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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

Google and Amazon.com both have music, video, and app stores, as does Microsoft for Windows tablets, but they lack iTunes' easy integration of your existing media with the media they sell. Yes, you can use direct transfer of media files (in Windows) or transfer utilities (in OS X), or cloud storage, or USB drives to transfer files to these devices, but all are poor imitations of the iTunes experience. For one thing, they're slow — USB transfer on the non-Apple devices typically took 40 minutes for a feature-length movie, versus well under 10 minutes on the iPads. Amazon also has a cloud-based transfer utility, but it doesn't support video files.

Google's Play Music lets you upload songs from your computer to its cloud servers, so you can play your own music via streaming on Android and iOS devices. Play Music's streaming-radio option costs $10 per month but has no ads, versus Apple's free, but ad-supported, iOS-only iTunes Radio service.

If you use the recommended Android File Transfer utility from Google, you also have to work with a primitive file hierarchy, and you have to know the idiosyncracies of your device. On the Kindle, in order to transfer movies, they have to be stored in the Photos folder, not the Movies folder, which means they are accessible in the Photos app, not the Movies app. On the Nexus 7, Note 8.0, and Venue 7, you can put movies in the Movies folder. Got that? Also, the Android File Transfer utility often crashed when transferring files to the Kindle Fire HDX.

Many Android tablets — including the Nexus 7, Note 8.0, and Venue 7 — support DoubleTwist to get fairly close to iTunes' file-syncing and library-access capabilities (DoubleTwist even works with iTunes libraries). The app doesn't work with the Kindle HDX, which uses Amazon's proprietary version of Android 3.0 called Fire OS 3.0 — and doesn't support standard Android apps.

Windows tablets can run iTunes, which gives you the full power of iTunes in a non-Apple tablet. It was difficult to install and set up iTunes on the Venue 8 Pro, because of how unresponsive its touchscreen is, how tiny the menus and fields are in Windows 7 apps like iTunes, and the difficulty of text entry for Windows 7 apps due to the manually enabled onscreen keyboard that obscures the fields you're typing in. Once set up, though, iTunes worked just like it does on a Mac or PC, downloading purchased media from the iTunes Store and importing media files from cloud storage and physical media. You can also get music and videos from Microsoft's Xbox Store, its iTunes clone, as well as copy music and videos into the standard Windows folders for media to make them accessible to the Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps.

 

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