Tablets

The Dell Venue 8 Pro: The Windows tablet we've been waiting for?

Find out why Patrick Gray thinks Microsoft may have finally nailed it with the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.

 

Dell Venue 8 Pro
 

Like many in the IT industry, I’ve been waiting for Microsoft to launch a compelling tablet offering to compete with Apple and Google. Microsoft is, after all, the company that introduced a feature-rich tablet back in 2001, unveiling the Tablet PC platform that remained a niche product until the iPad put the term “tablet” into the common vernacular.

Third time is the charm?

Since the introduction of the iPad, Microsoft and its hardware partners have attempted to steal some of the iPad’s thunder, initially releasing expensive models with poor battery life that ran full-fledged Windows 7. After flirting with Windows RT, the current crop of Microsoft tablets now offers full Windows 8.1, in a package that competes with Apple and Google in terms of price, size, and even battery capacity. This breed of tablets is well represented by Dell’s awkwardly-named Venue 8 Pro.

I’ve spent the last three weeks with the Venue 8 Pro, and I should be squarely inside the targeted demographic for the device. As a consultant, I travel heavily use my tablet like a stereotypical “knowledge worker,” triaging email and jockeying spreadsheets and presentations while on the move. While my travel schedule may be excessive, once on the ground, I move frequently between meetings and offices, which is more typical in these types of roles.

Dressed for business

Thankfully, Dell and others have abandoned attempts to “out Apple” Apple and make poor clones of the iPad. The Venue 8 Pro is business-like black, with a nice rubberized back to the device, which makes it easy for someone with large hands (my grandfather always referred to mine as “meat hooks”) able to hold the device one-handed. The prospect of an 8-inch “mini tablet” is worth considering if you’re in the market. I find the smaller format easier to grab and hold for a meeting, making the device more likely to travel with me throughout the day. In a pinch, it will even fit in a large pants pocket, at the obvious trade-off of less screen real estate. Despite the smaller size and lower price, nothing about the tablet’s physical characteristics feels cheap or poorly assembled.

The large glass front of the Venue 8 Pro doesn't have a physical button. This looks nice, but even after three weeks, I still find myself looking for the common “home” button below the screen, which Dell has moved to the upper right corner of the device. In addition to the home button, power and volume buttons adorn the right side of the device, leaving only a micro USB port and micro SD card slot to complete the ports.

There’s no standard USB port or mini-HDMI, so the micro SD card and micro USB are the only connectivity options. Fortunately, the former will accept an adapter that allows for a full-size USB device to be connected to the tablet. In practice, I thought I’d use the USB port on my Surface RT rather frequently, but aside from testing that it actually worked, I rarely plug anything into my tablets or miss a full-size USB port.

Processor, performance, and some problems

The Venue 8 Pro is powered by Intel’s latest “Bay Trail” series of Atom processors. I’ve never taken umbrage at the lowly Atom processor and won’t bore you with references to Netbooks of yore, other than to say that if you’re worried about the latest Atom’s capabilities, don’t be. While I’ll discuss more about software performance in my next article, rest assured that the processor flies though common business tasks and puts the Surface RT (and even my Core i7 desktop) to shame on opening and closing modern and standard applications. You’re not going to edit 4K HD videos on this device, but you’re also not going to want for power when performing common computing tasks.

After an initial overview of the hardware, I believe Dell has finally nailed the mini tablet for “regular” Windows, but there are a few small misses. Some aspects of the hardware and related drivers don’t appear to be working well at this time. For example, activating airplane mode effectively disables the Wi-Fi on my device until I do a reboot, and I’ve been unable to connect to a few public and hotel wireless networks, where an “I agree to terms and conditions” page that loads on all my other devices won’t load on the Venue 8 Pro. Hopefully, this issue will be solved with a software update.

