Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

zte v9 pad tablet   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap TabletI’m a big fan of tablets, that new wave of mobile devices that sits comfortably between smartphones and laptops. They’re not for everybody. In fact, some people consider them a waste of time and money, preferring instead to split their time between the two other devices mentioned previously. I prefer to think of tablets as luxury items: no one really needs one but many people desire owning one.

The thing is, not all tablets are created equal. There are vast array of tablets out there, led by the latest iPad, premium Android tablets, and the Microsoft Surface. If you can’t afford one of those options then there is a risk of buying a dud. A well-chosen cheap tablet can do a great job, but a poorly-chosen cheap tablet will leave you regretting your decision not to spend a few dollars more.

What follows are five things to look for when buying a cheap tablet. They may not make the tablet in question useless, but they will severely limit the appeal.

Operating Systems

Tablets are still maturing, but they’re maturing at a rate of knots. This means that the operating systems on some cheap tablets will be old, outdated, and/or defunct. You should probably avoid tablets that ship with the following:

Android 2.3 & Earlier

android logo   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

Android wasn’t built with tablets in mind until Version 3.0 (Honeycomb), which was actually a tablet-only update. Then it skipped to Version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which was an Android designed for all mobile devices. Unfortunately this means that a tablet running Version 2.3 or earlier will offer a generally muddied performance. If the hardware is good enough it is possible to manually upgrade a tablet to ICS, but this won’t be for everybody.


webos logo   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

Another defunct operating system you may see installed on tablets is webOS. This is certainly the case with the HP TouchPad, a short-lived tablet from Hewlett Packard which gained good reviews but which ultimately failed to take a bite out of sales of the iPad. It is possible to run Android or Linux on the TouchPad, but anyone who would rather not mess around with hardware in order to even make it worth owning should avoid at all costs.

Windows CE

windows ce tablet   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

Microsoft has now caught on to the tablet craze, which is why Windows 8 was built with touchscreens in mind. Much to the chagrin of many desktop users. Before Windows 8 came Windows CE, which you’ll still find on some cheap (and not so cheap) tablets. The problem is it won’t live up to the expectations of those who have seen an iPad or Android tablet in action and want one of their own.


tablet android apps   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

Google Play, the marketplace for Android, currently boasts around 500,000 apps (our pick of the best available). While the iTunes App Store boasts at least 650,000 apps (our pick of the best available). Microsoft cannot claim anything close to that amount of Windows 8 apps yet, but it may get there one day. The point is by sticking to the popular platforms you’ll be able to get all the apps you have seen others use and want to try for yourself. By opting for an alternate OS your choices will be severely limited.

There is something else to watch for with apps: The cheaper Android tablets aren’t officially licensed to install Google Play. With Google Play being open-source they’ll still have it installed, it just won’t be the full version. Some apps therefore won’t show up in searches, as I found out for myself when I purchased a cheap Android tablet earlier this year.

Resistive Vs. Capacitative

using touchscreen   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

There are two types of touchscreen available, both on tablets and smartphones. Resistive touchscreens are more accurate and better for using with styluses, while capacitive touchscreens are faster and more responsive. Neither is bad, but they do offer different experiences.

I’d argue that for tablets intended for mainstream consumers a capacitative screen is by far the better choice, which is why the iPad and the other premium tablets all feature capacitative touchscreens. However, many of the cheaper tablets being sold have resistive touchscreens that will severely hinder their usefulness for any activity that requires fast, fluid controls. Even Web browsing will be somewhat of a chore.

Connection Issues

wi fi broken   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

There are two things related to Internet connections you need to consider when buying a cheap tablet.

The first is rather obvious but could be missed by ignorant/n00bish people. No 3G/4G. Most cheap tablets will be Wi-Fi-only, so don’t buy one expecting to be able to use it anywhere and everywhere without first needing to tether it to a smartphone or turning your phone into a wireless hotspot.

Secondly, some cheap tablets will have poor Wi-Fi range compared to the premium competition. This is something else I discovered for myself only after buying a cheap Android tablet. If I use it while sat in the same room as my router then it works just fine, but if I head to the kitchen or (shock, horror) dare to venture upstairs, the Internet slows to a crawl until it becomes useless.

