Now’s a great time to buy a cheap tablet, but should you?


Android tablet prices have been dropping over the last six months or so, but things have heated up in recent weeks with some big names dropping their prices. Everybody loves a bargain, and a tech bargain is one of the most attractive of all, making these cut price slabs of goodness a serious temptation. However, they may not be all they seem. Before shelling out your hard earned cash, one should be aware of why these particular models have been discounted.

Cut price Nook tablets look like bargains

So what are the contenders? Amazon briefly cut the price of its Kindle HD tablet, but has since put the price back up to more than $200. However, Barnes & Noble has done no such thing with its Nook range. B&N has slashed the price of its Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets before, but never to this point. Pop into the Nook online store, and the basic Nook HD is yours for $130 with free shipping, and the entry-level Nook HD+ is only $150.

barnes-noble-nook-hd-review-screenWhy the drastic drop? Barnes & Noble has given up. It could not sell enough color Nooks and it is done with the tablet game. It will only make basic e-reader Nook hardware from now on, and this is why you need to think twice. A discontinued product will no longer be supported. This means no more software updates and Nook’s services will likely be neglected for a while, then shut down – and don’t forget, Android on the Nook is completely different to any other device – and difficulty finding spare parts or accessories in the future.

Even though the Nook HD is cheap, its specs are also modest and for $130, you only get 8GB of file storage. You’d be wise to think twice before handing over your money. However, it’s difficult to argue against the Nook HD+, which for $150 is much better value, with its 9-inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution screen, dual-core processor, and recently added Google Play support. But the same problems exist for the HD+ as for the HD, and the B&N user interface is still a poor alternative to regular Android.

An HP tablet, or the much maligned Surface RT?

If you’d rather your Android tablet be a little more traditional, then how about HP’s Slate 7. Announced at Mobile World Congress in February, it’s a 7-inch tablet with a swish stainless steel chassis and soft-touch rear panel, and has been dropped from $170 to $140 through HP’s own online store. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is relatively untouched, and it comes with Beats Audio, a dual-core processor, a pair of cameras and 8GB of storage space. Shame the screen has a massive bezel and a rather lowly 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, but we’d probably take it over the Nook HD. Neither are a huge bargain, though.

surface rt tablet microsoft surface windows 8Perhaps the most notable price drop in the tablet world recently wasn’t on an Android tablet, but one running Windows RT. Microsoft’s struggling Surface RT tablet was priced at $500, but is now yours for $350 or $450 with the Touch Cover. The spec is acceptable enough, with its 10.6-inch screen and Tegra 3 processor, but Windows RT is confused at best, and useless at worst, plus you get half of the 32GB storage space to fill due to the OS’s size. Microsoft is rumored to be working on a sequel to the Surface RT, and the price drop could be evidence of this, and we’re hoping the second-generation model will be a considerable improvement over the first. The $350 price point is arguably what the Surface RT should have been marked up at from the start, as it’s cheaper than the entry-level full-size iPad. Only you can decide if it’s worth the risk, and that you’re happy to live without support for full Windows programs. You can only install apps that come from Microsoft’s Windows Store – don’t expect iTunes to work.

All the tablet fun, without the drawbacks

So, what should you buy if you’re looking for a well-priced, capable tablet, if the recent rash of bargains come with too many drawbacks? We’ve got two suggestions, one of which is obvious, while the other is less so. Google’s $200 Nexus 7 is still a bargain. It looks great, performs brilliantly, and comes with stock Android ready and waiting to be updated to the latest version when the time comes. Give it a week or so, and a new version will probably have been announced, so watch out for reductions on the outgoing model, or prepare to pick up its successor. Which ever one you choose, it’ll serve you well.

We’d also recommend taking a look at the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab range of reasonably priced tablets have always been good, but this new screen size – taken from the Galaxy Note 8.0 – is excellent. The resolution matches the Nexus 7, it comes with Android 4.2.2, 16GB of storage, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and a 5-megapixel camera. At $300, it’s pricier than all but the Surface RT here, but it’s brand new on the market, has the latest version of Android, and is unlikely to be discontinued anytime soon.

And, of course, if you can up your budget to $330 and aren’t married to Android, the iPad Mini is a great choice. 

If you’ve got a strict sub-$200 budget, some of these won’t apply. Does that mean you should buy one of the reduced models? It’s very hard to argue with the Nook HD+’s high spec and low price. Provided you know the pitfalls and aren’t concerned over the future, it could be worth a gamble.