Additionally, the device seems to have some struggles with power and charging. Windows devices in general seem to struggle to sleep efficiently, with a Windows laptop or tablet that has a 90% full battery showing 40% when awakened five or six days later, and the Venue 8 Pro exhibits this same activity. Charging also seems finicky. I was excited that the device charges through a standard micro USB cord, allowing me to eliminate one more proprietary adapter from my briefcase. However, when using a variety of non-Dell, but otherwise standard USB chargers, in some cases the battery will not fully charge in a 24-hour period. My preferred travel charger, which will simultaneously charge two USB devices, emits an annoying high-pitched whine when charging the Venue 8 Pro, the only device (out of a dozen) that causes this noise.

Despite these minor shortcomings, the screen, all-day battery, and easy-to-transport size have my Venue 8 Pro joining me for more meetings and late-night reading sessions than my trusted iPad 2. In my next article, I’ll discuss the software capabilities of the Venue 8 Pro and, assuming Dell ships the companion stylus I’ve ordered, whether the device achieves my “Holy Grail” of digital notepads. 

Do you think Microsoft finally nailed it with the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

 

 

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 ...

24 comments
cherie78
cherie78

I have this tablet I absolutely love it. The one thing is I noticed it freeze up on me the other day butbcame back on by itself shortly after, now today its been froze for a few hours I cant turn it off I need to know how to troubleshoot this issue and also how to avoid this in the future... Other than this issue i Love my tablet in work on the go its awesome!

EPerigo
EPerigo

I just bought a Dell Venue 8 Pro for my wife we have had it for about 2-4 weeks and so far my wife loves it, I even have put one on order. I used her's to take some picture's of some items for laptop parts I want to sell and was very impressed and happy of it's performance any other android tablet I have bought her she was not to thrilled with them and we would end up selling them, one of the pictures I took of a hard drive came out great you could read the sticker and the spec's on the device clear as day, where all the others so far were not so impressive. 

   So so far she and I are very impressed in this tablet.   I never wanted a tablet always a laptop just because they to me seemed like a better device But, now with the dell win 8 tablet I would prefer it over a laptop it's more portable, and easier to carry.

nevertell
nevertell

Really? You don't miss a REAL USB port? Either you are just trying to sell this whole "cloud" concept or you don't have real, business enviroment use. In our business meetings, either in house, or with clients, we insist on using either CDs USB thumbdrives, or USB external hard drives. Our client's data must be secure due to design. We will only transfer data with these methods, and that is why we banned the use of ipads here. This whole idea of trying to force computers on us that won't allow us (the owners of the computer) to physically hold on to, and move around/archive our data files, is absurd. As far as some of these having a micro-usb port, that is just foolish. Think about it, look at how fragile micro-usb ports are. At least with a REAL usb port, it will last with daily use. 

yodi.collins
yodi.collins

I am using the Dell Venue 8 Android.  It is the first Android device that I've owned.


I am pleased to see credit for the concept of the tablet properly appropriated in this article.

jmbechtle
jmbechtle

Picked up a 16GB on Black Friday and I think Dell has hit the mark with this tablet that runs standard Windows vice  RT apps.  But also mated it with a Plugable UD-3900 USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station with Dual Video outputs for Windows 8.1 that I picked up on Amazon.  Turns the tablet into a desktop with multiple displays using standard desktop monitor and full keyboard and mouse via USB.  Best of both worlds … desktop and mobile … and performance of apps do not suffer when using Plugable.  The only downer is the the tablet still runs on battery when connected to the Plugable and running as a desktop.  If Plugable could figure out a way to allow charging of the tablet while still running the monitors, keyboard and mouse it would be fantastic.

jdev1
jdev1

I suggest you compare this Dell product with Lenovo Thinkpad2' docking station and wifi keyboard this bundle is my current windows 8.1 preference and I also own an iPad, iPhone and beast desktop PC

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

Bought this device last month and have been really pleased with it.  I got the 64gb model and purchased a 64gb micro SD to bump storage up to 128gb.  Also purchased a bluetooth folding keyboard and bluetooth mouse so I don't use up the single USB port.  Another later addition was the OTG USB adapter so I could plug in a full size USB device.  One thing I did discover is that the USB port will not power a external drive, but there is an easy solution for that.  If you have a powered USB hub you can plug the external drive into it and it works just fine.  You're probably not hauling that external drive with you when you travel anyway.


