Dell Venue 8 7000 review: A distinctive and premium Android tablet
- 23 January, 2015 04:53
Android tablets are a dime a dozen these days. Look in any electronics store and you'll see a sea of virtually indistinguishable slates, few of which manage to stand out.
Dell's new Venue 8 7000 tablet is a noteworthy exception. The Venue 8 7000 -- sometimes also referred to as the Venue 8 7000 Series or the Venue 8 7840 -- is a distinctively stylish tablet with some unusually compelling qualities. Its name may be awkward and forgettable, but the device itself is anything but.
And with a price of $400 -- the same as Google's flagship Nexus 9 tablet -- it's one of the most interesting Android options available today.
Body and display
What stands out the most about the Venue 8 7000 is its form: The tablet is sleek as can be, with a squared-off metal body and an alluringly futuristic appearance.
The metal-based construction makes the Venue 8 7000 feel less warm than a soft-touch plastic tablet like the Nexus 9, but it also gives the device a more premium, high-end vibe. Adding to that is the fact that the Venue 8's screen extends nearly all the way to the device's edges on three of its four sides; the only area of the face not taken up by the display is a small strip at the bottom (when the tablet is being held vertically) where two speakers live beneath a single grille.
It's thin (just 0.24 in.) and light (at 10.72 oz.) -- svelter than Google's Nexus 9, as well as Apple's iPad Mini 3 and iPad Air 2. And yet it feels incredibly sturdy, without a hint of bendiness or give.
The super-narrow bezels help the Venue 8 remain exceptionally compact for its class: Even with an 8.4-in. screen, the tablet (at 4.88 x 8.50 in.) is closer in size to Google's 7-in. Nexus 7 than to the 8.9-in. Nexus 9. As a result, the Venue 8 is quite comfortable to hold, even with one hand. It's also small enough to fit in the pocket of my (relatively roomy) men's jeans. The only downside is that there's not much space on which to grasp the front of the tablet without touching the display -- however, I haven't found that to be much of an issue as I've used the device over the past week.
Speaking of the display, the Venue 8 7000 has a gorgeous OLED screen with 2560 x 1600 resolution and 361 pixels per inch. It's hands-down one of the best-looking displays I've seen on a tablet, with crisp detail, deep blacks and beautifully brilliant colors. It's a meaningful high point of Dell's device.
The Venue 8's speakers are impressive, too, with decently loud audio that's crystal clear and surprisingly full sounding. My only nit to pick is with the speakers' placement: As a necessity of the device's design, the dual front-facing speakers are side-by-side on a single end of the tablet's face instead of being split apart in a more optimal stereo configuration. They're still significantly better than the speakers on most tablets, though, so it's a tradeoff that's easy enough to accept.
Performance, stamina and storage
The Venue 8 7000 is powered by a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor along with 2GB of RAM. As any spec-head might tell you, that type of chip is somewhat unusual for an Android tablet -- but unusual doesn't necessarily mean bad.
Dell's tablet has been consistently snappy in my experience, with no discernible lag or pokiness regardless of what I throw its way. It's often noticeably faster and more responsive than the Nexus 9, in fact. The only flaw I've noticed is that system animations and transitions sometimes appear a little jerky on the Venue 8 -- which is mildly annoying, if you're tuned into that kind of thing -- but I've had no performance-related issues outside of that.
The Venue 8 7000 does respectably well in the realm of stamina, too: During my week with the device, I've been getting between seven and nine hours of active on-screen use per charge, sometimes spread out over multiple days (with the tablet remaining on and in standby overnight). That's not quite at Dell's 10-hour estimate for the tablet, but it's still perfectly reasonable.
One area where the Venue 8 7000 skimps a bit is with storage: The tablet has just 16GB of internal space, only about 9GB of which is actually available for you to use after factoring in the operating system and other preinstalled software. The Venue 8 does have a micro SD card slot, however. That allows you to add up to 512GB of additional space, which should be more than enough for most needs.
The Venue 8 7000 doesn't support wireless charging, nor does it support near-field communication (NFC) for wireless data transfers.
A trio of cameras
I don't typically spend much time focusing on cameras with tablets, but Dell's devoted a lot of energy to the Venue 8's unconventional "Depth Camera" system, so I figure it's worth a look.
In short, the tablet has three rear-facing cameras: a primary 8-megapixel camera accompanied by two 720p cameras designed to collect depth information. It's similar in concept to the multi-lens camera setup seen in last year's HTC One (M8) phone, with a couple of added twists.
Like the One (M8), the Dell Venue 8 7000 allows you to change the focus of an image after it's been captured as well as to play with an image's background color -- setting it to black and white, for instance -- while leaving the main object in the foreground alone.
