A tablet with everything you might need

As an IT executive I’m exposed to many different devices. While some are cool, and perhaps even useful for specific tasks and/or specific roles, they can’t be used productively by the majority of users.

Some are ‘work horses’ used for the heavy lifting by many, but what they add in productivity they lack in mobility (and, yes, coolness), like Dell’s Inspiron, or HP’s Pavilion laptop lines . Rarely do you stumble on a device that can be all of the above – very slim and light, long lasting, yet powerful and adaptable enough to perform most office functions.

For the last few months, my daily driver has been the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet (DVP), and it’s fantastic! I am now at a point where all I carry is the 8 inch, 0.8 lb tablet and my phone. I’ve used other tablets, different types of iPads, Androids, and even an Amazon Kindle Fire and a Blackberry Playbook (remember that one?), but there was always an important function that I couldn’t do on each device, which is a technological nightmare, especially if you’re on the go. Whether it was browsing certain sites, reading documents with special formatting, or connecting to common peripherals. It was definitely very frustrating.

The Venue 8 Pro solves these problems by incorporating the following features:

  • Current generation Intel Atom Processor
  • Micro USB
  • Active Digitize
  • Full copy of Windows 8.1 (not RT)

These components work in tandem to provide full coverage, so you never feel like there’s something you can’t do with the device.

Let’s start with the tablet attributes:  Many believe that Windows 8.1 is all about the Modern UI touch interface (and the removal of the start button). But while the new UI is quite prominent, another important, yet often unmentioned feature, is Windows 8.1’s ability to run, and run well, on lower powered Atom processors. This quality leads to the creation of a new class of devices that are thinner and lighter. Since the processor is also less powerful, the battery easily lasts a day under heavy usage.

If you’re using the Dell Venue 8 Pro as a tablet, expect the typical Windows 8 experience: big live tiles and a somewhat limited ‘Modern UI’ app availability. You get most of the popular apps like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, etc, but the app store selection, while growing, is nowhere near the selection for iPad or Android tablets.  All in all, not as rich an environment as the competition, so why bother, right? Well, this little tablet is also a full desktop in disguise. That’s right, a desktop!

Clicking on the desktop tile, a standard windows-looking desktop opens. In it, you get the complete versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These are not ‘Office compatible’ apps that have limited functionality, these are the real thing. They will open any office documents fast, and with no formatting or layout issues. And you can utilize any feature, functionality, script, pivot table, or font you’re used to from your old Windows desktop/laptop days. Furthermore, you can run any ‘legacy’ application made for windows 7, and that’s incredibly useful, since it reduces the dependency on App Store apps.

Personally, I use these desktop applications on a daily basis, including Internet Explorer and Google Chrome for when mobile versions of websites won’t suffice, TrueCrypt, VLC, Windirstat, openSSH, Steam (yes, many Steam games work very well),  in addition to other common desktop utilities such as File Explorer (with native FTP client), Control Panel, VPN and Task Manager. Frankly,  the combination of desktop apps and App Store apps really makes up for the lack of Windows 8 Modern UI Apps.

So if it’s such a great desktop then what about keyboard and mouse? What about printers, scanners, and other peripherals? No Problem. The Venue 8 Pro comes with a micro USB port.  Of course, it is used for charging, but by adding a $3 MicroUSB-USB OTG adapter, you can use the port for ‘data’ –  connecting regular USB devices such as a keyboard and mouse (not just wireless, any standard USB keyboard or mouse will work). You can connect printers, scanners, Storage disks (self powered) or USB sticks. With the right HDMI adapter you can even connect an HDMI monitor, breaking away from the 8″ screen into a large monitor or TV.

Speaking of displays, this tablet also packs native  Miracast/WiDi support, so you can connect to any TV that supports it, or utilize a Miracast adaptor that connects to a monitor over HDMI.  Even when a mouse is not available, the desktop is still useful, largely because of the integrated Active Digitizer support (Digitizer available separately for $30). The digitizer allows for very accurate mouse like gestures, and for left and right clicks for any interface that is not optimized for touch. Since the digitizer can be attached to the tablet, it is always with you (unlike a mouse), ready to assist with desktop activities. And let’s not forget another best kept secret, namely the free One Note Application (Modern UI or Desktop). One Note is a powerful note-taking application with browser integration, fantastic search functionality, and active digitizer support. That means you get features like palm detection, right click, and easy/fast erase button built right into the whole experience.

The Venue 8 Pro, like any other Windows 8.1 device, also comes with built-in integration to OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) and Skype, allowing for seamless cloud integration and collaboration over documents, and other content creation activities.

While the DVP 8 comes with some administration mass deployment and upgrade utilities, it lacks other important enterprise features such as TPM, and Active Directory integration requires an installation of Windows 8 Pro. So depending on the organization’s IT policy it may be challenging to incorporate it as a true desktop/laptop replacement.

However, considering its initial price point of $299, even after adding connectivity docks such as the $69 pluggable (enables full usb and up to 4 HDMI monitors connectivity), you end up with a $370 desktop experience that is also extremely portable. For enterprises that have the flexibility to work with such devices, the cost savings per seat is substantial, and it certainly adds up as you deploy hundreds or thousands of these devices.

While my own experience is with the Venue 8 Pro, the choice is not limited to this device only, there are other similar Intel Atom/Windows 8.1 devices. They will offer many of the benefits that I’ve outlined, while offering different screen sizes, and even full enterprise compatibility (TPM, automated deployment, etc).

Ultimately the Dell Venue 8 Pro is not just a tablet, it’s really more like a Swiss army knife – light, compact, lasts through the day, and can get you out of many tough situations while on the go. In my opinion, its what every tablet is supposed to do, but only very few tablets do it well.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Arik Kalininsky
Arik Kalininsky
Arik Kalininsky has over 16 years of experience in diverse managerial and architectural roles that span many facets of industry. He has led various IT groups, while taking an active leadership role as part of the senior management team. He holds a Bachelors degree from York University and a certificate for outstanding achievement from the Queen’ University Leadership Program.

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