Don’t get me wrong. The Venue’s lithe frame is pretty amazing. However, its external dimensions are impressive not because they’re the smallest, but because of what Dell has managed to squeeze within them.
Inside the Venue’s machined aluminum body sits a Moorefield-based Atom processor with quad x86 cores and PowerVR graphics. That SoC combines with an Intel RealSense camera to enhance 2D stills with 3D depth information. Then there’s the high-PPI OLED display framed by remarkably narrow bezels, the Micro SD slot, and the mostly stock Android install.
Fitting all those elements into a headline would be difficult, but they’re far more important to the Venue’s appeal than its ability to slip into a slightly smaller dress size. They also raise an interesting question: if Dell managed to cram all that inside the slimmest tablet around, what—if anything—did it have to give up? We’ve put the Venue 8 7000 through the wringer to find out, and you might be surprised by what we’ve learned.
Ignore the screen’s purplish tint; the white balance was set based on the backdrop rather than the display
An unabashedly premium Android slate
Dell designed its Android flagship to be a premium tablet capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in the business. The Venue’s $399 starting price puts the device squarely opposite the Nexus 9 and iPad Mini 3, as does its 8.4″ display diagonal. In a lot of ways, the Venue is a noticeable step up from both of those alternatives.
One of the biggest upgrades is the thin frame around the “infinity” display. The screen stretches nearly to the device’s edge on three sides, making the tablet’s footprint smaller than one might expect given the display size.
Such skinny bezels make the Venue a little complicated to hold. The tablet is best grasped by its fat bottom lip, which can be pinched in both portrait and landscape orientations. Portrait works best for most tasks, I find, and the keyboard is especially easy to use when double-fisting in that mode. While a teenager would still smoke me in a thumb-typing contest, I can confidently bang out paragraphs on the Venue with surprising speed and relatively few typos.
At just 305 grams, the Venue is light enough to cradle comfortably in one hand. Its well-balanced body weighs 35 g less than the Mini 3 and 120 g less than the Nexus 9. The Venus is thinner, too; it has 1.4 mm on the Mini and 2 mm on the Nexus. Here’s how it compares to the Shield Tablet, which is 3.1 mm thicker (and $100 cheaper).
The Shield Tablet (left) and Venue 8 7000 (right)
Although the differences in thickness are noticeable, I think we’ve passed the point of diminishing returns. Cutting the z-height further buys little beyond the initial gee-whiz factor, an admittedly important aspect for device makers trying to give folks reasons to upgrade from older, thicker tablets.
Shaving millimeters can have some unintended consequences. On the Venue 8 7000, for example, the shallow sides can be difficult to pinch when lifting the tablet off a flat surface. Squared-off edges are part of the problem, as are my thick, sausage-like fingers.
Thinner devices can also be a bit flimsy, especially the featherweight ones. Rigidity isn’t an issue here, though. The Venue’s construction feels incredibly strong, as if the entire tablet were chiseled from a single slab. The tablet doesn’t droop at all when it’s held horizontally by one corner, and the frame barely flexes when it’s twisted in my hands.
The Venue’s overall build quality appears to be exceptional. The in-hand feel is comparable to the iPad Mini 3—if not better—which puts it miles ahead of the Nexus 9. Much of credit goes to the aluminum shell, whose solid feel exhibits none of the give present in the Nexus’ squishy posterior. If the Venue’s edges were sharpened, I’m pretty sure you could take someone’s head clean off with the thing.
Even the buttons are well done. They protrude just enough to catch the fingertips, and they’re backed by a satisfying click. Contrary to the norm, though, they’re all on the left side of the case. Weird.
The Venue 8’s aluminum shell is smooth and cool to the touch. Gaming and benchmark sessions cause it to warm noticeably, with most of the heat concentrated in its lower half. Still, temperatures stay low enough that the tablet remains comfortable to hold even after hours of looping the Epic Citadel demo. Basic tasks like web surfing and email barely produce any noticeable heat.
Most of the tablet’s back is clad in machined metal that resists visible smudging. Unfortunately, the plastic strip at the bottom is a magnet for fingerprints and unsightly smears. The marks are a little difficult to photograph, but you can see them if you look closely at the picture below.
