Dell Cast, Productivity Mode, Performance, Wrap Up
Dell also sent along its HDMI streaming dongle, Dell Cast, as well as a wireless keyboard and mouse combo. Similar to other HDMI dongles, Dell Cast allows users to stream content from an Android tablet. All you need is a free HDMI port and a USB port for power. While it’s certainly possible to stream content like movies, photos and apps to your TV with the device, the accessory is more geared towards business professionals looking to get some real work done.
In mirror mode, Dell Cast works as you’d expect – mirroring what’s on your tablet to a larger display. Productivity mode, however, essentially turns your Dell tablet into a full-size computer complete with a custom UI that somewhat resembles Windows or Chrome OS. Combined with the wireless keyboard and mouse, one could easily get quite a bit of work done.
While Dell Cast has the potential to be a powerful productivity tool, I feel it still needs a little bit of polishing. There’s a bit of lag when using it in either mode (not unexpected, of course) but my main concern was the quality of the output.
On a Samsung 1080p monitor, the image quality was pretty lackluster. Content – especially text – looked blurry, almost as if it had been upscaled to 1080p. On the Insignia television in my bedroom, image quality was much better but it's still not quite as crisp as a true 1080p monitor with a wired PC connection. Without another HDMI-equipped 1080p monitor on hand to test with, it's hard to say if this poor image quality is an isolated event or the norm.
It’s not as seamless as a standard notebook and is limited to 1080p at 30fps but still it's one of the best options I’ve seen if you’re serious about being productive on your Android tablet. That said, the Dell Cast dongle is sold separately and it will set you back $60.
Performance and Battery Life
Uncommon as it may be, Dell is by no means the first to equip an Android tablet with an x86 chip. The 64-bit Intel Atom Z3580 (Moorefield) SoC inside the Venue 8 7000 is a 22-nanometer part with 2MB of cache that packs four Silvermont cores with a burst frequency of 2.33GHz alongside a PowerVR G6430 GPU carrying a base frequency of 457MHz (burst up to 533MHz).
As demonstrated in the synthetic benchmarks, the Z3580 is certainly able to hold its own, although as previously noted by Tim in his review of the Asus MeMO Pad 7, this version of Android simply wasn’t built for the x86 architecture.
Proper support for multiple architectures including x86 via Android RunTime (ART) will arrive in Android 5.0 Lollipop, an update I’m told will be heading to Dell’s Intel-powered tablet in the coming months. Although I didn’t experience any app crashing, the slate did seem a bit hesitant at times. I suspect the Venue 8 7000 will really be able to stretch its legs once Lollipop comes calling.
Dell rates the 5,900mAh / 21WHr battery inside the tablet for 10 hours which seems conserative based on my use. I put the slate through our typical battery test in which a 720p video is played back at 75 percent brightness in airplane mode. In this test, the Venue 8 7000 managed to keep running for an impressive 13 hours and 27 minutes.
The Dell Venue 8 7000 is arguably one of the best looking tablets currently on the market. If you’re a fan of slim profiles, you’ll love what Dell has done here. The mostly aluminum chassis makes for a lightweight slate given its size.
Although the RealSense camera technology is a prominent feature on the device, the real star of the show is the outstanding display. At 8.4 inches, it does doesn’t feel overly small like a 7-inch tablet nor is it too large and unwieldy as a full-size tablet can often feel. In fact, Dell has convinced me that this is my new favorite screen size for a tablet.
The speaker system on the Venue really impressed. Granted, it’s not the optimal configuration of a speaker on each side of the screen, but it still sounds great for its size. During the battery test, for example, I had to do a double-take during a rainy scene in Inception – very impressive.
I’m a stickler for high-resolution displays when they make sense and this one certainly impressed. Colors seemed especially saturated which works well for nearly every use scenario, assuming of course you aren’t professionally editing photos or something.
Viewing angles were good all around with only a slight color shift when viewed at extreme angles. Brightness was also decent and perhaps best yet, the tablet can go very dim if needed (great for using in bed at night). I can’t think of anything I’d change about the display.
The form factor will no doubt take some getting used to. With a tiny bezel on all but one side, some users will certainly struggle to get acclimated to it and as a result, criticize it. In portrait mode, the Venue 8 7000 feels less like an actual tablet and more like a huge smartphone – and that’s exactly how I held it, with two hands, just as I would a phablet.
I suspect Dell intends for users to one-hand the tablet using the large “handle” along the bottom, especially when in landscape orientation. I’ve never been a fan of single-hand use and really never had an issue with using both hands to handle the Venue – everything surprisingly felt natural.
Rolled edges could have helped a bit with comfort during lengthy use but that’s about the only thing I’d change regarding its unique form factor.
What didn’t feel natural was the triple camera implementation. I constantly found myself having to move a hand or a finger that was blocking one of the rear cameras while using it.
Technology aside, at the end of the day, it’s still just an 8-megapixel tablet camera. Image quality certainly reflected this fact and with no flash, you’ll only get the best performance outdoors under decent sunlight. I like what Intel is doing with its RealSense technology but at this point – and especially on this device – it just felt gimmicky. If Dell wanted to focus on photography, they should have simply included the best camera on the market and called it a day.
Even then, do you really want to be that person snapping photos with your tablet that everyone else is secretly making fun of? Do yourself a favor and use the camera on your smartphone if you must – it’s almost certainly better than this one.
The only other minor complaint I have with the Venue 8 is the gap between the display and the chassis. Because the glass doesn’t extend all the way to the edge, there’s a tiny crevice that’s prone to collecting debris. It’s not a huge deal but certainly worth mentioning.
All things considered, I enjoyed nearly every aspect of the Dell Venue 8 7000. It's $399 price point is $100 cheaper than an iPad Air 2, the same price as the pointless iPad mini 3 and $100 more than the venerable iPad mini 2. Compared to the slew of Android tablets currently on the market, I believe it's a fair price for a slate with this level of build quality. Once Dell releases a Lollipop update, this could be the Android slate to beat in early 2015.
Pros: Beautiful display, surprisingly thin and light, premium metal design looks very sleek, great battery life, decent overall performance.
Cons: Mediocre rear camera, Intel's RealSense feels gimmicky and unpolished, Android 4.4 is not x86-optimized (but Lollipop could fix that).