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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 "consuming" media and playing games are the main uses of a media tablet, being able to connect to the Internet for Web access is a close third. It's no surprise that all of the devices support Wi-Fi for Internet connections, and there are now cellular options for anywhere-access to the Internet for most media tablets. (Samsung says the Note 8.0 has a cellular-capable model, but I can't find it for sale at any major retailer in the United States.)

Browsers. As you might expect, all the media tablets provide Web browsers. Using a browser on a 7- or 8-inch device, however, is often difficult. Web pages are designed for viewing on PCs, where 19-inch and larger monitors are now the norm. On a 10-inch tablet, they often feel scrunched, and it's worse on a smaller device. Plus, the onscreen keyboard for entering URLs is harder to use.

Still, the ability to zoom in as needed makes surfing acceptable. The iPad Mini and Note 8.0 provide the best browsing experience due to their larger (8-inch) screens and the capable Safari and Chrome browsers, respectively, both of which have the extra benefit of synchronization with Safari or Chrome on other devices.

Chrome on Android is more HTML5-savvy than Safari on the iPad. Chrome scores 487 on the Nexus 7, and it scores 467 on the Note 8.0 and Venue 7 (out of a possible 555 points) versus Safari's 415 in the current compatibility tests. (The Note 8.0 and Venue 7 run Android 4.2, whereas the Nexus runs Android 4.3, thus the Chrome differences.) Safari is slightly better at Chrome in supporting AJAX controls, so some interactive websites will work better on iOS's Safari than on Android's Chrome. All in all, running Chrome on Android is a close second to running Safari on the iPad Mini.

The Kindle Fire HDX ties with the Venue 8 Pro for the least satisfactory browser experience. Although the Kindle HDX's Silk browser scores well on the test (440), it is noticeably slower to load than browsers on the other media tablets; plus, its AJAX support is uneven. Although the browser's performance has improved in the Kindle Fire HDX, it can still respond jerkily to zoom and swipe gestures. Silk is anything but smooth. Silk offers good bookmarking and history capabilities, but no private-browsing mode, no cross-device tab syncing, no on-page search capabilities, and no built-in sharing capabilities, as the other devices' browsers do.

The Internet Explorer 11 browser that comes with Windows 8.1 in the Venue 8 Pro has the least HTML5 support — scoring just 373 in the tests — and IE11 is frustratingly awkward to use, due to the odd interface of the Metro version and the unusably small controls of the Windows Desktop version. But it does quite well with AJAX controls, as you'd expect from what is essentially a desktop browser.


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