It also introduces another feature that allows you to measure the length of surfaces within a photo. That feature is not yet available on retail versions of the tablet but will be activated "soon" via an over-the-air update, according to Dell. The update was manually applied to my loaner device so I could experience it now.
It all sounds neat enough on paper, but in practice? Well, it's pretty hit and miss. First of all, in addition to the inherent awkwardness of tablet-based photography, I've found the Venue 8 to be particularly clumsy as a camera. With the device's minimal bezels on the front, your fingers naturally rest on the tablet's "chin" -- the lone screen-free strip where the speakers reside -- when you're trying to take a photo. But guess what? That same strip is where the main camera resides on the tablet's back. And just above it are the two depth-sensing lenses.
As a result, trying to capture a picture without getting your fingers in it (or without getting a "Camera blocked!" warning on the screen) feels like trying to complete an Olympic gymnastics routine. It requires careful placement, ongoing adjustments and maybe even a little pre-activity stretching.
Logistics aside, the Venue 8's imaging tricks are too inconsistent to be more than mere novelties. With some images, I was able to manipulate the focus and background color with interesting results -- but just as often, I saw halo-like effects or fuzzy lines around the subjects in the foreground, even when I followed Dell's instructions for optimal framing and subject placement.
The object measurement tool was similarly spotty: With some images, I was able to measure a person or object with impressive accuracy. With others, the tablet's estimates were off by as much as a foot. Like the selective focusing trick, it was fun to play with briefly but hard to imagine as anything most folks would rely on or use terribly often in the long term. (Also: Even if it were consistently precise, how often would you need a tool like that, anyway?)
As for the tablet's image quality in general, it's okay -- good enough for quick snapshots but nothing spectacular -- which is pretty much par for the course with tablets today. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is moderately fine, too, though its placement at the bottom of the tablet means you have to turn the device upside-down in order to snap a selfie or conduct a video chat without getting a really weird (and very unflattering) angle.
All in all, you're going to get better pictures -- and have a better photo-taking experience -- with any high-end smartphone. The camera setup is by no means a reason to dismiss Dell's tablet, but it's also not a reason to buy it.
The Venue 8 7000 runs a slightly modified version of Google's Android 4.4 KitKat operating system. While the notion of a brand-new device launching with a 14-month-old OS is somewhat disappointing on the surface -- especially given the fact that the dramatically reimagined Android 5.0 Lollipop release has been out since November -- it actually might not be a bad thing in this scenario.
Why? Simple: While Lollipop's user interface feels fresh and modern and is full of useful new features, the OS also still has its share of quirks and glitches. So while Lollipop would be preferable to KitKat in many ways, waiting for Google to iron out the kinks also has its advantages.
Within the confines of KitKat, Dell has done an admirable job at providing a good overall experience. The Venue 8's user interface sticks close to Google's core configuration, without the excessive and over-the-top changes many other manufacturers make to the software. Dell has done just a small amount of visual tweaking to the UI, none of which is particularly consequential or bothersome.
The company has also added a couple of genuinely useful features into the OS -- most notably an option to have the tablet's screen turn on anytime you pick it up and an option to silence all sound on the device whenever you place it face-down on a surface. Both are nice touches that work well.
Regrettably, Dell has included a fair amount of bloatware on the Venue 8 7000 -- everything from an unnecessary security app to an abhorrently designed third-party audio utility -- but it's all easily disabled, at least, so it doesn't take much effort to banish it from view.
As for the future, Dell tells me it'll upgrade the Venue 8 7000 to Lollipop at some point "in the coming months," but as of now, there's no firm date or even ballpark estimate for when a rollout might begin. Since Dell is relatively untested in terms of reliability with Android upgrades, we don't have much of a reference as to how the company might perform with that or any subsequent releases down the line.
There's an awful lot to like about Dell's Venue 8 7000 tablet. The device delivers a stunning 8.4-in. screen in a compact and distinctive form. It's remarkably thin and light yet still extremely sturdy. It has snappy performance, respectable stamina and a clean and intuitive UI with some useful feature enhancements.
The device has limited on-board storage, however, which may force you to rely on the included SD card slot if you're planning to store much local data. It also can be a little choppy with system animations, and it ships with a dated version of Android -- which, while not necessarily a deal-breaker, won't be ideal for everyone.
You shouldn't consider the Venue 8 7000 for its cameras (nor would I suggest buying any tablet based on its photography prowess). But if you're looking for a standout slate with killer hardware and a commendable user experience -- and, critically, you're okay with waiting a while to get Lollipop in your life -- the Venue 8 7000 will give you an exceptional Android experience. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.