On the Lambda

Programming, Technology, and Systems Administration

On the Lambda

What to look for in a bargain Android Tablet (with updates for 2019)

January 7th, 2014 · No Comments · IT News

I’ve seen a lot of bargain Android Tablets lately, and I know a lot of people who are interested in getting one, but don’t think they can afford it. I’ve got news for you: they’re cheaper than you might think. Tiger Direct recently had one for $20 after rebate. These tablets are a hot item. The trick is, how do you know you’re getting something worth having? A lot of those cheap tablets are not going to do what you expect of them.

Here are my tips for finding a worth-while bargain Android tablet (January 2014 edition):

1. Look for at least Android 4.1 or newer (2019 update: should be Android 6, and by the end of the year demand at least 7.0) out of the box. Android is a free operating system (well, sort of), and so in theory you could update an older tablet yourself, but there’s more going on here than that. Anything older than Android 4.1, and you’re likely looking at last year’s tablet coming off the shelf, and last year’s bargain tablets were, well, just plain bad. There’s a reason I don’t have a 2013 edition of this post.¬†Android is also free (or nearly so) to manufactures, and so there’s no reason to see anything older than this on a new device.
2. Minimum 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor. (2019 Update: it’s hard to know, but 1.4 quad is -very rough- rule of thumb) Emphasis on the dual core; that is what will keep the operating system feel responsive, even when running some of the higher-demand apps.
3. Dual (front and rear) cameras. Many of the bargain tablets will cut out one or both cameras to keep costs down, but as someone who’s had a couple different tablets for a while now I can say with confidence that you really will want a camera on both sides. It’s the feature I miss most on my Kindle Fire. The front camera will be used mainly for video chat, and doesn’t need to be great, but the rear camera should be at least 3MP (more would be better, but remember: we’re bargain hunting).
4. A MicroSD card slot. This will let you turn a cheap 4 GB tablet into a generous 36 GB device for less than $30 extra. Take that iPad. You can skip this if you find one that has generous storage out of the box. (2019 Update: still look for this, but now also get 16Gb minimum built-in storage)
5. Capacitive Touch Screen. It’s rare to see a resistive touch screen tablet any more, but if you don’t pay attention you can get caught out here. Even with a capacitive screen, this is the place where the manufacture is most likely to cut corners, and you may end up with a display that is not sensitive enough, or not responsive enough. At this point, though, it’s hard to suss out the good ones from the bad. (In 2019, we don’t care about this anymore. No one makes the resistive screens).
6. Minimum 200ppi (pixels per inch). You’ll have to do the math here, but if you’re looking for bargain tablets that likely means a 7 inch device, and that means at least something around 1280×720. 800×600, or even 1024×768, are not likely to cut it. Anything less than this, and the tablet screen won’t look clear. Small text on the small screen will be harder to read. More is better, but remember: we’re shopping for bargains. Sadly, this item is likely to push your purchase up over $100 at the moment. If you’re willing to fudge on this (I advise against it), you can get some crazy deals that meet all the other points. (In 2019, for a 7/8″ class tablet, 1280×800 is the number, which can be had for around $80. 10″ tablets need at least 1080p. There’s a lot of stuff claiming to be “HD” that’s really only 1024×600. Be careful of these devices; they’re junk.)

I’d like to have a note about the battery, but at this point I don’t have a feel yet for what to look for in that department. Still, follow these six rules, and you should be able to get a decent, off-brand tablet that you’ll be very happy to have, for a price much less than you’d expect.

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