As Amazon and Barnes & Noble Slash Prices, the Cheap Tablet Wars Are Getting Interesting Again

Mother's Day deals from Amazon and Barnes & Noble do look enticing, but they don't represent your last chance to score a decent tablet for cheap. Hang tight; the next few months should be a lot of fun to watch.

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Barnes & Noble, Amazon

The battle for cheap tablet supremacy usually flares up only once a year. As the Christmas shopping season rolls around, we often see new tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and low-cost slates from other companies trying to keep up.

But if you’re getting interested in picking up a budget tablet just now, the middle of the year is looking pretty good.

Right now, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are both offering discounts on their respective Kindle Fire and Nook tablets, in honor of Mother’s Day:

  • 7-inch Nook HD: $149 for 8 GB, $179 for 16 GB ($50 discount)
  • 8.9-inch Nook HD+: $179 for 16 GB, $209 for 32 GB ($90 discount)
  • 7-inch Kindle Fire HD: $179 for 16 GB with FIRE4MOM coupon code ($20 discount)

Granted, these price drops are temporary, but in the past both companies have foreshadowed permanent price cuts with these kinds of promotions. Amazon, for instance, slashed prices on the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD last March, just a month after offering discounts for Valentine’s Day. Although the company has yet make a permanent price cut to its 7-inch tablet, I’ll be surprised if its not coming soon, given the lower price of Barnes & Noble’s Nook (with its newfound Google Play support).

Other hardware makers are figuring out how to play the cheap tablet game as well. Acer just announced the the Iconia A1 for $169. It’s an Android tablet with the same screen resolution and aspect ratio as Apple’s iPad Mini, but for half the price. HP just launched its own cheap Android tablet, the Slate 7, also for $169.

Analyst Ross Rubin put it succinctly on Twitter last week:

That’s not all. Next week, Google is holding a developer conference in San Francisco, where the company will likely announce a follow-up to its Nexus 7 tablet. Will Google stick with a $200 price tag? Maybe, but odds are that the company will drop the price on the current model, or offer a cheaper version to compete with the wave of sub-$200 tablets.

In the past, sub-$200 tablets were usually bad news, with weak processors, outdated software and unresponsive touchscreens — and they often came from unrecognizable brands. But mobile hardware has improved to the point that even a $170 tablet can offer smooth web browsing, reading, gaming and video playback. Android, for that matter, has become a much slicker operating system, so although you won’t get the same app selection as an iPad, you can get a perfectly good media tablet for cheap.

The iPad is still going to be the premium brand that outsells any other individual tablet. The rest of the competition will be all about price and standout features. That’s why Barnes & Noble is injecting Google Play, why Amazon has Prime and FreeTime, why HP is banking on wireless printing and Beats Audio, and why Acer designed its tablet to have iPad-like proportions while its competitors are all going widescreen. Everyone wants to offer something different beyond raw tech specs and low prices.

The current Mother’s Day deals from Amazon and Barnes & Noble do look enticing, but they don’t represent your last chance to score a decent tablet for cheap. Hang tight; the next few months should be a lot of fun to watch.