What a Tablet is to Me
We recently ordered a few Dell Venue 8 Pro’s for testing. The timing worked out really well for me because I was toying with the idea of replacing my iPad 3 with an iPad mini with Retina Display. I figured the Venue 8 Pro might fulfill the use cases I have for a casual tablet, or if not, at least confirm my eventual choice of the iPad mini.
I suppose I should explain that for me, my iPad has always been a “companion” device. Unlike my wife, who uses her iPad as a real computer, doing real work, I’ve mostly used my iPad as a reading device of one kind or another. I read books on it. I browse the web. Most of what I write on the iPad I write either in short emails or Twitter. I say that to highlight that I didn’t bring any expectations to my use of the Venue 8 Pro other than that I’d like for it to perform as a stand-in for an iPad mini for me.
It’s with that in mind that I mention the very first thing a coworker asked me about the Venue 8 Pro she’d received was, “can we put these in Active Directory?” The answer to that is no. Only Windows 8 Pro and above can join an AD, and the VP8 doesn’t come with Windows 8 Pro, but rather just Windows 8. The next question I was asked was, “Can we put our Windows 8 Enterprise on them?” And yes, there are guides/walkthroughs out there that describe how to do that. I discouraged that, however, as it isn’t something a normal user could do and, perhaps more importantly, it would run contrary to something I believe Dell would back me up in saying about the Venue 8 Pro – this 8” tablet is not intended to be used like or replace your desktop or laptop computer. Honest. And the quicker you put the thought of treating it like a “little computer” out of your head, the quicker you can go about being reasonably satisfied with what is, on the whole, a fairly inexpensive iPad mini-like Windows companion device.
Tech Specs & Pics
Let’s get some basics out of the way. The Dell Venue 8 Pro is an 8” Tablet running Windows 8.1. Several options are configurable via Dell’s website, but mine has an Atom CPU running at 1.33 GHz, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD. That SSD reports as 52.3GB usable, probably due to formatting and also some sort of recovery partition. The VP8 also has a Micro-SD card that supports cards up to 128GB. The screen runs at 1280×800, so this isn’t really “retina” quality – although it looks great to me. The VP8 has front and rear cameras, although I’ve only used the front one for video conferencing. The VP8 has a single Micro USB port for charging and data transfer. You can also connect an OTG (On the Go) cable to the port and use it to connect a keyboard, mouse, flash drive, etc.
Here are a few pictures of the VP8 in the real world. First, a picture of the VP8 next to my iPad 3.
A shot of the VP8 in the Dell Tablet Folio and holding the Dell Active Stylus.
And finally, a shot of the VP8 setup for note-taking with the Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard.
Venue 8 Pro – What I Like
Size. While I’ve bought (and returned) both the original Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HDX, I didn’t love either of those tablets, so I kept coming back to my iPad. And since I have yet to purchase an iPad mini, that meant a full-sized tablet. For what I use a tablet for most of the time, a 10 plus inch screen is just overkill. The 8” tablet really does seem to be just the right size for the use to which I plan to put a tablet.
Performance. I can’t claim to have run benchmarks on the VP8, but it is peppy enough for my needs. I used it off and on for several hours a day for a week while in orientation and never felt like I had to wait for it.
Price. Our Venue 8 Pro’s were purchased from Amazon for just over $300. After installing the full Office 2013 suite along with a handful of smaller apps, I have 30GB of space left on the tablet. Compare that to an iPad mini with less storage for about the same price, or a higher price for close to the same storage. Granted, the accessories (case, stylus, and keyboard) add to the price – but they do that for the iPad as well.
Good Metro/Modern/Tile apps. Internet Explorer in the touch/tile interface isn’t half bad. The touch/tile version of OneNote is awesome. OneNote itself is pretty close to being a killer app for any tablet, since it’s available on iOS, Android, and Windows. There are a handful of other Windows 8 tile apps that are good – Facebook, Tweetium, and Skype among them. Is the Windows 8 Store comparable to either the iOS or Android store in scope? Nope – but it’s coming along.
Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 improves what was already a pretty good OS in 8.0.
SkyDrive OneDrive integration is fantastic, and definitely improves my efficiency when moving amongst my desktop, laptop, and tablet. As a long-time Mac user, I don’t mind Microsoft doubling down on the more modern aspects of Windows 8 in 8.1. In fact, I’d like to see them do more.
Venue 8 Pro – What I Don’t Like
Battery Life. It may be that I’m so used to ARM-based device battery life that even the mobile-friendly Intel Atom CPU will just never deliver the kind of battery life I expect. I suspect it may also be the case that Windows is simply not as draconian about preserving battery life as iOS. My VP8 dings and dongs at odd hours, seemingly receiving mail when I’d rather it just be asleep. I know I can leave my iPad sitting for days on end and flip it open to find plenty of battery left. I simply can’t say the same about the Venue 8 Pro. If I were using this tablet a decent amount every day, I wouldn’t mind charging it nightly, but I made the mistake of leaving it in my bag for a few days and took it out to find the battery completely drained.
Bad Metro/Modern/Tile apps. I hate the Kindle app. Not only does it do a subpar job of laying out and rendering text on the screen compared to the iOS or native Kindle app, it lacks basic functionality. I have a subscription to the digital version of Poets & Writers magazine. I can read it on my hardware Kindle device, either my iPhone or iPad, and the Kindle Fire tablets as well. The Kindle app for Windows does not support magazine subscriptions. This is a huge problem for me as I consider whether the Venue 8 Pro or any Windows tablet could replace the iPad as my tablet of choice. I could go with Zinio for this and other digital subscriptions, but I buy and read all of my books and magazines via Kindle, and there’s a Kindle app on Windows – it just doesn’t support subscriptions. I hope this is resolved soon, because I have no desire to carry two tablets, and remember, for me, a tablet is mostly about reading, web browsing, email, and social media.
Desktop Apps. They’re useless for me on a screen this size. In fact, I would much prefer an “RT” version of the VP8 to one that includes Desktop functionality. The screen is too small to use apps that aren’t touch-friendly and my fingers are too large to tap 1/8” touch targets. I try my best to avoid Desktop apps and stick only to touch/tile apps.
Venue 8 Pro – Who is it for?
Folks who are most comfortable with Windows who are looking for an iPad mini-sized device. Folks who don’t get confused and think they’re going to turn this little device into a replacement for their 15” laptop. Folks who don’t want to pay the Apple Tax on iPad storage increases. Folks who want a book-sized device that runs an OS that should always work better with OneDrive and other Microsoft services than iOS or Android will.
So is the Venue 8 Pro an iPad mini competitor? For some people, I’m sure it can be. For me? Not really. In fact, I’ve already begun to carry my iPad in my bag again. I will eventually buy myself an iPad mini with Retina Display, but for the time being, my iPad 3 does everything I need it to do and I don’t feel like paying $500 or so for a 32GB mini.
I will say that the Venue 8 Pro served me very well in numerous occasions at work when I needed to be able to take notes and keep an eye on incoming email. The Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard is too small for me to touch type with any speed, but I can still hunt and peck on it much more quickly than I can write out notes by hand – either on paper or using the stylus. The VP8 is also tiny enough that I can keep it in front of me in a meeting, tapping away when I need to jot something down, but ignore it when I don’t need it. If I ever get good enough with the stylus (my handwriting is terrible and I write with a pen very rarely), I may just take notes that way.
Do you have a Dell Venue 8 Pro? I’d love to know what you think about it and whether you agree or disagree with my opinion!