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Samsung topped JD Power's rankings with a score of 835 out of 1,000, narrowly beating out Apple's 833. Amazon was third in customer satisfaction at 826, followed by Asus and Acer.
The rankings are based on the experiences of 3,375 tablet owners who responded between March and August of this year, and don't include the new iPad Air and iPad Mini, which went on sale Friday.
But some tech pundits questioned the market-research company's scoring system.
 Triple tablet Tuesday
Survey respondents scored Apple's iPad higher than Samsung's tablets in four of five categories -- performance, ease of operation, styling/design, and features -- while Samsung scored higher in just one: cost.
A Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 with an almost 8-inch screen, Wi-Fi-only connectivity and 16GB of storage sells for $299, compared to $399 for a comparable iPad Mini.
"Reporters who got their hands on the attached chart were left scratching their heads," wrote Philip Elmer DeWitt in Fortune. "The only category that Samsung beat Apple in was (duh) cost. And cost, according to Power's press release, counts for at most 16% of the total score."
"Did J.D. Power overreach in giving its top customer satisfaction nod to Samsung instead of Apple?" wondered Don Reisinger of CNET. "So who's the real winner?"
JD Power did not immediately respond Friday to CNN's request for comment.
Apple in the past has trumpeted JD Power's rankings as evidence of its products' popularity with consumers. At the company's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple CEO Tim Cook bragged that iOS devices have won nine consecutive JD Power awards.
JD Power's survey notes that Samsung is the only manufacturer to improve across all five categories since its last survey in April.
The survey found that before buying their tablet, 50% of consumers rely on recommendations from friends, family members or colleagues, while 49% gather information from the manufacturer's website.
Other factors that determine tablet-buying choices include brand reputation (42%) and past experience with the brand (32%).