Help me choose the best sub $200 small tablet
February 16, 2015 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I've never owned a tablet. It's time to purchase a small 7" or 8" tablet, preferably between $50 and $150. Apple is too expensive. Not interested in Windows I think that leaves Google Nexus Samsung galaxy or Kindle Fire (did I leave any good contenders out? I am somewhat ignorant in this area. Heck, I'm about the last person on earth that doesn't even own a cell phone--by choice) I would mostly be surfing internet. Email. Purchasing a few apps here and there (Geocaching? Board games?). Reading an occasional book. Using askmetafilter (ha, ha). Suggestions/comments are appreciated.
posted by luvmywife to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Nexus 7 has great resolution and long battery life, it's thin but sturdy, and it runs stock Android with no crapware. It's more like $190 from Amazon. I especially like its form factor as I have small hands and can't comfortably one-hand an ipad mini from behind. I thought I lost it and shopped for a replacement and I picked another Nexus 7.

There are some other high res small tablets coming out just now, here is a guide from The Wirecutter.
posted by ftm at 7:35 AM on February 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have a Kindle Fire which is really good for books, music and Netflix. Browsing the web is probably its weakest feature, so if you're going to use it for that very much, I would move it toward the bottom of the list.
posted by jbickers at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know you mentioned you weren't interested in Windows 8.1, but I can't not mention how super impressed I was with the HP Stream 7. It's more solid than thin, but for the price point ($99) it's getting some awesome reviews given how little it costs. I looked at so many tablets in that exact price range, and the Stream is where I ended up. There are so many cheap garbage Android devices out there, and I was trying to avoid those like the plague.
posted by cgg at 7:45 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've got a Kindle Fire HDX, and while the hardware quality's very good and the price is right, the limited access to Android apps annoys the hell out of me. It's possible to sideload non-paid Android apps onto it, but only if you can get the .apx package, which is not an option the Google Play store offers. And there's no way to get paid apps on there unless the developer has actively decided to sell through Amazon as well as Google. (And Amazon really should have some sort of "hey, Amazon, try to get these developers to offer this app on the Kindle store" form to fill out.)

The Silk browser on the Kindle Fire kinda sucks (it doesn't cache acceptably) but sideloading Opera onto it was no problem, and Opera handles most websites very well. The keyboard's not great and I'm not aware of any way to improve on it beyond using a bluetooth keyboard.
posted by asperity at 8:10 AM on February 16, 2015

I have an old Nexus 7 and love it. Perfect size for holding in your hand to read and it hasn't gotten too bogged down with Lollipop.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:11 AM on February 16, 2015

I just grabbed a stream 7 last week while it was on sale for $79

The fact that it's a reasonably capable actual windows computer at that price is amazing.
posted by Oktober at 8:13 AM on February 16, 2015

I really like my Nexus 7. It was my chief form of internet access for a year after my last laptop conked, and I chose it after deliberation because it had the cleanest, least proprietary OS out of all the ones I played with. (Have you played with any yet? Sometimes it's hard to find the lower-end tablets on display at Best Buy/what have you, but usually you can find a Kindle Fire. Let me tell you, five minutes trying to scroll through that interface helped me make the choice. Lots of people have no problem with it. You can find out if you're one of those people.)

The last system update to Lollipop has left it running a little slow (I'm thinking about resetting to factory default), but otherwise it's the perfect size for reading and also for transporting anywhere you might want internet access but not the weight and hassle of a laptop. I have mine loaded with Firefox, Merlin (Cornell's bird id app), Goodreads, a few podcast apps and the Kindle App which is perfect for this tablet size. It hasn't given me a problem in two years of daily use. 10/10, would buy again.
posted by theweasel at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't rule out a used Apple iPad.
posted by at at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2015

For used go to up to $200 definitely increases your options. Like ipad mini (but not retina display one). I would be hesitant to buy a tablet over 2 years old (like the (2013) nexus 7) so when looking, definitely look at release date when checking the specs.
As others have said, avoid the kindle, terrible browser, no access to the Google app store, packed with creepy spyware.
I have been mostly pleased with Samsungs products vs. the others out there...and if I had ~$200 to spend on swappa, I'd go bigger and get the galaxy note 10.1...the free software that comes with it is actually quite useful, like evernote and Dropbox and sketchbook pro. Also it has a (pressure sensitive) wacom stylus which is mucho handy if you have any artistic aspirations and just plain fun for a lot of games (drawsomething and fruit ninja in particular). Yes the 7" is easier to bring around, but mostly I find the screen size kinda cramped, go bigger if u can.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2015

Look for a used iPad Mini. Should be available in the ~$150 range.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2015

