The Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 aren’t the only budget tablets in town — you’ll find plenty of models selling for well under $400 if you know where to look. Here, we’ve picked 4 tablets with prices starting from a ridiculously low $65. As always, you need to shop around carefully to ensure you get the best-quality model, but there are some real bargains to be had, with some offering a wide range of features from wireless networking to external storage and HDMI video output.
How to grab a bargain
While our roundup mostly looks at tablets priced around the $200-$360 mark, there are still plenty of other cheap tablets on the market, with many even under $200. There are numerous sites you can try, but we’d give eBay a go first. We’ve looked at the cheapest tablet currently available on eBay here (priced at just $65), although a quick search for Android 4.0 at the time of writing showed eBay selling around 1,800 tablets under $300. However, there are traps to avoid, so here are our tips.
- Buying a no-name brand? Stick to Android 4.0. There’s a big difference between Android 4.0 and the older Android 2.x, so if you’re not buying a big-name brand like Acer, ASUS, Google, Samsung or Toshiba, where even Android 3.2 would still be adequate, make sure any cheapie tablet has at least Android 4.0.
- Check for Google Play. While it’s possible to install it later (albeit with a bit of difficulty), any tablet you look at really must include the Google Play (aka Android Market) app built in, otherwise you’ll be forced to scour alternate app stores, which have much less variety.
- Only consider capacitive touchscreen tablets. You’ll still find one or two tablets with harder-to-use resistive touchscreens on the market, but these really need a stylus to work reliably. Check that yours has a capacitive touchscreen and you’ll be fine.
- Screen resolution. Seriously, don’t expect great screen quality if you’re spending less than $200. Most cheapies will only have 800 x 480 pixels to play with. For a good 7in tablet, 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution would be our minimum requirement.
- Look at the connection options. Ideally, wireless networking, Bluetooth, a microSD card slot and HDMI output would be on the top of the must-have list, but you just won’t find many tablets under $200 that come with everything, so think about what you want and choose carefully.
- Battery life. Let’s face it: budget tablets aren’t known for their battery life, so if that’s important, stick with brand names and look carefully before you buy. The reality is no Android tablet can (as yet) quite match the iPad’s 10-hour runtime.
The cheapest 10-inch name-brand tablet on the market.
Price: $368 | From: Officeworks | Critical Specs: Android 4.0.3, 10.1in LCD, 1,280 x 800 pixels, 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 2MP front-facing camera, 696g.
If you’re after the cheapest name-brand 10.1in tablet on the market, this is it. The A200 is a stripped-down version of the original Iconia Tab A500 and shares the same underpinnings, with a 1,280 x 800-pixel touchscreen and dual-core Tegra 2 processor. However, while it originally arrived with the Android 3.2 (aka Honeycomb) OS, it’s now been updated to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
It lacks an HDMI video output, but there are two USB ports, including a full-sized option that will take an external storage device.
You also get 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and 16GB of built-in flash storage. Its battery life is reasonable at around the seven-hour mark, but at 696g, it’s heavier than both the 2012 iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The LCD screen Acer uses isn’t brilliant, and it’s surprisingly grainy — it’s a bit like looking through a wire flyscreen. Still, there aren’t any other name-brand models at this 10in size and price to compare it to, so it’s hard to complain too much.
With the same chip used in Toshiba’s AT1S0, the A200 has enough grunt to play 720p movies and will game reasonably well, just not to the same speed as the Nexus 7, and it refuses to play 1080p videos. While there are cheaper 10.1in Android tablets on the market if you’re prepared to go for lesser-known brands, the A200 is still a good option at a competitive price.
A brilliant screen and great features.
Price: $298 | From: Officeworks | Critical Specs: Android 3.2, 7in LCD, 1,280 x 800 pixels, 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, 2MP front-facing/5MP rear-facing cameras, 372g.
