I’m here to tell you that cheap tablets are good. I’m not here to tell you that they are the future of computing or will replace your laptop for getting work done. But I will tell you they are great entertainment devices.
The best way to experience a cheap tablet is to just install the apps you use for entertainment and relaxation: Kindle, Hulu, Prime Video, HBO Max, Pocket, whatever your vice of choice is. Don’t install or set up things like Twitter, Slack, The New York Times app, email, or anything that’s going to take away from leisure time and suck you into work or the dreaded doomscroll. This is a tablet you buy to watch video and read things, not to try to replace your laptop.
I’ve been testing Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A7 for the past few months and found that it is an excellent example of a cheap tablet. At $229.99 (and often available for less), it’s much more affordable than an entry-level iPad, but it works just as well for watching video and reading books and articles. I’m not one to go around recommending Android tablets — an iPad is objectively better in almost every scenario — but the Tab A7 is surprisingly competent and priced right for its tertiary device status.
The bar for a tablet that is destined to be just a personal entertainment device is actually quite low. It needs an engaging screen with enough resolution so you won’t see individual pixels at a comfortable distance, speakers that aren’t muffled or crackly sounding, and battery life that will let you get through a few movies between charges since you likely won’t be plugging this thing in after every time you use it. It should also be thin and relatively light so you can hold it for long periods without getting tired.
The Tab A7 exceeds all of those metrics. The 10.4-inch 1080p screen is vibrant and colorful, the battery easily goes for 10 hours or more of video, and the quad-speaker system sounds tremendous. It’s surprisingly thin, with a metal chassis that feels stiffer and nicer than the plastic-clad Amazon Fire tablets. There’s just enough bezel around the screen so I can comfortably handle it without worrying about errant touches, and it’s light enough so I can even hold it in one hand for reading. It even has a 3.5mm headphone jack for when you don’t want to disturb anyone else while watching the seventh episode of The Boys in a row.
Where the Tab A7 comes short won’t be a surprise, but none of its faults stop it from being a good entertainment device. Its low-midrange Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor and 3GB of RAM make it far from the fastest or snappiest device around — but that doesn’t matter when you’re using the video or ebook app of your choice. Its cameras suck, but on the other hand, if you do use it for a Zoom call, it’s way less awkward than an iPad, thanks to the correct placement of the front camera.
Android doesn’t have nearly the breadth or depth of apps as the iPad, but it has all of the major streaming video services (save for Apple TV Plus) and all of the book-reading apps you could want. There’s only 32GB of storage in the base model, but it supports microSD card expansion, so it’s easy to add more. Finally, Tab A7 lacks any sort of fingerprint scanner or biometrics login, but since I just use it at home and don’t have any sensitive or work data on it, I’m comfortable disabling the secure screen lock to make it easier to get to binge-watching.
Samsung isn’t pushing any productivity features here: it doesn’t come with a stylus, there’s no keyboard case available for it, and it doesn’t have Samsung’s DeX desktop software mode. It doesn’t even have Samsung’s dumber-than-average Bixby voice assistant. (The Google Assistant is available and works just like on any other device.) Instead of spending time and resources developing features most people won’t use, Samsung focused on what matters here: putting the best speakers and perhaps the best display you can get in a tablet at this price point.
And really, that’s all you could want from a tablet like this. It needs to look good, it needs to sound good, and it needs to have the apps with the content you want. The Tab A7 checks all of those boxes and no more.
It’s the best anti-doomscrolling gadget you can get this year.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge