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Best budget tablet 2021: top cheap models under £250

Looking for an affordable tablet? We put a range of devices to the test to bring you the best for less than £250.

Best budget tablet

These days it’s no longer necessary to spend a fortune to get a decent tablet for streaming, gaming and working. As the number of tablets on the market has increased, the technology within them has become easier and cheaper to build and prices have dropped accordingly. Today, the best budget tablets start as low as £50 and few exceed the £300 mark.

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Amazon has been at the forefront of this revolution. Jeff Bezos, with his billion-dollar empire, has almost saturated the best cheap tablet market with his range of Fire devices, with the knock-on effect of bringing rival device prices down in an attempt to compete. From a business point of view, we can’t see these companies making huge margins on these tablets, but from a consumer viewpoint it’s fantastic to have so much choice at such an affordable level.

For the past two months we’ve been putting a range of tablets to the test from the likes of Amazon, Samsung, Lenovo, Apple and Huawei to determine which is the best budget tablet for 2021. We’ve listed our favourites below and explained how we tested these budget tablets at the bottom of the page.

We understand that the word “cheap” is relative. While £250 may still seem like a lot of money, we felt this was a fair benchmark to choose when you consider flagship devices from Samsung and Apple come in at £1,000. This did mean that the Apple iPad fell outside of this bracket – at £329 – but it’s worth getting an honourable mention because it’s a versatile, well-designed and super fast piece of kit, if your budget can stretch to it.

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How to choose the best budget tablet

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when choosing the best budget tablet.

  • Display: Touchscreen displays make up a large proportion of a tablet’s price and they can also be the difference between a good budget tablet and a great one. Ideally opt for a tablet with Full HD, or as close to it as possible, to make sure that the shows and content you’re watching via Netflix, Disney+ et al are shown in the best light possible.
  • Design: Budget tablets have a tendency to skimp on design elements in favour of cramming higher-spec tech inside. This can mean they’re not always as robust or sturdy as more expensive models. On the plus side, this makes them lighter and more portable. If you’re worried about this, we recommend factoring the price of a case into your overall budget.
  • Environmental impact: A major criticism levied towards cheap tablets – and any budget gadgets for that matter – is their high environmental impact. Not only do they use cheaper materials that may not be sustainably sourced, but they’re also more likely to be ditched or replaced more regularly. Many tablet manufacturers will offer trade-in programmes or recycling schemes, and this is worth researching if it matters to you.
  • Added extras: Whereas more expensive tablets will have added extras thrown in – free cloud storage offers, bundled cases, keyboards or styluses, and so on – with budget tablets you get what you pay for. This means you may have to factor in extra budget for accessories, expandable storage and more.

What features might you miss with a budget tablet?

In order to offer the best value for money, budget tablet manufacturers have to make sacrifices and these can vary. Some brands will put all their effort into the hardware, leaving the software somewhat lacking. Others concentrate on the screen above all else, sometimes at the detriment of performance and battery life. The main features you might miss with a budget tablet will be 4K (or even 2K) screens, super-fast speeds, extended battery life or high built-in storage.

That said, many of the best budget tablets in 2021 offer enough of each of these factors, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out too much. We’ve highlighted the compromises made by each tablet.

Best budget tablets at a glance

Best budget tablet to buy in 2021

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7, £219

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7

Best overall budget tablet

Pros:

  • High-quality screen
  • Great battery life

Cons:

  • Slightly cheap design
  • Lags after heavy use

Key features:

  • 10.4-inch Full HD tablet powered by Android 10.0
  • Single storage option, expandable via microSD
  • 8MP on the rear with a 5MP selfie camera
  • Facial recognition

Samsung makes superb flagship tablets and occasionally the technology in their pricey devices trickles down to more budget-friendly models. This is what has happened with the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7.

From a distance, the Tab A7 doesn’t look all that different from the Tab S7. It has a Full HD 10.4 inch display with a resolution of 2.4 million pixels that shines bright and looks colourful – we wouldn’t expect anything less from Samsung with its long legacy in display technology.  This makes it perfect for streaming shows, but also means lines are sharp and clear when reading or working on this device.

