The $179 Dell Venue 8 is the larger of Dell's two new Intel-powered budget Android slates. With its soft-touch back, sharp 1280 x 800-pixel display and clean Android experience, the Venue 8 hopes to tempt Android tablet shoppers with a more modest price tag. Here's how this slate stacks up against the smaller-size-tablet competition.
One of the first things you'll notice about the Dell Venue 8 is its soft-touch rear shell, which gives it a more premium feel than some of the slates in its price range. Dell's logo is etched into this smooth back, which is noticeable by feel since it stands apart from the otherwise silky surface. The tablet's 5-megapixel rear camera protrudes slightly, but we didn't find this to be distracting.
The front of the tablet features an edge-to-edge glass design, with chunky black bezels framing the device's 8-inch display. Though attractive, the tablet's face was quick to pick up fingerprints.
The left side of the tablet houses its volume keys and microUSB port, which the device uses for charging. Along the top, just above the 2-MP front camera, you'll find a headphone jack and a power button. But perhaps one of the most notable characteristics is the device's microSD card slot, which isn't common for smaller-size budget slates.
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Measuring 8.34 x 5.1 x 0.38 inches and weighing 12.3 ounces, the Dell Venue 8 is about the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 (8.3 x 4.9 x 0.3 inches), but the Samsung is a lighter 11.1 ounces. The 10.2-ounce Nexus 7 and 11-ounce ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 are both lighter and more compact, but that's to be expected, given their smaller 7-inch screens.
The Dell Venue 8's 8-inch display is perfectly suitable for watching movies and casual reading. At 1280 x 800 pixels, this screen has the same resolution as the Tegra Note 7 and MeMO Pad HD 7, but the $50 more expensive Nexus 7 has a much higher 1920 x 1200-pixel screen.
When viewing a trailer for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" on the Venue 8, we were able to see the minute details in Jennifer Lawrence's face and Philip Seymour Hoffman's expressions. From Elizabeth Banks' outlandish outfits to Jennifer Lawrence's blazing chariot, we were impressed with how brightly and boldly this panel rendered colors.
The same trailer on the Tegra Note 7's 1280 x 800-pixel, 7-inch touch screen looked more yellowish than it did on the Dell Venue 8, which had more of a red tint to it. This was especially noticeable in an outdoor scene overlooking the city with the sunset in the background.
Our main complaint was the Dell Venue 8's narrow viewing angles. Even when tilting the slate down slightly, the trailer became dim, and the display caught noticeable glare.
Registering 359 lux on our light meter, the Venue 8 beat the 355-lux tablet category average and is on a par with the ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 (358 lux). The Venue 8 is also significantly brighter than the smaller Dell Venue 7 (255 lux). However, the 451-lux Nvidia Tegra Note 7 is brighter.
The Dell Venue 8's bottom-mounted speakers produced somewhat shallow audio. When blasting "Seven Days, Seven Nights," by The Fratellis, we noticed that the lead singer's voice and accompanying instruments sounded dull. The various melodies from the guitars, vocals, drums and bass seemed to blend together, without any clear definition or tone.
We still much preferred this to the Tegra Note 7's dreary audio, which made the guitars, vocals and drums sound as if they were underwater.
Although the Dell Venue 8's audio quality may not be the best, it was certainly loud enough to fill our small testing room. The slate registered at 81 decibels during the LAPTOP Audio Test, which is average for tablets.
The Dell Venue 8 comes with a clean, barely skinned version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean -- in fact, it may be almost too clean. Unlocking the tablet brings you to the Venue 8's home screen, which is entirely blank, other than the Google Now search bar at the top and the row of app shortcuts on the bottom.
We do wish the Venue 8 ran a more current version of the OS. While it supports wireless display, this tablet lacks such features as parental controls (found in 4.3) and saying "OK, Google" to launch voice search from the home screen (found in 4.4 KitKat).
The other four home screens are also fairly barren, with just two apps scattered on each. However, it's easy to populate these screens with apps and widgets of your choice by dragging and dropping them from the app drawer.
Like most Android tablets, the Dell Venue 8 comes with a handy quick-settings menu that can be opened by pulling down from the top-right corner of the screen. This makes it easy to adjust certain settings, such as Wi-Fi and brightness, but other slates, such as the Tegra Note 7 and Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, offer more options. The Dell Venue 8 comes with eight quick-settings options, while Nvidia's offering comes with 10.
