I used to think that cheap tablets were crappy tablets; but I don’t think that anymore. Yes, there are some (severely) horrible budget tablets (you know, like those $30 tablets from brands like Coby, iView and Zeepad). Don’t buy those (please, I beg of you!). But this year there are some seriously decent (even quite nice) budget tablets from reputable brands like Amazon, Lenovo, Samsung and yes, even Apple. In fact, I think you’ll be a bit surprised at just how far you can stretch those dollars when you see my list of the best cheap tablets (in the $99-$399 price range). If you’re looking for the best budget tablet under $400, under $300, under $200 or even at $100, this is the article for you. If you’re looking for the best budget tablet under $100… this isn’t your article (but let me know if you’re desperate in the comments and I’ll try to make a recommendation for you).
There are plenty of reasons to get a budget tablet. Maybe you’re a student and you just need something you can actually afford! Or maybe you’re a parent and you want to get a tablet or two your family can share (or a tablet that isn’t too expensive in case your kids, you know, break it). Maybe you need some cheap tablets to give to your employees (that they’ll actually be able to get some work done on). Or maybe you just want a decent second screen you can keep in the family room for when you’re watching movies. In any case, there’s a great budget tablet for you.
So buying a budget tablet doesn’t have to suck. You don’t have to have a tiny screen size (see the Samsung I picked out below). You don’t have to spend too much to get a nice, HD screen (hello, Amazon). And you don’t have to sacrifice features: the Lenovo tablet below does several things you won’t even find on a high-end, super-expensive tablet!
If you ask me, when you’re buying a cheap tablet (that doesn’t suck) you’re looking for a few specific things: a decent screen and a processor that isn’t too sluggish. So what does that mean in layman’s terms? I’d say to look for a screen that’s at least HD (1280 x 720) and a processor that’s at least a quad-core that can clock 1.3 GHz or above. Anything above those specs would be a nice extra as would any additional features such as a decent camera, extra storage, split-screen and multitasking, a fingerprint scanner, etc.
If you have any questions about how to pick the best budget tablet or which cheap tablet has the best X (camera, processor, screen, etc.) just let me know in the comments. I’m happy to try to help answer all your tablet buying questions.
Amazon Fire HD 6 ($99)
The Amazon Fire HD 6 (which costs $99.99) is a bigger brother to Amazon’s dirt cheap Fire tablet (which only costs $50) but it’s also more preferable (i.e. usable). It’s a 6 inch tablet with a 1280 x 800 display that comes in 5 color choices for people who want a bit of customization (black, citron, cobalt, magenta and white). The Fire HD 6 also sports a quad-core processor that can clock 1.5GHz which means opening and running apps shouldn’t be too laggy. There are two versions available: an 8 GB model and a 16 GB model.
Of course being an Amazon product, this tablet does things a bit differently. For starters, it takes advantage of Amazon Underground, Amazon’s app store that offers $20,000 worth of free apps. It’s an interesting kinda-gimmick in that the apps are all actually, truly free and there are some decent apps included including Angry Birds Slingshot Stella, Star Wars Rebels: Recon Missions and Goat Simulator and more. And Amazon Prime members can of course take unique advantage of access to 38 million movies, tv shows, songs, books and more.
Of the four budget tablets I’ve listed here, the Amazon Fire HD 6 has the smallest screen (and is the smallest-sized tablet). I think 6″ is an interesting size. In my eyes this tablet’s size makes it a great reader. Of course you can watch movies on a 6″ screen but this small size borders on phablet territory; the screen is only half an inch larger than the largest iPhone, for instance. Still, for media, bigger (however much) is better.
One thing to watch out for with the Fire HD 6 is it’s storage. I’m afraid 16 GB really isn’t very much — an 8 GB is downright tiny. Still, if the majority of your tablet activity will be streaming content or surfing the web, rather than downloading lots of cutting-edge games, you should be able to make it work. And hey, as the world moves ever more into the cloud (and Amazon is a MAJOR cloud player), local device storage matters less every year.
I’d say buy the Amazon Fire HD 6 if you’re looking for the best cheap (as in ultra-affordable, super-tight budget) tablet on the market (without having to scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel). Also, this tablet is perfect for kids/families thanks to the multi-profile setup and the fact that parents can limit time kids can spend on the device.
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 ($164.99)
If a 6″ tablet is just too small for you, you might consider checking out the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3. This is an 8″ budget tablet with an entertainment focus. Like the Fire HD 6 it’s got a quad-core processor (though it’s just a little less powerful on paper at 1.3GHz). This Android machine has a 16 GB hard drive and the HD display has a resolution of 1280 x 800 (which is comparable to the resolution on the Fire HD 6).
But there are a few interesting features that really set the Yoga Tab 3 apart from the other cheap tablets listed here. First is the interesting kickstand which lets you stand, tilt, hold or even hand (yep, there’s a nail hole!) your tablet for the best, most-convenient viewing angle. So whether you’re watching a movie (kickstand) or cooking in the kitchen (hanging) you’ll appreciate how versatile this tablet is.
