The Best Cheap Tablets for 2021

Top Tablet Bargains

Some tablets are pro-level laptop replacements, while others do humbler duty. Inexpensive tablets make great video players for kids, ebook readers, and alarm clocks, and can even work as digital signage. You don’t need to spend $300 or more to get a simple slate that fulfills those functions. There are plenty of good options in the $100 range, and some for even less.


What to Look For

There are a lot of cheap tablets out there. You’ll find them stacked up behind the counter at CVS and Walgreens, or sold under dozens of different names on Amazon. We can’t recommend most of them: They tend to be slow, unreliable, have dim screens, and run old versions of Android that are full of security flaws.

When you’re shopping, keep an eye on screen resolution. An 8-inch, 1,280-by-800 display will let you comfortably watch 720p HD video and read magazines, which won’t be nearly as enjoyable on a 1,024-by-600 screen. 1,280 by 800 pixels across 8 inches works out to 189 pixels per inch, which is the minimum you should look for if you want to experience a reasonably sharp picture and text.

At $100 or less, there are a few inexpensive new 10-inch tablets, but their screens generally have such low pixel density that they look fuzzy and difficult to read.

Also, pay close attention to storage specs. As Android often has trouble moving apps to microSD memory cards, we recommend at least 32GB of storage. The additional RAM will let you install more apps and take more pictures and videos. Of course, a microSD card slot certainly can’t hurt, especially if you want to download movies to watch on long trips.

If possible, look for 2GB of RAM or more. This will help you launch and run apps more smoothly, particularly if you have anything else running in the background. Battery life is another factor to keep in mind, though you can always extend the life of your tablet on the go with one of our favorite backup battery packs. We highlight all of these specs in the chart above.  


Always Go Amazon?

The best inexpensive tablets we’ve tested come from Amazon, and they’re subsidized by Amazon ads on the lock screens and lots of promotions for Amazon content in their user interfaces. They’re relatively reliable, they get security updates, and they have excellent customer support, which sets them apart from their sub-$100 kin.

Amazon’s tablets are not only the best cheap options out there, but they’re also the best kids’ tablets we’ve tested. They have a simplified interface, strong parental controls, and FreeTime Unlimited, which is basically a giant bucket of content for kids. A “parent dashboard” lets you keep track of what your children are doing and restrict their screen time. You can put multiple user profiles on the tablets as well. Other Android tablets let you set up restricted kids’ profiles, and Apple’s tablets have parental controls, but they aren’t as comprehensive as the controls and content options that come on Amazon slates.  

The one caveat with Amazon’s tablets is that they use Amazon’s app store, which doesn’t have all the apps that are in the official Google Play store. If you want complete Google Play coverage, with unrestricted access to the 100 best Android apps, you may need to give up some specs such as RAM, storage, or dual-band Wi-Fi on a non-Amazon tablet.

If all of these choices feel underwhelming, take a look at our picks for the best Android tablets.

Apple iPad


Don’t Want Android?

If you want a quality Apple or Windows tablet under $200, you’re going to have to dip into the used market. In that case, we suggest you first go to the manufacturers’ own certified refurbished sales on their sites, or to third-party sellers such as Gazelle, Glyde, and Swappa that buy used products and test them before reselling them.

The least expensive new iPad is the standard 2019 model, and at $329, it’s a great value. Over the past few years, Apple has made the iPad a decent replacement for a basic laptop, first with Apple Pencil support and more recently with Smart Keyboard support and iPadOS.

We wouldn’t call the iPad a cheap tablet, mind you, but there are some good reasons to invest. Most notably, you’ll probably be able to stay current with software updates for at least three years. That’s much longer than almost all the budget tablets in our list. If you get an older, used iPad, it’s likely to get cut out of the software update cycle in a year or two.

In the Windows world, you’ll also want to look at recertified used devices down at this price level. If your budget is a little more flexible, here’s our list of the best Windows tablets.

If budget buying feels too much like cutting corners, take a look at the best tablets we’ve tested overall. Just be prepared to spend a lot more than $100.

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