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Summary:

A Costco trip for groceries turned into a gadget purchase: I bought a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. For $299.99, this 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet is impressive enough to suggest Microsoft doesn’t need a Surface Mini.

Pro 8 Tablet with Thin Cover Keyboard and Stylus

It never fails: I can’t walk into a Costco without spending at least a few hundred dollars. This weekend was no exception either. My wife and I hit up the local warehouse store to stock up on some canned goods, snacks and other food and of course I left there with a new gadget: I bought a 64 GB Dell Venue 8 Pro with folio case for $299.99.

Dell Venue 8 Pro

I’m not yet sure if I’ll keep the device — Costco has a very generous 90-day return policy — mainly because I’m not sold on the need for a Windows tablet for what I do. But if I do take it back, it won’t be because the slate is a bad product: I’ve used it heavily over the weekend and it’s the best Windows 8.1 tablet I’ve tested to date, a list that includes other slates from Lenovo and Toshiba.

Here are some initial observations in no particular order.

  • Most Windows tablets in this size use a 1280 x 800 resolution panel and the Venue 8 Pro is no exception. However, it’s an outstanding, bright IPS screen with great viewing angles. Touch is very responsive on the screen, which supports 10 simultaneous touch points.
  • An Intel Atom chip and 2 GB of memory are standard fare for 8-inch tablets running Windows 8.1, so the Dell doesn’t differ much here. Dell chose the Atom Z3740D to power the device; a quad-core chip clocked at 1.33 GHz with turbo-boost up to 1.83 GHz. By comparison, Lenovo uses a slightly faster Atom Z3770 chip in its $399 ThinkPad 8.3 tablet: That chip clocks at 1.46 GHz with a boost up to 2.39 GHz but you’d be hard pressed to see a performance difference.
  • Out of the various Windows slates I’ve looked at, I like the Dell’s design the most. This is a light, slim tablet with nice rubberized back and rounded edges.
    Dell Venue 8 Pro back
    It weighs 395 grams (0.87 pounds) and measures 216 x 130 x 9 millimeters or 8.5 x 5.12 by 0.35 inches. Essentially, this is a full Windows 8.1 machine in a size very comparable to an iPad mini.
    dell venue 8 pro side
  • The device does get warm in one particular spot on the back. It’s not what I’d call hot enough to be annoying but it’s definitely noticeable.
  • Dell says the Venue 8 Pro should get up to 8 hours of run-time on a single charge. So far, my experience matches up with that claim although I like to fully cycle the battery of a device several times before doing an official battery test. Still, I was able to use the tablet on and off for a full day on a single charge.
  • Just like its peers, the Dell Venue 8 Pro comes with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013. The apps run pretty well on the device but I’ll be happier when Microsoft launches a more touch-friendly version of Office for Windows. Still, if I needed to update a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, it’s easy to do on this tablet.
  • Unlike other Windows tablets, there’s no Windows button on the front face of the slate. Many have a capacitive button that, when pressed, brings you back to the Start screen. Dell opted for a small physical button on the top side of the device. I don’t particularly care for that design choice.
  • I also wished Dell had put in a second speaker. There’s just one so if you’re going to listen to music or watch videos, you’ll want to use headphones. With headphones on, the sound is quite good.
  • There’s a single micro-USB port used for data transfers and charging the device. Dell includes a small 10W charger with the tablet.
  • Dell charges $40 for the folio case that Costco included.
    dell venue 8 pro folioIt’s not bad and particularly useful for propping up the tablet to watch videos or to use as a traditional PC. Ideally, you’ll need a wireless mouse and keyboard if you plan for that; Dell sells small wireless keyboard for $99.99.
  • Dell also sells an active stylus for the Venue 8 Pro but I haven’t bought one. I’ve read dozens of posts about initial problems with the stylus, however, the company says it has addressed them with a software fix.
    dell venue 8 pro
  • The tablet has a pair of cameras — 5 megapixels on the back and 1.2 on the front — which is handy for basic photos and video-conferencing through Skype or other apps. I tested the front camera on a Skype call and the experience was pretty solid.
  • You don’t get integrated mobile broadband at this price, so it’s Wi-Fi for connectivity. The Venue 8 Pro supports dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi which tests pretty good on my home network. I get faster speeds with 802.11ac devices but Wi-Fi performance is fine on this tablet.

