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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

Although much improved over its predecessor, the Kindle Fire HDX is clearly the laggard, missing key features such as HDMI support and a rear camera. Its hardware performs decently, if you don't need those capabilities. But you can get the similar Dell Venue 7 for a lot less, and the Dell tablet has the advantage of supporting the broader Android ecosystem.

Media tabletAsus/Google Nexus 7(2013 edition)
The value decision is a tougher calculation than it had been, and factors such as preferred operating system and content stores may end up determining your choice more than the specific hardware capabilities.

It used to be that the priciest media tablet — the iPad Mini — had clearly superior hardware, justifying its price over the cheaper but compromised 2012 Nexus 7 and 2012 Kindle Fire HD. The 2013 edition of Nexus 7 changes that equation. The Retina iPad Mini's hardware is still superior — its larger screen and better speakers stand out — but the Nexus 7's hardware is quite good, for a huge $170 less.

The Amazon Kindle HDX costs a bit more than the Nexus, but its hardware isn't as good and the device is much too focused on being an outlet for Amazon's online store. If you can handle the Kindle Fire HDX's limitations, the similarly limited Dell Venue 7 is a better choice at more than $100 less.

Although it's a compelling general-purpose tablet, the Note 8.0 is less attractive as a media tablet. Samsung needs to fix the speaker, tweak the widescreen movie display, and update the OS version.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro can function as a versatile media tablet, but its terrible touchscreen and hard-to-use Windows 8.1 operating system — which gets worse on a small screen — add up to the least pleasant media tablet option.

The reason the iPad Mini can command its high price — even its galling price increase, in fact &mdas— is that it's a great tablet, with better hardware overall and a much richer, more flexible entertainment ecosystem, thanks to the combination of iTunes and AirPlay. The iPad Mini also makes it easy to use your own media, rather than effectively rely only on downloads from an online store. Although Windows tablets can claim the same advantages, they lack the usability and hardware quality of the iPad Mini, to a fatal degree.

If you're not interested in using a media tablet for your ripped videos, and you don't plan on broadcasting music and videos to your TV, your best bet is the less-expensive, lighter-weight Nexus 7.


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