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

Included in this guide:

A woman riding on a Wattbike with a tablet computer affixed to the handlebars
(Image credit: Wattbike)

The immersive experience and ride-anytime offering of indoor cycling means that they've become a real alternative or supplement to outdoor riding for many cyclists. 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, rather than it languishing in a cupboard. 

Zwift, TrainerRoad, Wahoo Systm (which used to be called The Sufferfest) and many other training apps can run on devices ranging from smartphones to fully-fledged gaming PCs. If you're not sure which training app to go for, you'll find our guide to the best indoor cycling apps very useful. 

Once you've decided to subscribe to Zwift, or one of the Zwift alternatives, you'll need the hardware and operating system software to make it happen smoothly and realistically, to avoid a frustrating, sub-optimal experience. 

Here are our picks of the best technology to get your pain cave set up, or if you're not sure what to look for, skip ahead to our guide on how to choose the best computer or tablet for indoor cycling

Best computers and tablets for training apps

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Apple TV

The cheapest device to get you Zwifting

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: Yes
Screen Size: N/A
USB port: No
Price: £139 / $149 / €159 / AU$209 (1080p)
Reasons to buy
+Performs almost as well as computers three times the price
Reasons to avoid
-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 Viiiiva HRM. 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 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

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 10.9in
USB port: No
Price: From £579 / $599 / €649 / AU$899 (64GB)
Reasons to buy
+Retina Display +Battery life
Reasons to avoid
-ANT+ not native -10.9in 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 use ANT+, you'll need a converter like the 4iiii Viiiiva.

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. 

Macbook

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple MacBook Pro

Best if you're wedded to Mac computer hardware

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 13in - 16in
USB port: Yes
Price: From £1,299 / $1,299 / €1,449 / AU$1,899 (13in)
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.

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7

The fastest tablet in Fuego Flats

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 11in - 12.4in
USB port: No
Price: From £619 / $649.99 / €629 / AU$1,049 (11in Wifi)
Reasons to buy
+15-hour battery life +More RAM than the iPad Air
Reasons to avoid
-Price

The Galaxy Tab S7 limits connections to Bluetooth, so that crusty, old ANT+ only HR strap won't do the trick without a converter. 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 15-hours so the tablet should easily last through your session provided you're not Everesting. 

(Image credit: Courtesty)

Dell G3 15

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

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: No
Screen Size: 15in
USB port: Yes
Price: £1,249 / $N/A / €909 / AU$N/A
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 G3 15. With a 15.6in screen, it has an Intel i5 core, and its NVIDIA GeForce RTX 5050 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)

Intel NUC

If you like ANT+ and have a TV lying around

Specifications
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Mains power: Yes
Screen Size: N/A
USB port: Yes
Price: Varies based on build
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

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 computer or tablet 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 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's hardware requirements as of October 2021

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

Note that system requirements are updated regularly and MacOS 10.12 is required from December 2021, while Windows 7 support ceases January 2022. 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 phone and tablet requirements as of October 2021

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. ANT+ is pretty much unique to cycling, so any device you use to run your training app is unlikely to have ever heard of it. 

That means that if any part of your infrastructure is ANT+ only, you'll need some way of getting it to talk to the device you're using to run your simulation. An ANT+ dongle is one option if your device has a spare USB port, although some of the hardware above doesn't include one. 

Another possibility is the 4iiii Viiiiva heart rate monitor, which will pair up with an ANT+ device and convert to Bluetooth output.

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 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 work-arounds.

What does your pain cave look like?

Are you cramped into the laundry room or a back bedroom? Or do you have a dedicated training space? Is there a TV available or do you need to bring your own screen to your pain cave? Are there power outlets available? What's the WiFi signal like? Most importantly, what is your budget?

All of these are essential considerations. 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 or Apple TV hooked up to an old TV is going to give you the best experience.

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 heavy, and, if access to outlets is a problem, tablets seem to last quite a bit longer than laptops in our experience. 

Likewise 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 has a dongle you can buy for its Kickr trainer for a wired connection to avoid drop-outs, although you're then even more limited in where you can set up.