Back in 2007, I spent $1,200 on what was then called a UMPC or Ultra Mobile PC. These were 7-inch tablets with resistive, not capacitive, touchscreens that ran Windows. They were up to an inch thick and often ran out of battery within 3 to 4 hours.

Image 1 for post Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium battery life with EV-DO: a weekend scenario( 2008-04-14 13:27:45)

Fast forward to today and for 25 percent of the cost you can get a lighter, thinner Windows computer good for all-day mobile use. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the Dell may be the best of the bunch. If I had to pick one to carry around with me, this would be it.

Again, I’m not sure I need a Windows tablet. I use an iPad Air for most of my tablet content consumption and a Chromebook for work: Nearly all of the content I produce is done in a browser. Over the next three months we’ll see if the Venue 8 Pro wins me over and finds room in my stable of devices; I suspect the new Windows 8.1 update will have much to do with that decision because Microsoft has definitely improved the overall software experience.

And even with just a short time using the Dell tablet, it reinforces my personal opinion that Microsoft doesn’t need to make a Surface Mini slate, particularly if the device will run Windows RT. It will be a challenge for the company to bring such a tablet to market for much less than the Dell Venue 8 Pro costs (the 32 GB model is $249.99 direct) and offers more flexibility for consumers and enterprises alike since it runs the full version of Windows 8.1 with support for older apps.

 

  1. Jared Westfall Monday, April 28, 2014

    I bought mine the same way. The new stylus is great and you can run Chrome is Windows 8 mode for a chromebook experience,

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    1. Yup, installing Chrome and running it Windows 8 mode is one of the first things I did. Touch points are a little small but it works! :)

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  2. I bought the 32GB version with a 64GB microsd card for a Christmas present for myself. Overall it’s a great little tablet. The WiFi is very good in that I can connect to an AP from quite a distance away. My only problem was with the Windows updates. It kept hosing my wireless driver and I’d have to reinstall it. Other than that issue, it works wonderfully.

    I bought mine from Microcenter for $229. Still a pretty good deal.

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    1. Yeah, I picked up my 32GB model for $199. I’m a storage hog, so it has taken some time to get used to. I dumped the recovery to a jump drive and with a handful of some useful “Modern” apps, I’ve got about 9GB free. Installed 64GB MicroSD and moved my libraries and OneDrive to it. And I’ve installed some Desktop apps there and they run fine. Couldn’t direct a few of my favorite desktop apps to the MicroSD (D:) but still, the 9GB free is more breathing room.

      I’ve got a Surface Pro 3 on its way so it remains to be seen if I use this much. I have a Surface Pro 2 but I am having a blast with the Venue 8 and it’s interesting form factor. I am quite surprised at portrait mode.

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  3. I’ve been using mine for 6 months. Love it. Don’t really pick up my Nexus 7 anymore.

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  4. Linked below is a youtube of Plugable which can allow up to 4 extra monitors running off of a single Dell Venue 8 Pro.

    This is a powerful system in a very small package.

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    1. Nice; that’s pretty slick. I remember back in 2007 connecting my UMPC to a single monitor and using it as a full desktop computer. Look how far we’ve come! :)

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  5. Stephen Pate Monday, April 28, 2014

    It’s a hateful device with Windows Desktop shrunk to a size no human eye can see. I had one for months and just dumped it. Windows 8 on anything smaller than 10″ is punishing. http://njnnetwork.com/2014/01/8-reasons-to-pass-on-the-dell-venue-8-pro-tablet/

    When Microsoft drops the Desktop for Windows 8 maybe but I think they should just upgrade Windows Phone 8.1 to 6″ – 8″ devices and stop torturing the public.

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  6. I have the 32G Venue 8 and here are a couple comments:

    Cons:
    There is one USB port. Without some hacks you can’t charge and have anything connected to the tablet.

    The only USB port doesn’t have the ability to drive a single 3.5″ HD, one that I can drive with other laptops and my Nexus 7.

