I started shopping around for a small and inexpensive travel tablet a couple months ago, since the fourth quarter of the year tends to be when we do most of our traveling. I wanted something small and light with a physical keyboard and long battery life, and I didn’t want to spend more than $200-300 on it. I went for the 64GB version of the Dell Venue 8 Pro 5000, an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet.
To take it for a spin, I decided to use it to compose and post a review of it and its accessories here.
It has a 1280×800 screen, which initially sounds a bit coarse compared other tablets that have 2K or Retina screens, but it’s actually a rather nice screen. Text is pleasingly sharp, images look really good, and the color is vibrant.
When running desktop programs, I find that I sometimes hunch over and squint a little bit more than I should when trying to make out small text, but the Metro-style apps work very well on smaller screens.
The tablet’s size is almost perfect. It’s not too big and not too small for me. It’s about 5 inches tall and about 8.5 inches wide, and a bit less than half an inch thick.
The tablet’s processor is an Intel Atom 3740. Before the current Bay Trail architecture, Atom chipsets were pretty underpowered, and I wouldn’t have gone near an Atom powered Windows RT device with a 10 foot pole. The Venue 8 Pro 5000 runs Windows 8.1.
I’m surprised by how zippy and responsive the tablet is. I was expecting it to struggle a bit, but it’s pretty fluid and responsive. This is even more true after it’s been updated with the latest drivers and software updates from Dell.
Fit and finish is pretty good. It doesn’t feel cheap or cheesy. The back is a textured, rubbery surface that feels satisfyingly grippy, and it doesn’t look chintzy.
To get the most out of it, I also got the keyboard folio case and Dell Active Stylus. The keyboard folio is interesting–it’s a rigid plastic case with a semi-rigid cover that the keyboard attaches to magnetically.
The tablet clicks into the case, the cover folds over the screen, and the keyboard sticks to the cover. There’s a loop on the back that serves two purposes–it holds a stylus and serves as a tuck point for the cover when you fold it up into a stand.
The magnetic attachment for the keyboard is one of those things that sounds great on paper, but falls a little bit short in practice. The magnets hold fine for the most part, but I can see the keyboard coming off fairly easily if the tablet is carried in a bag without a built in sleeve or tablet pocket of some sort.
The semi-rigid cover is jointed so that it can be bent into a triangular stand, and tucks into the stylus loop. There are two viewing angles to choose from: upright like a laptop screen, or on its back and slightly inclined. There isn’t a mechanism to keep the cover closed, however–no strap, latch, or magnetic closure.
The keyboard feels pretty nice and doesn’t look or feel cheap. It does, however, have a number of weirdly placed keys. Several punctuation marks like single and double quotes, underscore, pipe, plus and equal signs, backslash, and hyphen are function keys in the QWERTY row. The function keys are literally function keys themselves rather than separate, standalone keys.
The sizing and placement of a few keys are also a little bit off compared to a normal keyboard. If you’re a touch typist, you might find it frustrating to get used to. I find that my typing speed is about 60% to 75% of my normal speed when using this keyboard.
I’m also using a Dell WM524 wireless travel mouse, which works beautifully with the Venue 8 Pro 5000 and the keyboard folio. In this configuration, it feels like a tiny version of my XPS 18 all-in-one.
The Dell Active Stylus got off to a rocky start before the A02 hardware revision and tablet driver updates. The one I received was an A02 and I’d updated all of the drivers and firmware practically first thing after unboxing it, so I had a better first experience with it than the early adopters did. It won’t put Wacom out of business tomorrow, but it’s plenty good enough for my own needs. It’s also markedly better than the stylus that came with the Gateway CX2720 convertible notebook that I carried around in the mid-2000s.
The stylus loop on the keyboard folio holds it snugly. I think I would have preferred the loop to be on the top edge of the folio rather than on the back, however.
I can’t get over how cool it is to run something like Photoshop CC 2014 on such a tiny computer and actually be able to do useful work on it. I don’t think I would want to open any massive texture atlases or have too many print resolution documents open at the same time, but it’s totally usable otherwise.
Most of my papercraft software installed and worked fine. Metasequoia, Silo, and Pepakura Designer work just fine. Ultimate Papercraft 3D has some issues with the Intel graphics on both the Venue 8 Pro and my XPS 18 all-in-one, so it doesn’t see much use these days.
2 Months Later…
I’ve had the tablet for roughly 2 months now. I took it on a 4 day Thanksgiving road trip, and upon our return, I decided to use it as my sole computer for a week to see how it held up. I really like the little booger. It’s more than enough computer for my travel needs and is nowhere nearly as large and heavy as my old XPS 15 laptop.
I also recently replaced the original Dell keyboard folio with a Microsoft Wedge keyboard and a Poetic faux leather folio case. The Wedge has a much better keyboard layout and has a rigid protective cover that lets me toss it in the bag without worrying about it, and the Poetic folio case is a significant improvement over the Dell folio case in a number of areas. It has an elastic strap that keeps it closed, like the one on a Moleskine notebook, and is more comfortable to hold when using the tablet as a touch device.