Staff, courtesy of Samsung
Flashy and expensive tablets get a lot of attention, but cheap tablets are good enough for most people. Manufacturers cut corners on the lowest models when it comes to screen technology and processor speed, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: You probably don’t need the fastest or best tablet to do the things you want. . Almost every tablet on the market today is good enough for what we use them for most: browsing the web, watching movies, reading e-books, and playing simple games.
If you haven’t explored tablets in a while, you’ll be surprised by what’s available; even low-end tablets today offer features that would blow away high-end models from just a few years ago. Of course, don’t expect to play super-fast games on these models. Processors are too slow for graphics-intensive applications. Also, the screens on the lower end tablets are a bit dim and not as high resolution as the more expensive options.
Another area where cheap tablets fall short is how they feel in your hand. In contrast to the premium feel offered by Apple’s more expensive models, such as the $1,000 iPad Pro, cheaper tablets use more plastic in their bezels and tend to be thicker than expensive, ultra-slim options. That said, I don’t often want to reach and scratch or lose a significant investment to throw my cheap Amazon Fire tablet in my backpack over my expensive iPad Pro.
What to look for
The first thing to consider when choosing a cheap tablet is what you want to use it for, as this will determine the screen size that best suits your needs. If you mainly use your tablet to read or compose emails, go for a tablet with a 7- or 8-inch screen, which fits better in your hand and mimics the feel of holding a hardcover book. Small tablets are also useful when you only have one hand free while riding the subway or bus.
But if you like to watch a lot of movies or plan to use your tablet to view large documents, go for something bigger. A 10-inch model like Amazon’s Fire HD 10 is the perfect compromise between portability and size, with a screen that packs enough pixels.
Almost every cheap tablet on the market today is good enough to surf the web, check your email, and play simple games. Otherwise, you may experience some lag when you have multiple tabs open in your web browser.
However, don’t expect a cheap tablet to handle multitasking with multiple programs or high-end games at the same time. If you plan to use your tablet as your primary computer or do serious work like running larger spreadsheets or editing photos, spend a few hundred more for a higher-end tablet. Keep your expectations in check and all of the cheap tablets on our list will deliver on the basic functions.
An important feature you want to consider is how much memory it has. Even the cheapest tablets come with 16GB of memory, which is enough for browsing the web and reading e-books, but barely enough to download some apps and watch movies. If you want to download a lot of games or other software, consider a tablet with at least 32 GB of memory.
Most affordable tablets like the Amazon Fire 7 don’t have a memory card slot that allows you to expand the tablet’s storage. Slightly more expensive tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 can hold a microSD card that supports up to 1 terabyte of storage, so you can store all your movies and music in your library and loads of apps.
How we chose
To be clear, you can find hundreds of cheap tablets online. Many of them can be great buys, but little-known or even unrecognizable brands can’t guarantee the same level of quality control and customer support as global giants like Amazon, Apple, and Samsung. Keeping this in mind, we have included cheap pills from well-known brands that still offer amazing deals but are risk-free.
Each tablet offered here is good enough for browsing the web, sending e-mails, reading books and playing simple games; some can do more. In addition to our own experience with a number of these models, we looked at options at both ends of the feature spectrum, as well as online customer ratings. Finally, we looked at screen size, memory, and price when compiling our final list of recommendations.
Expert: As anyone who has seen the inside of my apartment can attest to, I own too many tablets. Part of the problem is that as a tech writer, I review all kinds of gadgets, including tablets and laptops. But the truth is, I love all kinds of tablets and have been using them since the first computers of this form hit the market in the 2000s. In my search for the best tablet, I came across dozens of models, including the three Amazon Fire tablets I recommend below. For day-to-day use, I turn to the affordable Amazon Fire 7 tablet, which is one of my favorite reading devices. But I have a special place in my heart for Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad Pro, which is great for watching movies and getting a lot of work done.