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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

But gone is support for HDMI output. Coupled with its limited Miracast wireless display support, the Kindle Fire HDX is a device you can use only for personal media consumption, not to feed into a TV. And there's no rear camera, just a front-facing camera for video chats.

Beware the prices you see on the Amazon website for the Kindle Fire. Once you pay to remove the obnoxious ads, the 16GB Wi-Fi model costs $244, the 32GB Wi-Fi model costs $284, and the 64GB Wi-Fi model costs $424. For $100 more, you can get a model with your choice of an AT&T or Verizon cellular radio. Also, the Fire HDX comes with its own charger block; it's not a separate purchase as it was for last year's Fire HD.

Venue 7. The cheapest tablet is Dell's Android tablet — it costs just $150. Dell has cut corners to get this price. There's no video-out port or video-streaming capability, the speakers are low-quality, and the Wi-Fi radio uses the older 2.4GHz-only version of the 802.11 standard. But the screen is good, and there is none of the touchscreen balkiness that plagues the Venue 8 Pro. And the Venue 7 does sport a MicroSD slot. Weighing 11 ounces, it is one of the lighter tablets — and one of the smallest.

Venue 8 Pro. Its touchscreen is simply not responsive, requiring multiple presses to select fields and other UI controls. It's simply the least responsive mobile device I've tested since the ZTE Open smartphone and the Acer Iconia W3, the tablet Microsoft was touting in ads this summer that turned out to be a real dog. Its autobrightness control is also unreliable, randomly dimming the screen even in steady light. Fortunately, you can disable this unstable feature by turning off the autobrightness slider in the Power and Sleep options in the Settings charm's PC and Devices section.

The Venue 8 Pro weighs 14 ounces, landing as the heaviest tablet in this comparison — and 2 ounces, or 17 percent heavier, than the iPad Mini. It costs $300 and comes with 32GB of RAM. (Remember that Windows 8.1 needs 16GB more RAM than an iOS or Android device for equivalent user-acessible storage, so this is equivalent to a 16GB iOS or Android tablet.) It has a MicroUSB 2.0 slot to charge the device; you can also connect a storage device to that port, but you will need an adapter to use standard USB thumb drives and hard drives. And there's a MicroSD card slot. But it has no HDMI or other video-out connector.

Media tabletApple iPad Mini with Retina Display
The hardware winner. Apple has the best hardware — no question. But you'll pay for it. For the Wi-Fi model, my recommended configuration of 32GB costs $499, versus $284 for the 32GB Kindle Fire HDX and $269 for the 32GB Nexus 7. (There is no 32GB model of the Note 8.0, and although it supports MicroSD cards, Android overly limits what the expansion can be used for.) The 32GB iPad Mini cellular model costs $639, versus $349 for the 32GB cellular Nexus 7. Yet the Nexus 7 is a close second choice in terms of hardware quality.


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