While other sites clamor over the $200 and up Galaxy, Nexus, Kindle Fire HD, and iPad mini, millions of people will begin sifting through hundreds of nearly identical 7″ to 10″ Android tablets in search of the best deals. If you want to compare the Galaxy Tab 2, Nexus 7 16GB, or Kindle Fire HD, check out our $199 tablet matchup.
This buyers guide for the 2012 November/December season will help consumers make sense of all these cookie cutter devices and find out whether they will really be happy with that $60 Black Friday loss leader or whether to spring for a few more features for a little more money.
Well… everyone knows about iPads and everyone knows what they cost. If you wanted an iPad, you wouldn’t be here.
What about Microsoft Windows? What about Windows 8 and the new Metro tablet interface? Well, the cheapest Windows tablets are going to be in the $300+ range, right there with the iPad mini.
If you are looking for a sub $200 tablet, especially one at $100 or less, then Android is the way to go.
Android is a constantly evolving operating system developed by Google that has been used on hundreds of devices for years now. It is currently being developed under version 4.2, with all the newest Android tablets running under 4.0, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich. Android is a refined and fully-featured operating system with all the bells, whistles, and apps that smartphone or tablet users have come to know and love.
Can I Install Apps Cheap Tablets?
The official “app store” is Android Marketplace, which is part of “Google Play” (a premium suite of Google apps).
Manufacturers have to pay extra to add Android Marketplace, so other (lesser) alternative app stores have been developed for the cheap tablets. These many other markets include “GetJar”,”1Mobile”,”Opera Mobile App Store”, and “Amazon App Store”. As you can guess, some like Amazon are really nice and some are pretty cruddy. Most tablets are able to download one of the previously mentioned app stores for a good app market experience. The apps themselves are the same – Angry Birds on a $50 tablet is the same as Angry Birds on a Kindle Fire HD.
The Buyers Guide Checklist!
Solid Tip: The following list is what you should look for when comparing any of the cheap Android tablets.
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|Android 4.0||All newer tablets run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). You definitely want to go with this.|
|Android 2.x||Previous models of tablets used Android 2.0 – 2.3. These will no doubt be the cheapest as stores try to rid themselves of old hardware.|
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|Resolution||The screen resolution across various tablets will be fairly identical based on the size of the tablet. 7″ tablets usually have an 800 x 480 pixel screen and 10″ tablets usually have a 1024 x 768 or 1280 x 800 screen.|
|Panel Type||A few of the nicer cheap tablets have what is called an IPS screen. This is a better quality display with more accurate color. If a tablet doesn’t mention it, it is a TN panel – the cheapest and most widely used.|
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|Resistive||Resistive screens are activated by pressure. While they can support a stylus (if you push hard enough), they are clunky, cheap, and aggravating to use. This type is common in cheaper cell phones these days. All the entry level screens are resistive. Avoid them if you can afford to.|
|Capacitive||One of the most important features for a tablet. Capacitive screens sense contact from your finger and require no pressure. They are what the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch have always used. These are also “multi-touch” meaning it can sense multiple finger contacts at one time.|
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|Cortex A5||The newer, smaller, more efficient tablet processor on the market. A manufacturer may have two of the same tablet in a different CPU. If you have a choice of a Cortex A5 chip, choose it over A10/A9/A8/A6 etc. Lower the better on that.|
|Cortex A8||The larger, less efficient chip that has been used on previous higher end tablets. Still viable, but not the latest generation of processor.|
|ARM11||The oldest CPU of the bunch, and still in use on new Android 4.0 tablets. Go for a Cortex chip wherever possible.|
|Speed||Go for a minimum of 1 GHz CPU speed. Nicer tablets are 1.2 GHz if you want a little boost. Beware of a handful of 0.8 GHz models unless you only want a nice e-reader.|
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|RAM||Even the cheapest of 7″ inch tablets should have at least 512 MB of DDR2 RAM. The older Android 2.x tablets started at 256MB.|
|Internal Storage||Most tablets are either 4 or 8 GB of storage onboard. Some nicer versions have 16 GB and will cost more.|
|External Storage||Nearly every tablet out there has an expansion slot for microSDHC cards (up to 32 GB right now).|
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|Front Facing||Cheaper tablets don’t have any cameras. As you move up the line, you get a front facing camera with horrible 0.3 MP or barely-acceptable 1.3 MP resolution.|
|Rear Facing||The nicer tablets will also have a rear facing camera, usually 2.0 Megapixel. Not many have this feature.|
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|Mini HDMI||an HDMI cable will allow you to output video to your flat screen TV. About 2/3 – 3/4 of tablets have this video out.|
|720P vs 1080P||For those tablets with HDMI, some will put out 1080P and some only 720P. Not a big deal. While any tablet can technically store 1080P video, none of them have the resolution to play it full quality on the device itself (the best devices only have 720P screens).|
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|Battery Life||This is a tough one. Actual battery life is always subjective (when it is listed at all). Most cheap tablets don’t post battery life. They can range from 3 hours use to 5 days of standby. The new Cortex A5 CPU is the most efficient processor for power consumption.
The biggest factors that affect power consumption are WiFi connections and screen brightness, which are both up to the user. Android version also plays a huge part, but we are only considering Android 4.0 in this article series and this holiday season.