This will replace my Android tablet for most all uses.  My big reason for purchasing this was a planned trip to Australia.  I will be able to use it for email, web, and other standard computer stuff, to offload and store pictures from my camera's SD card, to read books ala Kindle, and to make phone calls via Skype and avoid international fees.  I even have Photoshop CS2 (free from Adobe now) installed and it works great!  All that in a 8" package.  Sweet.

Cabo Wabo Addict
Cabo Wabo Addict

I have had the 8" 32GB model for about 2 months and love it.


The airplane mode issue is a problem. Until they correct this, I just disable the WiFi instead of using Airplane mode.


If I can't connect to a site, I set compatibility mode and it eliminates the issue. This seems to be the same as with my 8.1 Sony VIAO laptop, so I believe it is an OS/IE compatibility problem.


I got a Bluetooth travel mouse and keyboard and installed Visual Studio on it and now I have a VERY mobile workstation. Keep my projects on a 32GB uSD that I can swap with my laptop. Easy!


When I'm at work I pop in a uSD with music on it and play tunes to a BOSE Clock Radio connected to the earphone jack.


I also have used it with a Bluetooth OBDII module in my car and tested a digital display and the diagnostics functions. Works fine.


The ONLY complaint I have is that I wish it could be charged while using the USB port to connect a device.

All in all, I am very happy with it.

bc3tech
bc3tech

Need to take a look at Lenovo's new 8'incher....

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

Nice write-up, Mr. Gray.  


As for the high-pitched whine noise, I bet it sounds like a "Squeal", right?  Sounds like a choke coil may be  improperly insulated or something is touching the coil that shouldn't be, which makes the noise.  


I had a DFI motherboard in the Core 2 Duo (Penryn) days that did the same thing.  I did what I could to try and resolve it, but it persisted, so I exchanged it.  My first LCD HDTV (a sharp Aquos) did the same thing.  Luckily, I noticed that a lot of the styrofoam packaging that held the TV in the packaging was broken (likely during shipping), so I thought maybe some got into the TV.  I removed the back (simply a large plastic piece held in by a few hex-screws) and used some compressed air to blow-out the little foam "dots", put it back together, and the sound stopped.  


If you get a hold of Dell I bet they would exchange it for you if it is annoying.

sales
sales

I love the Venue 8! I have had it for about a month now and use it for al kinds of business related things. I travel often and the size is great plus being able to use Log Me In I can access all of my companies programs on the fly and they are the full programs. I also use it to watch a movie on the plane and to read books. It does it all!! I have never been a Dell fan but they have won me over with this product. Gave my Ipad to my a son and my Android tablet to one of my employees. 

RonThom70
RonThom70

I bought a 32 GB one when it first came out. Liked it so much that I wanted to get a 64 GB one. A workmate saw it and bought the 32 GB from me on the spot, so I got the 64.

The tablet isn't as polished as my iPad was, but I've been very pleased with it. It's fast, powerful enough, and great for business meetings.

I've had a poor experience with the stylus. The first batch was flaky, as the cursor would hover click when I pointed it at the screen. I had to swap it out 3 times. Once I finally got one that worked, it worked awesomely until the tip came out.

My understanding is Dell is reworking the stylus and will have a new one in February or March.

I'm handling my working stylus with care, as the digitizer works very well now after a few updates from Dell.

This tablet is good now, and has the potential to be great. To date, I hadn't seen a tablet with a digitizer at this price point.

Even with the quirks I brought up, I'd recommend it to people looking for a small form factor Windows tablet. I know of at least 7 or 8 people personally that bought one shortly after seeing mine and all have said they loved them.

