Monday, July 22, 2024

One year later, Amazon still makes one of the best Android tablets you can get

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The front of the Amazon Kindle Fire Max 11 with the keyboard case.Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Amazon Fire Max 11 was one of my favorite Android tablets released in recent memory. It’s well-priced, portable, and has a good selection of accessories. With a bit of patience, you can add Google Play to make it more usable.

Contents

  • One issue straight away
  • How is the keyboard?
  • The Fire Max 11’s big caveat

A fair time has passed since I used it, though, so does it still hold up a year after I first fell in love?

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One issue straight away

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Going back into using the Fire Max 11, I immediately noticed one thing that made the tablet look and feel much older than it did even a year ago. The screen has a 60Hz refresh rate, and all but the very cheapest Android smartphones come with a higher refresh rate screen in 2024, whether it’s 90Hz, 120Hz, or even 144Hz. As such, going back to 60Hz is like stepping far back in time. It’s so noticeable when using Chrome or Amazon’s included Silk Browser, as text blurs out when you scroll up and down the screen. I accept if you’re coming from a 60Hz screen you won’t notice any difference, but once you’ve seen and used a higher refresh rate screen for just a short while, it’s very hard to go back.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Higher refresh rates are more comfortable to look at for any length of time, and in mid-2024, I’d consider it a must-have feature, making it a negative mark against the Fire Max 11. I did take issue with the old-style three-button Android control system that greeted me again when I returned to the Fire Max 11, as it took the old-timey feel given by the 60Hz refresh rate to the next level. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with the three keys: back, home, and recent apps, they’re just not as natural to use as gestures.

The great news is after applying various software updates Android gesture controls arrived, effectively removing one of the biggest downsides of the Fire Max 11’s aging version of Android. There’s nothing Amazon can do about the 60Hz refresh rate screen though, and it is now the main aspect that ages the Fire Max 11.

How is the keyboard?

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Putting aside the quirks of the Fire Max 11’s screen and software, the easily-fitted keyboard is a huge benefit, and it can turn the humble, media-driven Fire Max 11 into a basic work tablet. I’m typing on it right now, and it’s a pleasurable, surprisingly high-quality experience. The keys have just the right amount of travel, and I can type quickly straight away after coming from my Apple MacBook Air’s chiclet keyboard. Any quibbles I have with it have to do with my own layout preferences, such as the very clicky touchpad, which also isn’t very accurate, and the small Enter key.

However, it’s not ideal for lap use. While the keyboard has a solid base, it’s magnetically attached to the base of the Fire Max 11, which then props itself up with a foldout stand. It just about works on your lap, but it wobbles about quite a bit, and you need to stay in one position for it to work as a mini-laptop. Without the keyboard attached, the magnetic rear panel and its stand keep the tablet in an upright position to watch video, whether on your lap or on a desk.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Typing on the Fire Max 11’s keyboard when it’s on a desk or table is a far more comfortable and more stable experience. I’ve also found the Wi-Fi connectivity to be strong even at a considerable distance from my router, and the processor has more than enough power for everyday tasks and work. It’s best used at a desk, but the Fire Max 11’s ability to become a simple work companion has not diminished since last year.

The Fire Max 11’s big caveat

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The 60Hz screen and the slightly wobbly keyboard don’t really detract from the Fire Max 11’s value. At the time of writing, it’s $330 (with Amazon’s ads) for the tablet, keyboard, and stylus from Amazon, which is an excellent price for a do-it-all Android tablet companion. It’s designed for watching Amazon’s videos, reading Kindle books, and shopping in the store, and it’s very good at it all. It’ll play ordinary games without a problem, too. It’s no iPad Pro M4, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a cheap tablet, and it’s a good one.

That is, provided you can put up with Amazon’s version of Android that’s installed and the Amazon App Store. The software is old and rather unattractive, and the store is sparsely populated. There are ads throughout, and the Silk Browser isn’t a patch on Chrome or any other modern browser. It also looks and feels the same as it did this time last year, which isn’t good at all. To get the best from the Fire Max 11 you must install Google Play. Luckily, it’s pretty quick and easy, and it has allowed me to exploit this great little tablet to its fullest potential.

Without this, I wouldn’t find the Fire Max 11 as useful. It would still do most of its other duties quite well and is obviously excellent for Amazon’s services, but working is a pain without Google’s apps and the Play Store. This aside, it’s rare I can return to a device that’s a year old and not come up with multiple alternatives that would be a better purchase, but the Fire Max 11 still lives alongside the Apple iPad (10th Gen) as an easy recommendation for most people wanting a reasonably priced, general-use tablet.

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