In the Google Play store, you can find lots of apps from Microsoft. I installed SkyDrive, OneNote, Xbox Music, Xbox SmartGlass, and the new Remote Desktop client. In the Windows Store, Google has exactly one app: Google Search.
The Android Mail app is clunky, with lots of wasted space given over to buttons and navigation aids. The contrast with the minimal “hide the UI” Windows 8 design ethos is noteworthy. Likewise, Chrome on this tiny tablet wastes a lot of space showing tabs and keeping the notification bar (at the top) and the Android navigation buttons (at the bottom) always visible.
If you’re fully invested in Google services like Gmail, you’ll probably never notice that ugly Email app. But messages from the Office 365 and Outlook.com servers I use are better-looking and more responsive in the Windows 8.1 Mail app than on Android, and I also have the option of using the full Outlook client. If you use Gmail on the Venue 8 Pro, your only realistic option is to install Chrome and accept Google’s refusal to write apps for Windows 8.x.
Finally, there’s Office. The Venue 8 Pro comes with a license for Office 2013 Home & Student; the Venue 8 doesn’t include any Office software by default. If your working life revolves around Office documents, this is a big deal. When I double-tapped a Word document in the SkyDrive app on the Android device, I got an error message. When I received a Word document and PowerPoint slide deck as an email attachment, I was able to open them immediately in Office 2013, but using the Android Email app I had to save them first and then manually open them. (The Gmail app opens attachments directly.)
After I installed Google’s free QuickOffice app, I was able to open Office documents on the Android device, where they were usually readable, but with noticeable differences in formatting from the originals. Excel worksheets were problematic, however, especially those included charts. When I opened some relatively straightforward workbooks in QuickOffice, the charts in one set of worksheets had lost all their formatting, and in another workbook the charts were not visible at all. Likewise, PivotTables were unusable in QuickOffice.
The bottom line?
As a device to keep on the coffee table or the nightstand for reading and quickly catching up with email or Twitter interactions, either device will do. Both versions are the right size to be held comfortably, and the 8-inch screen size is easier on my eyes than the 7-inch devices (Google Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HDX) I’ve tried.
The biggest difference between the two is with Office, where the loss in formatting when opening documents in QuickOffice is a big drawback for me. And although I’m unlikely to press the Venue Pro 8 into service as a desktop PC with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, that’s certainly possible. In fact, it’s also possible to attach an external monitor with a USB-to-HDMI adapter, making this, in theory, a full PC. Having File Explorer available also makes it easier to manage files (such as a music library) on an SD card.
Ironically, it’s easier for someone who’s already entrenched in Microsoft services to adapt to an Android device than it is for a Google Apps customer to become comfortable with a Windows 8.1 tablet. That’s because Microsoft has invested a significant effort in both providing apps and making its services browser-independent. There are no corresponding Google apps on the Windows 8.1 platform.
Ultimately, whether you prefer one of these devices over the other comes down to a question of apps and services. If you live in Microsoft services, especially Office 365, you'll certainly be happier with the Windows 8.1 version. Google Apps, on the other hand, will work well on either device.