Agreed with things said above: raising the budget a bit will widen options, and the Nexus 7 is usually the reference for 'best small tablet', stay away from Kindle Fire.
BUT...if you want to get really close tothe Nexus 7, without altering your budget, look into the 7 inch Nook tablet from Barnes & Noble (aka Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 7.0).
$150 new, Android with the full Google Play store, thin, light, standard microUSB charger.
The screen is great for everything except reading in direct sunlight, but nothing else is exceptional. The camera...takes pictures. The one tiny speaker is good enough to listen to the news while shaving, but that's about it. It's got built-in GPS. The bloatware installed is limited to B&N Nook bookstore apps and some Samsung-device junk (if you have a Samsung TV, you can use it as a remote, that sort of thing) but otherwise it's quite clean and basic.
If you happen to have a Barnes & Noble brick and mortar store anywhere nearby, they'll do support for it, in addition to some other you-have-the-tablet-that-connects-to-our-bookstore perks. For as long as B&N is around, anyway.
posted by bartleby at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2015

Best answer: previously
posted by contraption at 10:18 AM on February 16, 2015

I use a nexus 7 (the 2013 version) for probably 80+% of my internet time and I'm quite happy with it. Sure there are faster tablets or there, but I never feel like it's slow. And I love the form factor. My only real complaint is a lot of games are ios only, especially the small indie ones, but it's been getting better...

I suspect in a few years it will start feeling it's age, but I'm in no hurry to replace it.
posted by aspo at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2015

We have both a Nexus 7 and a couple of Kindle Fires. The Fires are great for kids' apps and books, but terrible for web browsing and e-mail. The Nexus is great if you like Google apps and the Android platform. I'd go that way.
posted by xeney at 3:58 PM on February 16, 2015

So i've played around with all 3 "sides" of this recently...

As a bit of a preface, apple and google both just went through a big shakeup and almost started from scratch on their OSes. Apple with ios 7 and 8, which still has bugs... and google with 5.0/lollipop which is also still fairly buggy. You don't really win or lose with that one and they're both buggy here and there, but apple has a bit of a head start on ironing crap out.

iPad mini 1, should be $80-150:

* Best apps for tablets are on iOS inarguably, and this is as cheap as you're going to get at them. Almost everything runs fine once its open, even though this is older hardware.
* Awesome build quality, still feels amazing in your hand and generally feels sturdy
* Kick ass battery life, i never once managed to run it down even below 40%
Strong, loud, not crappy sounding speakers. And two of them!
* Still a currently sold model by apple, so it's currently supported and will get at least one more major software update and be supported by third party apps for several more years
* Arguably the superior shape for a tablet, in not being 16:9. Really nice for just... doing most things, that aren't watching videos. You really feel like you get more screen for the size of the overall unit
* Although the thin side bezels might seem weird, there's clever software trickery to ignore you resting your thumb/hand on the screen and it works every time. it feels like magic.

* The A5 CPU was awesome when it came out... in the ipad 2... in 2011. It isn't unusably or awfully slow, but it is noticeably slow compared to basically any other current tablet.
* The 1024x768 screen does not look good in 2015. Most apps seem to ignore the fact that ipads with this screen res even exist anymore, and will throw things like super tiny text that's just a blurry mess or single pixel lined things at you that range from annoying to downright illegible.
* 512mb of ram is terrible in 2015. If you have say, 3 tabs open in the browser each one will reload when you switch to another one unless they're both tiny askme threads or something super lightweight like that. Every time you switch apps, it pretty much has to reload. This used to be better, but the newer versions of iOS just seem more targeted at the newer models with 1gb of ram, as do most apps with larger assets now. Even stuff like switching from facebook to facebook messenger with the in-app switch buttons often causes reloads. grrrr

iPad mini 2/ipad mini retina, should be $180-200ish used. I wouldn't pay more(i realize this is a bit outside the top of your range but...)

* SO FAST, o my god it's freaking beautiful how fast this thing is. Every single aspect of everything runs smoother than i've ever seen on another touch screen device. It's smoother than my iphone 6, and just glides right through everything. I think i've seen a tiny little dab of lag in an animation once and i was really going crazy with switching between things and pulling up menus.
* The screen looks awesome. It's not the absolute best screen i've ever seen, but it's very very good
* If you're looking at a non-silver one, the new dark grey holds up infinitely better than the old black finish, which tended to scratch/chip easily.
* Every positive thing i mentioned about the 1st gen still applies

* Out of the top end of your price range. IMO, this is the tablet to buy right now and the best thing on the market. I think it's worth spending a bit extra or saving a bit longer. It's more than the price difference better than the other stuff. But if you can't flex a bit, then :(
* the screen is nice, but the colors aren't perfect. You basically only notice this when it's placed next to other newer apple tablets, or stuff like the nexus 7 2013.
* It has a super high tech battery that crams twice as much capacity in the same space as the old ones battery... this takes a VERY long time to charge unless you use the included turbo-power charger, or get an upgraded car charger or other compatible charger. Not as bad as some older ipads, and it will charge with a standard laptop usb port or whatever(once again, unlike some older annoying ipads) but it'll take... forever
* It still only has 1gb of ram. iOS is very efficient with ram, but you still see tabs reload sometimes and stuff. I barely encounter this, but it's there. The upshot is that the thing is so fast that it redraws stuff nearly instantly, the downside is that well.. it happens.

