Wednesday, July 24, 2024

I put two cheap Android tablets head-to-head. This is the one to buy

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The Amazon Fire Max 11 and Poco Pad in their keyboard cases.Amazon Fire Max 11 (left) and Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You’ve almost certainly heard of the Amazon Fire Max 11 but probably haven’t heard of the Poco Pad before — mostly because Poco does not sell its hardware in the U.S., but also because it hasn’t made a tablet before.

Contents

  • Introducing the Poco Pad
  • What about the Fire Max 11?
  • Screen and battery life
  • Working on the Poco Pad
  • Working on the Fire Max 11
  • What about living with the tablets?
  • Price and availability
  • Which one should you buy?Show 3 more items

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, multifunction Android tablet, the two have quite a lot in common. So, can the absolute newcomer take on the established champion of budget-friendly Android tablets that comes with a keyboard?

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Introducing the Poco Pad

Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I’ll come back to the Amazon Kindle Fire Max 11 in a while but I want to properly introduce Poco and the Poco Pad. Poco is part of the Xiaomi family and was once popular for selling one low-cost, surprisingly good smartphone. Since then, it has transformed into a brand and often targets young tech buyers with its flashy, affordable Android phones. The Poco Pad is its first tablet, and unexpectedly goes against its love of bright colors and funky designs.

Made of aluminum, the Poco Pad is a hefty beast at 571 grams and a whopping 1.02 kilograms with the keyboard case attached, but a modest 7.5mm thick, so it always feels comfortable to hold. The 12.1-inch LCD screen has a 2560-by-1600-pixel resolution, a 120Hz refresh rate, support for a stylus, and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 over the top. Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7s Gen 2 mobile chip with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage space, and microSD card support.

On the back is an 8MP camera, which is repeated on the front, where it’s set in the top bezel if you’re looking at the screen in landscape. The battery has a massive 10,000mAh capacity with 33W wired charging, and the software is Xiaomi’s HyperOS, which is based on Android 14. It’s the same software you find on Poco’s latest F6 and F6 Pro smartphones and the Xiaomi 14 Ultra, too.

What about the Fire Max 11?

Amazon Fire Max 11 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You can buy the Poco Pad with a keyboard case and a stylus, which is how I’ve been testing it. That means it’s the same package as a fully-specced Amazon Fire Max 11. Amazon’s re-imagined tablet came out in mid-2023 and I really liked it at the time, and have also enjoyed revisiting it in 2024, where I found it still has very few natural competitors. But when you check the Poco Pad’s price, you’ll find it is very similar.

The Fire Max 11 has an 11-inch LCD screen with a 2000-by-1200-pixel resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate, housed in a 490-gram metal body that is 7.5mm thick. The package with the keyboard case is lighter than the Poco Pad at 907 grams and much more compact, too. It happily fits in my crossbody bag and doesn’t feel as much like a mini laptop as the Poco Pad.

It has a MediaTek MT8188 processor with 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage space, plus a microSD card slot. Like the Poco Pad, it has a pair of 8MP cameras, again with the front camera in the top bezel in landscape orientation. Amazon doesn’t state the battery capacity and only offers 15W wired charging. The software is Amazon’s Fire OS, which is based on Android 11.

Screen and battery life

Poco Pad (left) and Amazon Fire Max 11 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Fire Max 11 is a great tablet for video, but the Poco Pad’s bigger, higher-resolution screen is a considerable temptation, even if it isn’t a desirable OLED. There’s no getting away from the Poco Pad’s superior resolution and higher brightness. Videos look excellent, and they expose the Fire Max 11’s shortcomings when the two are put alongside each other.

The Amazon tablet’s screen doesn’t look bad, but it isn’t quite as sharp or bright, just as you’d expect from the specification. However, I often found I prefered the tone and contrast levels on the Fire Max 11, which is more natural and not quite as washed out as the Poco Pad’s screen.

