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Current trends in the mobile industry show that tablet sales are seeing a slowdown in growth, but that doesn’t mean that there is any reduction in the intensity of the competition in this space, giving rise to some unlikely challengers, such as Dell. Dell isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think about Android tablets, but that may soon change with the company’s latest product.
Introduced at CES 2015 during the Intel Developer Forum, this tablet certainly fits the bill of a fantastic Android tablet, at least from the outside and on paper, even if the name is somewhat uninspiring. Will it manage to hold its own in the uber competitive tablet arena? We find that out, and more, in this in-depth review of the Dell Venue 8 7000!
As a whole, Android tablets have almost always been aesthetically underwhelming, even if a few OEMs have managed to mix things up from time to time. The appearance of the Venue 8 7000 is a good indication though that Dell is going all out in attempting to change that notion, and definitely succeeds in visually differentiating its tablet from the rest. This tablet is truly stunning to look at and hold. Its industrial design is comprised mostly of precision-machined aluminum, with hard edges and corners. It looks and feels fantastic, save for the glass section at the bottom on the back, which proves to be a terrible fingerprint magnet.
The primary design feature present here is the nearly edge-to-edge display, with the screen running up to just 6 mm from the top and side edges. Along with the fact that this is also the thinnest tablet in the world, measuring in at just 6.1 mm thick, the Venue 8 7000 looks almost surreal, almost like a render of a concept device that we wished would be real. Except in this case, it is. Surprisingly, its extra thin build doesn’t take away from its sturdiness as you might expect, feeling very solid in the hand, without being too heavy to negatively impact extended periods of use.
However, all of those staggeringly small numbers for bezels and thickness mean the larger components have to fit somewhere. In the case of the Venue 8 7000, the stereo speakers, 8 MP rear camera, 2 MP front camera, and likely the antennas, have all been crammed into the bottom bezel, that can be best described as a chin. This adds to its unique design, and while we don’t hate how it looks, it does pose some ergonomic challenges.
This chin does come with some added utility, like a place to actually hold the tablet, since the other edges are so close to the screen. At the same time, it gets in the way, and often makes me question how to hold the tablet. Portrait is the only orientation that feels natural, both because the chin is at home at the bottom, and because the navigation buttons don’t always follow the orientation of the tablet. Also, unless you hold the tablet from the narrow top edge, it’s virtually impossible to not cover up one of the cameras or depth sensors. In many ways, it’s almost like the tablet doesn’t want to be held in any orientation other than portrait.
Adding to that, the power button and volume rocker are positioned along the top half of the left edge, which is the opposite of most devices, and will take some getting used to, and while the buttons are metal, they’re only slightly raised, and offer very little in the way of travel and tactility.
Everything said and done, the design of the Venue 8 7000 is stunning, even if the ergonomics simply don’t work out most of the time.
The impressive nature of this tablet continues with regards to the display. The 8.4-inch OLED screen features an impressive resolution of 2560 x 1600, resulting in a relatively high pixel density of 359 ppi.
The blacks are deep, colors have a distinct pop without being oversaturated, and the brightness range is quite good. That said, outdoor visibility is a common problem among OLED displays, and could definitely be improved on this tablet, as could the viewing angles. For gaming and viewing multimedia though, there is no doubt that this is one of the best displays around.
Unlike most Android tablets, the Dell Venue 8 7000 relies on the Intel Atom Z3580 chipset, which is a combination of a quad-core 2.3 GHz CPU and the PowerVR G6430 GPU. As far as the performance goes, the Venue 8 7000 has very little trouble holding its own.
Through most menial tasks, like scrolling through lists and swiping between homescreens, we noticed no serious signs of lag or stutters. It wasn’t too hard to find some performance quirks and reproduce them though, seemingly at will, especially when pressing the Recent Apps button, and changing the orientation. Still, the overall performance is pretty much on par with all the competition out there, and it handles gaming very well, which is great since this tablet is basically the perfect size for some casual gaming.
The rest of the internals on the Venue 8 7000 are pretty standard fare, with the device packing 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. It does have a slot for a microSD card, capable of expanding the storage by an additional 512 GB. To clarify though, a 512 GB microSD card doesn’t exist yet, and regular SD cards in the half-TB flavor go for upwards of $1,000, so this is mostly future-proofing more than anything. Connectivity options are par for the course as well, but doesn’t include NFC, which a bit of a let down.
There are some mixed feelings when it comes to the speakers. It was surprising how loud and full the sound coming from them actually was, and they do sound pretty good, mostly thanks to the built-in equalizer app, MaxxAudio by Waves, which comes with four presets – Movie, Music, Voice, and Gaming. The difference between MaxxAudio being on and off is night and day, both with and without headphones. However, despite being front-facing, if you use the tablet in landscape, all your audio is coming from just one side of the tablet, drawing away from an immersive effect. In portrait, this isn’t much of an issue, with all the sound coming from the bottom, which you may be used to, depending on what smartphone you use.
