VTech says the InnoTab Max is recommended for 3- to 9-year-olds, but I can't imagine a child of any age who would want it. It features a 7-inch touch screen and some decent content, including a well-locked-down web browser. But its sluggish performance will have your kids whining. The screen quality is poor, the battery life endurance short and the camera terrible. For $125, I expect a whole lot more from a tablet, no matter whom it's for.
The VTech InnoTab Max definitely looks kid-friendly, but it also looks and feels cheap. The 7-inch touch screen is surrounded by a white and blue or pink bezel. Buttons, all of which require too much pressure to activate, line three sides. A home and back button sit to the top right. Along the top edge, to the right of the swiveling 2-MP camera, are the home and volume buttons. A three-lined hamburger menu button, a question mark and a directional pad sit on the left side of the display.
The tablet features a lid on a hinge that covers the screen for protection, but you can't remove it. When it is flipped open, however, you can use the hinged cover to prop the tablet up into a 2-in-1 style tent mode. But, unless you're on a really grippy surface, the cover will eventually slide flat, despite the rubber edges on both the lid and the body.
On the backside you'll find a funny half circle that flips out to serve as a handle for little hands. To the right of the rear, there's a slot for the attached, chunky stylus with a fat tip. Along the bottom edge is a cartridge slot that may make you nostalgic for the days of the Nintendo 64. The tablet only comes with one game cartridge (I Spy Adventure), and one that only previews some other content you can purchase. Additional cartridges run between $15 and $20.
The ports line the right edge. The mini-HDMI, microSD and micro USB ports all hide beneath rubbery covers, but considering the messes kids get into that's likely a good thing. The headphone jack is not covered.
The whole package measures 9 x 5.8 x 1.14 inches and weighs a hefty 2.1 pounds. The lighter and thinner Amazon Fire Kids Edition measures 8.6 x 5.4 x 1 inches and weighs 0.89 pounds. Plus, the latter feels better constructed. VTech makes no claims about the durability of this tablet, but neither does Amazon when it comes to the Fire Kids tablet. But at least Amazon's comes with a two-year, no-questions-asked guarantee that covers accidental damage.
Display and Audio
The 7-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel display looked fuzzy and flat when viewing content. When I watched a promo video for the Go Go Smart Wheels cartridge, the edges of pieces of paper appeared jagged. When I played My Magic Beanstalk, the greens were so washed out they looked yellow.
When we measured the VTech InnoTab Max with our colorimeter, we recorded a pretty terrible level of color accuracy (12.95, when 0 is perfect). It also showed a tiny color gamut range of 42.3 percent, where 100 percent is better. The Fire Kids tablet, which features the same resolution display, is more accurate (1.4) and shows a wider range of colors (69 percent).
The speaker quality that comes from the tiny spot on the bottom left side of the back of the tablet is nothing to write home about. At full volume, "Love is an Open Door" from Frozen couldn't come close to filling our small conference room with sound. Kristen Bell and Santino Fontana's voices lacked all nuance, sounding far away and almost muffled.
You'll want to invest in some good headphones if your little one gets this tablet, because if left unattended and on for long, a voice will prompt the user to open an app or continue playing whatever game or video was last on the screen. One can only hear "Click left or right to see your apps" or "How would you like to play a game? Touch an app to get started" so many times, particularly when it's only talking to you because it has sat idle for about 15 seconds. Then, if you do open an app, that voice announces every action you take, every button you push, and tells you what to do at every turn, which gets pretty annoying.
I clicked My Magic Beanstalk and the voice read the name of the game aloud. Then it said "Touch an icon to get started." It said Play when I touched that button. When I told the game to add magic potion to a branch, it told me to push the button under the potion bottle. And then it told me to touch the menu button to open the menu. It all seemed pretty pushy.
Interface and User Profiles
For parents, the VTech interface is fairly intuitive to navigate, if you completely ignore the physical buttons. The hamburger menu and directional pad rarely do anything. For instance, in the music app, on the playlists tab, if you click the hamburger you get a pop-up in the bottom right corner that lets you sort the lists on the page. But in the browser, camera and calculator, it doesn't do anything. The directional pad only works in the Movie Maker app -- nothing else that I have found. The question mark/help button only offers suggestions on what to do next in the kid's profile. The back button is really only useful in the browser.
But, if you're ready to use your fingers or a pudgy stylus, getting around is easy. From the home screen you simply drag a circle, which represents a profile, to the center white middle to open it. You can add up to four children's profiles to the VTech InnoTab Max. Plus there's the parental account and a guest account. Parents enter a name, picture, birth date and gender in each profile.
The blue-and-yellow home screen is dominated by 10 circle icons. The bottom of the screen has four buttons that appear on every home screen: Cartridge, Kid Connect, Learning Lodge and Downloads. The Cartridge button accesses whichever little gray box is currently plugged into that port. The last one shows you all the videos, games, books and music that has been downloaded to the tablet. And Learning Lodge is the company's store for digital downloads.