Nexus 7 2013, should be $80-120. Staples has them on clearance for under $100 right now!

* You can not in any way shape or form beat the value for the money here. It's SO cheap for what you get. Just inarguably a totally kickass deal. This is the costco hotdog and soda for $1.50 of tablets
* Don't listen to the haters, this model may be approaching 2 years old but the cpu is still very high performance, and the general components chosen are very well suited for eachother, the resolution of the screen, etc. It still runs very, very smoothly
* This is one of the best screens on a tablet, barring newer super-duper-high-res stuff like the galaxy tabs and such with their 1440p screens, but a lot of those aren't really quite powerful enough to run those higher res screens smoothly anyways
* great ergonomics. Super comfortable to hold the big top/bottom bezels
* Android apps are made to auto scale. Although you don't get many tablet-specific apps
* On that note, although ios give you the best apps, android has the most apps it feels like. Everything from dreamcast emulators to just weird stuff. It feels like there's basically no rules, because there really aren't.

* It's all plastic and made by asus. It's well made, but it doesn't really feel like it
* The bezels look kind of doofy and huge, even if they're nice to hold
* The screen feels way smaller than the ipad even though it's technically almost the same size, because of the shape.

Dell venue 8 pro, hp stream, small windows tablets like that in general $80-120 or so

* You can run ANY windows app made since like... the 80s, with a little finaggling.
* Really cheap for the performance you get, for the most part. if it's a 2gb of ram model like the venue 8 pro, it actually feels fairly fast
* 32gb seems to be the minimum, so you get more storage than most base model tablets

* Some models only have 1gb of ram which is NOT enough for windows at all in any way shape or form.
* Very few apps are available that are tablet-specific and made for the touch screen. Yea you can run any old windows program, but most of them are terrible to try and use at super tiny sizes on a little touch screen. Ok buttons can be the size of a pea.
* You get more storage space in theory, but windows and all its stuff hog up quite a lot of it.
* Updates are byzantine and annoying and screw up with no real explanation, because you know, windows.
* Similarly, if your windows install ever gets borked re-installing it from scratch can be a NIGHTMARE. Whereas with android you plug it in to USB and follow some instructions online, and with iOS you just plug it in and click "restore" in itunes.
* Lots of inconsistencies between the regular desktop mode and the tablet interface.
* Finnicky, annoying behavior with chargers. There's no "charge slower" mode, either it charges or it doesn't... and "doesn't" seemed more common. Only the stock charger and one other one i had would play nice.
* A lot of these really feel like plastic junk. Like $40 walmart tablets, even though they aren't really.
* You often find yourself going "this would probably be easier with a keyboard and mouse", and then if you bluetooth one up... it is... and then you cry.

In my opinion i'd try and stretch and get a used ipad mini 2. It's the best tablet i've ever used at any price, by a big arm stretch. It feels like an amazing deal to me for how good it really is. If you can't, the nexus 7 is the best deal. The ipad mini 1 isn't a terrible experience, but it feels like a bad value for the money with its lower res screen and middling performance. I enjoyed using the superior iOS versions of many apps, but the nexus 7 just does everything smoother and faster. And really, once you've used a modern high resolution screen the low res screens on the ipad mini 1, windows tablets, and stuff like the galaxy tab 4 just looks AWFUL. If you want to read a lot of stuff, you want a high res screen.

You'll also notice i didn't really get in to samsung galaxies. That's because the good ones are mostly out of your price range. The "tab 4" models that would be within it(used, at least) have crappy screens. You'd want a tab S or tab pro. You can probably find a tab pro 8.4 for $120 or so(there's one on my local large craigslist right now for that much!) and if you can, it's a good deal. They have amazing screens and solid performance. I just left them out because finding a deal under your price cap on them is unusual. I also don't think they bring anything to the table the nexus 7 wont already give you, other than a marginally bigger screen.(which you may or may not even want)
posted by emptythought at 5:42 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Android has more free apps than apple (usually ad supported vs paying outright, though most apps have a 'pro' version where you can pay to turn off the ads) so that's something to consider.
Definitely, whatever you choose, get one with a front-facing camera. Skype (and Viber, which I prefer as it's a lot less buggy) has free video calls over wifi and that is a lot of fun.
Oh, also, the nexus 7 doesn't have a memory card slot, which is a total dealbreaker for make sure to get the 32gig one if that's what you go with. (It does have a front camera tho)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:26 AM on February 17, 2015

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