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Review: Dell Venue 8 Pro Tablet with Windows 8.1

It was "almost" a coincidence...  I was looking through the bombarding horde of black friday/cyber
monday/cyber week/invent new extension to online sales/etc events in my inbox (which gmail now conveniently tucks into their "promotions" tab :) and I saw it -- the SALE PRICE for a new Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet with 64GB storage for a really good price.  I am guilty for making an impulse buy here (well, 90% impulse, I still googled it to make sure it wasn't a piece of junk).

Now that I have rewarded a hard year of work with a new toy to play with (and maybe do work too), I've put a few apps on it and have some interesting observations.

Some quick background:

I am generally an iPad guy.  I don't LOOOOOVVVVEEEE iPad, but I like it more than others.  Android tablets seem to vary too much in how they work and what is supported by the overwhelming number of OS releases.  I do kind of like recent android phones though...

What do I use a pint-sized PC for anyway? I had an old dell mini netbook (sold it since I got the dell venue 8), and a thinkpad X61 tablet - both of which were my 'go to' computers for lightweight (featherweight?) computing.  They sit on the shelf until I i need to troubleshoot somebody's computer, the company network, etc., so it is important that I have *MY* selection of software and utilities with me... which is why an iPad or Android tablet won't cut it.

I saw the Dell Venue 8 Pro as a replacement for both of those computers.  It runs a full install of windows 8.1,  has a quad core processor, 64gb storage, an  8" touchscreen, and is as thin as an iPad.  It kind of sounded too good to be true, but I was intrigued enough to try it.  I expected it to have all the features, but perform horribly, or at lease substandard to an iPad which runs software optimized for the hardware.  After all, Windows is designed to run on a desktop, right ?

Performance

Here is what I found when I ran benchmarks using "cpu free benchmark 2.2":
(numbers are in seconds to complete the tests, lower is better)

Online Graphing

Macbook Air 2013 running win7 in a VM (core i7 1.7ghz, 8gb ram) - score = 18.64
(x86 family 6 model 69 stepping 1)

Thinkpad x61 (1.6 ghz core 2 duo ULV, 2GB ram, samsung SSD) - score = 38.41
(x86 family 6 model 15 stepping 11)

Dell Venue 8 Pro (1.3ghz atom quad core, 2gb ram, 64gb internal storage) - score = 63.36
(x86 family 6 model 55 stepping 3)

Dell mini 10v (1.6ghz atom N270, 2gb ram, OCZ vertex 3 SSD) - score = 92.44
(x86 family 6 model 28 stepping 2)


Apps

Windows metro apps run surprisingly well on this hardware.  In fact, I could hardly believe that this wasn't a mobile OS when I was navigating and using metro apps.  This completely blew away my expectations.

The absolute wonderfulness about this tablet is that you can install any modern windows application because it actually runs a full windows 8.1 instance.  This may seem like a minor issue to non-IT people, but the fact that I can run my own set of network troubleshooting tools in a pocket size tablet is very significant...  Native windows apps are not touchscreen optimized, so sometimes it is hard to tap on the very small GUI widgets (like minimize and maximize), but they DO work.

Stupid Mobile Tricks


i have an affinity for old school 90's RPG games.  Ever since about 2005, i've been looking for a portable device with a touchscreen to play some of my old favorites.  all tablets have come up short.  the closes I got was when a company re-released Baldur's Gate for iPad.  I had all but given up with this silly requirement, but all of a sudden, here comes the dell venue to finally deliver!

I continue to believe that the single greatest thing about this tablet is the ability to install any old windows program on the tablet.  I dusted off ye 'ole Icewind Dale pc game from forever ago, and installed it.  Not only did it run great, but the windows 8.1 touch compatibility worked beautifully with taps, drags, and hold-to-right-click gestures.  Very impressive!

Oh, and it runs ADOBE FLASH (if you need it).  I'm largely over this topic, but if you still want to hold on to the past, Dell Venue 8 Pro has your back...

Praises

  • Metro Apps run REALLY well
  • The 8" size -- not too big, not too little, just right
  • Fit and finish -- very solid, feels like it will last
  • Full windows 8.1 install to which I can add anything I want
  • Free Microsoft Office (i always got annoyed when a new PC didn't come with this)
  • Very nice quality screen, good color, good touch response

Gripes

  • No where near the App selection of Apple's App Store.
  • The home button is in a weird place.  Others reviewers have commented on this as well.  I know why they did it, but it is still awkward to use.
  • Only one usb port.  And it is the charging port too.  Mouse + charge? nope.  meh.
  • The internal storage performs more like an SD card than an SSD class.  I sure wish it performed like an SSD... 
  • Windows 8 is usable from the desktop, but only BARELY.  Stuff is a bit too small to tap on, and could use some mobile friendly enhancements while keeping the power of the full OS. Example: the on-screen keyboard covers 1/2 the screen real estate, making it tough to type and use anything.
  • No decent keyboard cases available yet for it.  I'll be patient.
  • Windows 8.1 didn't readily show a easy log on options.  I was typing in passwords which is very annoying for a tablet experience, until I google'd and found that I can turn on a PIN screen, like iPad.  Do it.  It is much easier than typing in a password to unlock the tablet.  This isn't really a Dell Venue 8 issue, but an issue nonetheless.

Neutral Comments:

  • The processor is still a little weak from a pure benchmark perspective, but in many ways, the OS uses it more efficiently than in the other computers, and more than makes up for the poor benchmark.

Summary

It takes a lot to impress me these days, especially with smartphones and mobile devices in general.  I wasn't really impressed with the last few generations of iPhones or Android tablets.  In addition, its been several years since I really had my socks knocked off by a product by Dell or Microsoft.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro really changes my opinion however.  It is an impressive piece of hardware.  Even though I had more gripes than praises, I would certainly recommend this little tablet.  It seems to be the right combination of flexible power of a desktop OS with the performance oriented tablet interface to be useful and entertaining.

CPU performance: adequate
Mobile optimized: surprisingly good
Price for Value: very good (considering you can use it as a pc and a tablet)

The sub-par cpu performance is eclipsed by the excellent performance of the metro apps and the quality user interface in general.

I wouldn't make it my primary PC (I have a Macbook Air for that), but give me a folio case with a keyboard, and this is one heck of a netbook killer and casual reading/entertainment tablet all in one.  Might even suffice as a "single device" for traveling...

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