I’ve never understood why device makers put glossy finishes on surfaces that are constantly touched by oily digits. There’s a random glossy panel on the power adapter, too, but at least it’s confined to an area users are less likely to grasp. The glossy strip on the tablet is basically right one would grip it. Even more frustratingly, the other side of the plastic lip has a matte finish.
The front-facing portion of this grip area is perforated with tiny holes for the integrated speakers. Their sound quality is surprisingly decent for a device this size, and the pre-installed MaxxAudio Waves software provides multiple profiles with extra volume and low-end grunt. Just be careful not to muffle the speakers while holding the tablet. A poorly placed thumb can have a big impact on the character of the sound.
|Dell Venue 8 7000|
|SoC||Intel Atom Z3580|
|Display size & resolution||8.4″ 2560×1600|
|System RAM||2GB LPDDR3-1600|
|Flash storage capacity||16GB internal
Up to 512GB via Micro SD
|Cameras||8/6MP Intel RealSense (rear)
|Wi-Fi||802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4GHz + 5GHz|
|Other connectivity||Bluetooth 4.0, Miracast|
|I/O ports||microUSB, 3.5-mm headphone|
|Battery||5900 mAh, 21 WHr|
|Dimensions||8.5″ x 4.9″ x 0.24″/216 x 124 x 6 mm|
|Weight||10.7 oz/305 g|
|Operating system||Android 4.4.4 KitKat|
We’ll cover the finer elements of the Venue over the next few pages, but it’s worth picking off some low-hanging fruit before we dive into the display, SoC, and other components.
Right now, the Venue 8 7000 is limited to 16GB of internal storage, only 9GB of which is available to the user. That’s a little low-rent given the device’s premium aspirations, but Dell tells us a 32GB variant is on the way. Expect it to arrive “in the coming months.”
Thankfully, the storage capacity of the existing model can be expanded dramatically via Micro SD. The Venue supports memory cards up to 512GB—a higher capacity than any other tablet we’ve encountered. Good luck finding a Micro SD card that large, though. Full-sized variants hit the 512GB mark last year, but I haven’t seen any Micro versions beyond 128GB.
A pin must be inserted into the chassis to eject the tray, which makes card swapping a little cumbersome. The tablet doesn’t come with the requisite tool, but a safety pin or bent paper clip will do in a pinch.
Unlike on some Android devices, SD cards behave much like conventional storage in the Venue 8. There are no issues writing files and folders directly with ES File Explorer, my go-to file management app. Performing the same tasks on the Shield Tablet produces errors, but at least that device has a Micro SD slot. Expandable storage isn’t available on any iPad or Nexus tablet.
We normally frown upon pre-installed applications, but ES File Explorer or some other file management utility would be a welcomed addition to the default Android install. As it stands, the system has a relatively light payload comprising Polaris Office, McAfee Mobile Security, a couple of Dell apps, and the aforementioned MaxxAudio software. The bloat is minimal, with no skins or alternative launchers to pollute the otherwise pure Android experience.
The Venue 8 7000 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, putting it a little behind the curve. A Lollipop update is due in “the coming months,” and the extra development time is unrelated to the Venue’s x86 underpinnings. Dell told us it has set a high bar for the overall user experience; OS updates won’t be released unless they’re “flawless.”
The experience with KitKat is close to perfect, with snappy load times and responsive touch feedback throughout. The UI animations are generally smooth, too, but some whole-screen transitions hitch every once in a while. This stuttering is too brief and infrequent to be problematic, but it stands out because everything else is so fluid.
A gorgeous OLED display
In a tablet, the display defines a large portion of the overall experience, and the one on the Venue 8 7000 is absolutely stunning. The first entry in my notes reads simply “my god this screen.” The high pixel density makes images razor sharp, the sumptuous colors saturate your eyeballs, and the blacks are so dark it’s like looking into Dick Cheney’s soul.
I could stare at the screen for hours—and indeed I have. The display prompted me to spend a good chunk of one evening just flipping through photos. It’s easily the most intoxicating part of the tablet.
|Dell Venue 8 7000|
Credit for the deep blacks goes to the OLED panel, which can turn off its pixels when they’re not in use. The display stretches a 2560×1600 WQXGA resolution across an 8.4″ diagonal, resulting in a pixel density of 359 PPI. Although that density is lower than what some smaller handset screens deliver, it’s higher than that of competing slates from Apple, Google, and Nvidia. The panel appears to be the same as the one in Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
The only one of those tablets we have in-house is the Shield, whose 8″ 1920×1200 display works out to 294 PPI. You can see how the Venue compares in the images below. Move your mouse over the thumbnails to see a pop-up window with a close-up shot—or tap the thumbnail to load the full image.
