Remember the old Windows tablets? These were the business oriented devices that were usually expensive convertible notebook PCs, complete with stylus and anything but a touch-centric user interface. You might remember some of the old ThinkPads from IBM. Well, the world of Windows tablets has changed substantially, in size, in scope and in price. One of the better examples of this comes from Dell.
It's called the Dell Venue 8 Pro with "Pro" part of the name designating that this is a Windows 8 tablet and not a device powered by Android. As you can guess the "8" part of the name signifies its 8-inch display, finding that delicate middle ground between something that is more portable and something that is more useful. Does it achieve this goal at a price we can accept? Let's have a look.
Specs and Features
The Dell Venue 8 Pro comes equipped with an 8.0-inch IPS display, boasting a resolution of 1280 x 800. This puts it well shy of what'd call "full HD," but it is perfectly adequate for everyday needs. In line with the Windows 8.1 running the show, this tablet also comes with 10-point capacitive touch.
Power comes by way of a quad-core Intel Atom Z3740D (1.8GHz) processor, backed by 2GB of DDR3L-RS 1600MHz RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash storage. There is also an option for a 64GB version, which is otherwise identical to its 32GB cousin. Rounding out the specs, we find Intel HD graphics, the usual suite of wireless, 5MP rear camera, 1.2MP front camera, microSD expansion, Dell Active Stylus support (sold separately) and up to 9.9 hours of battery life.
For about an extra $100, you can upgrade to a bundle that also includes a folio case and a wireless keyboard.
Immediately upon taking the Dell Venue 8 Pro out of the box, I got a sense of quality. This isn't to say that it feels like a premium product, per se, but it certainly doesn't feel cheap either. Unlike so many other tablets in this price range, you don't get a cheap slippery plastic back. Instead, there's a rubberized surface for the back for a reassuring grip.
The tablet itself feels great in hand, offering greater confidence than something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. Dell opted for a completely clean front, so aside from the front-facing camera and glass-laden bezel, you get nothing but screen. Since Windows mandates having a Windows button somewhere, Dell placed this at the top of the tablet next to the headset jack. This makes it easily mistaken for the power button by the uninitiated.
Instead, the power button and volume rocker are located along the right side, which is also where you'll find the microUSB port (for charging and connectivity) and the flap with the microSD expansion slot. The design isn't horrible, but it isn't immediately intuitive either. I was provided with the folio case for review purposes too and it does the job, but my iPad-using friends were disappointed that it didn't act as a "smart" cover for the tablet.
The Windows 8 Tablet Experience
Because it is "real" Windows 8.1, you also have access to the conventional desktop for running any apps and programs that don't run within the container of the touch-centric UI. This is useful, to be sure, but it also makes for a horrible experience running any of those programs without a keyboard or mouse. This isn't so much a knock on Dell as it is a knock on Microsoft. I understand that we should be using the touch-focused UI as much as possible, but switching to desktop mode is sometimes a necessity.
Given that it is a tablet that is meant to compete against the iPads and Androids of the world, it's also understandable that the Dell Venue 8 Pro doesn't have much in terms of ports. What this means is that you'll need to rely heavily on Bluetooth or invest in a simple microUSB-to-USB adapter to use some basic accessories as needed. Until the Windows Store gets as robust as its Apple and Google counterparts, this will be an ongoing challenge.
That aside, I was pleased with the battery life, getting up to eight hours of continuous usage, and the tablet can wake up from a hibernation-like state in a matter of seconds. This vastly extends your real world battery life, allowing you to go several days without a charge.
PCMark8 Benchmark Score
Running the tablet through PCMark8's Home accelerated 3.0 benchmark, it earned a score of 1220. This is actually higher than the score earned by the ATIV Book 9 Lite, which is supposed to be a "real" notebook at nearly three times the price of this tablet. This isn't to say the Venue 8 Pro is blazing fast -- it certainly isn't -- but it does show that it'll handle most daily abuse without too much trouble.
MEGATechie "Dude, Get a Dell" or... ?
Dell tried their hand at releasing Android smartphones and were met with very limited success. They probably won't get back into that business again, but if the Venue 8 Pro is any indication, they could have a reasonably bright future in tablets.
It's well built and feels great in the hands. The rubberized grippy surface on the back is reassuring and performance is perfectly adequate for tablet-level tasks like web browsing, basic game playing and the like. Consider that you can get this 32GB version for less than $300 and you get the added utility of real Windows 8.1, and you have yourself quite a compelling proposition.
I'm not sure if I would replace my Android tablet with this, but with the right accessories, I would not fault anyone who did. It will be interesting to see how Dell moves forward with future iterations, both in software and hardware, with the Venue Pro line.