The second really interesting feature is the camera that rotates 180°. This is cool because you have a decent camera in both the front and the back (whereas other tablets often have a decent camera only in the back but sport a pretty terrible camera in the front). But that’s not all! This camera can be controlled via gestures so you can literally wave a hand to take a photo (no camera remote needed).
A couple other features worth noting are the 20 hour battery life and the dual front-facing speaker setup. Obviously, the less you have to charge, the better. And take my word for it when I say you can definitely tell a difference between a device (whether or phone or a tablet) with one speaker and a device with two speakers. An unlike even the might iPad, these speakers are forward/front facing (rather than aimed down) for even better sounding movies and music.
I’d say to buy the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 if you’re looking for the best budget entertainment tablet (or a cheap tablet with some fun and unique features you can show off to your friends).
Samsung Galaxy Tab A ($249.99)
Of the tablets on this list, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A sports the largest screen (at 9.7″). One of the biggest benefits of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A over the competition listed here is the microSD card slot which enables users to upgrade to up to 128 GB of storage (from the base of 16 GB). The display is only a 1024 x 768, so maybe not quite as sharp as even the two cheaper tablets I’ve already mentioned, but you’re probably buying this tablet for the size of the screen as much as anything else.
Of course the larger screen isn’t the only thing that makes this a compelling option. Power-users will love the split-screen capability. With it you can check email and surf the web simultaneously or chat with your friends on social media while you watch a movie.
As you might have expected, Samsung was sure to squeeze in a few Samsung-exclusive features. There’s Milk Music which provides free, DJ-curated music, SideSync which lets two Samsung devices easily share content and Samsung Smart Switch which aims to make transferring your existing content from an iOS or Windows device to your new Samsung tablet as easy as possible (think contacts, music, files and other media).
Like the Amazon Fire HD 6, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A makes a good family and kid-friendly tablet. Not only is there a Kids Mode that limits what can be seen and done on the tablet, but there are multiple, personalized logins to keep everyone’s files sorted and separate.
Another cool feature is the Ultra Power Saving Mode which will maximize battery life if you find your tablet about to die by turning off all nonessential apps.
I’d say buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab A if you want a cheap tablet with a larger screen and upgradable memory that can be used by a power user on a budget and/or a family with several users.
iPad Mini ($269-$399)
I can’t lie: in my mind I’ve saved the best for last. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy several Amazon products (the Amazon Echo is incredible, for instance). Lenovo’s tablet certainly has some standout features you won’t find elsewhere (including on much higher-end tablets). And Samsung is always finding new angles (and let’s face it, some gimmicks) to add to their devices. But I’m an Apple guy at heart (for a reason, mind you) and I had to mention the iPad Mini in this discussion because I feel it truly offers the smoothest, easiest, least-frustrating, happiest, most-productive tablet experience of the group. And yes, I realize the iPad Mini is several times more expensive than the cheapest tablet I’ve listed here (the Amazon Fire HD 6), but it IS cheap for an Apple tablet. So let’s talk about what you’ll get for your money.
Currently Apple lists two iPad Minis for sale on it’s site: the newest iPad Mini 4 ($399) and the older iPad Mini 2 ($269). For this article I’m going to talk about the iPad Mini 4, but just know there is a more affordable iPad Mini available and you know what? It’s really not too bad (I’d definitely take one).
The base iPad Mini 4 model features a 7.9″ screen with a 2048 x 1536 resolution (which absolutely blows away the other budget tablets listed here). The screen is also fingerprint resistant, laminated and has an antireflective coating.
While the cameras on the other tablets really weren’t worth mentioning, the iPad Mini 4 can shoot 1080p HD video, slow-mo video and time lapses. On the photo side of things you’ll be able to snap beautiful photos with an 8 MP iSight camera.
The iPad Mini 4 also features a fingerprint sensor (Touch ID), Apple Pay, Siri, iOS 9 and other uniquely Apple features.
Like the Samsung, this iPad can multitask with a split screen view, but unlike the Samsung this Apple tablet has a much more powerful processor. The graphics performance is also unmatched in the budget tablet category which means playing games will be FUN.
It’s worth noting that any iPad is going to have a far bigger selection of accessories to choose from than any of the tablets listed above — including the Samsung tablet. From covers to cases, if you want a more personalized experience, the iPad is the way to go.
One thing that could be better about the iPad Mini 4? It’s battery life. It’s decent at 10 hours, but that’s half the capacity of the much cheaper Lenovo listed above.
I’d say buy the iPad Mini 4 if you need a smaller-sized tablet with a reasonable price tag that really doesn’t compromise on much of anything. If you want the best-of-the-best budget-friendly tablets, you’ve got to go with the iPad Mini.