Battery Life

battery life   Too Good To Be True: 5 Things To Look For When Buying A Cheap Tablet

The latest version of the iPad boasts a battery life of up to 10 hours. As does the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. And the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity can last up to an astonishing 14 hours on a single charge. Cheap tablets don’t offer anywhere near that, with most topping out at six hours, and many offering between two and four hours for anything other than simple Web browsing.

Coupled with the Wi-Fi issue outlined above this means cheap tablets are generally only suitable for using indoors where a power outlet and router are both close at hand.


This article isn’t intended to put you off buying a cheap tablet as a whole. In fact I’m an advocate for researching all the products that are available and purchasing the one that best suits your individual needs at a price you’re comfortable with paying. But there are pitfalls to buying a cheap tablet, some which won’t show up until after you’ve actually got your hands on the device you eventually settle on.

This is therefore a reminder that things are sometimes too good to be true, and there’s ultimately a reason for a gadget being priced lower than you’d expect it to be. These are the five main potential problems you could encounter with a cheap tablet, but there are likely many more. To be absolutely sure of not being ripped off it may be better to spend a little more and buy a Google Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD at this point. Or an iPad Mini, if you’re that way inclined.

Image Credits: John Karakatsanis, Noah (ax0n), Dru Kelly, Intel Free Press, Tsahi Levent-Levi, Methodshop

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Catherine McCrum

The biggest functionality issue I have with anything portable is BATTERY LIFE. It is a shame that most products are such energy hogs.

Dave Parrack

I agree. Too many companies seem to completely disregard this important factor.


I ended up buying a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0″ a couple of months ago, because I was looking for a tablet with a micro-SD upgrade, camera, and Android 4.0+ My greatest disappointment, which was not covered in the specifications, was that the connection through the USB cable was via mtpfs only. The tablet does not emulate a block device. I found that I could transfer files, but only after setting up a FTP server on the device and transferring files through WiFi connection.

Dave Parrack

Really? Well, that sucks. I was eyeing one of those up too. They’re a bit of a bargain now that the Note is out.


From Android 3.0/Honeycomb onwards Internal storage can only be accessed via MTP, cannot be simply mounted as USB Mass Storage device like before. Though users are still free to mount their removable storage/SD Cards as USB Mass Storage device and have complete access.


on samsung devices, go to settings, under “wireless and networks” click “more…” there should be an option to mount the sd card, check it, than connect the cable and click mount storage….

Rajaa Chowdhury

INDIA is a very price sensitive technically savvy market where the standard of living is not comparable to developed nations. However, the students and people are usually generally technically aware users and yen for gadgets. Obviously, most of us hear cannot afford and only dream of iPADs, Nexus range or a MS Surface. Moreover, lot of these products are neither available or are launched much later (Google Nexus 7 WiFi just launched a few days back officially, other models not yet available). Even if they are officially available, most of the products cost double the dollar equivalent of USA or atleast a third more. Samsung is the only exception as all their ranges get almost simultaneously launched in India as the other markets. Now this paradoxical situation has driven the home-sprung manufacturers of smartphones (Micromax, Karbonn, etc.) and tablets (lot of options). These tablets range anything from $45 to $200 and anything is between, and Android is overwhelmingly the OS of choice in most cases.