    You can’t charge unless you have a charger that shorts the data lines together, this means that you can’t charge while plugged into a laptop or (surprisingly) an ipad or the nexus chargers.

    The Screen is nice but when working with the desktop at the default resolution it’s really hard to hit some of the touchpoints (i.e no pinch to zoom). If you change the resolution to < 800 vertical you can't open a lot of the windows 8 full screen apps.

    The 32G tablet has 10G free on startup, compressing the drive and removing stuff I don't need got me to 14G, not a lot of space but there is a microSD slot (that I haven't tried yet)

    The Dell keyboard (I got the case and keyboard with the device) is pretty hard to be productive on. The feel is OK but they messed a lot on the layout to where touch typing is not a reality for me.

    Pros:
    Battery life is pretty good

    Miracast is pretty neat as a way to get video off the tablet but either need a Miracast tv/monitor or another device (I'm using the Netgear PTV3000).

    It does seem to run most everything that I need to run, I'm still installing stuff but for now I'm going to keep it and see if I can use it as a work substitute or (more likely) partial substitute.

    I'm going to keep it at least for the short term, the Surface Pro is a _lot_ more money (and has more value, I recognize that) but is less portable. I would trade for a Surface Mini if it had more ports and a place to hold the stylus.

    I recognize that there aren't may 'pros' compared to the 'cons' but I take this as a first generation windows attempt and I hope that Dell sticks with it.

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  7. I recently bought this unit and returned it. Here’s why

    – I’ve never had more firmware and software updates on any
    device than this one.

    – There are many complaints about this device on Amazon
    and other forums. The fact that there are so many refurb
    units of this item so soon after its introduction date should tell
    you something about this tablet’s not being ready for prime time.

    – On my unit, there was a problem with onscreen keyboard bounce
    when using a capacitive stylus. The bounce was so bad that when
    it was virtually impossible to enter the correct password on cold
    boot to log into the device using the capacitive stylus. This problem
    persisted even though Dell had put out a touch screen update.. Although
    there was no such problem with the active stylus, I consider this
    a dealbreaker. Swiping with the active stylus is less smooth than
    with a capacite stylus. The Dell active stylus should include a
    capacitive stylus tip on top for such occasions.

    – The screen also had problems with the active stylus,, including
    dead spots, delayed response, unresponsiveness.,

    – I’ve bought active styli from Lenovo, and they include spare tips.
    The Dell active stylus does not include spare tips.

    – The device charges via a proprietary Dell connector instead of the
    more common microUSB. I wouldn’t mind charging via a proprietary
    connector as long as a full size USB connector were available.

    This device reminds me of an Italian sports car that spends way too
    much time in the shop needing to get fixed. I’m now waiting for

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  8. Kevin,

    I got my Venue primarily to leave it running at home so that I have a Windows device to Chrome Remote Desktop into from my Chromebook if there is ever anything I need a PC for.

    The Atom chip uses hardly any electricity so it is a superior choice to leaving my desktop on 24×7. Also, the form factor doesn’t take up any space in my small house.

    I only wish I had gotten a 64Gb version – the 32GB requires a lot of time and effort to make productive vs. the extra $100.

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    1. Tony, that’s actually a pretty great idea for Chromebook users who still need Windows from time to time. It gets past the small screen limitation since the remote environment will be on an 11.6-inch or larger display. You just *might* have given me another reason to keep this purchase!

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      1. That’s exactly right Kevin. I actually did the majority of my configuration of my Venue through my Samsung ARM-based Chromebook because Chrome Remote Desktop works so darn well!

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  9. Sounds interesting. Going to the dell website here in the UK, the prices are:
    £249 for the 32GB version, and £349(!?!?!) for the 64GB version.

    Dell, WTF!?!

    I guess I won’t be trying out this technology.

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  10. Install the touchmousepointer utility! this little piece of freeware enomously increases the usability of the windows desktop on small tablets.. The whole screen turns into a virtual touchpad overlay,. Precision cursor control and clicking of tiny touch targets becomes totally easy, Modern ui usage remains unchanged.

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    1. I can second that! Great app, Microsoft should buy this app or hire its programmer.

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