If you’ve been following our website lately, chances are you’ve already purchased a tab… or ten. You’re only human after all, and probably couldn’t resist the temptation of a stellar bargain, the best 7 inch+ gamers around, the 2015 endurance champions or ultra-high-res media streamers.
But there’s one market segment we haven’t tackled in a while. And even back when we did, in October 2014, the budget was restricted, so technically, you never got a list of the top 4G LTE-enabled Android pads. Just the finest low-cost soldiers.
Now, it goes without saying not everyone can afford to cough up $600 or $700 for a high-speed, always connected laptop replacement. Nor does everybody want to pay that much with the large-screen Google “ecosystem” deeply flawed and app support lowly at best.
So, instead of narrowing our search to a predefined price range, we’ve decided to bring together the low-enders and high-enders, the budget contenders and no-nonsense flagships. Here they all are, with advanced connectivity options their sole feature in common:
- Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 – starting at $650 for Verizon
- Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet – $500 and $650 respectively on and off-contract at Verizon
- Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 – $500 and up with Verizon
- Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 – $529 and up for AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon
- Google/HTC Nexus 9 – $469 unlocked with 32 GB storage
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 – starting at $380 for AT&T; $350 GSM unlocked
- LG G Pad 10.1 – $150 with Verizon pacts; $380 sans obligations
- LG G Pad 8.3 – $130 on-contract at Verizon; $350 outright
- Verizon Ellipsis 8 – $49.99 on-contract, $299.99 off
- LG G Pad 7.0 – $150 GSM unlocked; $100 with AT&T contracts
Going after Microsoft Surface Pros and Apple iPad Airs with comparable price tags never felt like Sammy’s smartest strategic move. And indeed, the Note Pro is a decidedly nichey product, which could never appeal to the masses.
But boy, is it colossal, literally and figuratively, with a 2,560 x 1,600 pix res 12.2-inch screen in tow, S Pen functionality, Snapdragon 800 muscle, 3 GB RAM and 9,500 mAh battery juice. Just think of how sharp the high-def YouTube vids will play on the move.
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet – $500 and $650 respectively on and off-contract at Verizon
The name may send an old-fashioned vibe, yet the 10.1-inch Z2 is very much “contemporary”, what with its 1,920 x 1,200 display, S801 chip, Android 5.0 Lollipop software, 3 GB RAM and 8.1 MP rear camera.
Plus, for a large 10 incher, it’s extremely easy to transport, thanks to a 6.4 mm waist and 439-gram “heft”, not to mention it’s dust and water-resistant, ergo ready for whatever nature throws at it.
Oh, come on, another Verizon exclusive? Technically, no, but Big Red does cut you the best Tab S deal at the moment, and Amazon always endorses steals. Well, steal might be a bit of a stretch, at five full Benjamins.
Let’s call the bang for buck factor… adequate. Enticing. Almost unrefusable if you’re in the market for a super-slim 10 incher with fingerprint recognition, LTE speeds, Snapdragon 800 SoC, 3 GB RAM, 7,900 mAh cell capacity… and only 16 GB internal storage.
Finally, something you can activate on your network of choice. As long as it’s not Sprint. Too bad the HDX is a little steep for what it offers – forked Android (an archaic iteration, no less), 2 gigs of RAM, bland design, somewhat awkward albeit ultra-sharp screen, and “sponsored screensavers” to begin with.
Luckily, $15 rids you of pesky ads, and $50 bumps up the storage from 32 to 64 GB. Remember, there’s no microSD card slot.
Ah, a purist’s wet dream, now at an all-time low tariff. What can be sweeter than that? Perhaps a smidge of extra battery serum or CDMA carrier compatibility, but beggars tablet buyers on a tight budget can’t be choosers.
How is this any different from the Tab S, you wonder? Well, actually, their specs couldn’t be further apart. The Tab 4 is almost ridiculously low-end, and ultimately, it’s not worth the $350 and up Amazon charges for it. With or without operator agreements.
Yes, it’s compact, fairly handsome (in a non-standout way), and equipped with 1.5 GB RAM, which isn’t that bad. But the 1,280 x 800 panel is pretty crappy, and the same goes for the quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU, 6,800 mAh ticker and especially 3.15/1.3 MP cams.
All in all not much better than the 10.1-inch Tab 4, the G Pad 10.1 is at least cheaper on-contract. And it’s upgradeable to Lollipop, slightly prettier, courtesy of narrower bezels, plus longer-lasting, with an 8,000 mAh pacemaker. And in case you’re one of those weirdos that takes photos with a big-ass slate, there’s a respectable 5 MP autofocus shooter around the back.
Sometimes, it pays to wait. And oftentimes, smaller and cheaper doesn’t equal weaker and lower-end. Case in point, the almost two year-old 8.3 incher under the microscope here, which features 1,920 x 1,200 screen resolution, Snapdragon 600 power and 2 GB memory in addition to LTE capabilities. At $130, that’s a positively dreamy inventory of hardware components.
Oh, and as far as software goes, Android 5.0 is reportedly nigh.
We’ll give it to you straight, as usual. If you can do better, ignore the Ellipsis. Don’t buy it outright either, it’s a waste of money. The only wise ploy would be to score it at 50 clams, even if that means pledging a two-year allegiance to the Big Red flag.
Not quite a disaster, the inexpensive 8 incher is probably stuck on KitKat for good, and it provides a lousy gig of RAM. Translation – it’s slow as hell, and opening more than a couple of browser tabs while on 4G may freeze the system instantaneously.
It’s petite, it’s good-looking (all things considered), soon-to-run-Lollipop, quad-core, can work as a universal remote for TVs, sound systems, DVD or Blu-ray players, and “optimized” to last up to 10 hours between charges.
Of course, it’s not high-res (1,280 x 800 pixels), a multitasking beast (1 GB RAM), or photography champ (3.15 and 1.3 megapixels). But it’ll do if $100 is all you have lying around.