Are eBooks a bargain in comparison to traditional books? Read our analysis to find out the pros and cons of each.
Cheap Tablets Buying Guide
Despite some overt similarities, the best cheap tablets are more than souped-up ebook readers. When it comes to web surfing and multimedia, tablets run circles around those devices. So if the total portable digital experience is what you're after, you won't have to search hard to find several good and a few great cheap tablets all bearing price tags of $200 or less.
Our top pick is the Google Nexus 7 (starting at $199, Amazon), a tablet made for Google by Asus that consistently wins raves for its combination of price, performance, and features. Barnes & Noble's Nook HD (starting at $199, Amazon) is an affordable tablet with a gorgeous screen, snappy performance, and a microSD card slot for expanded memory. Amazon's latest version of the Kindle Fire ($174 without ads; $159 with ads, Amazon) is a step behind the top two cheap tablets in terms of features, speed, and battery life but costs less than either. (The Kindle Fire HD has more to offer but carries a price tag just north of $200 unless you're willing to accept ads on the display.) Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (starting at $199, Amazon) is a solid tablet by all accounts, although its lower resolution display doesn't quite meet the standard set by our top two picks.
We also identified two cheap tablets that fail to make the grade: Coby's Kyros MID9742 (starting at $160, Amazon) has a large 9.7-inch screen but is marred by performance problems and the display's 4:3 aspect ratio. Acer's Iconia A110 (starting at $200, Amazon) is dragged down by mediocre reviews and a low resolution screen that just doesn't look very good.
Cheap tablets aren't known for having lots of frills -- a welcome strategy for frugal shoppers because it helps to keep prices low. Things are starting to change, however, and some cheap tablets now sport more features than their predecessors. There still aren't many to sort through, but some are worth noting: the tablet's operating system, amount of storage, and ports and connectivity, for example. You'll also want a cheap tablet with a fast processor, access to lots of apps and multimedia content, good battery life, and a sharp and responsive touchscreen.
There are limited options when it comes to operating systems. Cheap tablets run some version of Google's Android operating system, typically either Android 4.0 (whimsically nicknamed "Ice Cream Sandwich") or Android 4.2 (a.k.a. "Jelly Bean"). The Kindle Fire and Nook HD both use modified versions of Android that are designed to work with the online content libraries maintained by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively. A hefty amount of memory is useful for storing space-hogging media files, particularly because the available space on a tablet's hard drive is sometimes less than the total storage listed in the specs. Absent a microSD card slot, cheap tablets fare only modestly well on this measure.
Note that cheap tablets rarely come with multiple ports or connectivity options. There may be a USB port in addition to HDMI and headphone ports, but don't expect much more than that. Any cheap tablet worth buying should support Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth counts as a bonus. Some budget tablets also support 3G or 4G connections, but they tend to be more expensive and you have to pay your cell phone provider for 3G or 4G service.
In terms of processing power, the faster the CPU, the faster the apps will open and the smoother a cheap tablet will run. The battery on the best cheap tablets should last for about eight hours when playing video and up to 10 hours when reading books. As with any electronics, though, the battery life depends in large part on how you use the device. Many tablets these days have high-definition screens for viewing video and photos, and the best also offer high resolution displays. The physical dimensions of those displays vary in size and may be as small as 7 inches and as large as 10 inches.
Amazon ushered in the era of the cheap tablet with its first Kindle Fire. That device was a big hit and inspired a lot of competition. Today, you'll get your money's worth with the best cheap tablets: easy on the eyes, speedy performance, user-friendly handling, and plenty of available content. We expect this trend to grow and that bodes well for all of us.
Best Cheap Tablets
Google Nexus 7
The Google Nexus 7 is the tablet of choice among reviewers for its sharp and bright display, fast performance, long battery life, and Android 4.2 operating system.Read more »
|Not ready to buy?|
Good Cheap Tablets
Amazon Kindle Fire
The newest version of Amazon's Kindle Fire is cheaper than most 7-inch tablets but has fallen behind the top models in both performance and features.Read more »
|Not ready to buy?|
Don't Bother Cheap Tablets
Coby Kyros MID9742 Review
Acer Iconia A110 Review
Amazon Kindle Fire Review
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Review
Google Nexus 7 Review
Nook HD Review
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet
Asus Eee Pad Transformer
Acer Iconia Tab
Coby Kyros MID7015
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Find out the results for our Frugal Month Challenge.
Game on! Grab some deals before kickoff this sunday! Here are our favorite Super Bowl deals and sales.