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.