Dell uses the Venue’s extra pixels to pack more icons onto the Android home screen and, more importantly, into the home row at the bottom. The default font size is a little small, but it works well for my eyes at normal viewing distances. Users can tweak the font size via the Android Settings menu.
Before the Venue arrived, most of my couch surfing happened on a Shield Tablet. The screen on that device is decent, but the Venue is clearly in a whole other league. Click the buttons below to see how full-screen images of the two compare. These shots don’t capture the differences perfectly, but they track pretty closely with my real-world impressions.
The brightness on both tablets was set to ~180 cd/m², yet the Venue is clearly more vibrant, with richly saturated colors that make the Shield look faded and dull. Here’s our colorimeter’s assessment of how the two stack up against each other and a stack of other mobile devices:
The Venue produces a much wider range of colors than the Shield—wider than the sRGB gamut defined by the darker, inner triangle. Its output is similar to the Note 4’s Adaptive mode, which achieves similar coverage with a smaller OLED panel.
Unlike the Note, the Venue lacks a secondary display mode that adheres strictly to the sRGB color space. Photographers and content creators could benefit from such a mode, and so could those who prefer natural tones to the over-saturated defaults. I tend to think all tablets should give users some degree of control over the display’s color profile, if only to accommodate individual preferences for things like color temperature. Speaking of which…
The Venue’s color temperature shadows our 6500K target. It’s not as close to that mark as the Shield’s native profile, but it’s better than any of the other configs, albeit only slightly versus the Note 4’s basic sRGB mode.
Our last set of color tests show the Venue in an excellent light. I’m surprised the delta-E numbers are so low given the display’s saturated spectrum, though. Adaptive mode on the Note 4 has similar gamut coverage but much higher delta-E values. I used a different colorimeter and HCFR software revision to collect the data for the Venue and Shield, and that may explain the discrepancy.
The Venue aces our black-level tests thanks to its OLED display. It’s not as bright as the competition, though. Even cranked all the way up, the display registers just 262 cd/m² on the meter. That’s still plenty for most indoor environments, but brighter displays can be easier to read outdoors, especially under direct sunlight.
While we’re on the subject, I should note that the brightness slider in the Venue’s quick settings pull-down is comically small. The entire length of the slider fits under the width of my index finger, rendering it useless for fine adjustments.
Scott noticed some color shift when viewing the Note 4’s display from off-center angles, so I decided to look for similar behavior in the Venue. It’s posed to the right of the Shield in all of the comparison shots below, and it’s propped up on a stack of business cards to ensure the two screens are at the same height.
The image at the top left is close to dead-on, and the Venue’s reddish tint definitely differs from the greenish hue of the angled shot below. The transition between tones is visible about a quarter of the way up the screen in the tilted image. A similar transition is present in the lower right image, but the colors are reversed. The display’s greenish character comes out more in the shot above that one, albeit with what looks like a horizontal, reddish strip.
This color shift can be seen with the naked eye, and it’s obviously not ideal. However, I much prefer it to the dimming evident in the Shield at the same angles.
Moorefield in the house
The Venue’s Atom Z3580 processor provides our first glimpse of Intel’s Moorefield SoC. This chip is fabbed on the same 22-nm, tri-gate process as the Bay Trail silicon found in budget Android tablets. But it’s designed to fit into smartphones, so the thermal envelope should be tighter than Bay Trail’s 2W SDP. (SDP refers to Scenario Design Power, a thermal rating meant to be more relevant to real-world workloads than traditional TDP ratings.) Surprisingly, the Z3580’s official specifications lack details on the thermal envelope. We’ve asked Intel for clarification.
Moorefield is based on the same Silvermont CPU architecture as Bay Trail. All the gory architectural details are explained in this article, but the big bullet points are support for 64-bit instructions and out-of-order execution. The other important item of note is the x86 instruction set, which differs from the ARM ISA that dominates the mobile world.