As correctly pointed out, the cheaper Android tablets aren’t officially licensed to install Google Play. With Google Play being open-source they’ll still have it installed, it just won’t be the full version. Some apps therefore won’t show up in searches. However, necessity being the mother of invention, Indian consumers do tweak their cheap tablet to make Google Play run on it (as consumers in other industry too). My friend brought one such tablet and some days back we successfully installed and accessed the android marketplace on it without doing any rooting or custom ROM stuff or anything so the warranty on the device is intact. You can give it a shot. First search Google and download these APK files :
1. GoogleServicesFramework-signed
2. OneTimeInitializer-signed
3. SetupWizard-signed
4. (For this last one you can try the latest Google Play Store APK file, though I haven’t tried it myself, so not sure if it will work or not, the one suggested here is a old version, which has been tested and tried and works)
Once you have done that, go to your tablet setting and enable Unknown sources under security. Now tap and install the four APKs mentioned above in the exact sequence mentioned (this is very important and need to be followed). Once you have installed the four APKs, un-tick the Unknown Sources option under security in Settings and then reboot your tablet. The start-up process will take much more time now (in some cases upto 45 minutes) and once it is completed, a small window will come-up with the option of a launcher and setup wizard. First tick the below dialogue which says always use this as default and then select the launcher. Now you should find the android market icon in the app drawer or work-space. Enable your internet connection and tap it. First I will ask you for a Google Account. If you already have a GMail account, select existing or otherwise select new to create one. Once you have finished this step, you should logically have an access to the Google Play Store. The link I referenced alongwith the download link of the APK files will be found here : . Kindly give a feedback of how did it go. This at-least worked for my friend’s tablet and he is a very happy man now. :)

Lisa Santika Onggrid

Thanks for the tips. I find it absurd that Google Play, one of the advantages Android has over Windows RT is limited in certain hardware. Since when an open source hardware is ‘not a full version’ anyway? People are going for Android because of the apps.

Márcio Guerra

Thank you! I have an old tablet (Android 2.2 Froyo OS) and might give it a shot one of these days, if the screen isn’t a set back, since it is broken. However, I’m buying another one, new, and I believe it to be very, very good (might be wrong, but Antutu scores give it over 9000) and is a quadcore device, running Android 4 OS, and since it is coming from China, Play might be “off” like in the previous one and even for that one might be a good thing. Never new that it was possible to do without rooting! Nice one, Rajaa!

Cheers from Portugal!

Jon Smith

i say get the nexus 7 with 16GB on USD 199 while its cheap on the holidays. thats what im getting for my parents

Carmen Qing

Thanks for your useful post!!

Ron Lister

if only tablets could run on solar cells, or the shak it up forever bateries… you know like in the flashlights. That would be a riot watching some one shake the crap out of a tablet or cell phone before going through there apps.

Michael Jan Moratalla

google nexus 7 is a really good choice for now if you really want to ensure to not waste money


One year on and I still use my $99 ‘fire sale’ 16Gb HP Touchpad every day, especially for reading a wide range of different ebook formats (the reader app is free and versatile). Battery life has been decent as I also got a Touchstone charging base on sale for $25 at my local Staples – although probably not as good as a more recently made tablet. Wishing there was a choice of web browser, but I keep in touch with the WebOs community and also the developing Android port from Although defunct, WebOs has been fairly stable, although there have not been any updates since it was open-sourced so I rely somewhat on the homebrew community. On the whole mostly satisfied because I was looking at buying an ereader and spending about the same for a Kindle. The HP goes so much further for the same money.

Dave Parrack

The Touchpad is/was a good option for those who like to tinker. I must admit I tried to buy one during the fire sale. This article is aimed more at those who just want a tablet to work without needing any mods added.

Tony Gonzaga

When buying tablets, you also have to consider the processor speeds, RAM, ROM and camera. The higher the hardware specs, the greater chance of getting upgrade in future release of OS.


Dave, couple of suggestions/corrections

1. No of apps in Google Play Store & Apple App Store are equal or close to equal and is around 700,000.
[Ref :

2. “With Google Play being open-source they’ll still have it installed, it just won’t be the full version” This is not true.
While Android Operating System itself is Open Source, not all applications that ship with the device are open source. Google Apps like GMail,Youtube, Google Play Store etc are not open source. These apps are usually bundled on device that has been certified by Google and for that the Manufacture has to be part of Open Handset Alliance and submit devices to Google for certification. Most low end/chinese manufacturers don’t aer neither part of OHA nor submit devices for certification. They are not allowed to actually ship with google apps like Play Store, but they hack it from other devices and ship them, which probably is illegal.
There is only one variant of Play Store, there is no other version/variant available.

