I had the pleasure, and I do mean 'pleasure', of playing with the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet last week. Most of you know that I'm a die-hard, gadget freak, but also pretty stout in my beliefs of what makes a good gadget and what constitutes a bad one. So, take my review of the 8 inch tablet with that in mind.
I'm not going to delve into the technical aspects of the available ports, RAM size, memory speed, or any of those pieces that are all pretty similar across tablets these days. Too many times I catch myself reading review after review and get bored after the first couple paragraphs because they are all pretty much the same. Instead, I think a proper review comes from personal experience and relating to the reader the things that actually standout. I find myself, while reading those boring reviews, scanning the text for that all important factor that would make me want the device. The majority of the time, I'll just skip down to the "Bottom Line" paragraph and leave it at that.
So, here's my take on the Dell Venue 8 for what I truly believe are the reasons why someone like me might want to invest (and, I do) in a smaller Windows tablet. I haven't purchased one yet, but it's on my Christmas list. That's one of the tough things about gadget people and the holidays. If you keep purchasing everything you want, you'll want nothing for Christmas and take away your family's joy of giving.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft enabled the operating system to better scale with varying sizes of device screens and resolutions. Dell takes advantage of this in a big way, offering an 8 inch display that allows for a smaller, but still powerful Windows device. The size of the Dell Venue 8 is almost perfect. I own a Nexus 7 and actually believe that's the right size for a mini-tablet, so the Dell comes close.
Still, the way the Venue 8 is constructed (non-slip molding), and how the tablet fits in your hand, it's easy to get comfortable using it. What people tend to forget is that it's the screen that's actually 8 inches, and not the entire device. There's a black edge around the screen which increases the size of the device itself. The Nexus 7 is the same, but the black edge is also pretty pronounced, making the Dell Venue 8 and the Nexus 7 really about the same size overall.
With a better screen than the Nexus 7 and a larger viewing area, the Dell Venue 8 ends up putting the Nexus 7 to shame.
You might think that a smaller tablet would also mean a slower and less robust experience, but as you'll read below, this is not the case. Though a smaller version, the Dell Venue 8 is a true Windows desktop in a tiny package, allowing you to carry a fully functional PC just about anywhere.
The Dell Venue 8 Pro runs a 1.8GHz Quad-core Intel processor and apps are snappy. App execution to full open is almost instantaneous. This is another one of those areas where you might consider a mini-tablet like the Venue 8 would lack compared to a larger tablet like the Microsoft Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2. That's simply not the case.
This is not a tablet that is hampered by size. It’s a full-blown PC just shoved into smaller format. There's nothing you cannot do with this tablet that you could not do with a larger Windows device.
Under the right circumstances, the Dell Venue 8 Pro can top out over 11 hours of use. Granted, that's normal Windows tablet use, i.e., using all Modern (Metro) apps. When using desktop apps (mentioned next), battery life is not as good, but still stellar. Even running solely desktop applications, you'll experience 8-9 hours of battery life.
That's huge. That means you can travel from New York to Seattle and back on a single charge. That's exactly what a tablet is supposed to be like. Good luck getting that kind of life out of a Surface 2 without the as-yet unreleased Power cover.
The Venue 8 Pro is NOT an RT device, meaning that the Venue 8 Pro can run any application you install on it. You're not stuck running just Windows Store apps all the time. Like I said earlier, this is a full-fledged PC just shoved into a tiny package.
The beauty of this is that you can get a dock and treat the Venue 8 Pro as a tablet and a primary PC at the same time. Plugable's UD-3900 is a perfect solution, allowing you to extend the functionality and ports of the Venue 8 Pro. Just plug the Venue 8 Pro into the Plugable and run 3 monitors, a keyboard, a mouse, and whatever other peripherals you're used to using with your primary PC setup. Unplug the Venue 8 Pro and you're immediately mobile.
The Plugable UD-3900 is available from Amazon for around $130: Plugable UD-3900 USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station
One of the neater features of Windows 8.1 is Miracast. I recently wrote up a method to get Miracast working on an original Surface Pro. You can read that here: Getting it to Work: Miracast, Windows 8.1, and a Plain Old Surface Pro, Version 1.
The Dell Venue 8 Pro supports Miracast straight out of the box. No messy or unsupported driver updates required, it will connect with your Miracast compatible TV or router. Some people poo-poo this technology, but it's become an important piece of my technology arsenal, lately, so I'm glad to see another tablet that supports WiDi.
The Actual Specs
For those that want to know the rest of the story:
- Processor: Intel Atom processor Z3740D (2MB Cache, up to 1.8GHz Quad-Core)
- Display: 8.0 inch IPS Display with HD (WXGA 1280 x 800) resolution with 10-pt capacitive touch
- Operating system: Windows 8.1
- Memory (RAM): 2GB Single Channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz
- Optical drive: No Optical Drive
- Video graphics: Intel HD Graphics
- Media card reader: Micro-SD Card Reader
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth tied to wireless card
- Preinstalled software: Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 English
The Dell Venue 8 Pro comes in two options: 32GB or 64GB. The 32GB is around $300 and the 64GB is $350. Here's some links on Amazon.com to read more about them: