I’m not an advocate of cheap electronics, I’m picky and I’d rather pay a bit extra and get something I know can satisfy my ever-growing demands. However, when it comes to tablets, studies say that many potential customers are looking at cheap slates, despite the iPad 2 being still the most popular tablet out there.

If you’ll take a look at the best sold such devices right now on the big webstores, like Amazon.com or BestBuy.com, you’ll see that many of the slates listed there towards the top are in fact inexpensive. But, is it really wise to buy a cheap tablet these days? Well, that’s a question I get a lot lately, and I’m going to share my view on the subject with you today.

To put it in just a couple of words, the answer is simple: it depends. But it depends on a multitude of factors.

How about a slide out keyboard?

First, you have to think about why do you need a tablet and what are you going to do with it. Do you want to read books, go online sometimes, listen to some music or watch some movies when traveling? Do you want to play games? Do you need to be always connected to the Internet? Do you need it for fun? Do you need it for work?

Then, you must consider how much value you put on aesthetics. Furthermore, ask yourself where are you going to use the tablet? At home, in bed? Or on the road? Or perhaps somewhere else?

And these are just some of the criteria you must have in mind when picking a tablet.

Now, let’s get back to those cheap tablets. It’s obvious you wont’ get an iPad or Galaxy Tab like experience from a $200 bucks slate or cheaper. There’s a reason why such tablets are that cheap; they usually come with poorer hardware, looks, build and display quality. Overall, they make for a poorer everyday experience, but as long as you’re aware of that and don’t have many expectations from such devices, you’ll actually find them satisfying.

So, what are cheap tablets good for? Well, the good ones usually come with Android 2.2 and 2.3, older ARM processors, 256 to 512 MB of memory and decent storage (2 to 16 GB, that can be extended with microSD or SD cards in most cases). This platform allows them to run basic tasks, like a browser, a chatting program, a movie and music player, an ebook reading app and such stuff. You’ll hardly be able to play HD video content, 3D games or multitask smoothly between several apps, and the slate will get sluggish quite often, but hey, that’s something you have to deal with if you want a cheap tablet.

They usually come with 7 to 8 inch displays and while they are not as responsive and don’t offer the same image quality as the screens you get on premium slates, they’re not that bad either. The battery will usually last for a couple of hours (but not 10+ like on the iPad 2) and some of the features found on more expensive slates are usually missing here (like cameras, Bluetooth, 3G, some of the sensors). As for the exterior and the case, cheap slates aren’t as fancy or as solid built as their more expensive counterparts.

There are plenty of decent inexpensive tablets out there

There are plenty of decent inexpensive tablets out there

Those being said, I see cheaper tablets as good travel companions and devices targeted towards a younger crowd. When you get a slate for $100 or similar, you won’t care that much if it scratches or gets broken, thus you’ll be more comfortable grabbing it along when traveling or commuting, throw it in your backpack, in your car or in your boat.

Now, there are actually plenty of tablets that offer a good bang for the buck in stores. I’ve recently put together a list of my favorite tablets you can get for under $200, so you might want to check it too. If not, check out the posts on the Coby Kyros, the Pandigital Nova , the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Lenovo IdeapAd A100 here on the site.

Just don’t expect them to be flawless, you do get what you paid for in the end. If that’s going to be enough is only up to you and your needs, that’s why I advise anyone to go online and look for reviews on the slate they’re planning to buy, especially reviews from other buyers that got one and shared their views on it. This way, you can really see if that device is going to give you what you need or not.

That’s about it for now, but I’m really curious for your input. Did you buy a cheap tablet already? Would you buy one? Why? Please let me know, as I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

Mike Andrei
Mike is a geek and has been involved in a "relationship" with gadgets since 2004, as an IT editor, tech journalist and, these days, as an independent tech blogger. He's fond of mobile computers, from UMPCs to netbooks and the newer tablets, and he usually writes about such devices. You can find more of his work on http://www.tabletbite.com or follow him on Twitter: Http://www.twitter.com/andreigirbea .
  • ElShuko

    I bought a cheap tablet, though it was not an android, it was the HP touchpad. While there are countless problems with webOS, I will stay away from software problems, and assume you might run into some of the similar problems I faced that are more hardware based.
    a) its heavy and unattractive, and after I showed it off to some of my friends day one, I have not brought it out of my room since. It is almost embarrassing to bring out in public. While all top of the line android tablets look similar, as the price drops, the weight and bulk increases.
    b) good screen, but not protected by gorilla glass, and got scratches on it. I assume as tablets get cheaper, they use cheaper quality materials to build it, and once it is scratched the thing is even more of an eyesore.
    c) the internet speeds are s…l…o…w… i don’t understand how I can open up a webpage on my droid x, hp laptop, and hp touchpad all connected to the same wifi at the same time and have the hp touchpad not just come in last, but dead last. As an internet browser, which is mainly what I purchased the tablet for, without a good wifi card, it is pointless.
    d) now that I have already spent $100 on a tablet, I am still in a position where i want a tablet that works so i just spent money on a real android tablet. Now i have 2 tablets, and the POS cheap one has no function more than being a paper weight.

    Bottom line. If you want a tablet, buy a real tablet.

    • AppleFUD

      I picked up a couple TouchPads as well. . . 32GB versions.
      they suck LOL

      One got cracks around the speakers–a nightmare with HP about fixing it properly as it has other issues as well.

