Cheap tablets

Don't get caught buying a bad Android tablet just because it has a low price

There are plenty of enticing deals on Android tablets of all kinds this Black Friday, but that doesn't mean you should buy purely based on price. We've told you time and time again — if a tablet has a price that seems "too good to be true," it probably Is. And that means if you're hunting for a cheap tablet this holiday shopping weekend you're probably more likely to end up with a poor piece of tech than a great deal.

But don't worry! There are many great Android tablets out there that are both an awesome device and can be had affordably. Let us help you navigate the waters of cheap Android tablets, and help you make a good buying decision this year.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Vizio Tablet

This Black Friday we're seeing sales dropping the price of some questionably-desirable tablets as low as $39. That's pretty insanely cheap, and when you think about it there's a very slim chance that a tablet manufacturer could ever make something good for that price and still make money on it. If a tablet comes in under a threshold of about $99, there's a good chance corners were cut across the device.

Remember that these Black Friday sales aren't going on to lose companies money — so if a tablet is priced so low that there's no explanation for it being that price, the likely reason is that it's not worth buying. Sure you might be able to buy something for $39 that resembles a tablet and turns on, but with a bad screen, poor build quality, low-end specs and missing features, there's no value to be had there. Nobody can make a good tablet for $39 right now — don't think that these manufacturers all of a sudden learned how just because it's Black Friday.

There's a difference between cheap and inexpensive

Kindle Fire HDX

It's important to look at the difference between "cheap" and "inexpensive." A $39 tablet that's on sale during a holiday promotion at your local Kmart is cheap, and as we said isn't going to be worth a penny to you. While at the same time, a $99 Kindle Fire is just inexpensive. Sure you won't be getting the pinnacle of Android tablets with that Kindle Fire, but you know you're getting something that's actually well-made for the price and will work properly.

It's important to draw the distinction between the two, because most of what you're going to find on Black Friday falls into the category of cheap, not inexpensive. It's all about determining where the value is with your purchase — are you just getting a good price? Or are you getting a good tablet at a lower-than-usual price? Those are not the same situation.

What to look for when shopping

Nexus 7 (2013)

We've established that there are plenty of poor tablets out there that you shouldn't be lured into buying — so what should you look for if you're trying to find some real savings on a tablet purchase? Here are a few tips to follow as you browse the shelves in your local store:

  • Do your research, and trust online reviews: All of the deals you're going to find are released ahead of Friday, so do your research! Take a look at reviews from a variety of places, including from customers who bought the tablet, and get a feeling for the quality, features and downsides of the tablets you're considering.
  • Stick to the brands you know: Chances are if you've never heard of a company before you set foot in a store to buy a tablet, you probably shouldn't be buying their tablet. Big names like ASUS, Amazon, Toshiba and Lenovo all make good tablets that are also affordable — there's little reason to consider buying a no-name tablet from a random company just because it's cheaper than the others.
  • Beware of buying old, outdated models: In an effort to clear out inventory, manufacturers and retailers will often sell old models of tablets to unsuspecting customers. In many cases the discounts aren't that great, and you'll get more usable life out of a lower-end new model than you would out of a higher-end old model — it's always worth researching to see when the tablet you're considering was actually launched.
  • Look for Google Services on board: When you start getting around the $50 range for tablets, there's always a chance you may be looking at a tablet that isn't actually certified by Google and therefore won't have the Play Store or any Google apps. Needless to say you don't want that tablet — the Play Store is a pretty big deal. The one big exception here can be the Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, which have their own app store and quite a few features that can make them worth losing Google for.
  • Know what you want, and what tablets serve that need: It's important that you know what you're looking for in a tablet when shopping. Do you (or the person you're buying for) need it just for casual web browsing? Intense gaming? Productivity? A mix of all tasks? Not all tablet sizes, styles or manufacturers are best for all of those things. Make sure to see the specs, size and included features and how they match up with what you want that tablet to do.
  • Check if you're buying new or refurbished: It's particularly important when buying online to see if you're buying a new or refurbished tablet. There's nothing necessarily bad about a refurbished product, but know that it is typically an older device and may not carry the same kind of warranty or return policy that a new device would. Refurbs can be had for a great deal — just know what you're getting into ahead of time.
  • The best tablets out there aren't going to be steeply discounted: If a retailer has a tablet that's going for 40, 50 or maybe 75 percent off, there's a good chance that tablet isn't worth even the new discounted price. The best tablets out there today don't need to be discounted to sell well, and are going on sale in the 15 to 25 percent off range even on a super sale day like Black Friday. That's still a huge savings on an expensive tablet, and you can still be happy with that purchase.

Don't feel like you have to buy a tablet on Black Friday

Nexus 9

If you go through all of the deals for the weekend (let's be honest, Black Friday is more of a four-day affair now) and don't see something that entices you, don't feel like you have to make a decision and buy one. Trust us, there will be future sales and deals for great tablets between now and the holidays — you don't need to force yourself to buy something inferior just to say you got it done.

With the huge number of online electronics retailers, you'll be hard-pressed not to find a good deal on a quality tablet in the next month. And when you do find the right tablet for the right price, you'll be glad you waited.