It runs the latest version of Android – Android 10 – with a Samsung skin on top and while it does come pre-loaded with various Samsung apps, all of these can be easily removed or hidden.

Despite its bright screen, which you’d expect to make a serious dent on the battery life of a tablet of this price, Samsung promises that it will last “all day and then some” – which, in real life, equates to around 10 hours streaming video and a day and a half with more casual use. This is matched by an equally impressive performance in which apps load quickly, pages scroll almost instantaneously and everything feels fast and responsive.

Everything on this device punches well above its weight which is why it’s the best budget tablet we’ve had the pleasure of getting our hands on.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7:

Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab, £249.99  

Best budget tablet for the whole family

Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab homescreen

Pros:

  • Impressive display for such a well-priced tablet
  • Good battery life
  • Well-rounded sound

Cons:

  • Sluggish at times
  • Crowded software

Key features:

  • 10.1 inch budget tablet
  • Powered by the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor
  • Kickstand doubles up as a handle or hanger
  • Two JBL speakers with Dolby Atmos
  • Up to 4GB RAM and 64GB built-in storage
  • Up to 11 hours battery life
  • A 8MP camera on the rear, with an 5MP on the front

Sitting at the top end of our budget tablet price range, but representing great value for money, is the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab. Despite its £250 price tag, it offers a number of features that wouldn’t look out of place on more expensive models.

The first of two stand-out features is its Full HD display. It has the same resolution as the Amazon Fire HD 10, yet it’s brighter and the colours are noticeably more vibrant. This screen would please us at a higher price point, so it’s even more impressive that it’s available on a budget tablet. The compromise here is that occasionally blacks can look a little faded, but this depends on the ambient light you’re using the tablet in, and the content being watched.

The second stand-out feature is that the Yoga Smart Tab has Google Assistant embedded within the software. When placed into Ambient mode, this transforms the 10.1 inch tablet into an alternative to the £179 Google Nest Hub Max.

It’s not the best-looking budget tablet (that award goes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7), but the Yoga Smart Tab has an industrial quality about it that we enjoy. A large part of its odd aesthetic is that it has a kickstand built in, and this kickstand needs to be substantial because it also houses the tablet’s stereo speakers. This kickstand is what gives the cheap tablet its versatility – and means you don’t need to buy a separate case and stand – but it does end up making the device a little chunky. It doesn’t stop the Yoga Smart Tab being a super portable device, but the rounded stand does protrude somewhat.

Another benefit of such an industrial design is that it’s well-built and sturdy. This makes the Yoga Smart Tab more robust, which in turn makes it perfect as a family-friendly device.

The biggest compromise you have to make for getting such great hardware is the software on the Yoga Smart Tab. It runs an older version of Android compared to other entries in this best budget tablet list. The skin that Lenovo has placed over the top of this operating system is also a tad obtrusive.

Performance-wise, the Yoga Smart Tab does lack some of the zip and speed of more expensive devices because it runs on an older model of the Qualcomm processor, but it’s faster than Fire OS, the Amazon version of Android. What’s more, the Yoga Smart Tab comes with the Google Play Store pre-installed (Amazon’s tablets don’t), meaning you get access to the full Android app catalogue, rather than a limited selection.

In the trade-off between cost and compromise, the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab almost hits the sweet spot.

Read our full Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab review.

Buy the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab:

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2021), £149.99 

Most versatile budget tablet

Amazon Fire HD 10 2021 edition

Pros:

  • Full HD display
  • More powerful than the previous model
  • Now comes with expandable storage up to 1TB
  • Simple to set up and use
  • Part of the Amazon Climate Friendly Pledge
  • Three gadgets in one – a Fire tablet, Echo Show and Kindle

Cons:

  • Lacks wireless charging
  • Plastic design
  • No support for native Google apps – including Drive, YouTube and Gmail

Key features:

  • 10.1-inch Full HD tablet powered by Fire OS – Amazon’s take on Android
  • 32GB or 64GB of storage, both expandable to 1TB via microSD
  • 3GB RAM
  • 12-hour battery life
  • 2MP front-facing camera, 5MP rear-facing
  • Alexa-built in means this tablet doubles up as an alternative to the Echo Show 10

Until recently, the ninth-generation Amazon Fire HD 10, released in July 2019, was the most affordable way to get a full HD screen on a 10 inch tablet. However, at the end of May it was usurped by a successor, the Amazon Fire HD 10 2021 Edition.

