It seems that as a society, we love to make computing smaller, faster and lighter. The biggest, best computer system in the 1960s was the size of a whole university lab room, and now tablets give us exponentially more power in the palm of our hands. We use tablets for everything, from work to leisure and tablets have become the new budget babysitter, usurping the television as one of the most common ways parents get work done with little ones in the house.
Total tablet sales in 2019 topped 144 million units worldwide, and 16% of all people in the entire world owned a tablet as of 2017. Those numbers are higher now as these small, convenient and in many cases affordable computers have overtaken our lives.
But are they safe? We know electronic devices emit radiation and some emit more than others. With how popular and commonplace tablets are, does the average person really understand how much radiation they’re exposed to every single day just watching Netflix? Let’s explore the tablet radiation levels of popular models and just what that radiation means for our bodies.
Radiation Emitted by Tablets
When cell phones (check out cell phone radiation levels here) became extremely commonplace, the world’s governments and scientists were given pause: was it safe to have these little devices pressed against our heads for any duration during the day?
We know that at certain levels, radiation damages cells and can cause cancer, but what about in something as small as a phone or a tablet? Are they dangerous, and if so, why?
Tablets and cellphones emit radiation, which can be broken down into two additional subcategories: ionizing and non-ionizing. Some examples of ionizing radiation are:
- Radiation from space
In other words, they type of radiation you want to stay away from unless absolutely necessary.
Examples of non-ionizing radiation include:
- Radiofrequency waves
- Power frequency (as emitted by most electronics while they’re simply plugged in)
The difference between these two types of radiation are the wavelengths, or how intense the energy of the waves are.
High energy waves damage cells; this is the same reason exposure to unshielded sunlight can cause cancer.
Luckily, tablets don’t emit this hyper-dangerous type of radiation, just the radiofrequency type.
With that said, however, the radiofrequency radiation emitted by tablets still causes heating, and there are many studies done that suggest at high doses it can also be carcinogenic.
Health Implications of Radiofrequency radiation
Since radiofrequency radiation isn’t as high energy as ionizing wavelengths, it isn’t as immediately dangerous.
This would be true if we only used cell phones and tablets for a few minutes out of the day, but most people are on their devices for hours.
Some studies indicate that even minor appliances and the electricity they emit — which is also low frequency like RF radiation — are possibly carcinogenic.
The difference between your fridge and your tablet, however, is that you don’t have the fridge inches from your face for hours a day, or sitting in your lap while you watch a movie. You certainly aren’t carrying your fridge around in your backpack or pocket, either, so with your tablet or phone, you’re constantly bombarded with RF radiation.
As we stated before, the potential for damage to your cells exists in both the energy-level of the radiation and the length of exposure.
While tablets are not particularly energetic, most people have at least casual interaction with computers on a daily basis.
Couple that with tablet use, either for leisure or in our jobs, and you have a tremendous amount of low-grade energy wavelengths bombarding our bodies on a daily basis.
According to the World Health Organization, this can be potentially cancer-causing.
Additionally, the rise of a specific type of brain tumor — glioblastoma— mirrors the increase in availability of tablets and cellphones.
An Italian study on the effects of casual cellphone use on tumor generation found that there appears to be a direct link to cell phone and, by extension, tablet use.
What is the Specific Absorption Rate?
A key consideration in worrying about exposure to radiation is a concept called the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is a measure of how fast the body absorbs energy when exposed to radiation.
Specifically, SAR refers to the energy taken in per kilogram of tissue, which is represented by watts per kilogram, or W/kg.
The concern is that tissue has a specific rate of absorption “limit” and that anything past that can cause cellular damage.
This is particularly dangerous when in terms of microwave frequency, which builds and causes heat, but all RAF radiation can build to cause heat, including tablets and cellphones.
Too much heat and absorption turns into cellular damage and in turn, can cause cancer.
The SAR matters because though the FCC has limits and standards in place for all cellular devices, they don’t consider:
- That our bodies get bombarded at certain times with RAF radiation, which has a compounding effect, meaning each individual source of radiation is additive and makes exposure more dangerous
- The microwave heating effect occurs below the SAR limits set by the FCC
Basically, for smaller people, the rate of absorption will be higher, leading to more cause for concern. (Our article on safe cell phone distances to babies.)
Radiation levels of popular tablets (SAR Levels)
Now that we know about SAR and how that can affect our bodies, let’s take a look at the rating for some of the most popular tablets currently on the market.
|Tablet||Body SAR (USA)|
|Apple iPad Mini 2019||1.19 W/kg|
|Apple iPad Pro 12.9||1.19 W/kg|
|Apple iPad Pro 11||1.19 W/kg|
|Apple iPad Air 2019||1.19 W/kg|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab S6||0.70 W/kg|
|Apple iPad 10.5 2019||1.19 W/kg|
|Microsoft Surface Go||0.50 W/kg|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab S5E||0.562 W/kg|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 7 2019||1.58 W/kg|
|Google Pixel Slate||1.32 W/kg|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 inch||0.917 W/kg|
|Amazon Fire HD 10||1.32 W/kg|
|Huawei Mediapad T3 10 inch||0.32 W/kg|
|Amazon Fire HD 8||1.32 W/kg|
The lowest overall SAR was the HuaweiMediapad, which has a value well below the FCC standard, followed closely by Microsoft and Samsung.
Apple has a fairly standard SAR of 1.19 W/kg across all their devices, and in last place were the Amazon products, around 1.32 W/kg.
All of these are still below the threshold set by the FCC, but Huaweiwas far and away the best choice for radiation emissions.
How do you protect yourself from tablet radiation?
At this point, you’ve probably started to wonder how you can protect yourself from all these RAF waves, right? Of course, you could just chuck the thing out the window and live in a cave, but that’s not a good solution to anything. Let’s take a look at some daily practices that will make your tablet use safer.
- When you’re not using it, take the extra second to turn it fully off. (Here’s a guide to turning wifi off on all your devices.)
- Keep your tablet charging away from people, like in a specific corner of the room.
- Don’t have cellular or WiFi connected if you’re not using it.
- Never sleep with it near your body, especially your head.
- Keep your tablet away from kids, and if they must use them, limit tablet time.
- Consider buying a radiation shield — they’re inexpensive and easy to apply.
- Avoid using it when your signal isn’t great; this makes the tablet work harder to find a connection and in turn, emits more radiation.
- If you use your tablet to communicate, either do visual communication where the tablet can be at arm’s length, or use speakerphone options.
- Place your tablet on a surface when working, if possible, to avoid sitting it directly on your body. If you are at an airport or other situation where there are no tables, put a backpack or purse between you and the tablet.
- If a child needs to speak on the tablet- say, if grandma is calling — use it on speaker mode. Children’s little bodies absorb radiation faster than adults. (Check out Is iPhone Radiation Harmful to Babies?)
Conclusion: Infrequent, intelligent tablet use is critical
Now you know more about tablets, radiation and absorption than you probably ever wanted to, but it’s important that you understand how these daily-use items can affect our health. Sure, using a table every once in a while wouldn’t ever be a big deal, but people use computers every single day, for work and play, and that exposure adds up.
With a low SAR tablet choice, limited exposure times and proper storage/charging, you can dramatically reduce your chances of long term damage. Also discuss and practice good electronics habits with your kids, ensuring they too are safe.