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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

In the Kindle Fire HDX, the Home, Back, and Add to Home Screen buttons almost always display onscreen (you have to tap the screen to see them when reading books or watching movies). But settings are hidden and you have to swipe from the top of the screen to see your settings options. The Kindle Fire HDX's UI can take some time to get used to, mainly because it's so different from the approach in iOS and Android. But it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. And the much-touted Mayday feature, where you get a live video chat with a real person, works quite well, though you have to dig around to find it. The Kindle Fire HDX's only real flaw is its hard sell of Amazon's content and app stores, which are frequently front and center in apps.

The Venue 8 Pro is the least usable of the media tablets reviewed here. The fault lies mainly with Windows 8, which scrunches Windows 7 apps too much to be read or navigated, and whose Windows Store aka Metro apps are of uneven quality. The mixing of the two user interfaces, coupled with silly differences (such as the Windows Desktop's onscreen keyboard needing to be manually displayed and hidden while Metro's keyboard opens and closes automatically), makes for a difficult experience. The Venue 8 Pro's unresponsive touchscreen adds insult to injury.

The usability winner. iOS has long balanced ease-of-use with capable applications. Although some aspects of iOS are harder than they need to be, such as switching to airplane mode, overall the iPad Mini is the most usable media tablet. Thanks to its larger screen, the device is even easier to handle. However, the Nexus 7's front-and-center approach to media apps offers much more straightforward access as a media tablet out of the gate. The Note 8.0 is a bit more complex to use than the Nexus 7, but not in a bad way. The Venue 7 is a straightforward if vanilla Android tablet. The Kindle Fire HDX is the simplest to handle, but it overly locks users into its stores, making it less flexible than other tablets.

I mentioned previously that all the media tablets here have high-quality displays and good to very good built-in speakers. All have front cameras, and all but the Kindle Fire HDX have rear cameras. None felt poky, as some had in earlier incarnations. All support 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. Fully charged, all the media tablets ran for at least eight hours on battery power — often several hours more, with moderate use. The Kindle Fire HDX, Galaxy Note 8.0, Venue 8 Pro, and iPad Mini have a standby life of several days, whereas the Nexus 7 and Venue 7 last a couple of days.


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