At face value, very little has changed between the two models. Both come with Show Mode, which turns the Amazon Fire HD 10 into an alternative to the £240 Echo Show 10. With this mode enabled you can place the tablet on its side and you have a portable Alexa-powered device that can move around the house with you. They have the same screen, the same battery life, they both run on a 2GHz octa-core processor and they both come in 32GB and 64GB models. They even cost the same.

What’s more, they share some of the same flaws. They have the same plastic, cheap design, built-in storage is relatively lacking, neither include the Google Play Store and Google apps (Drive, YouTube, Gmail etc) aren’t supported.

When you delve a little deeper into these specs, you realise that the 2021 Fire HD 10 is better value for money. The built-in storage can be expanded to 1TB, up from 512GB on the previous generation model. The processor on the newer model is backed by 3GB or RAM, rather than 2GB, and the recently released tablet is marginally lighter and thinner. The cameras have also had a boost, up from 2MP on the front and back of the 2020 model to a 2MP front-facing, and a 5MP rear-facing camera on the newer edition. All of this equates to a more portable, more well-balanced, more powerful and more useful device.

For the first time, this Amazon Fire HD 10 model comes as part of a so-called Productivity Bundle. For £257 – or £210 when it’s on offer – you get the tablet, a keyboard and a year’s free subscription to Microsoft 365. With this bundle, Amazon is attempting to pitch the Fire HD 10 as a laptop alternative. Or at least a way to work remotely. Up till now, Amazon has always positioned its Fire range as perfect for entertainment but, given the changes brought on by COVID-19, it is seemingly branching out.

Amazon has also launched this tablet with its Climate Friendly Pledge. This means it’s made from 28% post-consumer recycled plastics, 96% of this device’s packaging is made of wood-fibre-based materials from responsibly managed forests or recycled sources, and the product was designed for improved energy efficiency, earning the ENERGY STAR certification.

Buy the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2021):

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019), £94.99

Most affordable way to get a Full HD tablet

Amazon Fire HD 10 review

Pros:

  • Full HD display
  • Simple to set up and use
  • Multipurpose – a Fire tablet, Echo Show and Kindle

Cons:

  • Lacks wireless charging
  • Sluggish at times
  • No support for native Google apps – including Drive, YouTube and Gmail

Key features:

  • 10-inch Full HD tablet powered by Fire OS – Amazon’s take on Android
  • 32GB or 64GB of storage, both expandable to 512GB via microSD
  • 2GB RAM
  • 12 hour battery life
  • Alexa-built in, meaning this tablet can double up as an alternative to the Echo Show 10

Since the release of the 2021 model, the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) is no longer the brand’s flagship device. It’s still listed as having the same £149.99 RRP as its successor, but when the newer model went on sale, the previous generation was dropped in price to £94.99. It will be interesting to see if Amazon makes this a permanent price change.

Like its successor, Amazon’s Fire HD 10 ticks a lot of boxes in the hunt for the best budget tablet. It’s an affordable way to get a large, Full HD tablet with a wealth of content available at your fingertips. Switching between standard and Show Mode turns this tablet from a Fire device into an Echo Show, plus the sharp screen lends itself well to using the Fire HD 10 as a Kindle.

It doesn’t come with the Google Play Store, which means that you can’t access any standalone Google apps. It also runs on Amazon’s equivalent to Android, called Fire OS. Both are lacking in comparison to pure Android devices, as well as Android tablets with skins on top, and this situation is made worse by the sluggish performance of this older Amazon Fire HD 10.

