Your buying guide for the best cheap tablets in 2017
Amazon is the current king of cheap tablets. The 2017 Amazon Fire 7 costs £49.99, and has – for the insanely low price – a decent screen plus Alexa, a microSD slot for adding more storage, and an easy-to-use operating system.
It would be easy to say you’re a fool for buying a different tablet, but the Fire has one sticking point: it’s not a standard Android tablet and doesn’t have any Google apps on it. You can find out more about the pros and cons in our Amazon Fire review.
You can get some great deals on cheap tablets from mobile operators such as Vodafone and EE (which we are in the process of adding to our chart), and Chinese sites such as GearBest are another good source for obtaining cheap tablets. And, of course, there’s also eBay.
But with tablets you really need to be careful buying cheap, generic devices with names you’ve never heard of. These can suffer from poor screens, low performance and short battery life – always look for reviews before you buy, and if you can’t find any then we’d avoid the purchase.
If you want a cheap tablet you’ll be looking for either an Android tablet or Windows device, unless you’re prepared to go secondhand – Apple’s cheapest iPad (the iPad 9.7) starts at £339, while the iPad mini costs £419 new.
What screen size do I need?
First, decide on screen size. Do you want a portable tablet with a 7in screen, or do you want something larger? We can’t tell you what’s best for you, but in general, a 7- or 8in screen is best if you’ll take the tablet everywhere (you can also get smaller sizes), while a 9-10in screen is good if you only need to travel with it occasionally.
Look for an IPS screen, as this technology is almost a guarantee that it will have good colours and viewing angles. It doesn’t say too much about brightness and contrast, but almost all the IPS screens we’ve seen are good.
Resolution isn’t as important as you might think. Pixel density is a better guide: you need fewer pixels on a smaller screen and vice versa. Look for at least 220 pixels per inch.
How much storage do I need?
You won’t get much storage in a budget tablet, but that’s fine if your chosen model has a microSD slot for adding more. Amazon’s old tablets don’t, which is one big black mark against them. However, the new range does, which is why we rate the them so highly.
Consider 16GB a minimum: 8GB without a microSD card is just too restrictive because half (or more) of this is normally taken up by the operating system and pre-installed apps which you might not be able to delete.
Most tablet cameras (let alone budget models) are relatively poor compared to the best smartphones. Don’t expect great quality photos or videos from any budget tablet, but if this is important to you always check reviews to see which tablet has the least worst cameras.
Don’t pay any attention to GHz numbers or even RAM too much. It’s easy to be fooled into believing a tablet will – or won’t – perform well based on numbers alone. Read our reviews to find out how each tablet performs in the real world.
If you do decide that a Fire tablet isn’t for you, the alternative is an Android tablet. iPads don’t fall into the budget category, so you’ll only find those in our best tablets roundup.
Android is a great operating system, but it doesn’t follow that all cheap Android tablets are great. There are plenty of no-name brands out there, but as with most tech, you can’t buy one based on specifications alone.
The operating system determines not just which apps are pre-installed, but also which you can download and use. The Google Play store has a massive selection and it’s rare to find an app that’s only on iPad and not available to Android users. But it does happen, particularly with apps for gadgets and smart home accessories.
It’s rare to find an Android tablet that doesn’t have the Google Play store these days – with the notable exception of Amazon’s – but do check as it’s a pain if you buy something and find out it’s not approved by Google and you can’t access Google’s apps.
The Fire 7 is a very minor update to the 2015 7in Fire tablet. It’s a shame that the processor and cameras haven’t been upgraded, but the low price makes it hard to complain. It remains great value and a great way to use Amazon’s services including video and music – as well as Alexa. The absence of all things Google will be a deal-breaker for some, but it’s an excellent choice for kids or undemanding adults.
Read our Amazon Fire 7 review.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 ticks a lot of the right boxes. It’s affordable, well built and plays back video to an exceptionally high standard.
But we’ll say it again – you need Amazon Prime to fully enjoy it. It’s not that it is a complete necessity, but the prominence in the operating system of Amazon’s own apps and services means without a Prime membership it’s a frustrating user experience.
This caveat aside, it’s an incredibly priced media consumption tablet that exemplifies Amazon’s dominance in the low-end market – this over makes it an attractive, interestingly unique option.
Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 review.
It’s nice to see another new Android tablet and although the Mi Pad 3 isn’t majorly different from the previous model and is more expensive, it’s still a decent compact device if you don’t mind importing it to the UK.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Pad 3 review.
The Chuwi Hi10 Pro is an excellent value Windows 10 laptop-tablet hybrid with the addition of Android (albeit old Android) and a pleasing build for the money. We take issue with its fingerprint-prone screen and tinny, poorly placed speakers, but in all other respects this is a very decent device for the money. It’s not a fast device, and we wouldn’t recommend it to gamers, but it’s fast enough for most daily Windows tasks.
Read our Chuwi Hi10 Pro review.
Chuwi’s tablets are not the fastest Windows machines you can buy, but they make excellent portable computers if you’re on a budget. With its Quad-HD screen and fast USB-C charging, the HiBook Pro is a very good cheap option. We recommend you also buy the optional keyboard that turns this Windows/Android tablet into a laptop.
Read our Chuwi HiBook Pro review.
The Asus ZenPad C 7.0 is a fine tool for carrying in your bag wherever you go and using to check emails and social media and browse the web. Beyond that its functionality is limited, but what more can you expect from an £80 Android tablet? Unlike Amazon’s you get the whole suite of Google Apps including the Play Store.
Read our Asus ZenPad C 7.0 review.