Intel and Google have been collaborating on x86 Android optimizations since 2011, so the ISA shouldn’t pose a problem with modern software. Android’s Dalvik VM can generate the appropriate instructions, and binaries compiled with the Native Developer Kit can target x86 specifically. In cases where ARM-specific code is the only option, binary translation software serves as an interpreter. There’s some unavoidable overhead associated with translating ARM instructions to x86, but Intel contends that the impact is minimal. Any potential ISA issues may ultimately be rendered moot by Lollipop, which features a new runtime environment with a cross-platform compiler.
|Dell Venue 8 7000|
|SoC||Intel Atom Z3580|
|Manufacturing process||Intel 22 nm|
|CPU cores||4 Silvermont|
|Max core frequency||2.33GHz|
|System memory||2GB LPDDR3|
|Memory config||2 x 32-bit channels at 1600 MHz|
Silvermont uses a dual-core module with 1MB of L2 cache shared between the cores. There are two modules in Moorefield, giving the SoC four CPU cores and 2MB of total L2. The Z3580 is the fastest Moorefield variant in Intel’s stable. It can scale up to 2.33GHz in Burst mode and down to a minimum frequency of just 333MHz. CPU-Z shows the chip regularly hitting top speed in the Venue 8 7000, and the frequency never drops below 500MHz when the app is running. Cores 0 and 1 run at the same speed, as do cores 2 and 3, which makes sense given the module-based arrangement.
Moorefield’s integrated memory controller has dual 32-bit channels with support for LPDDR3 memory up to 1600 MT/s. The chip can handle 4GB of RAM, though only half that amount is deployed in the Venue. 2GB is probably sufficient for most folks, and I didn’t encounter any situations where the tablet ran out of memory (that I could tell). Matching the memory capacity of cheaper slates like the Nexus 7 is hardly shooting for the stars, though. My OnePlus One smartphone has more RAM than the Venue—and it costs less, too.
Unlike Bay Trail, which features Intel’s own GPU, Moorefield relies on PowerVR Series 6 graphics from Imagination Technologies. We’ll delve into the GPU in a moment, so let’s move on to a couple other items. Cellular connectivity isn’t integrated into the SoC, but Moorefield is optimized for Intel’s LTE modems. An LTE-equipped version of the Venue is reportedly on the way. A variant with USB 3.0 isn’t in the cards, however. Although Moorefield supports the SuperSpeed spec, Dell deemed Gen2 connectivity to be sufficiently fast for the Venue—and easier to integrate into its slim chassis.
SoC and CPU performance
We’ve tested the Venue 8 7000 against several devices, the most comparable of which is Nvidia’s Shield Tablet. The Shield is based on the quad-core version of Nvidia’s Tegra K1 SoC. That chip uses off-the-shelf ARM cores rather than the custom Denver cores in the dual-core version of the Tegra K1 found in the Nexus 9. (We’re still trying to get our hands on one of those for testing.) There are two sets of results for the Shield below: one with the latest Lollipop build and another from the initial KitKat config.
Other competitors of note include the Nexus 7 2013, which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro with quad Krait cores, and the Asus Memo Pad ME176C, a budget 7-incher powered by the Bay Trail-derived Atom Z3745. The Z3745 matches Moorefield’s core count, but the CPU only scales up to 1.86GHz.
There are several smartphones and phablets in the mix, as well. These aren’t in the same class as the Venue, but they can provide a helpful frame of reference for other SoCs and devices. The Apple A7 chip in the iPhone 5S, for example, is also used in the iPad Mini 3.
All the Apple devices have dual-core SoCs. The A7 uses Cyclone cores, the A8 in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus features a tweaked version of Cyclone, and the A6 in the iPhone 5 is based on an older Swift CPU design. On the ARM front, the Korean version of the Galaxy Note 4 we tested sports a Samsung Exynos 5433 SoC that combines quad Cortex-A57 cores with quad A53s. The LG G3 and OnePlue One are both based on the Snapdragon 801, which has quad Krait cores.
One more thing. While the handsets operate within smaller power envelopes, the Venue is thinner than all of ’em. It just gets to dissipate heat over a much larger footprint.
The Venue 8 7000 falls well short of its peak theoretical memory bandwidth in this directed test. Dual 32-bit channels tied to 1600 MT/s memory should be good for about 10GB/s, but the tablet manages no better than 7.2GB/s.
Still, the Venue comes out looking pretty good versus the other tablets. It trades blows with the Shield in the single- and multi-threaded tests, and it scores higher than the Nexus 7 and Memo Pad in both of them.
