Stacking up on LTE-enabled gear for the cold season and would love to have something left in your bank accounts at the end of the holiday shopping season? Don’t want to make the choice between a spanking new Android tablet and food, as you’re afraid you’ll die of starvation playing Temple Run 2?
Then maybe the wise call would be settling just for a fresh LTE smartphone. But if you listen to our recommendations, it’s virtually impossible to go broke simply from spending, say, $200 on a Moto G 4G.
So if the piggybank isn’t completely empty, we give you the seven best, cheapest LTE-capable Android slates available in the States. We’ll get to the names and ranking in a minute, but before, let’s list our selection criteria to avoid discussions and general complaints:
- Affordability – since carrier subsidies are minuscule compared to on-contract discounts for smartphones, and solid sub-$200 no-contract tabs are as easy to find as unicorns, we’ve raised the pricing bar a little. Not a lot though, so anything costing north of $350 sans pacts is a no-go.
- Wide US availability – network backing from at least one of the “big four” is a must for obvious reasons, and Amazon is as always our online retailer of choice.
- Quality-price ratio – it’s not enough for a slate to be affordable to make our listicle. It has to offer bang for buck. Likewise, we’re always willing to recommend spending a little extra in exchange of excellence.
And now let’s get to it:
7. Verizon Ellipsis 7 – $0.01 with service agreements, $249.99 without contract
The prospect of accessing Big Red’s high-speed 4G connectivity options on a 7-inch screen for just one penny is probably irresistible for most budget tech consumers. Yet you may want to think this through before doing something you’ll end up regretting.
Yes, we’ve certainly seen worse. But why be so skimpy when, you’ll see, $100 buys a lot more? A whole lot more than this ultra-bezel-y, fugly, low-res, laggy gizmo. Okay, maybe we’re pushing it to prove a point. Yet there’s a reason the Ellipsis finished this in last place. Make that several: Android 4.2, 10 mm profile, 4,000 mAh battery, 3 MP rear camera with no flash or autofocus.
6. Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 – $244.77 outright with Sprint-friendly LTE
Even though we’re dealing with a prettier, lighter, more reliable Samsung than the no-name Ellipsis, we’ll be just as brutally honest and admit the Tab 3 7.0 also made the list thanks squarely to its low, low price.
Technically, lower than the no-contract retail costs of the Ellipsis, though by very, very little. In the hardware department, we’re actually looking at a worse slab, packed with a sluggish dual-core chip and also towing a modest 4,000 mAh juicer. Meanwhile, the 7-inch screen is horrible, at 1,024 x 600 pixels resolution and 170 ppi.
So yeah, it’s an option, but only if you can’t afford something better.
5. Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 – $299.99 with no contracts for Sprint
Something better, like Tab 3 7.0’s 2014 follow-up, erm, spin-off. This thing isn’t drastically improved by no means, but it’s only $50 or so pricier and it at least increases RAM by 50 percent (1.5 gigs now), and ups the screen res ante to 1,280 x 800.
Oh, yeah, and you get quad-core punch now, plus an even slimmer figure, with no impact whatsoever on battery life. Bottom line, we’re still a long way from perfection, but we’re clearly progressing.
4. Amazon Kindle Fire HDX – $279 for AT&T or Verizon with “special offers” and no contractual obligations
We’re no extreme Android purists, so we can certainly appreciate the benefits of a nice, smooth, non-intrusive custom-made UI, but what Amazon does to Android isn’t customization or skinning. It’s altering it from the roots, and we don’t like that one bit.
Which is a terrible shame, I tell you, because from a technical standpoint, the Fire HDX is a whopper. That display may be small, but it’s packed with pixels (1,920 x 1,200 resulting in top-level 323 ppi), then you have a fast and furious quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2 generous GB of RAM and a battery supposedly capable of lasting hours and hours of “mixed use”.
Yes, the microSD card slot absence is a major flaw, but slap an actual flavor of Android on this baby, offer freedom of choice between Google Play and Amazon Appstore and we’d have no problem in promoting the Fire HDX to the podium. Maybe the top spot.
3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 – $200 with Verizon pacts, $340 outright
Sad to see the Fire HDX miss bronze by a whisker? You’re about to get sadder. Aside from running a copy of Android KitKat that, you know, looks like Android, and allowing Big Red customers to get a discount in exchange of a 24-month commitment, the Tab 4 8.0 has nothing on Amazon’s OG 7 incher. Nada.
Well, size, yeah, and also expandable storage, but what about the positively lackluster 1,280 x 800 panel? The snail-like 1.2 GHz quad-core SoC? The 1.5 GB RAM? Ugh, how we hate encouraging mediocrity.
2. Google Nexus 7 2013 – $250 and $350 on Verizon, $404 in flavor compatible with other networks
Wait, the legendary second-generation vanilla Android-powered Nexus 7 has had its budget crown dispossessed? Sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Yes, it’s the end of an era, and in part, you can blame the limited inventory most retailers seem to retain these days.
Clearly, N7 2013’s days are numbered, but at least its legacy will be carried on with pride by a larger, somewhat similar albeit not stock Android-running tablet. Before paying our respects to the new champion though, let’s underline the 7-inch “new” Nexus is a deserving silver medalist.
Sure, it lost some of its charm, its je ne sais quoi, yet the 1,920 x 1,200 pix res display remains a monster, and so does the quad-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro chip. And remember, Android L will swing by the Nexus line first and foremost.
1. LG G Pad 8.3 – $99.99 with Verizon contracts; $299.99 outright
Would you look at that, the G Pad 8.3 can be had for as little as one measly Benjamin, yet its spec sheet includes top-level stuff like a comfortably large, slim-bezeled, high-resolution 1,920 x 1,200 IPS screen, punchy quad-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600 CPU and 2 GB RAM.
Not to forget the beefy 4,600 mAh battery, the incredibly slim (all things considered) 8.3 mm profile, microSD support, 5 MP rear camera and, starting a couple of months back, Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
It’s the near-flawless blend of affordability, raw power, great looks, portability and productivity and, best of all, it works both on Wi-Fi and 4G LTE on America’s biggest service provider. Your tough decision has become a no-brainer all of a sudden, eh?