Dell has refreshed its Venue tablet series, bringing better performance, battery life and audio quality to its 8-inch Android slate. The $200 Venue 8 is an Intel-powered device running Android KitKat with a full HD display and useful productivity software. But is that enough in the highly competitive space of value-priced tablets?
The new Dell Venue 8 is almost identical to its all-black predecessor, except for a pattern of raised ridges in concentric circles that now covers the soft-touch rear shell. The slate is sturdy, exhibiting no flex when I tried to bend it.
The Venue 8's face is black and glossy, with a 2-megapixel camera sitting atop the display (in portrait mode). The back houses a 5-megapixel camera and an embossed Dell logo.
A slew of ports and buttons sits on the Venue 8's right side: microUSB 2.0, volume up and down, and a microSIM/SD card slot. Our model came with just a microSD slot (no microSIM). Along the bottom, lies the tablet's stereo speaker, while a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack sits on the top edge.
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Measuring 8.50 x 5.11 x 0.35 inches, the new Venue 8 is slightly bigger but slimmer than its predecessor, and is about the same size as the ASUS MeMO Pad 8 (8.3 x 4.9 x 0.33 inches), the Acer Iconia A1-830 (8 x 5.5 x 0.32 inches) and the Lenovo A8 (8.5 x 5.4 x 0.35 inches).
At 11.84 ounces, the new Venue 8 is lighter than its predecessor (12.3 ounces), as well as the Iconia A1 (13.15 ounces) and the Lenovo A8 (12.6 ounces), but half an ounce heavier than the MeMO Pad (11.36 ounces).
Click to EnlargeThe Venue 8's 1920 x 1200 IPS multi-touch display delivered bright and crisp visuals. A 1080p "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer looked stunning on the Venue 8. Details, such as Rocket Raccoon's individual furs and Groot's textured bark looked crisp. Meanwhile, Gamora's green skin and Star-Lord's laser-red eyes were vivid.
One thing the new Venue 8 has over its competitors is its sharp, 1920 x 1200-pixel display. The ASUS MeMO Pad and Lenovo A8 both offer just 1280 x 800 resolutions, while the Iconia A1 has a low resolution, at 1024 x 768.
Notching 352 nits on our light meter, the Venue 8 is brighter than the average tablet (328 nits), the Iconia A1 (298 nits) and the Lenovo A8 (290 nits). However, it's dimmer than the 376-nit MeMO Pad 8.
The Venue 8's display delivered decent color reproduction, showing 73.4 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's better than the Iconia A1 (62 percent) and the MeMO Pad (72 percent), but poorer than the Lenovo A8 (83.4 percent) and the average tablet (86.3 percent).
With a Delta-E rating of 3.8 (a score of 0 is best), the Venue 8 produced fairly accurate colors. The average slate (5.8), the MeMO Pad (7.2) and the Iconia (13.1) fared worse, but the Lenovo A8 (1.7) was more accurate.
Powered by Waves MaxxAudio Mobile, the new Venue 8 is designed to deliver sound quality that's more premium than that of the slate's predecessor.
On Laptop Mag's audio test, which involves playing a tone on max volume and measuring it from 13 inches, the Venue 8 registered a booming 83 decibels. That's louder than the average slate (79 dB), the 80-dB MeMO Pad 8, the 82-dB Lenovo A8 and the 70-dB Iconia.
I liked the MaxxAudio bar that pops up in the Notifications panel when a game, video or song was playing. It lets you easily switch audio profiles among Movie, Music, Voice and Game modes without having to go to a separate app.
OS and Interface
Click to EnlargeThe Venue 8 comes with a nearly clean version of Android 4.4 KitKat, up from 4.2.2 on the last model. From the lock screen's clock widget in the center to the home screen's seven shortcut icons at the bottom, Android fans will find the interface familiar.
Dragging down from the top left reveals the notifications drawer, and pulling down from the top right reveals a quick-settings panel. I prefer custom Android skins that unify these two drawers, like ASUS' ZenUI does in its MeMO Pad series.
At the very bottom of the screen are three soft navigational keys that let you go back, return home and see all open apps. With the Venue 8, you also get the stock Android keyboard, which supports trace typing.
