As I mentioned earlier today I haven’t seen any of the new Windows 8.1 8″ tablets in retail stores yet, but the Dell Venue 8 Pro is available from Dell and from Amazon. Now I don’t generally do reviews but I did want to comment on the Dell, and most of my comments will apply to all the known 8″ devices.
A couple of years ago I purchased and wrote about the then new Amazon Kindle Fire. I never really could figure out how to integrate it into my lifestyle and eventually sold it. Later I purchased a Microsoft Surface RT which has been my near constant companion for a year. Of course with many new devices hitting the market, and my annual evaluation of a technology refresh underway, the Surface RT is due to be replaced.
I already made one decision on my technology refresh, acquiring a Surface Pro 2 to replace both my Toshiba Portage R705 notebook and (via a docking station) a Vista-era Dell All-In-1 that is my home office desktop. I may get a second docking station and have it also replace an old Dell desktop as my productivity machine in my “real” office as well., In other words, the Surface Pro 2 is now my main “real” computer.
But I find the Surface Pro 2 too heavy and a bit large to be my constant companion. The Surface 2 is probably as big and heavy as I’m willing to have fill that role. But is it the right device when I can already take the Surface Pro 2 with me if I know I have real work to do?
When I think about a carry constantly device a number of requirements come to mind. Lighter is better. Many others have pointed out that when reading a book the 1.5lb class devices (iPad 3/4, Surface) are too heavy to hold up for long periods of time. The Surface’s 10.6″ screen is also odd and unwieldy for portrait use, which is the most common orientation for reading. The weight of the tablet also makes a difference in the overall weight of my briefcase when traveling. So I’d clearly prefer to lighten things up.
Another requirement when thinking about my next constant companion is that I want it to have LTE. It is quite inconvenient to have to pull out my phone, start-up Internet Sharing, and then have my tablet connect to it every time I want to do a simple lookup. And then there is the battery drain on a device, the phone, that is already battery life challenged. No, I want built-in LTE.
All this seems to suggest that the best option for me is an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet with built-in LTE. Sadly no such device is yet available, though I certainly expect at least one of the four announced devices to get a LTE variant before the end of the year. So that leaves the question of if I’d be happy with an 8″ device.
I looked at the Acer W3, a Windows 8-based 8″, in stores a few months ago and was sorely disappointed. The screen reminded name of an old Palm Pilot. The build quality reminded me of a toy. If this is what 8″ Windows devices were going to bring to the market then 8″ would not be for me. Fortunately the new generation announced in the past couple of months, including Acer’s W4 replacement for the W3, reportedly have much better screen quality and overall build quality. My original plan was to wait for one of these devices to show up with LTE and then decide if I was going to buy it. But the low pricing on the Dell Venue 8 Pro caused me to hatch another plan.
Amazon was offering the 32GB Dell Venue 8 Pro, list price $299, at an introductory price of $255. So it seemed to me I could get an 8″ device without LTE now and try it for a few weeks until some LTE-capable devices hit the market. Then I’d be able to decide between a new 10″ device or moving into the 8″ world for my constant companion. When I put the Venue 8 Pro into my basket on Amazon it re-priced at $226, making this idea seem even better. Then I realized I had a $100 credit at Amazon, meaning I’d only be looking at $126 on my credit card. I couldn’t resist.
Dell is promising a keyboard cover of some type for the Venue 8 Pro, but it is listed as coming soon. They also have a case available, but I found it a little pricey for a temporary device. So I picked up a cheap generic 8″ tablet case. It is ill-fitting (too short really) but protects the screen and gives me a stand capability, so it is a good stand-in for a temporary device.
The 8″ class devices seem to be coming in at around 12 ounces, which is a big improvement from the 24oz range of most 10″ class devices. Of course the new iPad Air is 16 ounces, making it perhaps the best compromise of a large screen at light weight. Sadly no Windows tablet comes close. I’d been hoping to see a next generation ASUS VivoTab in the 18 ounce range, but so far they haven’t updated the VivoTab family. So if I want to stick with a 10″ class Windows device it looks like I’ll be at 21 ounce or more. While that sounds a bit heavy I have to say that I haven’t minded carrying the Surface around this last year, so while I’d like something lighter and won’t go heavier, a Surface 2 or Lumia 2520, would meet my weight needs.
Still, an 8″ device would be even more portable and so I am evaluating the Venue 8 Pro.
My first impression of the device is that it is of good build quality with a very nice screen for devices of this size. I’m sure the new iPad Mini Retina display will blow it away, but at a substantially higher price. Otherwise, the 1280×800 display meets my needs and is better than the original iPad Mini. The device is fast. And it runs full Windows 8.1. It comes with (a download) of Microsoft Office, making it an even bigger steal at $299 (or less in my case). And it has an SD-card slot, so I can probably live with 32GB off built-in storage. The Venue 8 Pro also charges via USB, unlike the 10″ Windows tablets on the market, saving me from carrying special purpose chargers when traveling. Basically quite a nice device.
But from a usage standpoint I’m questioning if I can live with an 8″ device. Memories of the Kindle Fire have come rushing back. Windows Store apps run much better on the Venue 8 Pro than I recall apps running on the Kindle Fire, but the small screen size may be a problem for me. It is simply that the eyes of a 50-something don’t work as well as the eyes of a 20-something and my initial impression is that I won’t like looking at an 8″ screen for long periods of time. Whereas on a 10″ display I can find the right balance between a font size that is comfortable for long reading sessions and the density of information on the screen, on an 8″ device it seems I am forced to choose. If I choose comfortable font sizes then I don’t get sufficient information density. Sigh.
My plan is to force myself to live with the Venue 8 Pro for about a week and see how I adjust to it. Perhaps I’ll find that 8″ makes sense. If so I’ll wait for an 8″ device with LTE to become available and then replace my Surface with it. If not then it looks likely that the Nokia Lumia 2520 will be my next constant companion tablet. Of course I haven’t seen one of those yet either, but from a spec standpoint it looks like my best (and perhaps only) option in 2013.