Dell Venue 8 review
Dell serves up a well-equipped budget compact tablet for £179, but the crisp screen and potent hardware are let down by software niggles
In the cutthroat world of budget compact tablets, manufacturers are jostling to dish out ever-more capable tablets at rock-bottom prices. Undeterred by the tough competition, the Dell Venue 8 pairs an Intel Atom processor with a Full HD screen and a few other nifty features for a tantalising £179.
Dell Venue 8 review: design
As we've come to expect in this sector, the Venue 8 isn't much of a looker. There's a touch of individuality to the design, though, and a healthy dose of practicality to boot. Textured concentric circles spread out from the Dell logo on the matte, black rear, and these add a pleasing grippiness that makes the tablet easy to hold securely in one hand. Tough-feeling plastics stretch all around, flattening slightly at the edges, and a lip of glossy plastic rings the screen to prevent the display getting scratched when it's laid face-down. It isn't the prettiest tablet – nor the lightest, at 338g – but it feels absolutely rock-solid, with not a hint of flex or give anywhere.
The thick bezels surrounding the Venue 8's screen are a far cry from the slender frames of top-flight compacts such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Apple's iPad mini 2 with Retina display, but the hardware within is well up to par. For starters, the Venue 8 sports a glossy, 8in, 1,200 x 1,920 IPS display. That isn't quite as pixel-packed as the best-in-class devices, but don't be disheartened: the 283ppi pixel density looks startlingly crisp, even when you press your nose to the screen.
Dell Venue 8 review: display quality
Image quality is largely excellent, too. Brightness peaks at an outdoor-readable 365cd/m[sup]2[/sup], and the contrast ratio of 1,042:1 ekes out every drop of detail from the darkest to the brightest corners of photos and movies. Sadly, colour fidelity isn't a strong point – the average Delta E of 4.4 indicates that onscreen colours aren't the last word in accuracy – but the IPS panel dredges up a respectable 76.2% of the sRGB colour gamut. In other words, it's a fine-looking display: colours appear pleasingly saturated, if a little cold at times, and the combination of ample brightness, good contrast and lively colour reproduction makes looking at the Venue 8's display a pleasure.
Dell Venue 8 review: performance
At the heart of the Venue 8 lies one of Intel's Merrifield Atom SoCs. The 1.33GHz Atom Z3470 CPU sports a tweaked version of Intel's Bay Trail architecture, and features two processor cores capable of boosting from 1.33GHz to 2.13GHz. Alongside, a PowerVR G6400 GPU takes on graphics duties, and Dell has teamed Intel's hardware with (a rather stingy) 1GB of RAM and 16GB of eMMC storage.
It came as no surprise that the Atom processor blazed through our selection of application and graphics benchmarks. In the SunSpider browser benchmark, the Venue 8 whipped through the tests in a nippy 576ms. That isn't far behind substantially pricier compact tablets and way ahead of the quad-core Qualcomm processor in the Nexus 7, which completed the test in 1,000ms. The Dell repeated the feat in Geekbench 3's tests, too, its single-core result of 841 beating the Nexus 7's 573. There are limits to what the Dell's dual-core architecture can do, however: in Geekbench 3's multi-core benchmark, its two cores achieved 1,455; the four cores of the Google Nexus 7 nudged ahead with 1,781.
Gaming performance isn't to be sniffed at. The PowerVR GPU turned in an average frame rate of 23.7fps in GFXBench, a result that puts it well ahead of the Nexus 7's 15fps and not far behind the results of the best compact tablets we've seen. For the money, it's a veritable powerhouse.
Dell Venue 8 review: bugs & battery life
It wasn't all smooth sailing in our time with the Dell Venue 8, however. Google Chrome was particularly unstable, and we experienced everything from regular crashes back to the homescreen to flashing web pages and graphical issues. In the browser-based benchmarks we ran, performance was a touch slower than in the stock browser, and it chewed through the Venue 8's battery unusually quickly. We also experienced crashes in other applications, such as Facebook and GFXBench.
While the stock Android browser wasn't as badly affected, the occasional crash went hand in hand with frustrating amounts of lag on busier webpages; the browser often pausing momentarily while scrolling down image-heavy websites. On paper, the Dell is much faster than rivals such as the Google Nexus 7, but in practice it feels more sluggish than it should. We wonder whether to point the finger of blame at the stingy 1GB of RAM or the Intel hardware; we suspect both are playing their part.
There's another downside to the Intel hardware – battery life takes a hit. The Dell's GPU chewed greedily through the 4,550mAh battery in the GFXBench battery test, and with the screen set to mid-brightness and Wi-Fi switched on the Venue 8 lasted only 1hr 56mins. The results from our video playback test were a little more heartening, however, and we were able to squeeze 9hrs 33mins from the Venue 8 while playing a 720p video with Wi-Fi off and the screen brightness calibrated to 120cd/m[sup]2[/sup]. Still, that's well behind the Nexus 7, which lasted 13hrs 3mins in the same test.
Dell Venue 8 review: features & connectivity
Dell rounds off the package with a solid set of features. We were pleased to find a microSD slot for expanding the 16GB of onboard storage, and the presence of both 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 is surprising for a sub-£200 tablet. There are also 2-megapixel front-facing and 5-megapixel rear-facing cameras, although these are nothing to write home about: the front-facing camera is good enough for video chat, but the 5MP rear sensor serves up smeary, grainy photographs in anything less than perfect lighting. Our only other minor gripe is the absence of MHL support for connecting to a monitor or TV via HDMI. Still, the presence of Miracast means that you can stream movies wirelessly to the big screen, albeit at a reduced resolution of 480p.
Dell Venue 8 review: verdict
The Dell Venue 8 has all the makings of a superb compact tablet: the Intel hardware racks up impressive benchmark scores and the display gives the Nexus 7's Full HD panel a run for its money. Ultimately, though, the impressive benchmark scores don't tell the whole story – in everyday use, the crashing issues and laggy performance are difficult to forgive. Forthcoming system updates could yet transform the Dell Venue 8's appeal, but, unless gaming performance is an absolute priority, the Nexus 7 is a far better buy right now.
|Warranty||1yr collect and return|
|Dimensions||130 x 9 x 216mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,200|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,920|
|CPU frequency, MHz||2MHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||5.0mp|
|Mobile operating system||Android 4.4|