Kid Connect, the company's chat program for kids, is "temporarily unavailable due to server maintenance." The program went offline in November 2015 and has stayed that way because the company was hacked, and until VTech finds a way to lock down the program they are leaving it offline.
On the first home screen, there's an app for e-books, videos, music, games, photos and drawings. From here you can access the camera and browser as well. My Magic Beanstalk, a Farmville-like game that encourages in-app purchases and returning to play each day, is also here. The My Wishes app suggests apps that kids might like. If your child touches the star, it sends you a list of those apps Junior wants you to download on his behalf from Learning Lodge.
The second home screen stores the calculator, calendar, notes, clock and settings. It features a promo video of "new" features from V-Tech and a remarkably simple movie maker. I made a stop-motion video of selfies set to music and with a preset background that lasted just a few seconds.
Parents have a profile that includes name, email, city and state. In that section you can set time limits on how much your child can play with the tablet, and at what times of the day. But you can't restrict by day of the week or by type of content (e-books, videos, games), which you can in Amazon's Fire Kids tablet. You can prevent kids from deleting pictures or video.
The Browser controls are pretty impressive, showing a history of sites visited and when that site was opened. You can set time limits on the browser's usage, and add to the list of approved sites. Interestingly, when I opened the browser in the parent's account it warned me that V-Tech's own site is untrusted.
Learning Lodge and Apps
The InnoTab Max comes with seven games preloaded, as well as a sample e-book, video and song, none of which were popular or well-known. That pales in comparison to the year of free Amazon FreeTime content on the Fire Kids tablet, especially considering most VTech downloads cost $2.99 a pop.
The Learning Lodge has sections for learning apps, e-books, videos, music, bundles and stickers with more than 650 options. You will find a good amount of big names from Disney, Marvel, Scholastic and Viacom (Nickelodeon).
The learning apps can cost as much as $14.99 to download, but those are groups that will have many pieces. For instance, the Miles from Tomorrowland download comes with seven games, an e-book and a dictionary. Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited content dwarfs VTech's store size. But some may find the age range recommendations helpful.
Like many kid-friendly tablets, the VTech InnoTab Max features an especially restricted web browser. The main home screen is a list of 20 curated sites, 36 videos and 13 games, selected by VTech. Parents can add to this list and kids can favorite sites they like. The preselected sites come from such wholesome places as Animal Planet, NASA and National Geographic. The browser does not support Flash.
The Seussville videos were particularly fun due to their vintage quality. I just wish they filled the screen instead of living in a little box on the left of the screen. Also, I wish the games had age ranges on them. Cut the Rope can be challenging for me now, but The Hungry Games with Cookie Monster was a bit too simplistic, unless it's targeting the very young. It often took several taps to open a site, but that was more symptomatic of the entire tablet, not just in the browser.
VTech InnoTab Max's 2-MP camera, which sits atop the device in a rotating barrel, hasn't changed in a few years. It functions as both a front and a rear camera, thanks to its ability to rotate 180 degrees. A selfie of me looked blown out, splotchy and undefined. There are some funky photo effects you can add when taking a picture, such as squishing your face or adding a pirate eye patch, but you can't include them after the picture has been taken.
Talk about lag. The VTech InnoTab Max took 3 full seconds to open the kid's profile, 4 seconds to open the calculator, 3 seconds to return to the home screen and 8 seconds to open the graphically heavy My Magic Beanstalk. That's likely due to the underpowered 1.4-GHz dual core CPU inside. Regardless, it felt like I was going to turn old and gray before some apps opened, which caused me to click multiple times.
I had to click multiple times, because the display simply wasn't responsive. It often took several taps or button presses before anything would happen. It also didn't appear to matter if I was using my fingers or the attached stylus. I can't imagine a child with the patience to put up with the delays this tablet causes without throwing it out the window.
The InnoTab Mac with only 8GB of storage, but you can bump that up to 40GB if you add a microSD card. The Fire Kids tablet comes with 8GB too, but its microSD card slot can support up to 128GB.
Because the InnoTab Max is a closed system, we were unable to run our Laptop Mag Battery Test. VTech claims it should last more than 6 hours on a charge. That's 3 hours less than the tablet average, but on a par with the 6:42 minutes we recorded when testing the Fire Kids tablet. The tablet died after about 5 hours of solid use on my part.
Why would anyone want to spend $125 on the VTech InnoTab Max when they could have the $99 Amazon Fire Kids tablet? Maybe if they really dislike their children? I couldn't get past the awkward design, poor display, soft audio, confusing buttons, bad-quality camera, sluggish performance and short battery life. Plus, Amazon offers more content, better parental controls and a guaranteed replacement if your child breaks it.