As I mentioned in a previous post that I’d do a review on the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet that I picked up recently, and after seeing countless reviews of the device on TheVerge, Engadget and many more I decided against doing so. I will post those links to the reviews at the bottom of this article for you to check out. Instead, I’ll share my experience with the tablet so far. This will be my user experience with the Dell Venue 8 Pro and while it seems like an review, it’s not… not officially anyway.
So as many of our readers know I come from a Google Android background. I simply enjoy the Android ecosystem, all my phones are Android and up to this point so were my tablets. That said, I do find that using the Android base tablets I miss out on many applications that I want or need for getting serious work done, such as VMware applications like View or vSphere along with native RDP and VPN support that I need for work which aren’t supported on the Android OS. Thankfully Windows 8.1 (Not RT) capitalizes on this and allows for full legacy application installation, which let’s me get all the stuff I need installed, a very handy convenience indeed. No longer will I need to worry about carrying a laptop (notebook, for all the geeks reading this) around with me when I can just put the Venue in my pocket and head on out. That also means that I can install and fire up Blizzard’s Hearthstone among other games and enjoy them on the go.
As much as I was opposed to Windows 8 (and mind you I still am on a desktop) I will admit, that I did mention from time to time that it seemed perfect for a tablet/touch based device and I couldn’t be happier that this was correct. Windows 8 on the tablet seems natural, it flows seamlessly without any issues. The Metro/Modern UI just works. Tiles can be moved and re-sized with ease. Desktop mode also makes it’s return and it’s Windows that everyone knows and loves, though I find that being forced into desktop mode for legacy application installs or configurations is a big no-no. The whole point of Windows 8 on the tablet was to showcase what the OS could do and having you go to the desktop should be looked into. It’s not a huge issue but it takes away from the shine of the OS and I feel that the Windows tablet screen would benefit with either having an exclusive Metro/Modern UI or an exclusive desktop interface, not both. Seriously, if I wanted to use the desktop I’d just use my PC or remote to my PC.
Please keep in mind that if you use Google apps such as Hangouts, Google Talk and even Google Plus then you will miss out on those as Google doesn’t create applications for Windows 8 tablets and as such you’re forced to use Google extensions in order to use there services. While there is a Google Plus application in the Windows Store, it seems to forward to the browser with an overlay that’s clunky and slow. There is a must have app for those making the transition and need their Google Talk for the Modern UI instead of dropping back to the Desktop, which is called IM+.
This application is basically trillian and supports just about every IM service known to man and it has a really slick interface. Trust me, once you try it, you won’t miss Google Talk/Hang Outs as much, though it does not support voice chats.
Speaking of voice chats, another minor/major gripe depending on how much you use it, the omission of any voice recognition for which I used almost exclusively on my Android devices. While Microsoft has trailed Apple and Google in that aspect, they do have a Siri competitor in “Cortana“, which is still in the process of being tested and it is rumored to be released early 2014 for Windows, Windows Phone and even the Xbox One. Still, I miss the voice input every time I open up the keyboard to type something, so MS better get moving with Cortana….. I guess that’s why she was killed off in Halo 4….. I kid guys, relax.
Sadly I wasn’t able to pick up the stylus for the tablet as they were all sold out and apparently from the reports there are issues with the Active Stylus that Dell has provided. Since I don’t have access to the stylus I can only go by the reports. I’ve been trying to get my hands on it but everywhere I go it’s simply not available. I don’t know if it’s really that popular or if Dell has recalled them. Regardless how you view this the situation, it’s a downer as no other stylus will work with the display and using your fingers for anything involving the desktop is an exercise in frustration. Hopefully Dell will get this all sorted out and soon, hopefully.
Hardware-wise the tablet is thing of beauty and isn’t a slough when it comes to performance and is loaded.
