Are cheap Android tablets actually worth it?

by , Technology Researcher Tablets 26/09/2011
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The Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs of this world don’t come cheap. Even the entry-level 16GB models will set you back £399.

While both of these tablets are pretty cool, they are way beyond what I’d pay for a portable computer right now (especially since I already have a smartphone and netbook).

Related reviews: Apple iPad 2 review | Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

I do like tablets though, and am a keen bargain hunter, so I’m always interested to see how cheap Android tablets perform in our tablet reviews, the ones that come in around the £100-£150 mark. I’m not overly bothered about the good looks of the premium tablets, and their slick marketing campaigns don’t hold much sway over me either. I’m definitely interested in day-to-day performance and ease of use, though. So how do these cheap Android tablets stack up?

Most cheap tablets run on Android, though not always the latest version.

A closer look at performance

One thing common to virtually all cheap Android tablets is the resistive touchscreen technology they use. These screens require a positive press to register, as opposed to the super light touch or swipe that is sufficient on a capacitive screen.

Add in a slow processor and limited RAM that seems to be prevalent on cheap tablets and it means that opening apps, switching between them, swiping, dragging, typing and generally getting around the tablet can at times be a slow and frustrating affair.

In our lab tests, the Binatone Homesurf 705 was one of several cheap tablets that suffered from these problems.

Where are the apps?

Most Android tablets have access to the excellent Android market, where you can find a wide range of useful apps. Unfortunately the cheap Android tablets we’ve tested disappoint here, as their app stores are limited.

Official versions of national newspapers The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian and The Independent are all absent, as are official versions of the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube apps.

Ebay, Amazon and the Kindle ebook reader app are also nowhere to be found.

Battery life

We have tested 34 tablets in total here at Which?, performing various battery life tests and checks.

One of the most eye opening  (or occasionally eye rolling) ones is seeing how long the battery will run when playing back HD video. Results vary from a very poor 2 hours 15 minutes up to a mammoth 14 and a half hours.

Unsurprisingly, the two sub £100 tablets we tested a couple of weeks ago, the Binatone and the Arnova 8 came near the bottom of the pile and cheap tablets in general suffer in this category.

For me, these are the three major drawbacks of the cheap Android tablets I’ve seen to date.  If these could be improved upon, even to a small degree, then cheap Android tablets would hold a lot more appeal.

Have you bought or considered buying a cheap Android tablet? What makes a good cheap Android tablet? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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8 comments

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HarryMonmouth

I am not sure you really answered the question you posed. If you were expecting us to answer it surely a poll would have been more sensible rather than going to the trouble of writing an article.

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Andy Vandervell

I think Chris makes it clear these issues need to sorted out for cheap Android tablets to have any chance. A poll is an excellent idea, though – added! :)

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Terrie

I read the article in hopes that YOU would help me with who had at minimum, the better choice for a cheap android tablet. However, after reading your article I have changed my mind on getting one of the cheaper tablets and will wait until Christmas and see what deals we have then to choose from.

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Andy Vandervell

Regrettably cheap tablets are pretty lamentable at the moment. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest looking at the Kindle Fire. It’s not got a UK release date yet, but it seems to be the first affordable tablet worth considering.

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Chris Gordon

I bought a generic Chinese Android tablet for £55 and it is much more impressive than I expected.However, I want it mainly as an ereader. It seems reasonably fast, though battery life is poor with wifi on. Access to the Android market can be got through 3g if I installed my dongle but I downloaded the apps I want onto a SD card and it all works fine. I may also do a firmware update. My expectations were limited in first place and I was surprised at how good it is for the money, as basic tablet. Not for heavy multi-media use though, I would say.

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maitland hunter

Reading your tablet review in this issue I feel that you concentrate on high end tablets, we don’t all have £400/£600 to spend on a normally second or third “computer”. My experience is with the cheaper end. Last January I bought a 10.2″ Zenithink v2 zt-180 tablet, o.k. processer is not the fastest internal hdd 4gb with expansion up to 32 gb {tried and works 32gb,16gb,8gb}2 times usb ports, will work with a multi card reader and usb hub. It has hdmi, this also works fine. I have loaded films onto microsd card and played through tv at fullscreen size with no lag.The tablet when bought did have limitations but updates in firmware, 2 of, solved most problems, still has short battery life, i.e. watching hd film on full charge only gave me 3 .25 hours. Having made some changes to software, as I would with a computer simple things, reduce screen brightness, remove some icons from home screens, move pics and video to external sd card or usb stick and tablet now works perfectly for me.Yes it will never be an ipad but at a price last year of £150{now around £100} it is good as web browser, mp3 player, videoplayer, can access latest version 3 of android market, youtube, e-mails ebook reader including kindle app. This has recently been supercceded by newer tablet with capacitive screen callen zt-280 for lowest price i have seen around £125. I think that sometimes reviewers are sucked into the notion that only high price items are the good ones. Perhaps it would be an idea to either review cheaper tablets or appeal to the members to send in their own reviews of the cheaper 7″, 8″,9″ and 10″ tablets.

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Alison

I fully agree with what you are saying. not everyone can afford a top end tablet and at the end of the day you get what you pay for with the cheaper tablets. I personally want a cheap tablet for my 5 year old son so he can just play games on and do some educational learning, so why would i shell out hundreads for an i pad?? well i will be purchasing a cheap tablet soon and i wont be expecting the earth!! It would be nice if there were reviews on the cheaper tablets. I will be sending up a reveiw very soon.

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arkhangelsk

I’ll say as long as you have REALISTIC expectations, they are worth it though you have to be careful. I just bought something called a ASK750 for HK$1000. The screen is capacitative, but the resolution is a 800×444 which means everything gets compressed. The low resolution actually looks OK, but the processor and RAM is weak which makes even web browsing a moderate pain. Asphalt 5 runs OK, as does the Youtube program, however.

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