About two months ago, I made a major change. After a couple of years of using an iPad 2 as my daily tablet driver, I switched to a Windows 8 tablet, the Dell Venue 8 Pro. This was a big change in many respects. Instead of iOS, I now had Windows 8.1. Instead of a 10-inch screen, I had an 8-inch screen. Instead of being in a completely touch driven environment, I was now in one designed to be as much at ease with a mouse and keyboard as with touch. And don’t forget, I was someone who had never ventured beyond Windows 7 in Microsoft’s family of operating systems.
With so much change in such a short time, I wanted to be sure I was giving the Venue 8 Pro a fair shake and not making snap judgments. Two months, though, is more than enough time to make a call, and I’m ready to share my thoughts on this budget Windows tablet.
What About Windows 8?
I like Windows 8, specifically Windows 8.1, in a touch screen environment like a tablet or a convertible laptop. It’s flawed, no doubt. For me, most of the annoyances are minor. I wish it had a better notification system like Android (or even iOS) has. There are some things that don’t play as well with it as they could like touch zoom on Chrome or communication and transitions between modern/metro mode and the desktop mode.
It’s true that while most of the big apps are in the Windows 8 store, there’s still an “app gap.” For the most part, I don’t care about that (more on why below), but there are one or two I really wish Windows 8 had. Actually, it’s mostly just Zite. I really do miss my Zite news reader and have found Flipboard a terribly disappointing alternative. Luckily, Zite is still available on my phone.
I was a fairly early adopter of Android (circa late 2009), and Windows 8 reminds me of Android at that time. There’s so much potential, and it does most of the things I want to do, but it’s not as polished as it could be. Hopefully, the talk of an early 2015 date for Windows 9 is accurate and Microsoft works out some of the problems with Windows 8.
Is an 8-Inch Windows Tablet too Small?
No, as long as you don’t plan to make it your complete laptop replacement. It’s perfect for me. I wanted something I could use all over school, around my classroom, at meetings, and around the house, but my plan was to still have a dedicated laptop for bigger projects. The V8-Pro is so light and portable, and I love that. Yes, things get a little cramped on the desktop, but a few minor tweaks in the settings made that more manageable for me. I was worried about the size for the first two weeks. Now, when I pick up my iPad 2, I feel like I picking up an LP record. It’s so big. I’m not saying I’d never go back to that form factor, but the V8-Pro is just so portable. I will say that I would recommend a mouse for anyone that plans to use the desktop mode extensively. I keep a tiny mouse in my tiny bag of accessories that goes with my V8-Pro wherever I go.
What I Love About the Dell Venue 8 Pro?
Full Windows. It’s as simple as that. Apple can tell me there’s an app for that. With full Windows 8.1, I rarely need an app. Since I’m not a big gamer, with a few exceptions, most of the apps on my iPad are taking the place of websites or desktop programs.
First off, Internet Explorer 11 is an amazing browser. You have no idea how it is for a long time Chrome user to type those words. I have literally choked on them when trying to explain the IE 11 experience to my tech savvy friends. It’s fast and incredibly well touch optimized. And guess what? Websites work correctly on it. I don’t need a LinkedIn app and a WordPress app and Spotify app and so on. The browser versions just work. Flash works. Websites that have not been mobile optimized work. I have had friends tell me that they rarely visit a website that doesn’t work correctly on their iPad. I think they must subconsciously self-censor their web browsing when on an iPad because it happens to me all the time. Also, websites that normally deny my iPad access because they detect I’m using an iPad (i.e. Hulu, Espn3, etc), don’t deny Windows 8 tablets access because as far as they know, I am on a desktop computer.
Secondly, if I want to install a program or add-on, I can do it. I’m not stuck with Pearson’s buggy PowerTeacher iPad app. I can install Java on the tablet and use the full version of the PowerTeacher grade book. If I need to do a little image editing, I’ve got GIMP. And, as Microsoft loves to point out in their ads, all of these tablets run the full version of Office, which was included at no additional cost with my tablet.
I’ve also been impressed with the quality of some of Microsoft’s services. I thought the first thing I’d have to do was figure out how to strip out the Microsoft services and replace them with Google services. However, Outlook.com integrated very slickly with my existing email addresses. SkyDrive, just rebranded as OneDrive, is a fine alternative to Google Drive and integrates very well with Office 2013. I’m not sold on every Microsoft service, but this entry level tablet was probably their once chance to start winning me back from Google, and they’ve at least got my attention.
Dell Venue 8 Pro Bugs
The Venue 8 Pro is far perfect. I love the little guy, but there are some frustrations. Visit the Dell forums, and you’ll find I’m not alone with these problems.
First, the webcam is improperly calibrated. Anytime you open Skype or Google Hangouts, it is zoomed in way too close. You have to hold it very far away or the person you are talking to will only see a fraction of your face. I have to believe this will get corrected in a future software update, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Second, the touchscreen is a little bit overly sensitive. It has a tendency to react to phantom double taps, which can be frustrating. Windows 8 offers the ability to tweak the double tap sensitivity, but I, like others on the Dell forums, found that this caused other buggy behavior, and I had to revert back to default sensitivity.
Third, I experienced some creak with my V8-Pro. I hate creaky devices. Dell Twitter support suggested I attempt to “reseat” the device (essentially push it back together hard). It seemed to help a little. What eventually stopped the creak altogether was the folio I got for it. I think it stopped the creak because it constantly puts a bit of pressure on the tablet inward in all directions after it is snapped into place. The folio caused other problems because the edges were so sharp that I resorted to a layer of electrical tape all the way around.
And while it’s not a bug, why did Dell put the Microsoft (home) button in such weird place? It’s so inconvenient, on the upper left side of the tablet. Just put it in the front and center of the tablet like every other tablet maker.
Bottom Line Review: Is the Dell Venue 8 Pro Worth the Money?
For me, the answer to this one is a resounding “yes.” True, this tablet has some flaws. But it does 95% of what I want it to do, is incredibly convenient, and it was actually very affordable. I picked mine up on a Black Friday sale for $230. From a value standpoint, I consider it an absolutely incredible buy, and even at the MSRP of $299 (and it’s often cheaper than that on Amazon), it’s a very fair price for what it can do. After adding in a keyboard and mouse for occasional heavier use, I can do so much more with this tablet than I could ever do with my iPad or an Android tablet. Despite the additional strengths, there are also a few shortcomings compared to those platforms, but I feel most of the features that would be missing on a Windows 8 tablet are more appropriate to a phone anyway. I happily carry around a Nexus 5 in my pocket that addresses those “phone like” needs that aren’t addressed by Windows 8.
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