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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

iPad Mini with Retina Display. The priciest media tablet is also the most souped-up model. It boasts the fastest processor and graphics, a usefully larger screen, and a rear camera that can take good-quality photos and videos. These make a real difference for gaming, video playback, and photography. Note, however, that the iPad Mini lacks a flash, like all its competitors.

The iPad Mini and the Note 8.0 are the largest of the bunch, and the second-heaviest at 12 ounces — but not unduly large or heavy. The iPad Mini is a fraction of an inch longer than the Kindle Fire HD but nearly an inch wider than the Nexus 7. It's a half-inch narrower than the Note 8.0. Its screen size is nearly an inch longer diagonally than the Kindle Fire HDX, Nexus 7, and Venue 7, making for a noticeably larger screen. However, widescreen movies play at the same size on the iPad Mini as on all other devices except the Note 8.0, where they are larger. Although all the media tablets reviewed presented videos equally well, the iPad Mini's screen is noticeably superior in terms of sharpness and clarity when it comes to small text in applications such as e-readers and browsers.

The iPad Mini has no storage expansion capability — a hallmark Apple limitation. But it comes in a 16GB model for $399, 32GB for $499, 64GB for $699, and 128GB for $799. Plus, it offers LTE versions for the four top U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, for $130 more. It also supports AirPlay streaming if you own an Apple TV and AirPrint wireless printing with a compatible printer.

The iPad Mini's Lightning connector is compact and versatile, if you're willing to pony up for such pricey peripherals as video connectors ($49 each). Taking its wired and wireless capabilities together, the iPad Mini can connect in almost every way that matters.

Original iPad Mini. Available only in the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, the original iPad Mini's non-Retina display is hard to tell from the Retina model's screen, and it's at least as good as the competitors' screens. The processor is also slower than the Retina model's, but it's more than fast enough for use as a media tablet. In fact, I didn't see any difference in media usage between the old and new iPad Minis, though I would expect games to shine in the new model as they get rewritten for its 64-bit A7 chip.

The original iPad Mini's $299 price is significantly less than the new model's starting price of $399. In fact, the original iPad Mini's price is more in line with that of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX. Note that the 16GB won't store many movies or lots of music; if you like your iPad loaded up, that 16GB model's capacity is too constrained. I strongly urge anyone considering the original iPad Mini to look for a refurbished, larger-capacity version in Apple's online store.


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