There's nothing distinguishable about the Venue 8's app drawer -- it's clean and basic, just like the stock Android app menu. After swiping through a page and a half of apps, you'll be greeted with a slew of widgets, including the standard alarm clock, book, bookmarks, calendar and contacts widgets.
The Dell Venue 8 comes with Google apps that are standard for almost any Android device. This includes Google+, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive and Google Maps, among other Google services. Otherwise, the app selection is fairly scant, but you'll notice a couple of third-party additions, such as Flipboard and Amazon Kindle. There aren't a whole lot of apps included, but we appreciate that Dell doesn't include bloatware.
The most intriguing app that comes with the Venue 8 is PocketCloud, which lets you use your tablet to remotely control your PC. After downloading the companion app for Windows, we remotely accessed our work computer from the slate. The service worked instantly, as we entered our credentials, but we found that the experience wasn't that great. Our windows were squished into the top half of the Venue 8's screen, and we had to zoom in to read content. Still, for those in need of remote access for emergency scenarios, the app could come in handy.
The other app, PocketCloud Explore, is a file manager that makes it much easier to view and transfer files when you're working remotely. The app provides a neat and streamlined interface that keeps your files more organized. We had no issue transferring files between our tablet and PC by pressing and holding the desired file and tapping Transfer, but we couldn't stream video. The app prompts you to upgrade to the premium edition, which costs $5 per month, to view larger files such as movie trailers.
The Dell Venue 8's 5-MP camera took surprisingly clear photos. We snapped a few pictures of a New York City street corner and found that the bright-blue sky and windows on various buildings looked defined. While we enjoyed the crisp colors, we noticed it was somewhat difficult to read the text on nearby signs, cabs and trucks in the background.
We don't have too many complaints about the tablet's 2-MP front shooter, either. When capturing a selfie, the camera depicted accurate colors, from the bright pink in our dress to the slight red tint of our hair. We didn't notice much noise or pixelation.
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For the most part, the Dell Venue 8's 2-GHz Intel Atom Z2580 processor with 2GB of RAM performed smoothly, but we experienced some snags. For instance, when you switch the tablet between portrait mode and landscape mode, it takes more than a second for the screen to change orientation (about 1.7 seconds).
The Dell Venue 8 took 19 seconds to load space shooter game "N.O.V.A. 3" -- 2 seconds longer than the tablet average as well as the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 and Nexus 7. The camera, however, launched in a snappy 1.4 seconds while we had six other applications open.
The Dell Venue 8 delivered decent results on synthetic benchmarks. During the Geekbench 3 test, the slate scored 1,301, which is better than the competing ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 (951) but below the 1,634 tablet category average. Both the EVGA Tegra Note 7's Tegra 4 CPU (2,523) and Google Nexus 7's Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro chip (1,849) fared better during that test.
The Dell Venue 8 performed similarly in graphics-focused benchmarks. During 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Venue 8 scored 7,689, which is above the 6,944 tablet category average but significantly lower than the Nexus 7 (10,624) and Tegra Note 7's (16,451) results. The ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 fared the worst during this test, with a score of 2,218.
It took Dell's 8-inch slate a strangely long 23 minutes and 23 seconds to transcode a 205MB video clip from 1080p to 480p. Its competitors completed this task in a fraction of that time: The ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 finished in 11 minutes and 23 seconds, and the Tegra Note took just 3 minutes and 53 seconds. The tablet category average is 12:10.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuously surfing the Web over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to 40 percent, the Venue 8 lasted for 7 hours and 22 minutes. That's on a par with the tablet average (also 7:22) and longer than the Nvidia Tegra Note 7 (6:51). This runtime also beats the smaller Venue 7 by an hour.
Nevertheless, there are some longer-lasting tablets in this price range. The ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 held on for an impressive 9 hours and 40 minutes.
With its sharp display, attractive design and clean Android interface, the Dell Venue 8 provides an enjoyable tablet experience for a very affordable $179. However, its Intel processor offered mixed performance. Navigating menus, opening apps and gameplay were fluid. But the sluggish accelerometer was a bit annoying, and we were somewhat troubled by the long video transcode time.
The Venue 8 is definitely a better value than its smaller 7-inch brother, the $149 Venue 7. You get an hour longer battery life, a brighter and bigger screen and a faster processor, all for just $30 more. If you don't mind a smaller display, the ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 offers 2 hours more endurance for $40 less than the Venue 8. But if you're seeking an affordable tablet with a larger canvas for reading, watching movies and productivity, the Dell Venue 8 is a very good choice.