3. “Some apps therefore won’t show up in searches”
That’s again not exactly correct. Apps not showing up in searches are due to numerous reasons. Google Play store identifies your device’s capabilities and hides apps that are not compatible with your device. For eg if an app requires front camera and your device doesn’t have front camera, it will not show up in searches.
Sometimes even when a device have those features, Google Play Store might not be aware of those features, this is true in case of uncertified devices like cheap devices but not in certified device.

Other than these minor blips, a very good article especially for the masses and at the right time.

Dave Parrack

1. Either way the point remains: there are a lot of apps available both on Android and iOS.

2. You’re taking what I said too literally. I know it isn’t officially a different version of Google Play, but it’s a limited one because of the unofficial nature of it.

3. I’m going on personal experience. There is no reason why my own cheap tablet couldn’t support certain apps, yet they don’t appear in searches. Again, the point remains that buying a cheap tablet means you may not get all the apps you want to get.

Satish Kumar V

I bought an iBerry tablet.. worth the money.. Along with all the latest features, it comes with SIM slot.. and a good battery life..


cheap tablets will be with less feature than more expansive ones, less gaming performance, lesser reactivity, camera average…they will be good for office use.

Vampie C.

Thanks for the tips.
Really usefull. :-)

Mark Alsisto

LOL….”missed by ignorant/n00bish people”

Mark Alsisto

“With Google Play being open-source they’ll still have it installed, it just won’t be the full version.”

I didn’t know google play has a “lite” version. and how do you find out about that?

Dave Parrack

There is no lite version. It’s just that not all apps will be available on cheap tablets uncertified for Google Play.

Mark Alsisto

let me get this right, are you saying that every tablet has to be certified by Google in order to have their apps? How do I find out if the tablet is “certified” then?

Mark Alsisto

Oh ok…thanks for the info! Now i know. Was thinking of purchasing some low end/cheap-unknow tab, that’s why i asked lots of questions. Thanks again.

Jacob patton

I’ve always wondered about cheap tablets. I guess the Nexus 7 is the way for me to go!


boy u saved me major Grandma points & problems.looking for 5 tablets but i stopped to check reviews & sure glad i did !

Raj Bhag

One word. And one number.
Nexus 7

Dave Parrack

That isn’t a bad shout. It would certainly be on my list of affordable tablets worth buying at this point in time.

Rajaa Chowdhury

Yea however doesn’t hold true is all countries. For example, the base Nexus 7 model has been now officially announced in INDIA for INR 19,999 which is almost US $365. Not too cheap in INDIA’s perspective and almost double the price in USA of $199. Therefore the cheap discussion is pretty relative and depends and varies from country to country. That is one major reason why the home-grown cheap Android tablets are thriving in India. They are anything between $45 to $200 in India.

Krzysztof Buzko

I bought my android tablet very cheap. Now i’m missing 3G a lot, and the wifi range is not good enough. Now I wish i had spend some more money on it…. So Beware of cheap deals.

Joop Gobes

When buying a mobile smartphone is it the same as for tablets, one should avoid buying an operating system Android 2.3 & earlier?
I am in the market to buy my first smartphone now so this is good to know.

Márcio Guerra

I’ve bought in May my first Android phone, 2.3.5 (or 6, don’t remember) OS, and I find it very good. Only a few apps are not available for it, those “mainstream”, like Chrome for mobiles… It is an Alcatel One Touch 995, very good device, 4.3″ display, very good display, decent price (it is now €199 in Portugal, was 229 when I’ve bought it and it is way cheaper in dollars rather than euros) and I must say that I am completely satisfied. If you intent a professional use of the phone, perhaps 2.2 still is ok, but not so much for games. So, my advice is, the greater the better, like in the tablets.



hi, if you are planning to buy a cheap tablet. plz don’t think about pena tablets from pental technologies. they are really junk tablets. their service center persons don’t even know how to operate that tablets.

i brought one of them penta 701c t-pad. just after one week tab’s ports crashed. i sent my tablet to pental technologies for recovery. know after 2 months i havent received my product back and when ever i contact them they just say i will took one more week.

so, i advice you to not to buy any product made of india.

i live in india, thats why i really know how junk products they are. just buy some expensive prodcut or buy china made.


