Dell Venue 8 7840 review

We take a look at the worlds thinnest tablet.

Reviews
10 Apr, 2015
4
Price 
From £320
Pros 
Unbelievably thin and light; Gorgeous screen; In-picture measurement tools
Cons 
Uneven bezels make landscape typing awkward; No Office support
Verdict 
The Venue 8 7840 is a killer tablet, with a great screen and stunning build quality. It's let down a little by awkward bezels and a lack of Microsoft Office, but other than that, it's a knockout.

Thin is in. Or, at least, so it would appear - recent trends have seen tablets, smartphones and laptops all getting progressively slimmer. The latest of these is the Dell Venue 8 7840, supposedly the thinnest tablet in the world. Not only is it wafer-thin, however, it's also a damn good product in its own right. 

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Price

Starting at £320, the Venue 8 7840 is edging towards the top of the Android tablet price scale. It’s beaten out by rivals such as Sony’s cheaper Z3 Tablet Compact and the ever-competitive Nexus range, but it’s a premium price for what is undeniably a premium product. 

Dell have put a lot of effort into making their latest tablet feel generally impressive, and there’s a lot of the ‘wow factor’ on show. By and large, though, all of these measures fall under the heading of Cool But Useless, starting principally with the Live Wallpaper.

Enabled by default, the Dell Live Wallpaper is a layered image that gives the illusion of depth. By linking to the tablet’s gyroscope, the wallpaper’s layers shift relative to your position, producing an effect that is unsettlingly like trying to concentrate on something whilst very, very drunk.

It’s admittedly quite snazzy, but its functionality is absolutely nil. What is more useful is another piece of Intel technology, in the form of Sensing Assist. When active, this mode will recognise when the tablet has been picked up, and wake the screen. It’s a surprisingly handy mechanic, and makes using the device feel a lot more natural.

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Design and display

The scratch-resistant screen on the Venue is also impressive. The 8-inch OLED display makes colours bright and vibrant, with the 2560x1600 resolution ensuring that text is crisp and readable, if occasionally a little small. 

The deep, rich contrast makes images and videos a joy to behold, and in general the screen is among the more impressive we’ve seen on a tablet. On three of its four sides, it’s practically edge-to-edge as well, which is always attractive.

One area it is let down slightly in is the shape of it. Measuring 124.4 x 215.8mm, it feels oddly long and thin compared to rivals. It puts the Venue in the uncomfortable position of being too large to use one-handed, but not really big enough to warrant both. 

It’s also got oddly uneven bezels, with the bottom edge of the screen finishing about 2cm shy of the tablet’s body. This means that landscape viewing is often jarringly uneven, and typing can be a cack-handed mess of thumb-stretching.

It’s not a deal-breaker, however, and it is possible to overlook it, helped immensely by the fact that the Venue is staggeringly slim. At just 6mm thick, it’s just fractionally thinner than the iPad Air 2. Dell claims it’s the world’s thinnest tablet, and it’s hard to imagine anything trumping it in that particular respect.

You might imagine having dimensions that would make a Ryvita feel fat would equate to a tablet that feels flimsy or fragile. Not so, however – the Venue’s aluminium body is incredibly strong and rigid whilst maintaining an airy weight of around 300g, all of which contributes to the Venue 8 7840’s absolutely excellent build quality.

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Software

The Venue runs on Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, with a custom skin over the top of it. However, Dell has indicated that the tablet will be getting the Lollipop treatment on April 21st with an update to Google’s latest OS.

The Venue ships with a selection of pre-installed apps. As well as Dell’s alternatives to the standard Android gallery and camera software, it includes Evernote, its document-sharing cousin Skitch, an audio management tool and MacAffee’s mobile security app. 

Third-party software being installed as standard has become an increasingly contentious point recently. The Superfish scandal has meant that any preinstalled apps now run the risk of being tarred with the ‘bloatware’ brush.

However, in this case, Dell just manages to keep on the right side of this particular line. The third-party apps aren’t too numerous, and generally fall under the ‘essentials’ category, meaning many users would have downloaded them anyway.

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Camera

Dell has preloaded its tablet’s camera with various tools. It’s basic photo-editing stuff for the most part; various filters, brightness and white balance settings are all present and correct. There’s nothing revolutionary, and some of the adjustments work a lot better than others.

What is different – and incredibly useful – is the measurement tool, which lets you snap a quick photo, and then measure the subject’s real-world dimensions. It’s a neat tool, but it’s not the most exact system – during testing, it seemed to think that our Sony Xperia Z3 Compact was over 50 feet long.

The camera boasts Intel’s RealSense technology, which not only enables the measurement feature, but also supposedly allows for much greater depth within photos. The difference between normal photos and those taken with the Venue’s RealSense camera isn’t vast, but it did seem like an improvement. 

Overall, the Venue’s camera’s not the best we’ve seen, but it’s got HDR and the image quality is nothing it should feel overly ashamed of. Photography professionals won’t be impressed, and we wouldn’t recommend using it for much more than casual use, but assuming you just want to take the odd snap for personal use, it should be generally adequate.