Geekbench runs natively on both iOS and Android, and it offers us a look at both single- and multi-threaded performance. Click on the buttons below to toggle between the two sets of results.
The Venue 8 7000 mostly sticks to the middle of the tablet pack. It’s slower than the Shield Tablet but faster than the Memo Pad and Nexus 7 through most of the single- and multi-threaded tests.
That said, the Venue stomps the Shield by a factor of five in the AES encryption test. The Memo Pad also fares well there, but its slower Bay Trail chip can’t keep up with the Venue’s faster Moorefield silicon. The Atom processors in both of those tablets support AES-NI instructions, a capability that Geekbench appears to exploit to great effect.
Broadening our focus to include handsets still leaves the Venue near the middle of the field. The tablet goes back and forth with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the multi-threaded tests, but it can’t keep up in the single-threaded ones. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 4 is faster across the board.
Here’s a closer look at how the Venue’s performance scales between one and many threads.
|Geekbench floating point||845||3044||3.6x|
|Geekbench AES encryption||396||1576||4.0x|
Performance increases by 4x in the encryption and raytrace tests, neatly living up to the potential of Moorefield’s quad-core config. The scaling isn’t perfect in the integer and floating-point tests, though, and it’s barely more than 3x overall.
The Venue lands near the middle of the pack in most of our browser benchmarks. In SunSpider and Kraken, it’s once again wedged between the Shield and other Android tablets. The latest iPhones are comfortably ahead, though.
Google’s Octane benchmark apparently has a different makeup, because the Venue fares much better in that test. It’s just a smidgen behind the leading iPhone and ahead of the Shield Tablet.
BaseMark OS II
Moorefield handles WebXprt with aplomb, posting the highest overall score and taking wins in two of four component tests. It only loses ground to the Shield Tablet in the offline notes test, and then only by a smidgen to the Lollipop config.
I’m a little surprised to see the Venue outpace the Memo Pad by such a large margin, especially in the face detection test. The Memo Pad is outfitted with just 1GB of RAM, a limitation that may contribute to slower performance in some tests. It can’t even complete the Octane benchmark without the browser crashing.
Graphics by Imagination Technologies
Rather than relying on Intel’s homegrown graphics, Moorefield taps an off-the-shelf solution from Imagination Technologies. The PowerVR G6430 GPU is very similar to the integrated graphics in Apple’s A7 SoC.
Like other PowerVR GPUs, the G6430 employs a tile-based deferred rendering architecture that avoids expending resources on pixels that aren’t visible in the final scene. This approach never caught on in the desktop world, though it was available on a couple of “Kyro” graphics cards in the early 2000s. Tiling has been more popular in the mobile space, in no small part thanks to Apple’s preference for PowerVR GPUs.
The G6430 is a DirectX 10-class part with support for OpenGL ES 3.x, OpenGL 4.x, and OpenCL 1.2 EP. It supports Imagination Tech’s own PVRTC texture compression along with the ETC scheme developed with Ericsson. However, it lacks the ATSC texture compression present in some of PowerVR’s newer GX GPUs, including the GX6450 found in the Apple A8. Compared to its newer sibling, the G6430 also has smaller SRAM pools for its caches, tile buffers, and register file.
Source: Imagination Technologies
The GPU has four compute clusters that Imagination Tech calls USCs. Each USC has 32 ALU “cores,” and each of those can crunch two fp32 operations per clock with multiply-add instructions. The math works out to 256 fp32 flops per clock across the GPU as a whole.
Like Moorefield’s CPU, the integrated graphics frequency can scale dynamically. This particular G6430 implementation has a 457MHz base clock speed and a 533MHz Burst rate. At top speed, its peak theoretical throughput clocks in at 136 Gflops.
|Dell Venue 8 7000|
|SoC||Intel Atom Z3580|
|GPU||Img Tech PowerVR G6430|
|Base frequency||457 MHz|
|Burst frequency||533 MHz|
|Texture filtering||8 texels/clock|
|Pixel fill||8 pixels/clock|
|System memory||2GB LPDDR-1600|
The GPU clock speed of Apple’s A7 is estimated to be ~430MHz in the iPhone 5S. It’s likely a little higher in the iPad Mini 3, and it has less work to do in that tablet. The Mini 3’s 2048×1536 display is almost a million pixels short of the 2560×1600 unit in the Venue. That’s why we’ve presented two sets of graphics results: one at the native panel resolution and another at a fixed, offscreen resolution that’s consistent across all devices.
