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Media tablet showdown: Retina iPad Mini faces newly beefed-up challengers

Galen Gruman | Dec. 5, 2013
The Retina iPad Mini, Kindle Fire HDX, Nexus 7, Dell Venue 7 and Venue 8 Pro, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 go toe to toe in InfoWorld Test Center's review

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the then-new iPad Mini was the unquestioned top pick for a media tablet, thanks to its friendly iTunes software for managing your personal media and its superior hardware, which easily outperformed the corner-cutting componentry used by competitors to gain a price advantage.

This year, Apple has added the higher-quality — and higher-priced — iPad Mini with Retina Display to its lineup, and both Google and Amazon have significantly upped the hardware quality of their respective contenders, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX. Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0 also received a hardware face-lift earlier this year. Further, there are now several 8-inch Windows tablets that could act as a media tablet; I tested the Dell Venue 8 Pro here, as well as its smaller sibling, the Intel-based Venue 7 Android tablet.

Today, you can choose from a wide range of tablets to read books, listen to music, watch movies and other videos, casually surf the Web, keep up with social networks, and otherwise entertain yourself. Their sizes and shapes vary, as do their capabilities — I was surprised at how differently the various Android devices handled key features such as personal videos and video streaming, for example. Yet they all now have front and rear cameras. The media tablet is still very much a work in progress.

Here are the contenders: the Amazon.com Kindle Fire HDX, the Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display, the still-sold original iPad Mini, the Dell Venue 7 (which runs Android) and the Dell Venue 8 Pro (which runs Windows 8.1), the Asus-made Google Nexus 7, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. Read on to see how today's media tablets stack up.

A good media tablet is all about quality entertainment: music, videos, books, magazines, games, edutainment apps, information services, social networking, Web browsing, and messaging (chat and email). Of course, it needs to be lightweight and easy to carry in your hands, purse, or jacket — so much the better if it can be used to check on business in a pinch, such as when you're standing in line for the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland and your boss has a mini-crisis about one of your accounts.

The primary reason most people want a media tablet is, well, to access media over the Internet. But each media tablet also has its own method of transferring, storing, and organizing media files.

Getting media files onto your tablet. iTunes is Apple's not-so-secret weapon when it comes to media delivery on PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches. It's a media organizer for movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and books. It lets you buy music, videos, books, and all sorts of apps, as well as import your own music, videos, and books. It syncs your media content to all your devices and keeps your purchases consistent. It lets you create playlists. iTunes is the flexible central hub that simply has no rival on any competing device. You can also get files into your iPad Mini by opening the file in an email, from a cloud storage service, or via a transfer utility like GoodReader; when you open a file, the iPad will ask to launch a compatible app.

 

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