Rajaa Chowdhury

Do not blame it on Indian products but blame it on your research. There are lot of reasonably priced tablets with decent after sales service from Indian manufacturers also like Micromax FunBook, HCL ME Tablets, Karbonn tablets, etc.

Keith D.

JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!! (Lol) Great timing M.U.O.!

Dave Parrack

We do what we can ;)


I just bought a Uniden 7″ tablet at Big Lots for $60. It’s an Android 4.0, made by Southern Telecom, same people who make the Polaroids. I can access mail & Facebook, surf the web, take pictures & videos, watch YouTubes, listen to music, open attachments, etc. It has a lot of apps already installed. It seems to run fast enough. You can even buy additional memory for it. I can’t see any downside to it especially since I don’t have the money for an ipad.

Thomas Slaughter

That seems like a very good buy Rochelle. I am in the market for a Tablet, but i tend to do a lot of research first before I buy anything. I just may have to check out what Big Lots have. I’ve seen the ads, but figured it would all be ‘junk’.

What I’m really waiting for is the Pro version of Surface that will come out in January.

But, in the meantime, I just may have to check out one of the cheaper makes.

Louella Noble

Very informative article – unfortunately for me,,,,,just a little too late. Yes, I succumbed to the low price lure – and am now paying for it dearly! Poor battery life, wifi only and with limited range. Turns out it IS good as an e-reader though.

Dave Parrack

That is a very good point. If you want to read eBooks but also want the ability to do some extra things that standard e-readers aren’t capable of then a cheap tablet is perfect. That’s mainly what I use mine for now.

Edgar Dysart

Thank you this was a great help.

Abidhusain Momin


Petey Pabler

I find it odd that some of the Android 4.0 and higher tablets don’t allow common apps (like Netflix) or allow you to get apps from the Google Play store…you have to be careful when purchasing and do your homework. Sometimes if the price is too good, you only get what you pay for.

Rajaa Chowdhury

My friend did the same mistake and bought a cheap Android ICS Indian tablet without doing any research. After committing the mistake, he then referred to me. Luckily, we managed to successfully install the Google Play Store without any rooting and now he has full access to all the apps. I have defined how we did it in this forum article comments previously.

Qin Tang

It’s really useful, thanks, Dave Parrack.

Dave Tapp

Hi Dave,
I stumbled upon your blog as I was researching cheap android tablets and now I’m hooked on your blog. Excellent write ups!!! Anyway, I was looking for a cheap android tablet as I only have one specific application for it. I play guitar and jam with my friends and have my songs in binders. I have an android cell phone and was browsing through the market and discovered an app called Songbook. I bought it out of curiosity and its just what I needed. However, it is not practical on a cell phone. As a result I was looking for a cheap 7″ tablet for that use only with the ability to present the screen in portrait. Any suggestions?

Tina Sieber


This would make a great question for MakeUseOf Answers. Bet you’ll get a lot of great suggestions there.

Shmuel Mendelsohn

I wish that I had read this earlier!

Thomas Slaughter

Hi Dave:

Excellent article, and I am now hooked on this site. I consider myself an elder geek, and have been into computers, etc. since the mid 80’s.

What I like about this site is the down to earth approach and language, and the comments are very helpful, for none of us knows everything.

I have been looking at the various tablets for a few months now, and will probably get a cheaper one in the next week or two, even though I am holding out for the Pro Version of the Microsoft Surface due out in January.

Reading these comments have greatly narrowed my search for a cheaper tablet down. Thanks again.

Thomas Slaughter

Dang, don’t know what happened here. Must have hit ‘post’ too soon.

Tina Sieber

Not sure why it sometimes posts empty comments, Thomas. Anyhow, I removed that one for you.


