Your buying guide for the best cheap tablets in 2017
Amazon is the current king of cheap tablets. The 7in Amazon Fire costs £49.99, and it has been on sale for £35 a few times. Those are crazy prices for a tablet, let alone one that has a decent screen, 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 an 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 below.
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.
It's rare to find an Android tablet that doesn't have the Google Play store these days, 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 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.
1. Amazon Fire
- Reviewed on: 23 November 16
- RRP: £49.99, US$49.99
It's certainly not perfect, and the lack of Google apps will still put some people off, but the Fire is excellent value at under £50. The latest Fire OS is so Android-like that it's easy to use, and the Fire for Kids app makes it possible to limit what you kids can do and how long they can use the tablet. For some people it's well worth paying double for the Kids Edition version as you get the bumper case and the great warranty. There are some sore points: the poor cameras, the sluggish performance at times, and the long charging time. But at this price it's hard to complain. And you certainly won't find a better tablet for the same money.
Read our Amazon Fire review.
- Reviewed on: 28 September 16
- RRP: from £99.99, from US$99.99
The Amazon Fire HD 8 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 place in the low-end market – this over makes it an attractive, interestingly unique option.
Read our Amazon Fire HD 8 review.
- Reviewed on: 19 May 17
- RRP: £203.05
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.
- Reviewed on: 3 October 16
- RRP: £128.53, 166.59
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.
- Reviewed on: 26 January 16
- RRP: £144
Whether Xiaomi intended to or not, the Mi Pad 2 is an Android tablet disguised as an iPad mini. This may disgust you or be exactly what you're looking for. Either way, we can't deny that this is a well-made, stylish tablet with decent specs for the price. You're best off getting the 64GB model and if the iOS style user interface is a turn-off, remember that Android is highly customisable.
Read our Xiaomi Mi Pad 2 review.
- Reviewed on: 14 October 16
- RRP: £172.69, 219.89
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.
- Reviewed on: 26 August 15
- RRP: £79.99
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.