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With a 1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3480 processor backed by 1GB of RAM, the Venue 8 delivered mostly smooth performance. I ran apps such as YouTube, Chrome, Gmail and Maps as I played a round of "N.O.V.A. 3," and encountered no lag. However, I noticed a short delay when reopening apps that were already running in the background. The tablet also took a noticeable 1.28 seconds on average to switch from landscape to portrait mode.
It took the Venue 19 seconds to load the first-person shooter "N.O.V.A. 3," a second shy of the tablet category average (18 seconds). The Venue was slower than the MeMO Pad (17 seconds), faster than the Iconia (25 seconds), and on a par with the Lenovo (19 seconds) and the old Venue 8.
The Venue 8 took 6 minutes and 33 seconds to transcode a 204MB video from 1080p to 720p. That time is much faster than the average slate (10:35), the previous Venue 8 (23: 23), the Lenovo A8 (10:38) and the Iconia A1-830 (11:48). The MeMO Pad 8 was faster, completing the task in 5:22.
In synthetic benchmark tests, the Venue 8 delivered decent performance. On Geekbench 3, the Venue scored 1,470 to beat the old Venue 8 (1,301), the 1.6-GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2560-backed Acer Iconia A1-830 (1,054) and the 1.3-GHz quad-core MTK 8121 Lenovo A8 (1,176). However, the 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Bay Trail-powered ASUS MeMO Pad 8 came in higher, with 2,398.
The Venue 8 delivered fair graphics performance. Its 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited score of 9,666 places this device below the average tablet (10,996) and the MeMO Pad (13,754), but above the Iconia (6,121) and the Lenovo A8 (2,872). The new Venue 8 also beat its predecessor (7,689).
Click to EnlargePacking a 5-megapixel camera on its back, the Venue 8 shot colorful, crisp pictures. My snaps of Manhattan streets showed accurately colored yellow cabs and blue skies, along with sharp details such as the windows on distant buildings. The full HD video I shot showed similarly true colors. Details, such as street signs and words on passing vehicles, looked clear.
Click to EnlargeYou won't want to use Snapchat with the Venue, however. The tablet's 2-MP front camera took selfies that appeared dull, grainy and muddy. My portraits showed a lot of noise (discolored speckles) on my face, and individual strands of my hair looked smudged. The bright red stripes on my dress also looked pale.
Dell doesn't include any camera software other than the stock Android camera app.
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Click to EnlargeDell bundles a handful of software so that this tablet can help make you more productive out of the box. PocketCloud lets you remotely control your PC from the tablet. As long as you have the companion app installed on your computer, you just have to sign in with your Google account on both devices. I was pleasantly surprised when I tapped my PC's name and was greeted by my computer's desktop.
You also get the standard set of Android apps, such as Chrome, Gmail, Hangouts, Drive and Google+. Third-party titles include Polaris Office, Evernote and Dropbox, and you get 20GB of Dropbox space for a year. An especially nice touch is the tablet's Miracast support, which lets you share your device's screen over Wi-Fi with compatible devices.
One thing that's missing from the Venue 8 is a file manager app, so you'll want to download something like Astro File Manager Pro ($3.99).
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Dell offers an array of accessories for the Venue 8 to protect your new slate while making it easier to use. The $30 Duo Tablet Case provides dual-layer shock protection, while the $40 Dell Venue Rotating Folio is a hard case that rotates so you can prop your slate up in landscape or portrait modes.
The Venue 8 has a 4,550-mAh battery that will last you most of the day. Dell's tablet delivered 7 hours and 57 minutes of runtime on Laptop Mag's battery test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits). This beats the category average (7:50) and the Acer Iconia A1-830 (6:08). It's also an improvement over the previous Venue 8 (7:22). However, the MeMO Pad 8 (9:02) and the Lenovo A8 (8:47) both lasted longer on a charge.
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Click to EnlargeThe new Dell Venue 8 delivers a sharper display, improved performance and longer battery life than its predecessor, for just $20 more. The refresh also makes this device the only $200 Android tablet to offer a full HD screen.
If you're looking for a more powerful Android slate in this size, we recommend ASUS' MeMO Pad 8, which costs the same as the new Venue 8 and offers speedier performance, more endurance, and better software and apps. But if higher screen resolution is more important to you, Dell's Venue 8 is a great choice.