This page is now very out of date. Please do not rely on it. The Android tablet market has changed dramatically in the past couple of years.
Last updated: September 24, 2012.
For those of you asking about the cheap Android tablets; I bought mine through AliExpress directly from a seller in China, but communication was limited and it took almost a month to arrive. So that you don’t have to deal with the same situation, I’ll be posting links to PandaWill, a well-known and established online vendor. They’re slightly more expensive, but worth it. I have no connection to any of the vendors linked here other than as a satisfied customer, and I don’t get any referral fees or kickbacks.
You want something with an Allwinner A10 or A13 CPU (although there are some nice RockChip-based units coming along) and at least 512M of RAM.
Keep in mind that you’re *not* going to get something the quality of a Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or an iPad – but these are great alternatives if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, are worried about kid damage, etc.
You want a *capacitive* screen (NOT resistive). Resistive is the “old-style” touch screen like on GPS units and so forth.
I would also not buy anything at this point that has a version of Android older than 4.0 loaded on it; upgrades for these may never be available.
Here’s some examples:
One step up in quality and resolution (but still not quite as nice as a Nexus 7), for $120:
Ainol Novo 7 Crystal 8GB Android 4.1 Tablet PC MVA HD Screen 7 Inch 1GB RAM Camera White
I have also bought phones and tablets from Merimobiles.
I personally prefer them over Pandawill but they don’t have as varied a selection and the prices are higher.
Avoid the Ainol Paladin; it’s MIPS-based and not a lot of apps will run on it. The ARM-based Ainols are good though (I have an Elf II).
Here’s the $53 tablet on AliExpress for those of you who asked:
NEW 7 inch android 4.0 Capacitive Screen 512M 4GB Camera WIFI allwinner a13 tablet pc
I bought a Matrix One tablet a couple of months ago when they were $90 (now $59), but the $53 tablet directly above is better quality.
Other places I have bought phones (MTK65xx-based) from, but not tablets:
For those of you looking for a slightly higher price bracket, try: