooth. All of the devices above use it, and most modern cycling equipment uses it, but if you're running older cycling tech, there's a chance it's limited to ANT+ only. 

ANT+ is pretty much unique to cycling, so modern devices like smartphones and tablets don't use it. That means that if any part of your infrastructure is ANT+ only, you'll need an ANT+ dongle, which will require a spare USB port. This could affect your choice of device since tablets rarely come with USB ports. 

The good news is that almost all newer cycling tech is either Bluetooth-only or both ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled, so this may be a non-issue.

Also, look out for the number of peripheral devices that your hardware can connect to simultaneously. If you've got a separate power meter and trainer you want to use, along with a heart rate monitor and speed sensor, you might run out of available concurrent connections. A smart trainer will have a power meter built in though, so again this may not be an issue or there may be workarounds.

What does your pain cave look like?

If you've got a space you can leave set up for your indoor training, your options are a lot broader than if you're having to set up and put away each time you use your trainer.

A dedicated training space means that you can set up a TV screen for a large format virtual world, driven by Apple TV or another device, whereas if you're having to move things around or work out in a small space, a tablet, laptop or smartphone might be the best bet to run your training app.

You're also potentially going to need mains power and you'll definitely need a reliable network connection, either over WiFi or even wired. Some solutions will be a lot more expensive than others, so you need to decide how much you're willing to invest in the perfect setup or whether you can get by on what you have available.

With space, you'll also want to consider how many power outlets are available. Getting to the crux of a Zwift race and then having the device you're running it on die is a wholly frustrating yet avoidable issue. Zwift and other training apps are battery intensive, and, if access to outlets is a problem, tablets seem to last quite a bit longer than laptops in our experience. You probably want to set up close to your power source too, so you don't end up with a tangle of extension leads and power cables to manage.

On the network side, WiFi dropping out or hanging mid-race isn't going to do much for your Zwift experience, so you may need a signal booster or may be limited in how far from your router you can set yourself up. 

Wahoo sells the Kickr Direct dongle you can buy for its Kickr trainer (only the latest Kickr V5 model, not the Core or Snap or the Kickr Bike) for a wired connection to avoid drop-outs, although you're then even more limited in where you can set up as you'll need both a mains outlet and an ethernet port to hand. 

You can always start small then invest in new hardware and a more sophisticated set-up as you get more hooked on the indoor training experience.

Paul has been on two wheels since he was in his teens and he's spent much of the time since writing about bikes and the associated tech. He's a road cyclist at heart but his adventurous curiosity means Paul has been riding gravel since well before it was cool, adapting his cyclo-cross bike to ride all-day off-road epics and putting road kit to the ultimate test along the way. 

With contributions from