Actually using it, however, is incredibly awkward – camera placement is really counter-intuitive to both normal tablet design and where the tablet naturally sits in your hand. This means that video calling is likely to be a pain, as it’s a bit of a mission to effectively frame shots. 

This isn’t helped by the fact that the folio case supplied by Dell is pretty shocking. Not only does it make the otherwise jaw-droppingly svelte device feel a little on the chunky side, it’s also terrible at acting as a stand. More often than not, we found ourselves having to constantly reset it after falling over, until we simply ditched the case. 

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Business applications

Dell is aiming to use its considerable experience as an office PC manufacturer to promote the Venue 8 as a business tablet. Unfortunately, this is hamstrung a little in some areas.

Thanks to the wonky bezels, landscape typing is a tedious chore. Portrait, however, is much more comfortable, and feels akin to using an incredibly tall BlackBerry. We’d recommend this over landscape typing, and not just with the Venue – we actually found it more natural than using our phone.

On top of this, Dell’s latest tablet is, as an Intel-based tablet, not compatible with Microsoft Office. Considering its enterprise ambitions, this is a pretty big stumbling-block for anyone looking to use this as a business tablet. 

Sure, there are numerous alternatives such as Google Docs and Polaris Office, but they can’t really compare to the granddaddy of productivity software suites. There are rumblings that support for Intel tablets may be added in the future, but nothing's been confirmed, and for now the lack of Microsoft’s Office apps are a big black mark against the Venue 8 7000.

In order to circumvent these limitations, Dell has implemented the Cast feature. Via a plug-in peripheral, the Venue works with Dell’s Cast software to use any HDMI screen as a PC, complete with keyboard and mouse.

However, since it needs the (£100+) Cast accessory on top of the already-expensive base tablet, it’s a stretch to say it’s any cheaper than a laptop, and it’s definitely nowhere near as convenient.

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Specs and hardware

The startup screen promises ‘Intel inside’ – a quad-core Intel Atom CPU to be exact, clocked at 2.3Ghz. It’s a pedigree processor, and the 2GB of RAM backing it up ensures that the Venue should have plenty of hardware horsepower. Granted, we’ve seen better-equipped tablets, but not vastly so. 

Connectivity is a standard affair: Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi only. No cellular connection or NFC here, unfortunately. We’d have liked to see both options, if only for convenience’s sake, but neither is really a big deal for tablets. 

Performance-wise, all that impressive hardware has paid off, and the Venue can definitely hold its own. The Geekbench tests gave a result of 935 and 2852 for the single and multi-core benchmarks respectively. This puts it roughly in line with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, which is no bad thing. 

The Sunspider browser test was also rather encouraging, with an overall score of 786ms. This isn’t enough to dethrone Apple’s latest crop of tablets, but it’s nippy nonetheless, and we found web browsing to be quick and responsive.

Indeed, the whole experience is a breeze, with the ample processing power ensuring that navigation is slick and virtually seamless. All but the most demanding apps fired up within a few scant seconds of being opened.

Its graphical prowess, however, is a little bit less stellar. The on-screen T-Rex test in GFXBench produced a result of 20fps – comparable to the LG G3. While it’s not as good as tablets packing Nvidia-made GPUs can manage, we put it through an hour or so of Real Racing 3 and noticed no ill effects, so it should be fine for rendering most things.

In our battery tests, the Venue's charge depleted at a rate of around 9 per cent per hour. Overall, the tablet will do around a day and a half of mixed use on a full charge, which isn't a bad result at all, given the large number of pixels being shunted about by the high-res screen.

In terms of storing your apps, the Venue features 16GB of internal memory, but fire it up and you’ll find that just under half of that is already allotted for the OS and its various accoutrements. On the up-side, this figure is upgradeable via MicroSD, up to a whopping total of 512GB. It does make you work for it, however, and the pinhole release mechanism is a fiddly little bugger to get in at.

Dell Venue 8 7840 - Verdict

The Dell Venue 8 7840 is a really, really nice tablet. It's got a very pretty screen, and the high-quality form factor is frankly gorgeous. There are a few issues with the irritating bezels and camera placement, but aside from that, we can't really find anything to complain about. The internals are all fairly top-notch, and the Intel Atom processor makes them absolutely fly.

Admittedly, the price point is slightly more than we're comfortable with - bringing it under the £300 mark would make the Venue 8 7840 an absolute bargain. It's got a couple neat tricks up its sleeve though, and aspects like the built-in puicture measurement tools and auto-waking sensor are particularly cool.

On the whole, we've got no hesitation about recommending the Dell Venue 8 7840 as a killer tablet, both for personal use and as a business tool.

Specifications 

OS: Android 4.4.4 KitKat

Display: 8.4 inch OLED Display, 2560x1600

CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Atom quad-core

RAM: 2GB

Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, .11ac Wi-Fi

Storage: 16GB

Camera: 2MP front-facing camera, 8MP rear-facing camera with Intel RealSense technology

Ports: MicroUSB 2.0

Dimensions: 215 x 124 x 6 mm

Weight: 305g

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