The Fire HD 10 has enough power to do a range of tasks and the addition of Show Mode increases its versatility and appeal. All without charging a fortune for the privilege. What’s more, with the release of the newer model and the price of this version dropping substantially, it makes its flaws a little easier to bear.

Read our full Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) review.

Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus, £109.99   

Best budget tablet with wireless charging

Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus homescreen

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Wireless charging
  • Decent battery life

Cons:

  • Average display
  • Basic, plasticky design
  • Sluggish at times
  • No Google apps – including Google Drive and Google Docs

Key features:

  • 8-inch HD tablet powered by Amazon’s take on Android – Fire OS
  • Wireless charging (charger sold separately)
  • Built-in Alexa voice controls
  • Doubles up as an Echo Show in Show Mode
  • Up to 12 hours battery life

Few tablet manufacturers make 7- and 8-inch tablets anymore, likely because smartphones have increased in size so much that it almost makes these devices feel moot. Not Amazon, though. Ploughing ahead with its “tablets for all” marketing strategy, it is still very much committed to its Fire 7 and HD 8 range of devices and the best of the bunch is the Fire HD 8 Plus. So much so, the Fire HD 8 Plus was the first tablet in the entire history of the range to get wireless charging.

During our review period, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus was the only tablet we tested that exceeded the battery life promised by its manufacturer – lasting 17 minutes longer than its promised 12 hours. This may be due to the fact the screen is somewhat lacking though, with a resolution that sits lower than Full HD and only just qualifies as the higher definition generally.

Like its larger 10-inch siblings, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is a great way to watch shows and read books on the go, in the bath or just lounging around the house. It also works as an Echo Show, when in Show Mode, as well as a Kindle e-reader. The latter is particularly well suited to the smaller display with its lower-quality resolution.

As with the wider Amazon Fire range, the Fire HD 8 Plus isn’t a looker. It’s made from plastic and feels cheap, and this impression is exacerbated by the fact the performance is so sluggish at times. This is the main compromise you make with the Fire HD 8 Plus. For all of its hardware pros, it has a number of software cons, including the lack of Google app support. At this price, there had to be a catch.

If you’re looking for a versatile tablet that won’t break the bank, you’ve found it. You just need to make a few sacrifices along the way.

You can read more in our Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus vs Amazon Fire HD 10 guide.

Read our full Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus review.

Buy the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus:

How we tested budget tablets

We tested the best budget tablets in the same way we tested more expensive models.

Each model was marked out of 10 for its spec and how well it performed. Criteria included:

  • Display resolution
  • Price
  • Built-in storage options
  • Cameras
  • Size
  • Weight
  • Set-up
  • Ease of use
  • Speed/performance
  • Design, including how well-balanced the tablet feels
  • Sound quality
  • Any additional features or accessories

From this, the tablets each achieved an overall score out of a total of 120.

To determine the scores for the more subjective categories (ease of use, how fast each tablet is, how comfortable they are to hold etc) we carried out a number of tests.

We timed how long it took to set up each tablet out of the box – from signing in, to syncing account content (where relevant) and downloading popular apps including Netflix, TikTok and Facebook (if not already pre-installed).

We performed a video streaming test, during which we play a Full HD video on a loop at 70% brightness over Wi-Fi. We timed how long it takes each tablet to go from full charge to flat.

We used the tablet as we normally would for five days, from browsing the web to playing SimCity, watching TikTok videos, streaming Disney+ in the car for our children, and video calls with our parents. Over this five-day period, we recorded how long it took the battery to go from full to flat. The average time set the battery life benchmark for each device.

During this period, we were also constantly assessing how easy each tablet was to use, how impressive the display was during different tasks and if the tablet could be used for work as well as entertainment.

Finally, our toddler was let loose with the tablets to determine how easy each one was to use for children, as well as how robust it was in little, clumsy hands. If a stylus was available we used this to control the screen, as did the toddler.

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For more buying guides, read our best Android tablet round-up.