Best Cheap Laptops and Tablets

Because lots of families could use an extra screen or two right now

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Parents juggling Zoom call after Zoom call on a shared laptop. Children arguing over who gets to watch YouTube on the family iPad. Teens forced to take turns watching Netflix on the TV.

Having a spare screen (or two) has always been a good idea, but nowadays, with so many of us working from home and learning remotely, it’s practically a necessity.

And you don’t have to spend a fortune to get an extra laptop or tablet, because Apple, Lenovo, HP, and other well-known brands all produce dependable devices that make spending every . . . waking . . . hour at home slightly less difficult.

Are these the highest-rated devices in our ratings? Not quite—think of them more as workhorses than prized thoroughbreds—but they’ll serve you well in a pinch.

Tablets

Apple iPad
For performance and price, it's hard to beat the entry-level, 32GB iPad.

Typically sold for $330, it's on sale right now for $309, and has a bright 10.2-inch display with wide viewing angles and accurate colors. That means you can watch Netflix on the couch, propped up at just about any angle, without the screen washing out.

More on Laptops and Tablets

The front-facing camera shoots video in HD, making it ideal for video calls. And the tablet’s A10 Fusion chip is fast enough to handle not only basic web browsing and media consumption but also more processor-intensive tasks, such as 3D gaming.

Drawbacks? The six-hour battery life for web-browsing is on the low side for an iPad. And 32GB is not a lot of space for apps, so you have to be judicious when downloading games and things from Apple's well-stocked store.

Amazon Fire 7
At $50, Amazon’s 16GB Fire 7 tablet is a great option for the kids, because you can conceivably buy more than one. (As a matter of fact, Amazon used to sell the model in six packs.)

The 7-inch tablet lets you create profiles for individual users, tailoring home screens and app selection to each member of the family. (By contrast, Apple's iPad supports only one user profile.)

Even better, children's profiles can be restricted to age-appropriate content.

And the built-in microSD card reader is a handy, low-cost way to expand the device's storage capacity using memory cards.

Just keep in mind that the display quality is not as crisp as what you find on an iPad. The processing power is more limited, too. The same goes for Amazon's app store offerings.

But for basic media consumption, the Fire 7 works great. And, for $30 more, you can upgrade to the slightly larger Fire HD 8. We have yet to test the latest version of that model, but the 2018 edition scored very similar to the Fire 7 in our labs.

Chromebooks

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
Unlike a traditional laptop, Chromebooks rely heavily on web apps such as Gmail and Google Docs. This helps reduce the need for built-in storage and powerful processors because you’re effectively using a web browser for all your computing.

This lowers the price and, in many ways, makes them simpler to use. It’s no wonder they’re so popular in schools.

This model, typically available for less than $400 (though computer prices are sort of weird right now due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic), is a 2-in-1 detachable, which means you can physically separate the keyboard from the display and use the device more like a tablet.

The raw specs—a MediaTek processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of flash storage—are limited, but totally adequate for everyday laptop-y stuff like browsing the web and editing office documents.

The Chrome operating system is also compatible with the major streaming services, including not only Netflix and HBO Max, but also Nvidia's GeForce Now game streaming service. That doesn't make this a gaming laptop. It does, however, give you a few more diversions for elementary-school kids.

Laptops

HP 15
This 15.6-inch Windows notebook has the latest generation Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB solid-state drive. Those are modest specs, yes, but our testers say the computer is fast enough for things like email, browsing the web, and streaming video. The built-in webcam lets you join Zoom meetings, too.

Looking for a low-cost Mac? That's a much bigger challenge. You may have some luck, though, going the refurbished route.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).