How about battery performance when you watch videos? Watching a 40-minute YouTube video played at maximum resolution, 1080p on the Fire Max 11 and 2160p on the Poco Pad, and at full brightness saw the Fire Max 11’s efficiency shine through. The Poco Pad used 12% of its battery while the Fire Max 11 used only 7%; its efficiency is assisted by its modest specification and lower-resolution playback. If you’re planning to use your new tablet for long periods of time without charging, the Fire Max 11 may suit you better.

Working on the Poco Pad

Amazon Fire Max 11 (left) and Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You can get the Poco Pad with a keyboard case, just like you can with the Fire Max 11. With Google Play installed on the Fire Max 11, it makes a friendly, convenient, but basic work machine. For the price, though, it’s surprisingly competent, provided you don’t want much more than Microsoft Office or Google’s tools to get things done. The Poco Pad looks much more like a laptop, so does it perform like one?

The Poco Keyboard is a complete case that clips onto the tablet and gives it a solid base for its keys. To prop up the screen, it magnetically clips to a slot on the flat keyboard section, holding itself at an angle. The keyboard uses Bluetooth to connect to the tablet and has to be set up manually, and there’s a physical on/off switch alongside a USB-C port, which charges the internal 210mAh battery. The Fire Max 11’s keyboard has a physical pogo pin connector linking it to the tablet.

Amazon Fire Max 11 (left) and Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

What you’re reading now is being typed on the Poco Keyboard, and the first thing you notice is how loud it is. There’s a distinct plasticky clatter and a hollowness to the action. It may look a bit like Apple’s Magic Keyboard, but it certainly doesn’t sound like one, although I can type normally and at the same speed I do on my chiclet keyboard of choice. The travel is just right, but there’s very little resistance. It suits me, but if you’re after a refined and expensive-feeling keyboard to go with your tablet, this is not it.

Outside in overcast daylight, there is a lot of reflection on the screen, but it’s still usable with brightness at maximum. However, the size of the screen is just right, and it’s a very similar experience to working on my MacBook Air rather than my iPad Pro. It’s convenient for me to use Google Docs to work, but it does need an internet connection to open and edit documents. The Poco Pad connected without a problem to my iPhone 15 Pro Max’s hotspot. All-in-all, the Poco Pad and Keyboard is a solid work partner, but the racket it makes when typing does nothing to hide its relative cheapness.

Working on the Fire Max 11

Poco Pad Keyboard Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Poco Pad with its Keyboard Case is much more laptop-like than the Fire Max 11, which does not sit stably on your lap due to its kickstand. The keyboard is far more pleasant to type on, though, preferably at a desk, with a quieter and more satisfying action. I can type on it at the same speed as the Poco Pad, and the accuracy is the same. There is one big difference between the two keyboards: the Fire Max 11 has a touchpad.

This isn’t quite the advantage you may think it is, as it’s quite small, the various gestures are hard to execute, and the button has a cheap, unpleasant clicky action when you press down to make a selection. I find it’s preferable to use a combination of the touchpad and the touchscreen, but skewed toward the screen. It’s definitely helpful, but I don’t consider it a reason to buy the Fire Max 11 over the Poco Pad.

Amazon Fire Max 11 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Visibility in shaded sunlight is good on both tablets, so it’s possible to work outside provided you’re not in direct sun, but there’s no denying the Poco Pad’s larger screen is desirable. It feels more grown-up than the smaller Fire Max 11, but the Amazon tablet and its textured magnetic case are more tactile and expensive-feeling. My work demands are quite low, and both tablets are able to handle them without a problem.

What about living with the tablets?

Amazon Fire Max 11 (left) and Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

There’s a very big difference between the two tablets we haven’t spoken about yet, and it’s the software. Amazon’s tablet uses its own Fire OS based on Android 11 with the Amazon App Store on board, while the Poco Pad has HyperOS based on Android 14 with the Google Play Store. Using the Fire Max 11 is a bit like stepping back in time compared to the very modern Poco Pad.

