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Cheapism: Best tablets under $200

Jan. 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM ET

The Google Nexus 7 is the gold standard among budget tablets.

By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com

Could this be the year tablets overtake laptops? That’s the prediction of market research firm NPD DisplaySearch, which monitors worldwide PC shipments. If you assume that a seat on the tablet bandwagon isn’t within your budget, consider that a model without a piece of fruit on the back can cost hundreds less than a coveted Apple iPad, yet still make a fun and functional addition to your stable of devices. Even the iPad Mini starts at $329, compared with less than $200 for some appealing alternatives.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks among budget tablets.

  • The Google Nexus 7 (starting at $199) emerged as an overwhelming favorite among experts reviewing low-cost tablets. They praise its speedy performance, luminous 1280 x 800 high-definition display, and battery life of more than 10 hours in testing. This tablet comes with Google’s latest Android 4.2 operating system and 16GB of storage. It’s the only tablet on this list that includes Bluetooth support and a front-facing camera for video calling. (Where to buy)
  • The Barnes & Noble Nook HD (starting at $199) best suits consumers who want a tablet primarily for reading, reviewers say. But this Nook is no e-reader. It supports apps and video as well as books and magazines and boasts a 1440 x 900 HD screen. In case 8GB of memory turns out to be insufficient, this tablet provides a microSD card slot. (Where to buy)
  • The Amazon Kindle Fire (starting at $159 with advertising on the lock screen and in the corner of the home screen; $174 without) lags a bit in areas such as storage and battery life -- experts clock it at less than five and a half hours. However, this model performs ably and costs quite a bit less than other popular options. Consumers seeking more internal storage, longer battery life, and a high-def display can upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD, although opting out of ads nudges that model over the $200 mark. (Where to buy)
  • The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (starting at $199) is another solid Android tablet, although reviewers assert that it doesn’t quite live up to the Nexus 7. It lacks an HD display but includes a microSD slot, in addition to 8GB of internal storage, and the battery has proved capable of lasting eight and a half hours. (Where to buy)

All the tablets on this list have 7-inch touchscreens, making them somewhat more portable than 8- to 10-inch tablets like the iPad (and certainly more so than the 20-inch prototype Panasonic unveiled last week at the Consumer Electronics Show). These budget tablets support Wi-Fi, although not 3G or 4G data service from a cellular provider; that capability costs more.  

Before you buy, take some time to compare the content offerings. Google Play features the widest selection of apps outside Apple’s App Store, for example, while Amazon entices Prime members with Netflix-like streaming video and one free book per month from its Lending Library (membership costs $79 per year).

If 8GB or even 16GB of memory doesn’t seem like enough for all the apps and multimedia you hope to download, think twice before springing for more gigabytes. The Nook HD and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 take microSD cards, and Google, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon supplement their tablets’ memory with free online cloud storage.

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