Dell Venue 8 Pro vs. Microsoft Surface RT

The Dell Venue 8 Pro is the new tablet darling and I sprang for one and got a great deal at Costco. It was $329.99 for the 64 GB model, plus the charger, plus the Dell case plus a 2-year extended warranty.

One might think that it’s hardly fair to compare an older Windows RT machine with something that runs the full version of Windows, but you might be surprised.

First impressions mean a lot and immediately the Dell Venue 8 Pro stands out as being faster and lighter. The user interface is quick and nimble. So let’s talk features.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro is a nice tablet. Mine has 64 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM. It runs full Windows 8.1. Now here are some features shared by both:

  1. Front and rear facing HD cameras.
  2. Microphone and earphone jacks
  3. External slot for a micro SD card–currently 64 GB can be added
  4. Includes Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student edition
  5. Wi-fi and Bluetooth
  6. Encryption hardware

Now here are some things the Surface RT has that the Dell Venue 8 doesn’t:

  1. Microsoft Outlook
  2. Standard USB Port
  3. HDMI audio/video output

And here are some things the Venue has that the Surface doesn’t:

  1. Full version of Windows and access to all Windows software, not just what’s in the Windows store.

You can plug in a USB dongle for a wireless keyboard and mouse into the Surface and hook up a wide screen monitor and be quite productive with the supplied Office software. The screen is much larger for your video watching enjoyment.

The Venue also comes with a USB 2.0 port, but it is the “micro” size, and requires an adapter cable, what they call an on-the-go cable (OTG). With that, pretty much any USB device can be connected. I hooked up a Toshiba office copier/printer via USB and it worked. It is somewhat ironic that the smaller device supports full Windows but the screen is simply too small to use the Windows desktop.  Unlike the Surface which has HDMI output, the Dell requires some special optional hardware to connect a monitor, either USB or wirelessly. Here’s the oft-mentioned YouTube video of connecting a monitor.

Like all comparisons, what is best depends on what you want to do. If you want a truly portable device, the Venue works better because it’s smaller and easier to carry. The screen resolution is higher, so things like books appear sharper. The advertised battery life is longer (10 vs. 8 hours) but I’d take those numbers with a grain of salt—particularly on the Surface. You’ll want to stick to the Metro interface, though, because the desktop is tiny. I take it to a meetings.

For productivity, go with the Surface. It has Office and you can hook up a big monitor. Most USB devices are supported. The closely-integrated touch cover makes a keyboard available on the go without adding much to the size of the package and I think for travel, I’d take the Surface because of the integrated keyboard, and the ease of transferring pictures from my camera via USB. I can use it to charge other USB devices. Since the original writing of this review, I received a Surface Type 2 Keyboard, and this keyboard is a dream come true.

There are plenty of apps for Windows RT and so far, I haven’t put anything on the Venue that wouldn’t run on RT. Full Windows sounds nice, but let’s face it—you’re not going to edit video or develop software on a tablet. Here are some common tasks I do where both tablets work equally well:

  1. Internet browsing
  2. Mobile banking
  3. Facebook
  4. Weather
  5. Reading Kindle books
  6. Viewing PDF files, spreadsheets and Word documents
  7. Watching video, including Netflix and YouTube
  8. Carrying documents to meetings
  9. Remote access to my desktop
  10. Playing solitaire
  11. Listening to music

The three Venue limitations, no standard USB, no HDMI, no Outlook are a big deal and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The lack of Outlook is mitigated by the ability to install other Windows mail clients, like Thunderbird, USB is mitigated with an Adapter, and video can also be done, perhaps clumsily, with additional hardware.

Of course, now there is a Microsoft Surface 2 (thinner, faster, lighter), with a higher resolution camera and screen, and longer battery life. I think that if I were starting over from scratch and getting just one tablet, I’d get a Surface 2.

Update:

I sold my Surface on eBay and got a Surface 2. While the Surface 2 is nicer with higher resolution both on the display and with the camera, my overall conclusions haven’t changed. The screen on the Venue is just too small for productivity even though it’s great to grab and go, surf the web, read email and carry documents for a meeting. The Surface 2 is just too big and too heavy to carry casually. To take on a trip where I want to blog and do Office stuff, or project on a big screen at a meeting, the Surface 2 is the choice.

I just don’t see how one tablet can work when small size is too small for some things and the large size is too big for other things.

About Kevin

Just an old guy with opinions that I like to bounce off other people.
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2 Responses to Dell Venue 8 Pro vs. Microsoft Surface RT

  1. Josh Reebel says:

    Just to throw in there, you can indeed charge things off of the Venue 8 Pro. I have a Blackberry Q10. Because the Venue runs full Windows, I installed BlackBerry Link and now I have full remote file access from either plus it will charge my BlackBerry when plugged in with a Dongle. I can also use a 4 way USB splitter to run my BlackBerry, external Hard drive, and printer won’t a hitch all while using my PlayBook Mini Bluetooth keyboard with the Venue. Color me pleased. 🙂

    • Kevin says:

      Thanks, Josh. Indeed I just found about this. It requires a USB OTG (On-The-Go) cable to hook up external USB devices. I wish I had known that before I wasted money on a Bluetooth Mouse and Keyboard.

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