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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

Nexus 7. This tablet is designed with an unobtrusive look that lets you focus on the screen's display. The Nexus 7 has a more pronounced widescreen proportion than its competitors, giving it the widest or narrowest feel, depending on how you're holding it, of all the media tablets. The screen's visual quality is very good, though the display is smaller than I would like.

The Nexus 7's speakers are good but can suffer from distortion at high volumes and an (unfortunate) choice between an echo-chamber effect or tinny tone depending on whether surround sound is enabled. The Nexus 7 sports a rear camera, which is perfectly adequate; my big beef is its confusing user interface for in-camera adjustments.

Like the iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 offers no expansion capability for storage. Like the iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 comes with a dual-voltage USB wall charger and MicroUSB charge/sync cable. Like all its competitors but the Kindle Fire HDX, it supports HDMI video output (in this case, via an optional SlimPort-to-HDMI cable).

Performance is good. Although not quite as zippy as an iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 certainly holds its own. The 16GB Wi-Fi model costs a modest $229, whereas the 32GB Wi-Fi model costs $269. A 32GB model with LTE cellular radio (compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile) costs $349.

The 10.5-ounce weight of the Nexus 7 is 1.5 ounces less than the iPad Mini and Note 8.0, and 0.5 ounce less than the Kindle Fire HDX. In other words, the Nexus 7 is the lightweight of the group, at least when it comes to actual mass. All in all, the Nexus 7 has good hardware that will meet many users' needs.

Note 8.0. The iPad Mini-sized Android tablet ties with the iPad Mini as the second-heaviest media tablet, at 12 ounces. For that ounce or so of extra weight, you get a bigger screen that can be easier to read. Like the iPad Mini, the Note 8.0 isn't designed only as a media tablet — it's a full-fledged Android tablet that also boasts several Samsung-only technologies such as its S-Pen. It also has the most ways of the Android and Android-derived devices to send video content to stereos and other devices, though not as many as the iPad Mini has.

The Note 8.0 also ties the iPad Mini with Retina Display in (high) price: $399 for the 16GB model. Although Samsung says it has a 32GB model and a model with a cellular radio, I could not find either for sale at major U.S. retailers.

Kindle Fire HDX. The display quality of the Amazon media tablet is greatly improved over last year's Fire HD model. The performance hiccups I experienced in the Fire HD last year weren't evident in this year's Fire HDX — its hardware is no longer compromised. And the Fire HDX has lost 3.5 ounces of weight as well, making it the second-lightest media tablet reviewed here at 11 ounces.

 

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