Budget Tablet Buying Guide: September 2014
For the past four years Android tablet have been a hot market niche, with dozens of device makers releasing new models willy-nilly. Some were good, many were bad, and as a result the tablet market in July 2014 is glutted with tablets.
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:
- Best Buy
- Office Depot
Bart Anderson July 14, 2014 um 2:05 am
Good post. With the dozens of reviews of the expensive new tablets, this is a breath of fresh contrarian air.
Maybe you could explain some time why you are attracted to low-end Android tablets?
Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2014 um 7:10 am
Budget tablets fill my needs. I don’t do much gaming on tablets, and I don’t watch movies. I’m really only a light tablet user so I don’t need the fast CPU, hi-res camera, high quality screen, etc.
Edit: You know, this might be a useful addition to the post. Thanks for asking!
Gunnerp245 July 14, 2014 um 6:31 am
One comment I always respond with when asked about which tablet to buy is, "What do you intend to do with it?" A sub $60 tablet might just be what the person needs, whereas another might need the >$99 tablet.
. July 14, 2014 um 9:41 am
Refurb’d Hisense Sero 7 Pro… 59.99 at newegg. Refurb’d doesn’t always mean the product has been returned. I’ve been recommending these things to people whom don’t want to spend a lot to try out a decent 7″ tablet. The LT is $39 atm, but that’s really borderline on a crap tablet.
Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2014 um 9:45 am
Hisense isn’t exactly a no-name brand, so it falls in the second group. And yes, that is a good value.
JimS July 14, 2014 um 11:46 am
Nate, I think you left out on of the best vendors for budget tablets, Tigerdirect. I agree about buying refurb no-name tablets but there are a number of excellent Amazon Marketplace sellers with hgh customer satisfaction ratings and Amazon satisfaction guarantees. For example, today Ocrean Reef Electronics is offering a refurb Nook HD for $69, plus $7.49 shipping: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/1400698987/ref=olp_tab_refurbished?ie=UTF8&condition=refurbished
Tigerdirect has a Lenova A1000L for $79.99, after rebate: http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=8563442&CatId=6957
If I were buying today, I’d almost certainly go for one of these. Actually, I’d pay a little more and get a reburb Nook HD+ 32GB from Ocean Reef for $99, plus shipping: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B00AGAYQEU/ref=dp_olp_0?ie=UTF8&condition=all&sr=1-4&qid=1405352610
Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2014 um 12:13 pm
I haven’t shopped at TigerDirect much, so i didn’t think to add them.
I’ll make a note add them in the next edition of the guide.
Sturmund Drang September 6, 2014 um 4:38 pm
I’ve had… difficulties with Tiger Direct. And, I don’t even look at their ads anymore. I used to love Newegg but that was years ago and today’s Newegg is not the Newegg of 5 to 10 years ago, sadly. I’ve never been dissapointed shopping Amazon and from Amazon advertised indirect dealers.
Robert Gregory Browne July 14, 2014 um 2:00 pm
I’ve been buying refurbs for many years and never regretted it. Just make sure they’re factory refurbs.
Nate Hoffelder July 14, 2014 um 5:31 pm
The thing is, I’ve been burned by refurbs before. That has made me cautious, perhaps too much so.
Chris Meadows July 14, 2014 um 4:27 pm
I’d tend to suggest that if you don’t care about stuff like cameras or GPS, the Nook HD is a pretty nifty cheap little dual-core higher-than-average-definition tablet that you can slap Cyanogenmod on and have up and running Kit Kat in less than half an hour. You can find it manufacturer-refurbished for $90 on eBay.
Sturmund Drang September 6, 2014 um 4:39 pm
Expy September 18, 2014 um 12:44 pm
If you do care for stuff like cameras or GPS and don’t care to modify it to make it an unrestricted tablet, the Nexus 7 (2012, 1st gen) running on stock Android is a grand choice. Be patient and you can grab a used one on eBay for the same price. I grabbed a 32GB model for $93.
E-Fun Launches a New $79 Nextbook Android Tablet a – The Digital Reader September 9, 2014 um 11:15 am
[…] example, as I pointed out in my budget tablet buying guide you can find the Hisense Sero 7 Pro for only $78 at Amazon. That is a refurb and not a new unit, […]
Fred September 13, 2014 um 1:24 pm
I need a tablet for one single purpose–to serve as dedicated controller for my Sonos system. It will not have music stored on it–I’ll be playing Pandora and Rhapsody. Thus, i needs to have Wi-fi.
Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2014 um 5:54 pm
So it’s just a controller? and not an endpoint?
I ask because if you are going to stream audio to the tablet then you should buy one based on its audio abilities. There are hardly any tablets that have audio on the same level as a Sonos or other pro audio system; I think the cheapest might be the Tegra Note.
But if you’re just looking for a controller then any tablet which is on sale this week would do.
Fred September 13, 2014 um 7:41 pm
Solely a controller, no streaming. So any one will do, as I suspected (hoped). Thanks for your help.
Budget Tablets to Recommend | Creative Writing @ Pershing September 19, 2014 um 12:49 pm
[…] under the sun, but I know someone who does: Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader. Here’s his September 2014 guide to the best budget (under $100) tablets. Nate recommends the Hisense Sero 7 Pro. (see his earlier review). Note: This is an […]
megan r September 24, 2014 um 2:38 am
bummer. my criteria
* 16 gig NAND
* 2 gig RAM
* ROOT’able (without malware: kingo, vroot, et al)
* IPS screen
<= $160 USD
Kumar October 15, 2014 um 3:32 am
That memory is going to cost you. Check prices again during the holidays.