The Best Tablet Computers for Less Than 300 Dollars
"If saving money is wrong, I don't want to be right!" William Shatner
Updated: September 2016
300 dollars can go a long way. You could buy a chill-out hammock, some incredible noise-canceling earphones, or a pointless but beautiful typewriter that connects to your computer by bluetooth. OR you could get a powerful, flexible tablet computer with great features and battery life.
In this guide to the best quality tablets at the 'inexpensive' end of the market we focus on these devices, which we think represent the creme de la creme:
- Apple iPad mini 2
- Nexus 7
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 9.7
- Dragon Touch i10x
- Fire HD 10
Some familiar names there, and one you might not be so aware of. Want to learn more? Read on, dear friend.
Apple iPad mini 2 ME276LL/A
The Apple iPad mini 2 ME276LL/A is basically the iPad Air compressed into a small and mighty package with nearly no compromises. It’s a beast of a machine that’s effectively one of the best tablets under $300.
Its Retina display has a gorgeously crisp 2048 x 1536 resolution display that matches the iPad Air’s, with text and details sharp from all distances. For color, the reproduction accuracy isn’t as great—the colors appear rather faded in comparison with the iPad Air. Oddly, though, it’s exceedingly good at matching shades in grayscale images. These are first-world problems - it’s only in comparison with the iPad Air that it falls short in colors. For the purposes of gaming and watching movies, it’s still a beautifully rendered display.
Its 1.29GHz A7 processor and 1GB RAM ensures a performance nearly as fast and smooth as the iPad Air (which runs on 1.39GHz and 1GB RAM). This impressively fast little tablet can multitask and perform heavy lifting like video editing and graphic editing with no stutters. Gamers will also find it can run demanding games without a hitch.
The iPad mini 2’s battery life also surprisingly matches the iPad Air’s. It actually surpasses Apple’s claim of 10 hours, reaching 14.25 hours of movie-watching before needing a recharge.
- High-resolution display
- Fast processor
- Improved wi-fi and LTE connectivity
- Good battery life
- Access to the Apple Store
- No Touch ID fingerprint sensor (was first found in the iPad Mini 3)
- Storage not expandable
Google/Asus Nexus 7 II
Snapdragon S4 - 1.50 GHz
IPS LCD - 7.0 inch
1920 x 1200 px - 323 ppi
Front 1.2 / Back 5.0 MP
0.29 kg / 0.64 lbs
Nexus 7 2013 7-Inch
The Google Nexus 7 2013 dethroned the iPad mini as the slimmest tablet below 10 inches when it came out. It’s more compact than the iPad mini and the old Nexus 7 at 7.9 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches and 10.24 ounces.
Its 1920 x 1200 IPS display is accurate in color and crisp in detail, as well as viewable from any angle. It’s also quite bright—its 531 lux display is 171 lux higher than the average.
With a 1.5GHz quad core processor and 2GB of RAM, it scores a whopping 4,949 on benchmark performance (1,500 higher than the average). It also scored triple the average on graphics performance, with a score of 11,580. All this harnessed power makes this baby one of the best tablets under $300 for a gamer (or anyone who works with heavy video editing software and the like). The Nexus 7 2013 can launch large games in about 16% of the average time for other devices, and loading screens are just that much faster as well. Within the games, the graphics look more detailed and immersive.
The battery life lasts about 8.5 hours, which is about 1.5 hours longer than the average.
- Thin and lightweight
- Bright, sharp display
- Excellent overall performance
- Excellent stereo speakers
- Good battery life
- Storage not expandable
- Subpar parental controls
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7
Snapdragon 410 - 1.20 GHz
TFT - 9.7 inch
1024 x 768 px - 132 ppi
Front 2.0 / Back 5.0 MP
0.45 kg / 0.99 lbs
|Tablet||Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7|
|CPU||Snapdragon 410 - 1.20 GHz|
|Display||TFT - 9.7 inch|
|Resolution||1024 x 768 px - 132 ppi|
|Camera||Front 2.0 / Back 5.0 MP|
|Weight||0.45 kg / 0.99 lbs|
|Battery life||12.0 hours|
Samsung Galaxy Tab A SM-T550NZAAXAR 9.7-Inch
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 has a plastic frame that feels a bit cheap, but looks sleek and stylish. The deep gray rear panel has a metallic sheen to it, and the rounded edges give it a streamlined look. At 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.3 inches and just 1 pound in weight, it’s easy to hold in one hand.
