More on life with the Dell Venue 8 Pro

I’ve just completed an extended, and challenging, period of travel with the Dell Venue 8 Pro (DV8P) as the only non-phone computing device I took with me.  Basically, a three-week trip with over two weeks of that in Thailand.  So I’ll give my final thoughts on the device and its use before turning my focus to other things.

I didn’t make the final decision on taking the DV8P or Surface RT with me until the night before the trip.  Basically I was struggling with a desire to really lighten up my carry-on versus having the ideal devices with me.  Finally I went with the lightest setup I could, from headset to tablet to some other things I travel with.  My nervousness around taking the DV8P extended to two basic issues.  First, the appropriateness of the 8″ screen for extended video watching on an airplane.  Second, the lack of a keyboard in case I wanted to do extensive writing.  I decided to risk the first, and for the second I decided I wasn’t going to really want to take writing time while on this trip and the DV8P would actually help with that.

I had made one concession to carrying the DV8P, purchasing the somewhat expensive Dell Folio cover for it.  That made things a little lighter and smaller than the ill-fitting 3rd party case I’d previously used.  One thing I screwed up on was getting an adapter so I could plug USB devices into the DV8P’s micro-USB port.  At the last-minute I went looking for one, but couldn’t find it in stores.  Since Amazon doesn’t have their drone system in operation yet, they couldn’t get me one in time either.  The only real issue here is that I couldn’t back up our digital cameras while we were on the road, something that I have done on previous trips with my Surface.

For the most part the DV8P was a delight to have along on this trip.  I watched several hours of TV shows on it, only slightly missing the larger screen.  I read a few books and magazines on it, for which it is a superior form factor to the Surface RT (or any 10″ class tablet).  And I kept up with Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc. and to some extent my email with it.

Email is probably the place I missed my Surface RT the most.  With a small screen and no physical keyboard I let a lot of mail just slide until I returned from the trip.  So if you sent me something and haven’t heard back, that’s probably why.  It was just too painful to respond to anything non-urgent without a decent way to type so I limited my responses.  This isn’t specific to the DV8P or even Windows 8 tablets, I have the same behavior on an iPad.  But the cramped on-screen keyboard of an 8″ device makes the behavior a little more pronounced.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the ability to install WiTopia makes having an x86 Windows 8 tablet a better experience than Windows RT.  As I traveled WiTopia would automatically give me a VPN connection at the myriad of open WiFi hotspots I used.  I did find another weakness though, and another demonstration of the downside of allowing the installation of Win32 software on your tablet.  WiTopia interfered with Airplane Mode.  Specifically, it wouldn’t allow WiFi to come back to life when you turned off Airplane Mode.  I figured out a couple of workaround (requiring reboots) for that, though in the end I’d just turn off WiTopia completely (including it starting up on login) when boarding a plane.

I did have one potentially disastrous glitch occur.  I shutdown my DV8P at the start of one flight (as other countries haven’t yet adopted the new U.S. rules) and when I restarted it my email and calendar were gone.  That’s the first time this has happened, and they didn’t come back until I connected to the Internet.  Fortunately it was a flight with WiFi Internet availability. It’s the only time this has happened in my heavy use of Windows 8/8.1 over the last 18 months.  But it leaves me with a concern about relying on the built-in Windows Mail and Calendar apps when expecting to be without Internet access.

I did finally give in and write a couple of blog posts on the DV8P, most notably my prediction that Bill Gates would give up the Board Chairman position.  It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but I really do want a physical keyboard for that activity.  I’ll likely try out the Dell offering when it becomes available.

We had one instance where the hotel offered virtually no interesting TV channels and I wanted to hook the DV8P up to the display so we could both watch something.  This is the first and only time I wished it had a micro-HDMI port.  If this scenario is something of real importance to you then one of the other 8″ Windows 8.1 tablets might be a better alternative.

