Tablets

Delving in Dell Venue 8 Pro software capabilities

Patrick Gray takes a look at some of the software capabilities of the Dell Venue 8 Pro.
 

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In my previous post, I considered whether Dell has delivered a solid Windows tablet: a device that’s cheap, lightweight, has an all-day battery, and can compete with Android and iOS. Outward appearances of the device indicate that there’s finally a Windows tablet that’s competitive, with the interesting twist that rather than running a mobile-specific OS, the Dell Venue 8 Pro runs “full fat” Windows 8.1.

Apps aplenty?

When discussing most non-Android and iOS tablets, the discussion around apps quickly comes down to the comparative lack of applications compared to the two tablet market leaders. Even when considering what used to be Microsoft’s “light and long lasting” tablet offering, Windows RT, app catalogs look relatively paltry compared to the million-plus apps in the Apple and Google stores.

This remains the case with the official app store on the Venue 8 Pro, which is the standard Store application available in all versions of Windows 8. While certainly not bereft of offerings, some key players are missing -- and there might be one or two applications to fill a niche, whereas Apple and Google’s stores contain a half-dozen. Where the app discussion gets interesting is that beneath the “Modern” user interface lies the traditional Windows desktop, and unlike Windows RT, nearly any Windows executable file created since the dawn of the PC will happily run on the Venue 8 Pro.

For enterprises, this is Earth-shattering. Have an enterprise application from the late 1990’s written in Visual Basic? If it will run in Windows 8, it will run on the Venue 8 Pro. Need a complex network monitoring tool? No need for an app, just download and install from the vendor web site. Even full-fledged Outlook, Office, and Photoshop will run on the device.

Paradise lost?

For an overworked IT department, the Venue 8 Pro and the rest of the new generation of Windows 8.1 tablets seems like a godsend, since existing enterprise applications can now be deployed unmodified to a tablet. However, problems arise when you actually attempt to use some of these applications, most of which were designed for large screens and mouse/keyboard-centric operation. One of the Venue 8 Pro’s strengths, its small size and light weight, becomes a handicap when you attempt to run an application designed for a desktop on a small screen and, in my case in particular, attempt to interact with that application with a chubby and clumsy finger that’s huge compared to the mouse pointer.

Even if an application runs perfectly on a device, in all likelihood, you’ll want a modified user interface to make it successful on a tablet, eliminating some of the benefit of being able to run “anything” Windows on the Venue 8 Pro. The silver lining is that you can use familiar Windows development and management tools rather than building or buying expensive mobile development expertise.

Split-personality speed demon

This is not meant to be a full review of Windows 8.1, but it's important to note that many of the kinks of the early releases of the OS have been ironed out, and the Dell Venue 8 Pro successfully handles the “split personalities” of Windows 8, opening and running applications in both the Modern and traditional Windows interfaces with aplomb. Some people in IT still cringe when they see an Atom-branded processor, but rest assured that the unit in the Dell Venue 8 Pro will happily chew through enterprise-type workloads. You’re not going to transcode 4K video streams, but multiple Office and web browser windows will work fine, and applications open and close on the device just as quickly as my quad-core i7 desktop.

Dell was also kind enough to deliver a fairly standard Windows 8.1 experience, with little bundled software beyond some rudimentary utilities, none of which I’ve found particularly useful. A Home and Student license of Office is included, but as an Office 365 user, I was able to load the full suite. Interestingly, I’ve found myself using the Modern Mail application more than Outlook, since the latter struggles on the small screen and awkwardly resizes elements of the application in a way that makes quick email triaging easier in Mail. Word and Excel adapt a little more fluidly to the smaller screen, and it’s wonderful to be able to review and edit Office documents without awkward conversions or third-party applications that botch formatting or make modifying documents difficult.

Next up: A day in the life

With a quality build, all-day battery, and “real” Windows onboard, the Dell Venue 8 Pro seems to be a winner. In my next post, I’ll review a few weeks with the device “in the wild,” taking notes in client meetings, creating and editing documents, and attempting to use the Venue 8 Pro as a laptop replacement.

 

 

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

4 comments
Bluetooth_Bob
Bluetooth_Bob

I just bought the Venue 8 Pro with Bluetooth SMART keyboard, which has rapid key press response and long battery life (1-2 years!). I then bought and added a Bluetooth SMART mouse which paired immediately and both keyboard and mouse are running simultaneously, as fast as if it were wired! Great job DELL!!!!

david.c.allen
david.c.allen

I have the Asus T100 64gig 10.1" and there are desktop apps that just plain are impossible to use without and mouse and keyboard. That is why I purchased the T100 because it comes with the docking keyboard. I am a power users though and do a lot of Visual Studio work on it. I must say that it runs everything quite nicely. The Baytrail processor is great. The biggest issue in desktop mode is text entry because the keyboard takes u half the screen. I really wish Microsoft would allow third-pary keyboards. One that is half as tall and transparent a bit would be great.

GWK
GWK

Very much the same experience. Watch, though, when purchasing the Venue Pro 8 through distributors, as sometimes they don't include a proper Office 2013 licence (only a trial).

I also have the same comments on the screen - good and bad!  I have now ordered a "capacitive stylus" (very cheap), and hope that will do the trick for desktop-based applications, especially Outlook, on which I have occasionally suffered on the Venue pro, and allow me to handwrite on the tablet during meetings (as my screen typing is too slow).  Again, having full sync of everything through Win 8.1 is great - until you make a bad mistake, and don't realise it until rather too late (eg deleting contents from the wrong Outlook folder.)  A lot of hassle if you have to go via the "Recover deleted items" process.

Having Onenote auto-sync through O365 between my desktop and the tablet is brilliant and completely hands-off.

I do wish Win 8.1 would allow logging into a pure O365 account - a constant battle when opening apps to be permitted to retain my local account on the tablet.

pjboyles
pjboyles

I have to second that screen size observation.  Some items just are not very screen friendly.  I find this even on 1366 x 768 laptop screens.  So much is still sized for 16:10.


The new generation quad core Atom with the SSD make this a nice light duty system.  Will it replace a desktop for people, possibly.  I have not looked at hooking it up to an external display yet.  On my testing list.  I don't expect an issue, but some of the USB based solutions had drivers that choked on atom processors.


I like the ability to run three or four items together.  This is more realistic for a business workload.


I gave one to my daughter.  She uses it for web, chat and light drawing.  For her that means three of four web sites where she is switching between, several chat sessions, a voice call and usually drawing something.  Interesting to see where it starts to slow down a little.  But for her, the small size and ease of use trump having to keep better control over how much she is doing at once.  She's not giving that device up.

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