Dell Venue 8 Pro: Hands on preview

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While there's certainly no shortage of Windows 8 tablets on the market, few have managed to stand out, let alone go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Apple iPad or Google Nexus 7 in terms of popularity.

Related: Apple iPad Air review and Google Nexus 7 (2013) review

Dell's latest effort to crack the reduced form factor tablet market is the Venue 8 Pro, a Windows 8.1 device first unveiled at IDF 2013 and recently landed in the UK. So what's it all about? We got a chance to take the Venue 8 Pro for a spin recently and generally liked what we saw.

The first thing you'll notice when fondling the Venue 8 Pro is that it's a very nice size. With an 8in screen measurement, it sits comfortably in the hand, yet is still large enough to switch to horizontal mode for quality media viewing - a must if you're a frequent traveller.

Indeed, the Venue 8 Pro's display is one of its strengths. At 1,200 x 800 pixels, it doesn't boast the most mind-boggling spec, yet in the flesh, colours are vibrant and contrasts well-defined. And while it's not quite as svelte as, say, the iPad mini with Retina, its 395g weight and 216 x 130 x 9mm dimensions make it relatively untaxing to hold.

Read more: Apple iPad mini with Retina review

The Venue 8 Pro also boasts accessible controls and the benefit of expandable storage. On the right hand side of the chassis, there's a power button resting conveniently about the volume toggle, with a microSD card slot lying a bit further down the frame. Combined with the 32GB of built-in storage, it means media buffs are very well catered to.

Move to the top of the frame and there's a home button to simplify basic navigation, next to which sits an audio jack. On the bottom of the chassis is a speaker. The only noticeable absence is a microHDMI port - a shame if you're trying to connect the Venue 8 Pro to larger displays. Elsewhere, there's a 5-megapixel camera on the rear of the device. It didn't produce the sharpest images, but then anyone out to take serious photos with a mini-tablet needs a firm boot somewhere sensitive.

The back of the Venue 8 Pro is coated with a spiral-patterned texturised rubber finish, not unlike the Nexus 7 - a love/hate kind of aesthetic - and the battery is firmly sealed. We haven't put the device through its paces in full so didn't get a chance to test its longevity, but based on experience we'd expect the Venue 8 Pro's 4830mAh battery to last between six and eight hours depending on intensity of usage. A 1.2-megapixel front facing webcam completes the key features.

Under the hood, this Dell tablet features an Intel Atom chipset clocked at up to 1.8GHz and complemented by 2GB of RAM. In the real world, this translated into solid performance - swiping between screens and apps was swift and navigating webpages fluid. At time of publication, the Venue 8 Pro is Wi-Fi-only, though Dell's website hints that a 3G or LTE model might be in the works.

One cool thing about the Venue 8 Pro is that it supports digitiser input, which many professionals find hugely beneficial to productivity. We didn't get the official Dell stylus bundled in with our review sample, but utilising a generic nib, we found it to be suitably responsive.

All in all, the Dell Venue 8 Pro comes across as a very decent and a reasonable product at £250 - take into account the inclusion of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 and you've got a borderline bargain. The fanboy in me will always want to encourage you to save up and buy an iPad because I think they're such great fun but, realistically, the Dell Venue 8 Pro may well be a better option for many punters.