So the bottom line on the DV8P is that it was a delightful if imperfect device to travel with.  It has grown on me to the point where I expect to keep mine and carry it whenever I want to optimize weight and size, particularly where I’m not expecting heavy use.  The way Microsoft is using cloud services, and particularly SkyDrive to sync settings and content, makes this really easy.  I can pick up either the DV8P or Surface and not really be concerned about what is on each device.  So I’ll go back to the Surface being my primary tablet (for now) and the DV8P its little buddy.  Then we’ll see what happens when more LTE-capable devices appear in 2014.

For those considering a DV8P for Christmas 2013 the good news is that they are still available.  I notice that various configurations keep running out of stock for brief periods at various retailers, but Dell seems to be stuffing the channel so a couple of days later they become available again.  And you can order them for delivery from Dell in time for Christmas as well.  What might be gone is some of the amazing deals on the DV8P, as right now I’m seeing everyone list them for $299 (though you do get a $25 gift card so effectively they are $274).  That’s still a great price for this device.

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10 Responses to More on life with the Dell Venue 8 Pro

  1. Bob - Former DECie says:

    Did you adjust to reading text on an 8″ device? That was one of your complaints in another post. I keep hearing good things about the DV8P so it’s still on my list of possible buys.

    • halberenson says:

      Yeah, I did. Particularly for books where I found a font size that was comfortable for reading with reasonable information density. For magazines the pain of always zooming remains, but I got good at it (basically I’d swipe to the next page then immediately double tap to put it in zoom mode).

      • Bob - Former DECie says:

        I picked up the 64GB DV8P at the local Microsoft store earlier this week. The Microsoft store is right across from the Apple store at the mall. The salesperson was very knowledgeable and happened to be the person that installs the demo images on all the systems in the store. All the DV8P display systems were the 32GB model. When I asked how much space was available on the machine after the demo image was installed, she mentioned that it seemed to vary from machine to machine for some reason. On one of the 32GB systems there was only 2GB free and she couldn’t install Office on it because it took 5GB free to install. Given that the 64GB system was only $30 more than the 32GB, I went with the 64GB system. She was very knowledgeable about everything in the store. I asked her about mice for my home PC, etc. She agreed with me when I said the Surface Pro was good machine but too expensive unless I was going use it as my full time machine. So I give the Microsoft store two thumbs up for knowledgeable, helpful, and honest sales people. BTW, they use Lumia 900′s with an attached external battery/card reader to do the check out.
        The only thing I don’t like about the 8″ size is the desktop is basically unusable in portrait mode. Otherwise, it’s simply a matter of learning the differences between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.

  2. sbussinger says:

    You might pick up a Maracas receiver for playing on a hotel TV. You have to update some drivers, but it works pretty well.

  3. Aaron says:

    Off topic question- sorry. Why WiTopia versus the other options? We live overseas and I use Strongvpn. By any chance did you test your bandwidth while in Thailand? Are you using the VPN from a security standpoint when you are stateside and on public wifi or other reasons? Strongvpn has been reliable and helpful, but I’m always willing to look at other options. Thank you.

    • halberenson says:

      I’ve been using WiTopia for years and can’t remember why I chose it over other things (though I don’t recall there being many full VPN options at the time). One thing I like about it is that you do have the option of manual configuration for PPTP and L2TP, so it worked for a lot of devices (e.g., my first generation iPad). That also lets it work with my Surface RT, while I can install their OpenVPN client on a “real” Windows system.

      My primary use is for protection on WiFi hotspots. When overseas it also lets me access (some) sites in the U.S. that get upset over international access to a U.S.-based account. I didn’t actually do a bandwidth test but my experience was that I didn’t notice the difference between it being on or off. On a fast hotel network I was able to watch a video while choosing a U.S. VPN site to connect to, so that was a good sign. But in previous tests it usually is not good enough to rely on for video. For example, I wouldn’t actually go overseas expecting I could use it to watch Netflix.

  4. I carry a NetGear TV2Go adapter with me – it’s small and light and supports MiraCast – so that I can use the DVP8 to send HD Audio and Video to any HDMI capable screen. It’s proven to be invaluable!

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