The Shield Tablet’s 1920×1200 display has about half as many pixels as the Venue’s high-PPI screen, so it will have a considerable advantage in our native resolution tests. Part of that advantage also stems from the tablet’s Tegra K1 SoC, which is based on Nvidia’s DirectX 11-class Kepler architecture. The K1 integrates a single Kepler SMX unit with 192 “CUDA cores.” Each of those cores can crunch two fp32 ops, giving the GPU more theoretical horsepower per clock than Moorefield’s graphics. That comparison doesn’t take into account the unavoidable efficiency differences between GPU architectures, of course. It also doesn’t factor in the Shield Tablet’s thicker chassis, which should enable higher GPU frequencies than the Venue’s slender frame.
So, yeah. The Tegra K1’s Kepler-derived graphics are pretty potent. The Shield Tablet decimates the pack in these texturing and shading tests, easily outclassing the Venue 8 7000.
To its credit, the Venue keeps up with the latest iPhones, whose lower-resolution displays shouldn’t affect performance in these offscreen benchmarks. Those handsets are based on Apple’s A8 SoC, whose PowerVR GX6450 sports a similar quad-USC config to Moorefield’s G6430.
The Venue is way ahead of the Nexus 7 and the Memo Pad. The Nexus 7 has a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU, while the Memo Pad employs a cut-down version of the integrated graphics in Intel’s Ivy Bridge CPUs.
Hmmm. Although the Venue easily beat the iPhone 5S in the texturing and shader tests, it’s slightly slower here. More remarkably, perhaps, it leads the Shield Tablet by a comfortable margin. Even the Nexus 7 scores better than the Nvidia device.
This test appears to measure driver overhead by issuing a draw call, changing state, and then repeating those steps over and over again. Surprisingly, the Venue can’t even match the Memo Pad, which lags behind it in all our other graphics tests. The Nexus 7 performs poorly, as well, but the Shield Tablet fares much better.
These next three benchmarks are more complete than the directed tests above, since they involve rendering a real scene that could plausibly come from a mobile 3D game. The older iPhones can’t run GFXBench’s “Manhattan” test, because it requires OpenGL ES 3.0 compliance.
The Venue 8 7000 turns in respectable performances in these closer-to-real-world tests, but the deltas between it and the Shield Tablet are vast. The Shield is more than 2x faster in the GFXBench tests, and it has a commanding lead in 3DMark. At the same time, however, the Venue enjoys similarly massive advantages over the other tablets.
Note that the Venue’s performance in the Manhattan and T-Rex tests is pretty close to that of the iPhone 5S, which shares the same PowerVR GPU. The Venue scores much higher in 3DMark, where the iPhones fare comparatively worse overall.
Native device resolution gaming
These next tests run at each device’s native resolution, which tilts the playing field somewhat.
The Venue’s awesome display is a clear handicap here, plunging the tablet behind even the lowly Memo Pad. The Memo Pad’s 1280×800 display has just one quarter the pixels of the Venue, which translates to a lot less work for the GPU.
These native-resolution results might cause one to worry about the Venue’s gaming potential, but notice that the Nexus 7 scores lower in both tests. Although the Nexus isn’t a gaming powerhouse by any stretch, it’s certainly capable of playing most of the Android games on the market.
I tried a handful of popular titles on the Venue, including Riptide GP2, Asphalt 8, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Minecraft, Cordy, and Call of Duty: Heroes. They all ran smoothly, though I noticed the occasional stutter in Asphalt and Riptide, always when there was lots of action on the screen. I haven’t noticed similar hitching on the Shield Tablet, though I admittedly spend very little time gaming on touchscreen devices. The Shield is probably a better option for hard-core gamers, if only because it’s compatible with the growing selection of Tegra-specific Android games—and with Nvidia’s excellent external gamepad.
We can’t break BaseMark’s overall score into results from the benchmark’s component tests, making it a little difficult to interpret the numbers. The Venue performs reasonably well, for what it’s worth.
One other feature of Basemark X is an intriguing quantitative test of graphics image quality.
Real-time graphics is strange because there’s not always one “right” answer about the color of a rendered pixel. Filtering methods and degrees of mathematical precision vary, since GPU makers take different shortcuts to trade off image quality against performance.