Intel Atom processor Z3740D with 32GB storage (2MB Cache, up to 1.8GHz Quad-Core)
1.2MP Front Camera / 5MP Back Camera
8.0 inch IPS Display with HD (WXGA 1280 x 800) resolution with 10-pt capacitive touch
MicroSD support for both SDHC and SDXC up to 128GB
Dual-band 2×2 MIMO WIFI
MicroUSB 2.0 port
Headphone and Microphone input
Intel® HD Graphics
As you can see it’s pretty decked out and doesn’t leave one for wanting anything. Besides being loaded, the device is surprising light for what it is. Though it’s still heavier compared to the Nexus 7 (both 2012 / 2013 versions) and the iPad mini (which I don’t own but I did do some testing at the local Best Buy). The back of the tablet is an added plus as it has a study rubber felt type material that has new grip to it. Not once have I held it and felt it slip. It’s almost like it’s holding my hands for me. There is only 4 buttons on the tablet; Windows button, power button and volume rocker which all are seamlessly incorporated into the tablet as well as the MicroSD slot whichhas a cover. And lastly, the speaker mounted on the bottom of the tablet.
Still there are some flaws with the tablet. There’s only one speaker, which I feel is something Dell overlooked, especially when dual speakers are becoming common place on tablets. Though make no mistake, the speaker is plenty loud even when covering it with my hand. There isn’t an HDMI output and while you can use an OTG (On the GO) micro-USB dongle, that also means that you can’t charge it at the same time. The tablet is not able to provide sufficient charge when using an OTG dongle for external hard-drives, so you would need to couple that with a powered USB hub. For many the omission the HDMI isn’t a deal breaker. However, compared to the Venue 11 Pro which includes USB 3 and a mini HDMI output for only $100-$150 more, you may want to opt for that version if these features are needed. I also would have liked to have seen a better screen, while the 1280 x 800 display is nice there’s no reason that since the iPad Air, iPad Mini (with Retina) and even the Nexus 7 (2013) are all supporting higher resolution displays. Maybe they were trying to keep the cost of the tablet down.
There have been some complaints about the Windows button being placed on the top / side of the device (depending on how its being held) instead of placing it on the front of the device. I feel this is non-sense as it helps avoid pushing the button on accident, especially when typing or playing a game while holding the tablet with both hands.
For anyone thinking about getting this tablet I would highly recommend the purchase of the 64GB version for $50 more, unless you like trying to balance your storage usage. While the tablet does support up to 128GB for additional storage via a MicroSD card, many applications will not allow you to install applications to the card including the default Windows Store application installation location. The OS footprint is 10GB of space and that’s not including updates that you will need to install. Definitely get the 64GB version, you’ll thank me later.
All in all, I do like the device and I’m finding that using Windows 8.1, while it does have it’s quirk’s, is growing on me. Having access to a full OS on a portable device is very nice and I would never had figured that I’d be signing the praises of a Windows driven tablet. Still I do wish there was HDMI output which, in this day and age, should be included as Miracast is still susceptible to lag/ latency issues and requires additional hardware if your TV/Monitor does not have native Miracast support. The Windows Store still has a ways to go and is segmented as seen when trying to install applications that were meant for Windows phones. Though Microsoft has acquired this and has stated they are working to unify the store fronts, this doesn’t take away from the tablet at all. It’s worth mentioning it as you will run into this issue from time to time during the life of the tablet. A perfect desktop companion though, at the same time I don’t see myself abandoning the Google Android platform as each OS has their own strengths and weakness. It just means when I travel I’ll either need to choice which tablet goes with me or take them both. Hopefully, the whole stylus issue gets resolved and there isn’t a drought of accessories as this tablet could really use a keyboard/case in the same vein as the ZAGGkeys (which seems to make these exclusive to iDevices). It would also be nice if Google ported their applications over to the Windows 8.1 platform but, as it stands, Google still has a grudge with Microsoft and refuses to play ball. Microsoft has created ports of their applications including Microsoft OneNote, Skydrive, Office, an official Remote Desktop application and Xbox SmartGlass. In an industry where two technical giants battle , no one wins. Work it out guys!