Dell Venue 8 (2014) Review

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Design and User Experience

The 8-inch Venue 8 looks a lot like the first edition, save for a slightly more textured rear. All in all, it’s a pretty understated design. It has an unassuming, comfortable form factor, which is definitely a plus, but it also shows little progress. In other words, you’d be hard pressed to tell the Venue 8 apart from a tablet that shipped three or four years ago. It’s relatively thick, has a larger-than-average glossy black border around the LCD, and it’s definitely not the lightest of devices.


While sturdy and rigid, you won’t soon forget that this isn’t a premium device. The front is overly glossy, and the materials were chosen not for their elegance, but for their durability. In a sense, this tablet is built for those who aren’t out to baby their devices. If you need a tablet for day-to-day use, or to give to your kids without concern of them breaking it, the Venue 8 would be a good choice.


Getting to specifics, the 1920x1200 IPS display is the most beautiful part of the entire exterior. While panel’s of this ilk will no doubt become the norm on tablets priced below $200, it’s still a rarity in the current age. It’s a gorgeous display to gawk at, and it really does feel strange to find something of this quality on such an affordable tablet. Taking a tour around the edges, there’s a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack along the top; a speaker grill along the bottom; and a handful of ports (microUSB, volume rocker, microSD slot) along the right edge. Front and rear cameras are included as well.


Handling the device takes some getting used to, as is the case with any 8-inch tablet. The 8-inch form factor is too large for one-handed use, so you’ll need to be prepared to give this your full attention. In landscape mode, it’s great for viewing widescreen content. In portrait mode, it’s much like typing on a phablet, albeit with a bit more of a reach to hit the keyboard. Of note, there aren’t any hardware buttons along the front. Samsung loyalists have likely grown used to having a physical “home” button in the lower center, but here, you’ll have to rely on Android’s on-screen menu/back keys.


Speaking of Android, 4.4.4 (KitKat) is loaded onboard, and Dell has implemented minimal skinning. It’s not quite a pure Google experience, but it’s very close. Dell loaded on a few of its own applications, including Dell Cast for tossing screen content up on compatible wireless monitors, but left most everything else alone. That’s a tremendous compliment, and seems to mark a very different Dell from the one we had known for years prior. It seems that some companies have finally heard the complaints of bloatware and toned things down accordingly.


An Intel dual-core 2.1GHz Atom Z3480 is paired with 1GB of LP DDR3 RAM, 16GB eMMC storage; the SoC has an integrated PowerVR G6400 graphics processor. That’s not much in terms of storage, but thankfully there’s a microSD expansion slot that you can take advantage of.


While the tab is fully capable of streaming 1080p video without stutters, taxing it even slightly reminds you that you’re still using a budget product. Multitasking really isn’t ideal, and flipping from one app to another can take a few seconds. Just rotating the display between portrait and landscape modes takes around two seconds to complete. In more than one occasion, the default Google keyboard failed to respond to our inputs. Just searching for an app in the Play Store left us in a position where the keyboard was unresponsive for a solid ten seconds before snapping back to reality. Unfortunately, these types of quirks are common on sub-$200 tablets, and while the Venue 8 performs about at fluidly as any budget-level slate we’ve seen to date, it’s still not powerful enough to provide a perfectly seamless experience.


Strangely, we ran into a few issues with basic apps on the Venue 8. MLB At Bat, for example, isn’t compatible. It’s tough to say whether the app just needs more horsepower to stream live baseball games, but still, app limitations impact the overall experience in a big way. Conversely, apps like WatchESPN streamed live game content without a single hitch, and even some games such as Despicable Me: Minion Rush played perfectly, with no stutters or lag in gameplay. The Venue 8 seemed to have a tough time juggling tasks, but once it settled into a single app, it was able to devote all of its resources to ensuring a smooth experience. In other words, it's rather fluid once an all loads up, but getting to that point takes a bit of patience if you're used to instant gratification from top-notch $500+ tablets.
 

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