Basemark X attempts to quantify the fidelity of a GPU’s output by comparing it to some ideal—in this case, I believe the reference renderer is a desktop-class graphics chip. That’s a fair standard, since desktop chips these days produce something close to ideal imagery. The higher the signal-to-noise ratio reported, the closer these mobile GPUs come to matching the reference image. (Frustratingly, a couple of the devices refused to run the quality test with “out of memory” errors.)
Given their common GPU, it’s no surprise that the Venue 8 7000 and iPhone 5S score similarly. But they can’t keep up with the Shield, whose measured output quality is much higher in both tests.
To get a sense of how the Venue’s output looks to human eyes, check out the Epic Citadel screenshots below. The first one comes from the Venue, while the second comes from the Shield. Both tablets were run at their native resolution with the “ultra high quality” setting. Move your mouse over each image to see a close-up version of it, or click to open the full-resolution screenshot.
I’ve switched back and forth between the two screenshots a bunch of times, and I have a hard time detecting a difference in rendering quality. The Venue’s output looks sharper to me, but that’s probably because the scene is being drawn with twice as many pixels as on the Shield.
As TR’s resident SSD reviewer, I’m a little apprehensive about the limited tools available to test storage performance on mobile devices. There’s a fair amount of run-to-run variance in Passmark’s storage tests, for example—even in read speed tests that should be unaffected by flash memory’s finicky write characteristics. Despite its name, Basemark OS II’s oddly named “memory” benchmark actually tests storage performance. The trouble there is the vague overall score, which provides little sense of performance in the underlying read and write speed tests.
The Venue 8 7000 scores well in Passmark’s write speed test but poorly in the read speed one. Basemark’s assessment of storage performance is very positive, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in the results overall.
For what it’s worth, the Venue’s load times with popular games are comparable to those of the Shield Tablet. I didn’t test load times with conventional apps, which often open too quickly for the differences between devices to be meaningful.
We tested battery life in four different scenarios. In each case, the display brightness was set to 180 cd/m² before starting, and display auto-brightness features were disabled. Our workload for the web surfing tests was TR Browserbench. The video test involved looped playback of a 1080p video recorded on one of the phones, and our gaming workload was the Unreal Engine-based Epic Citadel demo.
The Venue is good for 14 hours of web browsing and nine hours of 1080p video playback in our tests. That’s pretty good in absolute terms—and versus the competition. The Shield Tablet has substantially lower battery life in each case.
The devices’ run times are much lower in our gaming test, yet the Venue holds its own. It’s only beaten by premium phablets from Apple and Samsung.
A RealSense camera that shoots in three dimensions
The Venue 8 7000 has not one, not two, not three, but four individual cameras built into its frame. As if people needed encouragement to be that guy taking pictures with a tablet. There’s some method to the madness, though, because the three rear-facing units cooperate to embed 3D information in 2D images.
|Dell Venue 8 7000|
|Primary camera resolution||8.0 megapixels (3264×2448)|
|Depth camera resolution||6.0 megapixels (3264×1836)|
|Front-facing camera resolution||2.1 megapixels (1920×1080)|
|Max video resolution||HD (1920×1080) at 60 FPS|
The front-facing HD camera is awkwardly placed in the lower left corner of the device’s bottom lip, resulting in a low, chin-heavy view when holding the tablet naturally in portrait mode. That’s if you manage to hold the thing without blocking the lens, which is difficult to do in that orientation.
There are ergonomics issues with the rear-facing cameras, too. The main 8MP shooter is located at the bottom of the case, while its dual 720p sidekicks hang out a couple inches above. It’s nearly impossible to hold the tablet in portrait mode without obscuring at least one of those cameras. Switching to landscape orientation doesn’t help as much as one might expect, since the cameras are still on the opposite side of the tablet’s effective handle. Holding the tablet in an upside-down portrait config seems to work best.
The rear shooters are part of what Intel calls its RealSense Snapshot Depth Camera. The RealSense brand is familiar from front-facing implementations designed for notebooks, but this incarnation is very different. Instead of relying on a custom module with integrated cameras and a dedicated ASIC, the Snapshot uses off-the-shelf cameras and relies on the SoC for processing. Depth information from the 720p sensors is added to still shots taken with the main camera. The associated processing takes about 12 seconds on the Venue, but there’s no need to wait unless you want to manipulate the image immediately. The camera is capable of taking multiple depth shots in rapid succession.