At this point in time, there are not that many cheap tablets still offering 2.x Android. For me the major considerations would be wifi connectivity, and something not mentioned yet the resolution of the device. Even on a 7″ device but certainly on a 10″ tablet a 640×480 screen resolution really does not cut the mustard. Also, consider that these cheap tablet manufactures go in and out of business really quickly, so you could be buying a unit from a bankrupt manufacturer without warranty and support i.e. Pandigital.

From my perspective, unless you plan on using it at a very basic level such as an eReader and some internet browsing, pay the extra few bucks and get a Samsung or Nexus as you will likely by happier in the long run.

Márcio Guerra

Read all of the comments… Uff, uff, uff… Still out of breath, ehehe!
Well, can I post a link to my future tablet? I seriously wouldn’t mind some kind of review at least based on the specs…
Well, at least I’ll leave here the main ones…

“Model Zenithink C94 Quad Core Tablet PC
CPU Freescale I.MX6Q, quad core, 1.2GHz, Cortex A9; GPU: Vivante GC2000
Operation System Android 4.0.4
ROM?Memory? 8GB Nand Flash

Size 10.1 Inch
Type Capacitive Screen
Display LED
Resolution 1024 x 600px
Visible Angle 150°

Work Time Up to 6 hours
5600 MAh, 3.7V”

What do you feel? Does anyone tend to compare devices on Antutu, for example? It gives this tablet 9144, at least once… My current phone, Alcatel One Touch 995, 1,4GHz processor, etc, scores arond 3500… This tablet completely made my mind when I’ve seen it (and bought it because won a 80 dollars voucher in FB from the seller in a regular contest by them).

Any thoughts? Comments would be nice! Great articles (because I was “multy-reading” your posts!).


Mike Crabill

There is one other model not mentioned here and in fact few seem to know about it. The Blackberry Playbook is an interesting unit, has an excellent display connects easily via WiFi and generally works great. The area where it lacks most is on the apps area. There are definitely much fewer apps, although they are rapidly adding more. I got mine as a developer for Blackberry apps, everyone who has seen it has instantly taken a liking to it and were it impressed with it’s operation. Even though the quantity of apps is much less, I have been able to find apps for a majority of my needs. The quality of the apps available seem to be good for the most part.


I purchased a 7″ Zeki tablet for around $70. I consider myself pretty tech savvy but not a full fledged techie by any means. The major drawbacks with the cheap tablets as described here are 1) no Google Play by default, 2) battery lasts about 3 hours and 3) native resolution is basic VGA. The first problem was easily rectified, as these tablets come rooted so a quick ROM flash did the installation of the Google market so I don’t have to rely on getjar. There is not much one can do about a built in battery though. For a 7″ tablet VGA is adequate for my use.

I figured that the tablets are only going to get better and very quickly. I am already seeing quad core processors with 1080i resolution for under $300 coming from China. So I end up using this tablet as an ebook reader, MP3 player, wifi browser and video player of last resort. The unit has a capacitive screen, the ability to add an external mico sd card of up to 32 Gb and a mini USB port. So even if it last only 2 years, I feel that the investment was not wasted whereas a $300 unit with a better processor and graphics might still only last as long. What’s more I prefer local storage to cloud storage a la Nexus.

I think this is an ideal way to get into the the tablet world and get to do most things. I don’t run complex games – angry birds is about it.

Edward Bellair

As with anything else, just looking for the best bang for my buck. Only drawback to that is you get what you pay for. Not always good.

Keno Clayton

To me, the two most important aspects of a tablet are speed and battery life! If you are able to carry a sub-$200 tablet around for a normal working day i.e. 8 hours or so, it would be VERY useful and worth the price. However many cheap tablets have poor battery life and lag a lot!

I have a Rooted Coby Kyros MID7042 and it was almost useless in terms of apps and functionality until I rooted it and I got the Play Store on it. Luckily it came with Android 4.0.3 so it was a reasonably good buy.


Just flashed my 2.5 year old- China cheapo made – 7 in. MID “iPad” with Uberoid (hehehe:) after the 2.2 Android died on it (no boot). Can read all books in my library again and I am a HAPPYMAN!
guess it truly depends on your needs..

Carlos Remonza

Cant wait for Polaroid M7.