Its 1024 x 768 display is its weak point. Text can look pixelated (although still easily readable), and the 9.7-inch screen only highlights this issue. On the bright side, HD video still looks bright and clear. If you’re a movie fanatic, though, this isn’t the best choice. The 4:3 aspect ratio adds letterboxing (black panels above and below the movie).
It comes with some free premium perks (Galaxy Gifts) for Galaxy owners: 3 month trials for The New York Times, Audiobooks by Audible, Evernote Premium, and a 6 month trial for Blinkist and The Economist. Some games and apps also contain in-app bonuses as part of the perks.
A nice feature here is you can split the screen to run two apps (from selected apps) side by side. The tablet can handle this without slowing down, either.
The Galaxy Tab A 9.7 comes with a 1.2GHz quad core processor and 1.5GB of RAM. It’s pretty smooth in web browsing, video streaming, and running basic games. There will be some slowdown if you load large games and apps. It won’t stutter too much when running large games, but it benchmarks extremely low for 3D games. Gamers will want to look elsewhere for a dedicated gaming tablet.
- Thin and lightweight
- Good battery life
- Free premium app perks
- MicroSD slot expandable to 128GB
- Low-resolution display
- Mediocre specs for the price
Dragon Touch i10x
The Dragon Touch i10x has a good-looking 10.1 IPS display, so that you can view it from any angle. Colors are bright and text is sharply rendered. For movie watchers, though, note that the widescreen display means you’ll have to deal with letterboxing, the black panels above and below the movie effectively lessening the screen real estate.
The keyboard it comes with effectively turns it into a mini laptop. It even feels like laptop keys—firm and clicky instead of rubbery. The keyboard connects to the tablet via magnets.
It comes with a 1.33GHz quad core processor and 2GB of RAM, making navigating menus and internet browsing a smooth process. You’ll be able to multitask without noticeable slowdown, although you’ll still want to keep running simultaneous large apps to a minimum.
The storage is a mixed bag. It comes with 64GB of internal storage, with around 45GB of that available out of the box. However, the microSD slot is expandable only up to 32GB.
The battery life is around 5 hours of running videos full-time, which is pretty much average.
- Good overall performance
- Nice, crisp display
- Detachable keyboard
- Free 1-year trial of Office 365 (including Word, Powerpoint, and Excel)
- Large internal Storage
- Nonstandard charge cable
- Poor stereo speakers
- MicroSD slot only expands to 32GB
Amazon Fire HD 10
Fire OS 5
Quad Core - 1.5 GHz
IPS - 10.0 inch
1280 x 800 px - 149 ppi
Front 1.0 / Back 5.0 MP
0.43 kg / 0.95 lbs
Fire HD 10 10.1-Inch
The Fire HD 10 has a frame that feels a bit cheap. The shiny black rear panel retains your fingerprints every time you touch it, so that it easily gets covered in smudges. On the other hand, however, this tablet is currently one of the lightest on the market at 15.2 ounces, making it a breeze to hold.
Any content you access has to be through the Amazon app store instead of Google Play. You’ll be able to get popular apps and games from the Amazon app store, but trending new apps from Google Play are unlikely to be there.
It has a 1280 x 800 resolution, which isn’t impressive compared to its competition. The brightness of 370 nits is about average, and the color fidelity is pretty good. The dual speakers are clear and loud for the most part. All this taken together makes it quite a decent device for watching movies.
The Fire HD 10 comes with a quad core processor (2 at 1.2GHz and 2 at 1.5GHz) and 1GB of RAM. This makes browsing and single-tasking smooth enough, but you’ll want to avoid multitasking if you don’t want it slowing down to a crawl. Even just downloading something in the background causes it to become less responsive to pressing the Home button, for instance. It’s also rather slow in navigating through the menus, even with nothing running in the background. It also stutters occasionally in running even basic games—it scores 1,514 on multicore benchmark tests (1,100 points lower than the average).
The battery life is 9 hours of continuous surfing, which is decent and longer than Amazon’s projected 8 hours.
- OS helps in content discovery
- Good parental controls
- High-tech “Mayday” customer support (video chat)
- Expandable storage
- Cheap, smudgey design
- Display is lower resolution than competition
- Sluggish in performance