Dell Venue 8 Pro: What's Missing

Dell Venue 8 Pro: What's Missing

The Venue 8 Pro is fantastic, but it's not perfect

I hear you, I hear you. Many are clamoring for my full review of the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and many are in particular interested in me comparing it to other devices, especially those that are very similar, with 8-inch screens, like the Lenovo Miix 2 and the Acer Iconia W4. These things take time, sorry. But I can at least expand on my (very early) first impressions. And maybe a good way to do that is to explain what's missing from this wonderful new mini-tablet so those who require certain features can move along.

No device is perfect, of course. And it's worth noting, too, that once you've pinched a Windows device down to 8-inches and into a form factor that is thinner than a full-sized USB port, you're going to give up some of the things we've come to expect from PCs.

With that in mind, here's a list of the features that are missing from the Dell Venue 8 Pro, sort of listed in order from most egregious to least egregious—in my opinion, yours may vary.

Screen auto-brightness enabled. The Dell Venue 8 Pro screen, inexplicably, has an auto-brightness turned on, which improves battery life. But it also has the effect of turning the otherwise superb—and I mean absolutely superb—IPS display into a dim, barely viewable disaster. This so thoroughly ruins the out of box experience that I cannot believe Dell made this mistake. If you do own a Dell Venue 8 Pro, you can fix this in one of two places. From Metro: PC Settings, PC & Devices, Power and Sleep (and not Display), and then disable the option "Adjust my screen brightness automatically." Or, from the desktop: Power Options, Change plan settings (for the current power plan), Change advanced power settings, Display, set Enable adaptive screen brightness (both On battery and Plugged in) to Off.

Full-sized USB. Because of the thinness of the device, the Venue 8 Pro can only accommodate a micro-USB port, and not a full-sized USB port as on Surface 2. This is a major inconvenience, since you can't just plug in any of the many standard USB-based devices out there in the world, and not just hard drives and memory sticks, but also keyboards, mice, cameras, and much more. The tradeoff here is of course thickness and weight, though I argue that a slightly thicker device might be worth it.

Dell Venue 8 Pro (top) and Microsoft Surface 2 (bottom)

USB dongle. If the lack of a full-sized USB port doesn't bother you, this one should: The device doesn't even ship with a dongle that enables you to use full-sized USB devices (i.e. any of them) with the Venue 8 Pro. So there's something you'll need to acquire yourself. (The dongle provided with the Acer W3 works fine, so I'm just using that.)

USB charging. The power supply plugs into the only micro-USB port on the system, which is fine. Unless you need to charge the device and use an external USB device at the same time. Just something to know about.

Kickstand. The kickstand is among those innovations in the Surface that make you suddenly require it, and really miss it, when it's not available on other devices. Like other mini-tablets—the Google Nexus 7, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, and the two iPad minis, for example—the Dell Venue 8 Pro does not include an integrated kickstand. It needs one, or at least a case or cover that can add this functionality.

Weird Windows button placement. All Windows devices are required to have a hardware Windows button, but most PC makers put this on the front of the device where it belongs. Not Dell: The Venue 8 Pro's Windows button is tiny, and on the top of the device, next to the headphone jack. It's hard to get used to this.

Full HD screen. I put this on the list only because I know that those who compare products only by scanning down a list of comparable specifications will note this: The Dell's screen offers "only" 1280 x 800 resolution, a hair above 720p and quite a bit lower than Full HD, or 1080p. But here's the deal: It doesn't matter. And in fact, when watching HD movies streamed from Xbox Video, I am continually amazed by the high quality of this display. It's just gorgeous.

Micro-HDMI. The Dell Venue 8 Pro offers no hardware-based video-out functionality, which may be disappointing for those that wish to watch a rented movie or other video content on their HDTV. What the device does offer is something called Miracast, which is yet another wireless display technology (like AirPlay, Play To, and Play On Xbox) that is going nowhere fast. To use this with your own HDTV, you would need a set with built-in Miracast support (good luck with that) or an external Miracast dongle like the Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter. This is what I'm using, and it's not for the faint-hearted. More to the point, Miracast is nowhere near as simple, inexpensive and reliable as just using micro-HDMI. This is a dumb omission (though I don't personally need it).

Documentation. While Dell is certainly not unique in this regard, the Venue 8 Pro documentation is decidedly lacking. There's a Getting Started pamphlet in the box, but you need to search to find the full owner's manual in PDF format and even that doesn't tell you all you need to know. For example, you can't find out how to load the UEFI firmware. (Tip: Hold down Power and Volume Down on boot.)

Office isn't preinstalled. All Windows 8 "Core"-based mini-tablets come with a free copy of Office 2013 Home & Student, as do Windows RT devices. But it's not preinstalled: You need to run an Office app from the Start screen and then type in a product key that's written in tiny type on a small card in the box. Which, by the way, many people would throw out or miss despite the "do not discard" message on the top. Not a big deal—who would run full Office on such a device anyway?—but something to be aware of.

Battery life? There's one wild card here, too: The battery. Dell claims that the Venue 8 Pro gets what it calls "all-day battery life" or "up to 10 hours of battery life." I'm still testing this crucial feature, of course, but it's already clear that this claim is based on leaving the auto-brightness on its default, debilitating auto-brightness setting. I don't want to complain too early, but I can say for now that my initial tests suggest the device gets nowhere close to that using an acceptable brightness setting.

Are any of these items deal breakers? Not for me, though the battery life issue, if it is one, could change my opinion: Once you disable the auto screen brightness, the device is gorgeous. It has micro-SD storage expansion, which is important to me. It's very thin and light. The USB stuff is a nuisance but not a showstopper. And so on.

Did I miss anything important? Let me know and I'll add it to the list. In the meantime, I'll keep evaluating this very interesting device. So far I'm liking it quite a bit.

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