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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

The real test for reading print publications on a tablet comes down to the magazines' specific apps, and too many don't work well. Most are PDF-like replicas of their print layouts, perhaps with the ability to switch to a text view for easier reading but without the accompanying graphics — standard for the Kindle Fire HDX and optional on other devices. I find most magazines on all the media tablets unsatisfying. One major exception is the Economist, whose iOS and Android apps show how it should be done.

Fortunately, most newspaper apps are designed for tablet reading, such as USA Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Newspaper apps on the iPad Mini tend to be more nicely designed, easier to navigate, and more readable than those on Android tablets or on the Kindle Fire HDX.

All in all, the iPad Mini is the best book reader, especially if you use the iBooks and Kindle apps. On the Nexus 7 or other Android tablets, you'll want to use the Kindle app rather than the native Google Play Books app, because Play Books is hard to read — a nonstarter for an e-reader. Windows 8 has the poorest e-book readers, making the Venue 8 Pro a subpar choice for readers.

The playback winner. When it comes to playback options, the iPad Mini wins, mainly because it has the most flexible playback options, both in terms of output options and playback apps available. If you're looking for a device you want to listen to without external speakers or headphones, you'll again prefer the iPad Mini, whose audio playback quality is the best of the bunch. If you don't need the wide range of playback options and media sources that the iPad Mini offers, the Nexus 7 is your best choice given its high quality and lower price.

The Kindle Fire HDX is good, but too constrained in media playback options. The Venue 7 is fine for audio and video — as long as you don't use its speakers or want to send your video to a TV. The Note 8.0 has weak audio and that unfortunate distortion of widescreen videos; it's less than ideal for media playback, even though it has a strong range of playback options and sources. The Venue 8 Pro has the worst speakers of the lot, though if you run iTunes on it, it matches the iPad's wireless streaming capability.

iOS is known for its app selection, and the iPad Mini runs every app any other iPad does. Thus, the entire iOS app library is available to the iPad Mini, from games to news readers to photo editors to productivity apps. Plus, if you enable it, your iTunes purchases are kept synced to all your iOS devices.

 

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