      Got the second one back from my Mom as she really didn’t like it either. I don’t use it much any more–just when I can’t sleep at night. Not a lot of decent apps–most are buggy or just poor quality.

      It’s very hard to hold when laying down–the glossy back and full glass on the front require that you have a skin or case and you will still need both hand because it’s so heavy–or you will grip too tight and cause cracks in the case around the speakers or micro-usb port.

      It’s ridiculously slow for browsing the web!!! ridiculously!!! And many games suck on it because it just can’t keep up. . . webOS is somewhat of a slow pig at this point in time.

      After using if since August I’m of the mindset to go high-end tablet at this point in time or not at all. I can see the Kindle Fire being OK for a consumption/tody device but for a power user I would recommend the Transformer Prime–don’t bother with anything else at this point until this new gen of tablets hits the market.

      I was going to get the TPrime but I’ve been hearing about an 11.6″ tablet with super high res screen . . . that’s what I would love to see in a Transformer as I could use it as a laptop replacement–the 10″ model is just a little too cramped on the keyboard for me though it is a stunning device.

      Though I do have to admit that I really like the BB PlayBook–while the browser is a little slow it is very good (best “desktop” quality for a tablet I’ve seen) and the UI is great, not to mention it multitasks better than anything out there–use presentation mode to watch a movie (full 1080p) and continue using the tablet. For $200 it’s hard not to pick that thing up. . . and the design of that thing is spot on–super easy to hold. However, the battery life isn’t that great, there’s only the 7″ version, very few apps, and RIM seems to be all over the map lacking focus and direction at the moment. . .

  • OperationHorror

    tl;dr: you get what you pay for

  • Trill

    In short dont get an android tablet unless its running Android 4.0 or for a fact you know it will get the update. Honeycomb is nice but lets be honest its what vista is to Windows 7 (ICS)

    Honeycomb has bugs still and was/is a place holder so manufactures would stop putting android 2.2 on tablets

  • Philip

    I bought my son the Acer a100, as a cheap tablet goes, I’d say it’s the best out there.

  • In the last year I’ve bought 2 cheap tablets. The first was a good experience buying the nook color. The screen is nice the dev community has supported this device very well. It’s not a super fast device but it gets the job done. The reason I got it was to surf the web and it has done that superbly no issues with anything except at times the device seems to bog down, also,this is a big one, the battery life is about as good as ky phone,in other word it’s not good a full charge barely lasts a day. Not a deal breaker for me but it is an inconvenience.

    The other one I got was the G tablet by viewsonic. Ugh, this thing has been nothing but problems since day one. The stock software is barely recognizable as Android. The rooting and flashing of Cyanogenmod7 was ,for me , pretty painful and never quite worked well. The Gtablet was big and heavy and the screen is horrible absolutely horrible. That screen really hurts the device. I have finally got everything mostly working. Now it sits on a shelf for anyone to use web browsing and music is all we use it for. I wonder if it’ll be any better with ICS or Cyanogenmod9?

    About both devices the reviews were right. Pretty much what everyone complained about is what I have found lacking in these devices. My advice, read the reviews and and honestly answer the question can I live with XYZ shortcomings?

    • I second you on the screen of the Viewsonic. You can hardly find anything with worse viewing angles. And the GTablet is really not that cheap after all

  • I wonder what’s going to happen with the laptop vs tablet scenario this year. I got a laptop for black friday because it was on sale but I like how easy tablet’s are to work with while on the go. I guess I’m going to end up getting one of those laptop tables to go with my laptop table. I found a good one here: http://bit.ly/vy3hNS. Next time I’ll get a tablet

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen a demo on youtube of ICS running on an Archos and it is smooth as butter. Archos might not be a “cheap” tablet but it certainly isn’t expensive. In the middle.

    If ICS can run smoothly on a machine like this then I am optimistic that the next gen of cheapo tablets might be able to run it well too. Basically ICS will make it run better and next gen hardware will make them run better. Cautiously optimistic about the new Cobys.

    • We shall see the new Cobys at CES, I really am looking forward for those and wonder whether they’ll dump the resistive screens or not.

      As for ICS and how smooth it runs, I’ll hold my horses till I can actually see in in action… Clips can be very misleading, especially if they are “official” videos made by manufacturers.

  • TyCo

    I have the Xoom and it’s awesome. I also wanted a tablet that was a little smaller and would travel a little better. I got a 7″ tablet on Amazon for $139 and beside from the screen size and built in memory (Xoom has 32gb, the 7″ has 4bg) it’s pretty much just as good. here’ the link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006IOA9Z8/ref=sc_pgp__m_A76FR6O1NBAXV_3?ie=UTF8&m=A76FR6O1NBAXV&n=&s=&v=glance hope this helps!

  • Fasfsd


  • tabletmonster

    reading this article today, feels like it was written in early 2010, but its actually only been 9 months.

    a lot has changed since

    and you guys better get ready for the next 9 months when we will get cortex a15 quads with retina IPS screens for $250.

  • We had bought 3 android tablets…price ranges from $90.00 to 435.00. We had problems with all of them and were just about ready to switch to the apple until a friend recommended http://unlimitedelectronics.webs.com/. At first look, I thought she was crazy!! Such a simple site, but for the price…$70.00 a tablet , I decided to try it…I have never been so surprised. We all have tablets from this site now,(5 in family,) and we all love them. So to all out there. My advice…if you are looking to buy (and dont judge a book by its cover, i refer you here.