Which small tablet is the best value for money?

February 6, 2013
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We love mobile technology, but who wants to pay more than they have to? The trouble is that finding the best quality devices at fair prices is a real challenge. Without in depth research you can easily end up with buyer’s remorse. It’s difficult to quantify value when it comes to tablets because people have different priorities, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Join us as we try to work out which small tablets represent the best value for money.

Tablet frenzy

The whole tablet market is going crazy right now. According to IDC the last quarter of 2012 saw a record 52.5 million tablets shipped, up over 75 percent on the same quarter last year.  The fastest growing sector of the tablet market is in the 7 to 10 inch range. Market research by IHS iSuppli is suggesting that the 7-inch tablet market doubled in 2012 and that it will double again in 2013.

Success for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets and Google’s Nexus 7, not to mention a host of lesser known manufacturers, has established clear demand for small tablets. Apple took notice and followed with the iPad mini. The floodgates have opened for small tablets, especially on the Android platform. CES 2013 played host to new releases in this sector from Polaroid, Acer, Vizio and many more. We expect to see more of the same at MWC this month.

How do you pick a winner?

If you have no budget restrictions whatsoever then you can just go ahead and buy the tablet with the best reviews. To get a true picture you should try to find a site that plugs into multiple reviews from trusted tech sites and consumers to give an overview, or a service that aggregates review scores. You might consider checking out Consumer Search or Trusted Reviews. You could also do the legwork yourself and run through the reviews from your most trusted sources to build a complete picture.

You should also have a list of must-have features that are deal breakers for you so that you can quickly filter out tablets that won’t deliver what you need. For example, you might feel a microSD card slot is vital, or you might want an HD screen for watching movies. Make a list.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of unlimited funds. We want to get real value for money. How do you work out whether you are paying over the odds for something? What constitutes the best bang for your buck?

Measuring value

A recent post at the Movaluate blog tackled this subject by analyzing fair market value and average review ratings for small tablets. They took the average of review scores from four big tech sites and calculated the value of each review point. It’s true to some extent that you get what you pay for and they found that, in general, the more expensive the tablet, the higher the score, but the cost per rating point paints a slightly different picture.

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Their conclusion is that the Kindle Fire HD 7, Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, and the Nexus 7 offer the best value right now. We wouldn’t argue with the Nexus 7, but the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 doesn’t cut it on screen quality or processor speed and the Kindle Fire HD 7 locks you into Amazon’s ecosystem.

If anything this exercise highlights the potential flaws in any aggregation system. One of the most obvious factors that isn’t taken into account is the age of the review. For example, if the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 was reviewed now as a new tablet it would probably score a lot lower. The forthcoming Polaroid M7 looks far superior on paper and it’s going to retail for $129.

Competition is pushing down prices

Polaroid_M7We’ve discussed the best cheap Android tablets recently, but the market is moving so fast that you have to keep an eye on the horizon to snag the best deal. The rumors about an even cheaper Nexus 7 continue to circulate and we’ve already seen the base price drop as the 8GB model was phased out. There’s a reason everyone raves about the Nexus 7 as great value for money, but that’s not news to anyone.

What is worth considering is the amazing bargains that are about to launch. The Acer Iconia B1-A71 looked good at first glance for $149, but the Archos 70 Titanium is going to cost $119 and the specs are similar. Then there’s the ASUS Memo Pad for $149. You’ve also got to take a look at the Polaroid M7 which does outdoes all of them with a superior display and camera for just $129.

You can bet there will be more unveiled at MWC and beyond. How low will the prices go? We can see it being possible to snag a decent brand new 7-inch Android tablet for under $100 within the next few months.

What about quality?

Of course getting the best value tablet is about the sweet spot where quality and price meets. A lot of the cheap tablets flooding the market will be manufactured using cheap components and will prove to have reliability issues over time. Many people will be hesitant to buy a tablet from Polaroid or Archos, and it would certainly be advisable to wait for some detailed reviews. If you’re considering even cheaper options from Chinese manufacturers like Ainol then caution is advised (surely for English speakers telling everyone you have an Ainol tablet is off-putting enough).

If a deal looks too good to be true then it generally is.

Don’t lose sight of your needs

Value isn’t just about getting the best specs for your cash. You should never forget about what you want the tablet for in the first place. If you’re just going to browse the web then any of the bargain basement tablets will meet your needs. Avoid the upselling you find everywhere. That kind of warped logic leads people into buying a desktop that can run the latest PC games and then using it for email and word processing.

If you want an all-rounder then it is still impossible to look past the Nexus 7. If you don’t want to stretch to $199 and gaming is not a big deal for you then check out the reviews of the new wave that are landing within the next couple of months. We’ll keep you posted on all the new releases, but right now we’ve got our eye on the Polaroid M7, even if that overlay does look a bit too much like Windows Phone.

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