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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

Messaging. If you're under a certain age, you text more than you email — but standard SMS messaging is not supported on tablets. On an iPad Mini or any iPad, you can use Apple's iMessage service to message other iOS and OS X users. If you don't want to restrict yourself to people using Apple hardware, you can install a variety of messaging apps on the iPad Mini such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Hangouts, and Yahoo Messenger, or you can message across multiple services using an app like Whatsapp or IM+ Pro.

The same options are available for Android devices such as the Nexus 7, Note 8.0, and Venue 7. Among these, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, and a version of IM+ Pro called IM+ All in One are available for the Kindle Fire HD. The Venue 8 Pro uses Skype as its messaging client, so you can message Skype users on pretty much any platform and older-version Windows users that have Messenger enabled. You can also install IM+ Pro. Yahoo Messenger and AIM are available as Windows 7 apps, which makes them unusable on the Venue 8 Pro's small screen, and Google Hangouts is available only if you run the Chrome browser in Windows.

Apple's FaceTime is an easy-to-use video-calling service, but it too is restricted to iOS and OS X devices. For cross-platform video chats, you'll want to use Skype, which all the tablets reviewed here support.

The Web and Internet winner. When it comes to their online capabilities, the iOS and Android tablets are essentially tied, with strengths and weaknesses essentially canceling each other out. The Kindle Fire HDX isn't as good a Web device as the others, but it's quite sufficient for the kind of browsing you would expect to do on a media tablet, such as visiting news and gossip sites, shopping online, and banking. The Venue 8 Pro is a mixed bag, mainly because its browsers are awkward to use and HTML5 support is limited.

You don't get a media tablet to do work. But as more and more workers find themselves on perpetual call, your media tablet should provide at least first-level capabilities such as the ability to do work email and view documents in common formats. It's even better if you can use such devices to work on projects without having to find a computer somewhere. (All the tablets reviewed here support optional Bluetooth keyboards for when you want to do extensive text entry.)

An iPad Mini, because it's an iPad, has great support for Microsoft Exchange, in addition to IMAP and POP servers. If your company supports iPad access to corporate resources, your iPad Mini becomes just another iPad for both your company and you, giving you the most security of any mobile OS, as well as the greatest selection of effective mobile productivity apps. If you hadn't installed those apps on your iPad Mini, you can download them from the App Store at no charge if previously purchased for a work iPad. The only real difficulty you might face is dealing with the smaller screen and smaller keyboard for text-intensive work.


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