There are more apps available through the Google Play Store than there are in the Amazon App Store, making it easier to find what you want and to get work done on the Poco Pad. However, with some patience, you can install Google Play on the Fire Max 11 should you feel like attempting it. I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference in performance between the two, and both play regular games without a problem but aren’t designed for more graphically intensive games or long play sessions.

Amazon Fire Max 11 (left) and Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I like the Poco Pad’s face recognition, which the Fire Max 11 doesn’t have, and its 3.5mm headphone jack. The Poco Pad has quad speakers with Dolby Atmos support, plus a handy graphic equalizer feature hidden in the settings. The Fire Max 11 makes do with a pair of speakers, but they sound fuller and more pleasant than the Poco Pad’s tinny, harsh speakers at all volumes, even when you mess around with the equalizer.

What about the batteries? The Poco Pad’s massive battery will last longer, and Poco claims 16 hours of video playback on a single charge, while Amazon just states a more general 14 hours of use on a single charge. However, as discussed earlier, the Fire Max 11 is surprisingly efficient, and depending on what you’re doing, they may equal out to run for similar amounts of time. But it’s recharge time that really separates the two. It takes more than four hours to recharge the Fire Max 11’s battery using the included charger, which is awful by modern standards. The Poco Pad comes with a 33W charger, and with it, the battery reaches 50% charge in an hour, and a full charge takes about two hours. This is a major reason why you may choose the Poco Pad over the Fire Max 11.

Price and availability

The Poco Pad (top) and the Amazon Fire Max 11 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Amazon Fire Max 11 is the easiest of the two tablets to find and purchase. The tablet, keyboard, and stylus package from Amazon currently costs $330. Considering you have to pay at least that to get the 10th-generation Apple iPad alone, it’s great value. The Poco Pad is harder to source at the moment, but this should change as we move further from its initial release.

Right now, the Poco Pad can be purchased through resellers in China for $300, while the keyboard case is expected to cost $80 and the stylus $60. If you don’t want the stylus there isn’t much difference in price, and don’t forget the Poco Pad has a significantly greater specification than the Fire Max 11.

In typical Poco and Xiaomi fashion, the Redmi brand has its own interpretation of the Poco Pad in its range. It’s called the Redmi Pad Pro, and it costs 250 British pounds, or about $316. The keyboard is 90 pounds, or around $115. The specification appears to be the same as the Poco Pad. For comparison, in the U.K., the Fire Max 11 with the keyboard case starts at 340 pounds.

Which one should you buy?

Poco Pad Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

In order to get to a reasonable conclusion here, we need to leave aside the inherent problems with Android on tablets, which applies to both models. It’s simply not as well optimized and doesn’t have the same amount of tablet-ready apps as iOS does. I still think an Apple iPad, almost regardless of which one, will be a wiser long-term purchase than an Android tablet.

However, using the Poco Pad and the Amazon Fire Max 11 has been very interesting. The Fire Max 11 is a year old, but it still holds up really well, and although the software is out-of-date, it doesn’t hamper the tablet, especially if you want to watch videos and read books. There are no obvious performance drawbacks, the keyboard feels great to type on, and the sound is better than the Poco Pad’s, too. But the Poco Pad’s faster charging and potentially longer battery life is a big benefit, and makes the Fire Max 11 show its age more than any other aspect.

Amazon Fire Max 11 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Fire Max 11 is the one to buy here, though, especially if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, and it represents superb value for money. The Poco Pad with its keyboard case comes a very close second, but it trails because of it being harder to find, along with the cheap, touchpad-less keyboard and its substandard speakers. I’m not always convinced the screen is better, even if it is larger. While it’s a loss for the Poco Pad, it’s still great news for us because it’s a solid, recommended purchase, and the more reasonably priced Android tablets with a keyboard case actually exist, the better it is for all of us.

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