Embedded depth information enables a few neat tricks. Dell’s Gallery software can dynamically change the focal point to blur the background behind subjects—or the blur the foreground, if you prefer. Instagram-style filters can be applied based on depth instead of to the image as a whole, and a measurement function can estimate linear distances and 2D areas.
The accuracy of the measurements is dependent on lighting and distance. More light is better, of course, and Intel says the depth mojo is most effective for objects three to 30 feet from the camera. Setting measurement points is easy, and the software zooms in automatically to enable precise placement.
Even at ideal distances with lots of light, the filtering and focus tricks don’t work perfectly. In the shot below, for example, artifacts are clearly visible along my dog’s back. I exaggerated the flaws by cranking the focus intensity all the way up, but they’re still evident with a subtler treatment—and in some of the other shots I took.
The next shots show a depth-sensitive back-and-white effect, and the results look much better. The original image is on the left.
I could do better in Photoshop, but it would take a lot longer than the few seconds required to select and apply depth-sensitive filters in Dell’s software. Once the initial depth information is processed, photo manipulation is quick and easy.
Although the image quality looks decent in the shrunken shots above, it doesn’t hold up at full size. Check out the following indoor and outdoor scenes—and don’t forget to zoom in by moving your mouse over the images or clicking on them.
The resolution of depth-infused images is lower than for conventional shots, too. While standard images have eight megapixels spread across a 4:3 aspect ratio, depth shots are limited to six megapixels and 16:9. Data from the 720p cameras is layered on top of the main shot, whose aspect ratio has to match. Intel says there’s also a “very small amount of cropping” beyond simply slimming down to 16:9.
Speaking of cropping, the on-screen camera view lops off a sizable chunk of the scene toward the top of the tablet’s natural portrait orientation, making framing more difficult than it needs to be. The hidden portion of the scene is at least visible in the small window that shows input from the 720p cameras.
Quirks aside, adding a degree of depth to 2D images is pretty cool. Intel says “all kinds of stuff” can be done once the data is there, and it’s working with multiple partners on new apps that take advantage of the Snapshot camera. I just wish the tech were deployed on a more suitable device. Taking pictures on the Venue is more unwieldy than with other tablets, and the image quality isn’t good enough for serious photography.
Android rose to prominence in tablets on the back of budget devices that cost a fraction of the Venue 8 7000’s sticker price. But there’s room for a better experience, and the Venue delivers one.
The Venue’s overall fit and finish is impeccable even compared to other premium devices. Despite its thin, lightweight frame, the chassis is much stronger than one might expect. Those attributes contribute to a futuristic feel even before the device is turned on, and lighting up the display drives the point home in dramatic fashion.
The combination of thin bezels, high pixel density, and rich colors make the Venue’s screen pop like on no other tablet I’ve encountered. The over-saturated colors won’t be for everyone, so Dell should really add a secondary display mode that dials things back a little. However, I’ve grown so fond of the candy-coated profile that even my IPS desktop monitors have lost some of their luster.
The Venue 8’s overall performance is good but not great, with middle-of-the-road benchmarks scores in most of our tests. The tablet is very responsive for day-to-day use, though. Apps load quickly, and games run surprisingly well at its native resolution. The Venue’s battery life is also excellent. Although some folks might be willing to trade a millimeter or two of thickness for longer run times, few people actually need more than the 14 hours of web browsing this thing delivers on a single charge.
Dell scores big points for the Venue’s expandable storage, which is pretty much essential given the limited capacity of the lone 16GB model. The stock OS is appreciated, as well, as are some of the little touches, like having the tablet turn on automatically when it’s picked up. Too bad the Lollipop update isn’t ready yet. It’s coming soon, but Dell won’t commit to future updates beyond that, saying only that it will deploy new OS revisions if it can deliver a good experience.
The Venue 8 has to be awfully good in order to justify its $399 starting price. Part of me wishes this tablet were cheaper, but I wouldn’t give up anything to make it so—except for maybe the depth-infused camera, which is a bit clumsy to use.
A low asking price may be the only real casualty of the Venue’s uber-thin chassis. That’s OK, because the end result isn’t a weak, anorexic supermodel starved for the runway—it’s a sleek, sinewy marathon runner that’s still beautiful enough for a cover shot. If I could have only one Android tablet, this would undoubtedly be it.