One of the most impressive aspects of this tablet is with regards to its battery life. Only after three days and 12 hours of use did the tablet reach 28 percent of remaining battery. When the screen is off, it barely sips at the battery, dropping between just two and four percent each day. If you jack the screen brightness up in use, you’re going to see that awesome stamina take a hit though. Dell claims 10 hours of use, and that’s definitely possible, as long as you manage the screen brightness well.
The camera on the Venue 8 7000 is admittedly a bit strange. The setup around back is a primary 8 MP camera, with two 720p cameras which work as depth sensors, not totally unlike HTC’s DuoCamera. This is what Dell calls Intel RealSense 3D Technology. Simply point the camera at an object in the Depth Snapshot shooting mode, hold it steady, and snap a photo. If you open this photo in Dell’s Gallery app, you can adjust the focal point, the amount of defocusing, and more. Further, you can estimate distances and measure items within the photo using the captured depth information.
This RealSense technology works pretty well, or at least, as good or better than most other faux-defocusing methods. It’s not without its issues though. For starters, it doesn’t work in low light, and secondly, the images take an incredibly long time to process once you open them in the gallery. Lastly, snapping photos is extremely awkward with this tablet, not only because it is a tablet, but because all the cameras are positioned around the only place you really have to hold the tablet with, the chin. It’s easier to accidentally take a photo than it is to take one on purpose, and even Dell’s Depth Snapshot instructions look awkward and show the user holding the tablet by the screen.
The front-facing camera isn’t any less awkward to use either. All of the cameras are in strange positions, making it quite difficult to not cover up. To top it all off, the image quality itself isn’t much to get excited about. Dell is so close to a solid execution, but the unwieldy nature of capturing photos with the Venue 8 7000 makes us wonder how much better this technology would be if it were on a smartphone.
One of the most upsetting aspects of the Venue 8 7000 is the software, but not because it’s a poor implementation. This tablet ships with Android 4.4.4 KitKat in a very near stock form, and while that would normally be a good thing, it’s been over three months since Android 5.0 Lollipop officially arrived and even longer since it was announced, and definitely what you’d expect a new device to be running.
If you’ve never used Lollipop before, this tablet’s software will feel natural and quite polished. That said, if you’re coming from a phone or tablet which currently runs on Google’s latest firmware, even after just a few days with Lollipop, the software on the Venue 8 7000 will feel borderline archaic. The separated panels for notifications and quick settings, Recent Apps instead of the Overview menu, and five permanent home screens, are stark contrasts and reminders of just how much the Lollipop update has improved the usability and appearance of Android. I constantly found myself long-pressing on the home screen to add widgets, but they still reside in their old home on this tablet, the app drawer, in the tab to the right of the applications.
Outside that, there isn’t much to say about the software. A few applications, like Kobo Books, McAfee Security, CamCard, and File Commander come pre-installed, and Dell’s additions are pretty minimal. It has its own camera app, the My Dell app, some live wallpapers, a custom Gallery app for editing photos with depth information, and Dell Cast. Dell has replaced the screen casting feature of Android with its own proprietary software, which requires Dell-specific hardware, which is unfortunate for purists, but is otherwise a slight modification that won’t affect most users.
Overall, the software is pretty solid, even if it does feel and look a little old. Fortunately, a Lollipop update is in the works and is expected to land sometime in the near future. It’s also nice to see the app situation specific to Android tablets constantly improving, even if some of Google’s own apps still have their own quirks when it comes to larger displays.
Dell Venue 8 7000 specs
|CPU/GPU||Quad-core 2.3 GHz Intel Atom Z3580
PowerVR G6430 GPU
|Display||8.4 inches OLED (2560 x 1600)
|Memory||16 GB storage, expandable up to 512 GB|
|Camera||8MP rear cam with Intel RealSense 3D technology
2MP front cam
|Connectivity||WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS / GLONASS, Bluetooth® v 4.0 (LE)|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass|
|OS||Android 4.4.4 Kitkat|
|Dimensions and Weight||215.9 x 124.2 x 6.1 mm
The Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet sells for just $399, which is a fair and comparable price to much of the competition. Many potential buyers will be torn between Dell’s 8.4-inch slab and the 8.9-inch Nexus 9, which goes for the same price with many similar specs and features. With expandable storage, a killer edge-to-edge display, and a really sweet industrial design, you might be getting more bang for your buck with the Venue 8 7000.
So there you have it – the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet! Our biggest cause for concern with this tablet is its ergonomics. In just about anything but portrait, it doesn’t feel quite right, and accidental screen taps or button presses are inevitable. Those issues are aren’t enough to out shine all the high points of this tablet though. It’s definitely one of the best looking Android tablets to hit the market in a very long time, the speakers and display make it ideal for multimedia consumption, and it also offers up some pretty impressive battery performance. While not perfect, the Dell Venue 8 7000 is a surprisingly great tablet and is well worth the cash.