Windows 10 tablets: who and what are they for? Dell is the company that thinks it knows the answer to both questions, so much so that recently took the dramatic decision to ditch Android completely from its Venue Pro line of tablets to focus exclusively on Microsoft’s platform.
This sounds a bit odd at first. Windows barely exists as a mobile platform in countries such as the UK, its smartphones sitting rather miserably on shop shelves where few consumers other than teens whose parents won’t buy them an iPhone ever picks one up. In the business sector, it is a different matter with Windows tablets acquiring a slowly growing following that has convinced Del it needs to have such devices in its line-up.
The latest and greatest of the Venue tablets is the new Venue Pro 5855. Pay attention to that number as telling different versions and generations of this machine apart can be difficult but the new model offers upgraded specs couple to its now standard eight-inch screen.
The specification sheet reads like that of a small laptop – sometimes called ‘slates’ - and this holds an important clue to the anticipated usage of this machine: Intel® Atom™ X5 Z8500 (up to 2.4 GHz), 4GB of RAM, an 8.0 inch display with FHD (1920 x 1200), and a micro-SD card slot for memory expansion up to 128GB. Only the internal 64GB of eMMC storage (i.e. more like SD card flash than SSD) gives away that this is a tablet.
It also comes with a USB Type C port, 2×2 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and a standard rear camera with a 5-megapixel resolution. On a business device, the front camera is arguably more important for video calling and this is adequate at 2 megapixels. The headphone and microphone jack are a single unit with a small speaker at the bottom of the front panel that put out sound with a surprisingly crisp quality.
The list of accessories includes a docking station and, of course, a keyboard. We say of course because in theory this device will double as a small laptop in the mould of Microsoft’s own Surface 3, which has a similar specification but with a 10-inch screen, or more recent and expensive Surface 4. Supporting Miracast, the Venue Pro can be wirelessly connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse for use in desktop mode quite happily without pushing the performance to laptop levels.
The Venue, then, is a do-it-all computing device in tablet form. But does this story hold up under closer examination?
Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855 review – up close
Physically, the Venue is covered in tough, textured plastic with a low-key bezel around the screen to protect it should the device be dropped onto a hard surface side on. The design is robust enough to meet the demands of a business user even if its utilitarian looks won’t win any beauty contests.
As with most larger tablets, at 777 grams (0.83lbs) the Venue isn’t terribly comfortable to hold for any length of time but this is more of an issue with the whole sector than Dell’s design in particular. An already noted, accessory stand is available.
The whole package is impressive for anyone who’s been used to tired Android tablets fewer and fewer people use let alone The over-priced Apple rivals. For business use it would be hard to imagine a better tablet and touch platform for enterprises that need access to Microsoft applications.
Windows 10 on a tablet?
This is where the caveats start to pile up for the Dell Venue 5855, indeed every Windows 10 device in the sector. Despite what Microsoft says, Windows 10 on a tablet still has some drawbacks that revolve around the mobile apps.
There just aren’t enough good ones and those that do exist seem to be afterthoughts to the primary apps developed for Android and Apple. This isn’t necessarily an issue for enterprises which are buying them to enable bespoke or mainstream desktop applications but it undermines the platform’s appeal beyond a few niches.
Compounding this is the complaint that Windows 10 struggles to cope with high-resolution screens, including those on tablets such as the Venue Pro itself. This isn’t Dell’s problem but until it is fixed (in a forthcoming release (the imminent Redstone refresh) it compromises the platform somewhat.
A final criticism is battery life, which on the Venue Pro 8 was OK but not much more than that. The device topped up (about 4-5 hours for a full charge) and actual battery seemed to be around 5-6 hours. But put the tablet into standby and it was less impressive and needed to be charged after being left to sit for a day. This isn’t good enough. Mobile devices still struggle with this issue but Windows 10 on the Venue 8 Pro seems to struggle more than most.
Conclusion: Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855
There’s a lot to like in this tablet-cum-slate. It’s robustly-made, has most of the latest features a Windows 10 tablets should have and it will do the job at a reasonable clip an acceptable level below a laptop. You can plug it into a keyboard and do some real work, albeit that the screen is too small to be comfortable to work on for any length of time.
Where it falls down is in its battery life and the limitations of Windows 10 on a tablet, some of which are promised by Microsoft to be ironed out this year. It’s also slightly pricey at £365 plus VAT and shipping even though this includes the spec outlined here plus LTE broadband and Windows Office Mobile 2016. That’s roughly £450 for a Windows 10 tablet all in before you add on a keyboard. Some might conclude that Microsoft’s Surface 3, which is still on sale for around the same price or less, is a better deal.
Specification: Intel® Atom™ X5 Z8500 (up to 2.4 GHz, 4GB Memory, 64GB eMMC, 8.0 inch Display with FHD (1920 x 1200) with touch, 1 Micro SD card slot (up to 128GB), 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Weight: 0.83lb/377g. Battery capacity 19.5 Wh or approximately 3,900 mAh.
Price: £366 (plus VAT)
Pro: Build quality, good balance of performance, screen and new features
Cons: Battery performance needs fixing, price a bit high, Windows 10 needs refinement