GWK
GWK

I bought one of these (UK version) a week ago, so the test drive isn't as thorough.  There was confusion from the distributor about whether the "included" Microsoft Office 2013 was trial only or Home/Student or whatever, but fortunately I had a spare office 2013 Pro licence: I had to uninstall the complete provided Microsoft Office 2013 installation and start again with the Office 2013 Pro installation file.  Don't forget this is a 32-but machine, so 64-but software won't load. Very pleased to note the device is automatically bitlocker encrypted (even though not Win 8.1 pro), but I cannot get remote desktop control into it (as it is not a full Pro installation) - a pity, as that would have helped with setup.  A full Pro Win 8.1 will also permit logging into a corporate network (I haven't tried this as yet from the Venue Pro 8).

Clearly with such a small screen, working with large fingers in desktop mode can be challenging, but with care most tasks are OK, especially and including Outlook and OneNote (both I use heavily on this device). OneNote is synced through Office365 (ie Skydrive Pro) very successfully (you could use a standard Microsoft Account and Skydrive).  The Win 8.1 insistence on a "Microsoft Account" even when using Office 365 is a real pain, but not a function of the Venue Pro 8.

So far I have found the WiFi very workable, although I have yet to stretch it with auto-logins to public WiFi services.

I agree that having the Windows key on the edge of the device takes getting used to, so also all the swipe/gestures that really make the Metro-interface fly.  I also agree with "kanehi" that there are currently some strange screen brightness issues, that seem to occur erratically.

But all in all, a good device especially given the price.

kanehi
kanehi

I saw the Venue 8 Pro with 64gb at Costco and for the life of me I couldn't increase the screen brightness.  The screen was so dim even though I max'd out the brightness level and disabled the autodim.  I have the Asus Vivotab 10.1 and the additional screen size makes a difference.  Dell will hopefully come out with an LTE version later this year. 

Darryl_Gittins
Darryl_Gittins

The Venue Pro 8 is a brilliant device except for one serious flaw: they supplied the wrong charging cable. The port is rectangular and the plug is trapezoidal so it can be plugged in either way, and if you plug it in wrong, you can bend or break the pin block.   I've looked at the connectors on dozens of phones and tablets I could find none that use a connector that could be connected wrong like this. The Venue Pro 8 is the only device I can find where it is possible to connect the power cable wrong and therefore destroy the device. Put simply, the device is doomed.  It's only a matter of time before every one of these is damaged because of this issue.   


Beware. 

EPerigo
EPerigo

@jmbechtle they now have a cord that you can charge and use the usb port I just found that out I think it was on tigerdirect.com but not sure where it was     Where I just started to use any tablet due to problems with them.

jdev1
jdev1

That is another reason how thinkpad2 with docking station that has mains power connector beats the Dell tablet here hands down

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

@GWKThe Venue 8 Pro comes with the Home/Student version of Office 2013 installed and there is no charge for it.  It does not include Outlook or Access but you can use the Metro Outlook app which works pretty well.  Really, with this package included it makes this machine a real bargain.

jqueen
jqueen

@kanehi  the screen brightness

this is actually a setting from dell. when you adjust thescreen it doesn't actually removethe auto brightness feature they set. you have to go the charms bar and turn off the auto brightness then the screen is beautiful. I also have the venue 11 pro core i5 has the same issue once you turn the screen off its gorgeous


quarkyuk
quarkyuk

@kanehi The screen brightness is fixed with an update. Before that, most people just disabled the auto-brightness setting.


I have had a 64GB device for several weeks now and love it. I have had iPad's, Nexus 7's, and now this, and every time I get a new tablet, they seem to get better. 


It isn't quite the finished article, and I find strange issues with gaps between audio tracks on occasion, and of course the app store isn't up to the standard of Apple/Google yet, but then IE works really well on here and the ability to pin a LOT to the start menu (documents, shortcuts, Internet links, etc) is great.


Oh, and Fresh Paint is awesome :)

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

@Darryl_GittinsBought my V8P 64gb last month and have really grown fond of it.  The micro USB port is odd being rectangular.  I wasn't sure which way to plug it in at first but if you try to do it wrong you need to use quite a bit of force.  Generally this will keep folks from doing damage.  I've just paid attention to which side of the USB plug is facing me when I insert it.  Always use the smaller side!