The AT1S0 was one of the first name brand Android tablets to feature a 1,280 x 800-pixel touchscreen in a 7in format. At the time of writing, the 16GB version was still selling through Officeworks for $298. It’s a tough little nut with a nice rubberised backing and a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor inside. That’s fast enough to handle 720p (1,280 x 720-pixel) high-definition video and play games on its Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) OS.
There are rumours of an Android 4.0 update coming, but nothing definite as yet. It’s also loaded with good features including 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, along with external microSD card storage and a miniHDMI port to connect it to your big-screen TV.
You also get twin cameras: a 2MP one on the front and a good 5MP option with LED flash on the back. There are two things about the design we don’t like, however: it comes with a huge port that connects to a USB socket for charging purposes, but it doesn’t connect for data. For that, you need a second cable to connect via the side miniUSB port to sync your files.
It also refuses to play Full HD 1080p videos. The Nexus 7 knocks this one out of the ground for speed and the AT1S0 has rightfully copped a bit of flak for its two-cable setup. However, this is the only tablet on the market under $300 that matches the Nexus 7’s screen resolution, plus adds in external storage capabilities and HDMI video output.
Cheap as chips, if not the best tablet around.
Price: $65 | From: eBay.com.au | Critical Specs: Android 4.0.3, 7in LCD, 800 x 480 pixels, 1.5GHz single-core Allwinner A13 CPU, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, 1.3MP front-facing camera, 285g.
With so many cheap tablets available on eBay, we bit the bullet and bought one to see just what the quality was like. This one’s so generic, it doesn’t even have a name — at this end of the market, tablets are sold on their processor and OS. On that score, the A13MID features a single-core 1.5GHz Allwinner Boxchip A13 processor and Android 4.0.3 OS.
We paid $75 including shipping two months before the time of writing, but it’s now selling for just $65, which is ridiculously cheap. On our benchmark tests, it came dead last in the field and while the LCD has an easy-to-use capacitive touch control, it’s only 800 x 480 pixels resolution.
Given the price, the connection ports included aren’t bad, with a microUSB OTG port (meaning it connects to your computer as well as external storage), a microSD card slot and headphone socket. There’s even a 1.3MP front-facing camera. It also charges via the USB port.
It’s surprisingly light at just 285g, but battery life is just three to four hours, tops. Despite the slow test results, it’s still fast enough to play 1080p/Full HD videos and can handle Angry Birds — just.
The one major fault is a semi-regular crash of part of the Android OS called ‘process.acore’. We tried resetting it, which fixed it for a while, but it’s more annoying than totally debilitating. And the supplied power brick? You can’t use it. The tablet becomes unstable when it’s plugged in, we think due to the brick’s poor power quality. Charging it via USB delivers far better results. All up, the A13MID might well be at the bottom of the Android gene pool, but it’s hard not to like it when you’ve only spent $65.
Give this one a miss.
Price: $149 | From: www.pioneercomputers.com.au | Critical Specs: Android 4.0.4, 7in LCD screen with 800 x 480 pixels, 1.5GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, 1.3MP front-facing camera, 347g.
The DreamBook B7 is the cheapest tablet we saw from a non-eBay retailer at $149. However, while it essentially offers the same app speed as Pioneer’s larger $299 DreamBook B97, the 7in LCD screen here is decidedly ordinary. Apart from its low 800 x 480-pixel resolution, colours are almost non-existent. To its credit, it plays 1080p Full HD video without qualms, but the colours were pale and washed out.
Compared to the generic A13MID tablets on eBay selling for $65, this one is considerably faster, no question, but the screen isn’t noticeably better. On the upside, you get microSD card storage plus miniUSB, a miniHDMI video output and headphone socket, and weight that’s on par at 347g. Even keeping in mind its low $149 price tag, we’d be more tempted to try our luck on eBay with the same budget, or possibly going with an Ainol tablet online.
We also found the touchscreen LCD to be less responsive, needing more than a glancing touch to register our action request. The combination of app speed and price isn’t bad, but we’re not sure we want to pay this much for that particular screen.