Who says bigger is better? Not Dell, with its breakthrough Venue 8 Pro tablet that combines Windows 8.1, a reasonable amount of storage space and just enough processing power in a format that could easily be mistaken for an Android or iPad slate. At $300, it is one of the least expensive Windows machines available and could fit right into the classroom scene.
At 0.4- by 8.3- by 5.1-inches and weighing 13-ounces, the Venue 8 Pro is the first of a new generation of small Windows slates that are downsized in terms of profile, performance and price. A hair bigger and an ounce heavier than Dell’s Android-based Venue 8 tablet, it is a few tenths of an inch smaller than Toshiba’s Encore 8. The Venue’s black plastic case has silver buttons that are easy to find in the dark for turning it on and off, adjusting the volume and getting to the Windows Home screen.
The 8-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and it uses Intel’s HD graphics to deliver shows bright and rich images. On the other hand, the screen’s Adaptive Brightness control that reacts to changes in environmental lighting is unpredictable and often cases the screen to flicker between a bright and dull screen. My advice, turn it off until Dell has a software fix for it.
The touch display can respond to 10 independent finger inputs. That’s a step up from the five finger input of Acer’s Iconia W3 tablet, but at times it can take a couple of tries to get the Venue 8 Pro’s screen to respond.
A big bonus is that the Venue 8 Pro slate responds to fingers or a generic passive stylus as well as an optional $30 Synaptics active stylus for more precise work, like for use in an art class or drawing the shape of electron orbitals in a chemistry class. The pen is powered by a single AAAA battery and it has a replaceable tip as well as right- and left-click buttons. There’s a pocket clip, but unfortunately, no tether to the slate or the Venue’s $40 padded vinyl case/stand.
Inside the Venue 8 Pro is Intel’s latest Bay Trail-based Atom Z23740D quad-core processor. It runs at between 1.3- and 1.8GHz, depending on what the system is doing, but can only use 2GB of RAM, so the slate won’t be a speed demon. The base model I looked at comes with 32GB of storage space and upping it to 64GB costs $50.
If that’s not enough, the system has a micro-SD card slot for adding up to 64GB more for a total of 128GB of storage space. Dell adds 2GB of free online storage space via its PocketCloud system.
It may not have a wired Ethernet port, but the Venue 8 Pro has communications covered with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0; it worked with an off-the-shelf USB-to-Ethernet adapter. Plus, the slate has a slot for a SIM card for it to connect to an LTE or HSDPA network.
With cameras front (1.2-megapixel) and back (5-megapixel), the Venue 8 Pro is just as good at recording a selfie video log as taking pictures on a field trip. On the downside, the system skimps on audio with a single speaker at the bottom that sounds tinny and breaks up at high volume.
The system is powered with a micro-USB outlet and a USB AC adapter, making it one of the most flexible systems around as far as charging goes. All told, the slate consumes only 10-watts of power while charging and next to nothing when the battery is full. This means that the typical classroom outlet can charge dozens of Venue slates with a strip of outlets or a powered cart.
With a 4,830 milli-amp hour battery inside, the Venue 8 Pro ran for 6 hours and 20 minutes of nonstop video playback from Youtube on a charge. That’s quite good, but a little more than half the time between charges for the Asus Transformer T100’s 11-hour battery life. Still, it’s good for full day use.
Overall, its performance was a little better than the similarly-equipped T100 with a 529.6 score on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0 benchmark. That’s about one-third less than the typical Core i3 budget notebook, and just about adequate for typical student use. On the downside, it does lag at times and often it takes several taps to get the screen to respond.
Because the Venue 8 Pro uses Windows 8.1 Pro, it works with all the software the school likely already owns. To that, Dell adds Office Home and Student 2013, although you’ll have to download, install and authenticate it yourself. The tablet is covered by a 1-year warranty, but adding accident protection and an extra year adds a reasonable $69.
All told, the Venue 8 Pro is small, inexpensive and just powerful enough to change the classroom dynamic from typing on a keyboard to touching, tapping and swiping with a finger or a pen.
+ Size and weight
+ USB charging
+ Office 2013 included
+ Active pen
+ TPM security
- 2GB of RAM
- Single speaker