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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

Audio playback. All the media tablets support standard audio jacks for private listening on the headphones or earbuds of your choice. All support Bluetooth audio streaming, and the iPad Mini supports Apple's proprietary AirPlay streaming over Wi-Fi networks to compatible speakers or, via an Apple TV, to stereos and TVs. The $10 AirTwist add-on to the DoubleTwist app for Android lets you stream music to AirPlay devices on the Nexus 7, Note 8.0, and Venue 7.

When it comes to the quality of its built-in speakers, the iPad Mini wins hands-down, as it did last year. But the difference has narrowed. Most of the competing devices have good speakers, though the Kindle Fire HDX has a bit of a space-echo effect, the Nexus 7 has a bit of tinniness with surround sound off and excess echo when it is on, and the Note 8.0 sounds a bit flat and hollow. Both the Venue 7's and the Venue 8 Pro's speakers have the tinniness and flatness of an AM radio — their sound quality is the least pleasant of the bunch.

The Kindle can get as loud as the iPad Mini. The Nexus 7 can get almost as loud as the iPad Mini, but with the surround sound option switched on (the default) you'll often hear distortion when music is playing at top volume (not so much for dialog). At maximum volume a flatness creeps into the iPad Mini's sound, likely due to its thin chassis. To optimize the audio, the iPad Mini's Settings app has equalizer preselects you can choose, but no tool to set your own EQ settings. The Note 8.0 can't get as loud as the others, so it's less useful as a boombox. The Venue 8 Pro is the loudest by far, but after about 55 percent volume, it's very unpleasant to listen to, essentially rendering its maximum useful volume the same as the competition.

TV/stereo playback. The iPad Mini supports AirPlay streaming (if you have a $100 Apple TV). You can use it as a portable DVD and music player at hotels and other people's homes, as well as a presentation device at conferences and meetings via its video mirroring capability.

The Nexus 7, Venue 8 Pro, and Kindle Fire HDX support the Miracast wireless video streaming protocol, though compatible TVs and other devices are hard to find. For example, Amazon lists only one compatible Miracast device, the Netgear Push2TV box, for its Kindle. If the troubled Miracast standard ever takes off, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX could gain the same streaming advantage the iPad Mini has today. But note that the Kindle Fire can't stream personal videos you download to it, even if you have a Miracast device, because wireless playback isn't available for the Photos app — where personal videos happen to be stored. Although the Venue 8 Pro uses Miracast for video streaming from Microsoft's own media apps, you can use Apple's AirPlay protocol (with a compatible speaker or Apple TV) if you use iTunes for playback on that Windows tablet, giving it the same wireless playback capability as an iPad.


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