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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

All the tablets reviewed here support MP3 and AAC (.m4a) audio, MPEG-4 (.m4v and .mp4) video, and PDF files. All but the Kindle HDX and Venue 8 Pro support ePub files as well. The Kindle HDX supports only Amazon's proprietary Mobi e-book file format; the free open source Calibre app for OS X and Windows can convert ePubs to Mobi format. Windows 8 tablets like the Venue 8 Pro can read ePubs with a third-party app such as the ad-supported BookReader, and they can read Mobi books via Amazon's Kindle app.

All the media tablets put transferred music in their music apps. But they handle transferred videos (called personal videos) and books differently. For personal videos:

  • The iPad Mini puts all personal videos in the Movies pane in the Videos app.
  • The Nexus 7 and Note 8.0 put transferred videos in the Play Video app's Personal Videos pane; they're also accessible from the Gallery app. The Venue 7 makes them accessible only via the Gallery app.
  • The Kindle Fire HDX accesses personal videos in the Photos app. (The Kindle Fire's Videos window shows only videos purchased at Amazon.)
  • In the Venue 8 Pro, as with all Windows tablets, you determine where to place the files. If they are in Windows' standard media folders, Windows' native playback apps see them. Otherwise, you navigate to them from your media player. Note that the Xbox Video app makes it hard to find personal videos; swipe to the left to get the navigation controls.

For personal books:

  • The iPad Mini puts ePubs and PDFs in the iBooks app. 
  • The Kindle Fire HDX puts copied PDFs in its Docs app and Mobi-format books in its Books app, both in the Devices pane.
  • The Play Books app on the Nexus 7, Note 8.0, and Venue 7 can't access copied ePub or PDF books at all, though the Android Kindle app can if you place Mobi versions of your ePub e-books in the tablet's Kindle folder.
  • The Kindle app for Windows 8 is decent, though with fewer font options than on other devices. The free BookReader app for ePubs is also limited in display options, and it's serviceable only for books that don't have images, as it won't display them.

If you're willing to live without iTunes, Amazon has the broadest video and music libraries, though Google's selection continues to improve. Amazon also has a much larger book selection than iTunes. You can watch or read iTunes-purchased content only on an Apple device. By contrast, Amazon lets you play music bought from its store on the Kindle, Android tablets, and iOS devices via its Cloud Player app. Amazon lets you play rented videos on iOS devices, but not Androids, through its Instant Video app. Finally, Amazon lets you read its e-books nearly anywhere using the Kindle app available for most PC and mobile platforms.

 

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