Once the world’s reigning vendor for affordable PCs, Dell is seldom associated with sexy, crowdpleasing gadgets nowadays. With previous products such as the Inspiron Duo and the Streak 5 being largely hailed as flops, it seemed that Dell was destined to remain mired in mediocrity after a glorious heyday.
While its latest tablet offering, the Dell Venue 8 7000, carries on the cringe-inducing legacy of its predecessors in terms of its name, the flagship — which Dell has touted the “World’s Thinnest Tablet” — is far more ambitious in terms of design and hardware. Before I go through my experience with the Venue 8, here’s a recap of its spec sheet:
As we covered previously, the Venue 8 does indeed beat out most other contenders in the tablet market in terms of slimness. For such a solid-looking tablet, Dell’s latest flagship also feels surprisingly lightweight, even if it’s not quite the lightest around.
While no one could accuse the Venue 8 of boasting a luxurious or stunning design, its anodized aluminium chassis and dark grey hue give it an appealing, no-frills sleekness. The nearly bezel-less display adds to this overall sleekness, but this can sometimes be impractical: the fingernail-thin bezels make it difficult to avoid touching the screen as you pick up the tablet or move it around, and attempts to grip the tablet at the bottom will inevitably result in your fingers blocking either the selfie camera or the front-facing speakers.
The Venue 8 comes with an accompanying keyboard folio, effectively turning it into a laptop. While this keyboard is admirably compact, allowing the entire set to remain lightweight, this also makes for rather shallow, cramped-together keys. In other words, don’t expect to use the tablet as a replacement for heavy-duty typing.
The Venue 8 promised much in terms of camera quality — the tablet boasts a much-touted array of depth-sensing cameras, with a main 8MP camera that takes the photos and dual 720p cameras that form a triangle with the main sensor and measure depth information. Unfortunately, the RealSense Snapshot Depth camera turned out to be, for me, one of the most disappointing features of the Venue 8.
While the image quality offered here is decent if unremarkable, the standard 8MP camera performs poorly in low-light conditions. And while depth capture shots sound impressive, the colour reproduction and low-light performance of the camera in single mode were actually better than that in depth snapshot mode, in my experience.
Unexceptional camera notwithstanding, the positioning of both the front and rear cameras seems poorly thought out. Since all three rear cameras are located near the bottom of the tablet frame — a position completely opposite of where cameras typically are — it’s easy to obscure at least one of them while grasping the tablet. Positioning cameras where our hands normally grip — nearer the bottom end — just seems like a puzzling and rather counter-intuitive decision.
The similarly low position of the front camera at the bottom left corner of the frame also means that selfies get taken at strange angles, while making it all too easy to block the camera with your fingers as you try to find a good angle. All in all, the camera isn’t one of Venue 8’s strong points.
It’s hard to criticise the display on this tablet, which is undeniably a stunner — packing a dense 361 pixels per inch, the Venue 8 has one of the best screens to be found in the tablet market. The crisp OLED display makes for strong viewing angles and eye-popping colours, so that each tiny icon on-screen seems vibrant and finely detailed. Since it’s a tablet, display is everything, and from the responsiveness of the touchscreen to the sharpness of every image, the Venue 8 doesn’t disappoint.
The Venue 8 packs an Intel processor — 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3580, to be precise — which is a bit of a rarity among mobile devices. Unfortunately, the experience it provided when I tested it out wasn’t particularly impressive, with slow web browsing at times and a tendency to freeze or lag when running heavy-duty games.
In terms of Internet browsing, the speed of its performance fluctuated across different WiFi networks in my experience. While it proved relatively swift when connected to a strong signal, it was absurdly slow — far slower than my five-year-old Sony VAIO laptop — when the WiFi signal was moderate to weak.
Its saving grace comes in the form of its fantastic battery life: while Dell’s official specs put the Venue 8’s battery life at 9.8 hours, I was able to run more than 11 hours of video playback on the tablet. That more than measures up to competitors like the iPad mini 3, which is supposed to boast 10 hours of battery life.
One of my favourite apps in the Venue 8 is its amazing Gallery. We all have a ton of photos, and Dell clearly put thought into making their Gallery organised and easy to sort through. When you first open the Gallery, your photos are arrayed by week, but you can get these arranged by day just by making a “zoom-in” gesture on-screen. Zooming out will cause your photos to be smoothly sorted by month, and then by year.
Described like this, it doesn’t sound too amazing, but when combined with other features like geotagging and the ability to compile pictures from Facebook and Dropbox along with your camera roll, the entire experience is remarkably brilliant.
Dell has mostly left the Android KitKat 4.4 OS well alone, with no custom skins and only a handful of pre-installed apps — Dropbox, Evernote, and Skitch among them. Whether or not you find these useful — and most are — they’re easy enough to uninstall as you wish. One new feature Dell has included is its very own set of custom live wallpapers (although there’re only three of them). These scenes move a little according to the direction in which you tilt the tablet, which makes for a lovely if occasionally laggy effect.
Despite its clumsy name, the Dell Venue 8 7000 is by no means a bad tablet — far from it. With a gorgeous screen and svelte frame, the Venue 8 has a surprising amount to offer, even if its RealSense Snapshot camera could use a lot more improvement and its design is occasionally baffling.
At S$699 for the tablet and keyboard folio set, the Venue 8 isn’t exactly cheap — competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 are more than a match for it in terms of performance and price. But if anything, this ambitious offering from Dell proves that the company isn’t quite the has-been it’s thought of as nowadays. In time, it’s just possible that the PC maker might stage a return to go head-to-head with the likes of Apple and Samsung.