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Dell Venue 8 Pro review (with a Nexus 7 comparison)

The front and back of the Dell Venue 8 Pro
As a fan of technology in general, I have always dreamed of the day where convergence would allow me to have the greatest flexibility in a portable and sleek package.  My current options, which are the Galaxy Note 2 and the Nexus 5 are great, but too small to do any actual work while my ultraportable Acer Aspire 1810TZ is too big to fit in my pocket when going out.  

My Nexus 7 2013 is an incredibly great piece of technology with very few trade off's and is my usual partner in crime when I venture out into the real world.  Its 7 inch screen and slim/sleek design easily fit into the back pocket of my jeans or an inside jacket pocket.  

Dell Venue 8 Pro side by Side with the Nexus 7 2013

They are very close in overall thickness.
Needless to say, I am always on the look out for something more.  With the recent update to the intel atom processors, the processors have actually become useful with a surprising amount of "kick" to their performance. This is especially true compared to the older atom chipsets which struggled even under Windows XP. These new "Bay Trail" chips are now competitive with ARM processors in terms of battery life while allowing the use of full blown Windows 8.1 (instead of that terrible RT) in a reasonably slim form factor.  

I'm not going into a deep spec analysis here (I'm sure Anandtech has that for you in spades!) but here are the various configurations on the Dell Website.  If you're looking for a side by side spec comparison between the Venue Pro 8 and Nexus 7 then click here.

For my $299 USD, I received the 64GB model with an 8 inch IPS HD screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 resolution.  While this may be lower than the Nexus 7 2013 and the iPad Mini, you'll be hard pressed to notice.  The on screen text is still very sharp and legible at small sizes.  The on screen colors look great and actually surpassed the Nexus 7 2013 in how vivid they are.  On screen contrast is great and the screen can get very bright if you disable the incredibly aggressive auto dim.  

The back camera is a 5mp model with autofocus while the front is a 1.2mp that is perfectly adequate for selfies, and Skype.  Yes, you can do hangouts as well, if you install the desktop Chrome browser along with the appropriate extension.  While the camera's aren't absolutely horrible, don't expect any better than the usual tablet pics or anything close to the quality of an actual camera.  

Low light Dell Venue 8 Pro - Back Camera

Low light Dell Venue Pro 8 - Front Camera
Low Light Nexus 7 2013 - Back Camera

Low Light Nexus 7 2013 - Front Camera
For a basic comparison,  I took some low light snapshots of Mario with both the front and back cameras of the Venue Pro and the Nexus 7.  The results are what you see above.

The multi-touch display is highly responsive and a pleasure to use with the finger friendly "Modern" ui apps working perfectly well without missed finger taps or any noticeable lag while swiping.   Dell does also sell a $30 active stylus for you artists and note takers out there.  There are many reviews online on how well it works are they are mixed.  My personal assessment (after updating it to the latest firmware from Dell) is that while it works with certain apps such as One Note, it's just not pleasurable or even easy to use with the Operating system in general.   My Galaxy Note 2 with the S pen doesn't just easily runs circles around the Dell pen when it comes to ease of use, but it also works flawlessly navigating the entire android OS without needing to resort to a manual to understand its basic functions.

While it certainly looks nice, Dell's Pen just doesn't work anywhere near as well as the S-pen.
When it comes to the app ecosystem, Microsoft's Modern interface just can't hold a candle to the vast wonderland that is the Google Play store.  The app situation has slowly improved over the last year with some of the more popular mobile apps  such as Facebook, Flipboard, Yelp, Amazon, and Cut the Rope finally making their way over to Windows but there are just as many missing.  Instagram? Nope.  HBO Go? Nope. Temple Run 2? Nope. Youtube? Not officially.  It doesn't take much scrolling in the Windows store before you start to see crap apps overtake the desirable ones.  

Not all hope is lost, the desktop portion of Windows allows you to run the same Windows programs that you have enjoyed for decades.  Yes, you can run Steam and many of its games. You can attach an iPad and sync it to the actual iTunes.  Need to root your Android device through ADB?  Connect it and run that command line. The real Photoshop works, and so does Microsoft office.  Other than Office, most of the programs (not apps) on this desktop side aren't optimized for touch, but with a little finger aerobics, they tend to work just fine.  You also have the vast ecosystem of Windows accessories. Printing, game controllers, TV tuners, etc, all work just as they would on a desktop.  As long as it can connect to a USB OTG cable, Bluetooth, or WiFi, the sky is the limit.  

Multi-tasking also runs like a champ (within reasonable limits) even with just 2 gigs of ram.  In desktop mode, you have windows and in the modern interface you have the option to run 2 apps side by side.  You can cheat that limit somewhat by using the desktop as one of your apps and a modern app as the other.  

Surprisingly, the Intel HD graphics in this diminutive device can actually run some 3D desktop games.  Pair your favorite controller with the tablet, and you can play games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum at low to medium settings.   Don't expect to compete with a gaming PC, but for a low power machine you can get playable frame rates from some fairly recent games under the right settings.  You won't have any issues with "Modern" ui games.  Games like "Rayman: Jungle Run" look and play beautifully.  I connected a Trio Linker adapter along with a PS1 Dual shock and it worked perfectly installing drivers and setting itself up beautifully.  My 3rd party Xbox controller Wireless adapter required a little fiddling with the device manager, but it also worked great once set up. 

Unfortunately, at this time, running the Bluestacks android emulator isn't an option without some registry tweaking.  The program has issues recognizing the correct orientation for apps and opens up facing the wrong direction.  From my tests, Android apps do seem to run smoothly and should integrate well if Bluestacks fixes the current orientation issue.  Installed apps get their own stand alone tiles in the Modern ui to better blend in with Windows. 

I haven't done any format battery tests but I will say that this machine will run through an entire work day with no problem.  Dell has stated a 9.9 hour battery life and with the 4830mah battery I don't doubt it.  It easily keeps up with my Nexus 7 2013 and iPad 2 in terms of endurance. 

As mentioned before, my model is the 64GB version and about half was taken by Windows.  The great thing is that the tablet has a built in Micro SD card slot and isn't limited in its use like iOS and Android (as of Kit Kat) are.  You can use the extra space for just about anything, and even install programs directly to it.  It's a nice advantage over the Nexus 7 and iPad which don't come with SD cart slots.  

One glaring omission from the Venue 8 is an MHL or HDMI port.  You can mirror or use a second screen with a miracast compatible adapter, but be aware that it's not a perfect solution.  It will work fine for basic desktop work but there is minor lag that will make many games unplayable.  For a full review on how well miracast works with the Netgear Push to TV adapter, see my review here.

Overall:

For a starting price of $249 (some times even lower when it's on sale) you get a very competitive tablet device as well as something that can replace most people's desktops with the right accessories.  With a miracast adapter and a bluetooth keyboard or USB to go cable, you can easily get your Office work done or surf the web for hours even on battery.  If you love or need adobe flash or perfect compatibility with all Web pages, then this is your tablet. While the Dell weighs a bit more and is a little larger than the Nexus, it's still a very portable machine.  It won't fit in your jean pockets, but it won't weigh you down.

In day to day use, the Nexus 7 normally feels a little more fluid and apps are better designed for its touch interface.  Just compare the Linkedin Pulse news app on both platforms and you will see what I mean.  However, the usability of a full version of Windows more than makes up for the minor performance and design quibbles.  As a matter of fact, this entire review was done on the Dell Venue pro 8 and it was a pain free process.  I can't say that when it comes to either the Nexus or my iPad.  Take it as you will.  The Dell Venue Pro 8 is a great device for the money and at this time you can't go wrong with it or either of the competing options.

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