There are so many tablets on the market that it is difficult to tell which ones are good; even a reviewer such as myself can't test more than a tithe of what's available.
Updated for September 2014
Twp months have passed since I wrote this review, and i think it's time for an update. I've deleted the section recommending against buying a refurb, and I also changed my recommended tablet from the Kobo Arc to the Hisense Sero 7 Pro.
On a related note, if you are looking for other useful info on tablets then you might be interested in the resources page I have been building (click here). On that page you will find links to the several getting started guides I have written over the years.
What I'm Shopping For
In shopping for a budget tablet, I set a hard upper price limit of $99. Anything more than that gets out of the budget market and into the same price range as the Kindle Fire HD (2013), which at $139 I do not see as a budget tablet.
I also set a lower price limit of $60. As I explain below, most of the tablets that cost less than $59 do not offer a good value. As a general rule, I also avoid refurbs of no-name tablets, although I wouldn't turn up my nose at a Sero 7 Pro.
Here's a short list of the specs I want in a $99 Android tablet:
- 7" screen, with a screen resolution of 1024 x 600 (or higher)
- a Dual-core ARM CPU (or a single-core Intel CPU)
- 1GB RAM (minimum)
- 8GB internal storage
- Google Play (or Amazon Appstore)
You could buy a tablet with less RAM, but that will limit its performance. You might also skimp on storage, but that's simply not a good idea. As I and a number of other users have discovered, the tablets that ship with only 4GB internal storage fill up real quick. A microSD card will be required, and that adds to the price so I say go for the extra storage in the first place.
You might notice that I insist on Google Play, but don't mention cameras. The latter are a crap shoot for budget tablets; a tablet might have them but there's no guarantee that the cameras will be good. And as for Google Play, most budget tablets will ship with it so you can ignore the tablets that don't have it. They're not even worth considering.
Where I Shop for Tablets
For starters, I tend to look for tablets on four websites:
- Best Buy
These four sites each stock quite a few models, and three of them also offer marketplaces where 3rd-party sellers can list items. (I've never encountered anyone selling tablets on Walmart.com but it could happen.) All have reasonable return policies, although I have found Walmart's procedures to be tedious.
I tend to go to the tablet category and list the tablets from cheapest to most expensive. I open any potential purchase in a new tab, and I also right click on the model number and do a Google search in order to find reviews.
This lets me find any truly good deals, but it also makes me have to sort through tablets I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. For example, I would not buy refurbs, and I wouldn't buy a tablet that cost less than $60.
What I Won't Buy
Sub-$60 Android Tablets
When I set out to buy a tablet this morning I intended to buy one which cost less than $60. I thought this price range offered great potential for a return on your investment, and since no one seemed to by buying the tablets and posting reviews it looked like this was a topic I didn't have to share with other bloggers.
But after a couple hours of browsing, I decided that most of the tablets weren't worth my time. I couldn't see myself using them, or recommending them, and so they were not worth reviewing.
Most of the tablets in this price range have 3 details in common: they're one to two years old, they run Android on single core CPUs, and their specs promise that the performance and usability will be disappointing.
The sub-$60 tablets will only be about half as powerful as the $99 tablets I would suggest that you buy. They will also have poorer quality components and weaker screens. What's more, a lot of the sub-$60 tablets I found this morning were left overs from last year and the year before, so there's a good chance that they have aged while still in the retail box. This could lessen their lifespan.
So what would I buy? I ended up buying a Hisense Sero 8 tablet, but that was mainly because no one else has posted a review. At $129, it's outside of my price range. And due to the lack of reviews it is also an unknown, so I can't recommend it yet.
Best Tablet Value for July 2014
Updated for September 2014
Two months have passed since I originally wrote this post, and I changed my mind on which tablet to recommend. I have two recommendations.
Hisense Sero 7 Pro
Since it is still widely available as a refurb, I suggest that you get the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. I liked it when I reviewed it last fall, and most people who bought one love it.
The Sero 7 Pro runs Android 4.2 on a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 CPU. It's not as fast as my other recommended tablet, but it does offer better battery life, better cameras, and a nicer feeling design.
You can find the Sero 7 Pro on a few sites, including Amazon, which has the refurb for $78.
Toshiba Excite Go
My other recommended tablet is the new Excite Go from Toshiba. This is a $99 which offers more power than the Sero 7 Pro, but it also has less storage, a single disappointing camera, and less battery life.
I reviewed it a few weeks ago and while I can attest to its power I don't think there's much else to recommend it.
But it is the most powerful under $99, so I am proposing it as an alternative.
You can find it here: