Dell 8-inch tablets face off in Android-versus-Windows cage match

Dell 8-inch tablets face off in Android-versus-Windows cage match

Summary: It’s not often that a manufacturer introduces two devices with so much in common, on different platforms. Here's how the two devices stack up, side by side.

Dell Venue Pro

I picked up two new 8-inch tablets last month: the $199 Dell Venue 8, which runs Android 4.2, and the $299 Dell Venue 8 Pro, which runs Windows 8.1. Superficially, there’s not that much to distinguish the two devices. Both are well-made tablets with almost exactly the same dimensions. Aside from the extra $100 in the price tag, what’s the difference? It’s not often that a manufacturer introduces two devices that have so much in common, on different platforms, so this is a real opportunity to do a detailed comparison.

After a few weeks of switching between the two devices, I have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each device. If your usage patterns are like mine, the Windows-powered Venue 8 Pro is probably a better fit. But someone who lives in a world that runs on Google services might well prefer the cheaper Android-fueled Venue 8.

The key thing to keep in mind is that it’s not just about the hardware or the software. The only way to make an intelligent comparison is to examine how well the hardware and the software and apps and services work together. Given the number of possible permutations in those elements, it’s not surprising that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Here’s how the two devices stacked up for me.

First impressions

From a distance, the Venue 8 and Venue 8 Pro look about the same. In fact, I ordered the Venue 8 in a red metallic finish just so I could tell it apart quickly from the Venue 8 Pro with its black, grooved finish. A closer comparison betrays a few more subtle differences. The two devices are equal in width, but the Venue 8 Pro is 5 mm taller and weighs 20 g (0.75 oz) more. At under 400 g each, the difference isn’t profound.

The exact positions of the power button, volume rocker, headphone jack, speaker, and SD card slot are slightly different on the two devices, and there’s one extra button (used as the Windows key) on the Venue Pro 8. Both devices have rear 5MP cameras that take decent but not great photos. The front-facing camera on the Venue 8 offers 2MP resolution compared to the 1.2 MP on its counterpart on the Venue 8 Pro. For Skype calling and Google Hangouts, the extra resolution is welcome but hardly essential.

The 1280x800 screen looks crisp and sharp on both devices. With the display turned off, the bezel on the Venue 8 Pro is invisible. On the Venue 8, you can see the black bezel in contrast to the grayish screen.

Both machines have 2 GB of RAM, but the processor inside is significantly different. The Venue 8 Pro has a current-generation (Bay Trail) Intel Atom Z3740D processor, a quad-core CPU, while the Venue 8 uses the older (Clovertrail) dual-core Atom Z2580. Both CPUs feel zippy enough, but the Windows device feels faster. In particular, I saw extremely jittery scrolling and lag in the Android Kindle and Twitter apps. On the Windows 8.1 device with its more powerful CPU, scrolling was always smooth. (Note: The CPU part IDs have been corrected from the initial publication.)

I didn’t do any formal battery life tests, but in my experience both devices lived up to the “all day” claims. I did notice that on the Android device I had to watch out for background apps that would drain the battery more quickly, a problem that didn’t happen with equivalent Windows 8 apps.

In terms of build quality, I certainly don’t have a big enough sample to judge whether the differences are unique to the sample I have. Both devices seem well built overall, but the Venue 8’s casing is loose on one side, making a slight clicking sound when I press on the back. The Venue 8 Pro seems noticeably sturdier, with no flexing at all.

Apps and services

And now we get to the interesting part.

The Venue 8 has the full complement of preinstalled Google apps connecting to Google services: Google Search (of course), Google Maps, Chrome, and a lot of apps in the Google Play Store. Annoyingly, Gmail has its own app, separate from the Email app. So if you have multiple email accounts, you need to use multiple apps.

The Venue 8 Pro has all of the preinstalled Windows 8.1 apps, including the much-improved Mail, a unified Search tool that includes Bing results with local files and settings, Xbox Music and Videos, and Internet Explorer 11. The collection of apps in the Windows Store is smaller than its Google Play counterpart, but has everything I need.

I found all the third-party apps I needed for both platforms, including Twitter and Facebook and essential reading apps.

The Kindle software for both platforms does a perfectly good job of syncing purchased books. (Both apps are equally hobbled by Amazon, which grudgingly provides its support here but really wants you to buy a Kindle Fire HDX.) I prefer the Nook software, which provides access to locally stored books and to magazines. This was one of the few times I saw a difference in feature sets between the platforms. Magazines on the Nook software can shift into Article View, which strips away superfluous design elements to show just the text and essential graphics. On Windows 8.1, that experience uses the full screen, smoothly. On Android, Article View appears in a rounded window, with wasted space on the screen and a generally less satisfying experience.

Every magazine I subscribe to was available on both platforms, with one major exception: The New Yorker has an app for Android but not for the Windows Store, and it isn’t available via the Nook software. That meant that I had to use a web browser to read the most recent issue of this magazine on the Windows device, and it wasn’t available offline.

As for music and videos, Google wants you to embrace its Play Store, and Microsoft has the more mature Xbox Music and Video. You could call that one a draw, unless you insist on using Apple’s iTunes. That gives the Venue 8 Pro the edge, because it can run the Windows version of iTunes and thus play anything in the iTunes Store.

Next page: Google versus Microsoft

Topics: Mobility, Android, Dell, Windows 8

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  • Amazon Video

    Speaking of Amazon, there is no Android app for Amazon Instant Video and it won't work in the browser on Android. On Windows you can always just use the browser to watch. Amazon does have an iOS app, but I guess they don't want to encourage Android, other than on the Kindle, any more than they have to
    • Amazon in Canada

      I suppose I should be thankful that Amazon cares so little for their Canadian customers, that way I don't miss these sorts of things because I never had them in the first place!
      Alucai Vivorvel
      • Canadian ripoff

        And the reason for this is spelled "Rogers&Bell"- eh?

        Art S.
        ex pat
        • Indoor plumbing.

          You do know that there are more than on Internet provider in Canada? We even have indoor plumbing as well.
          Stephen Charchuk
      • Amazon in Canada

        Same problem here in Australia. I bought a Kindle Fire several months ago, then discovered to my dismay that it was useless without a US Amazon account. I tried to root it and load CyanogenMod, but did something wrong and bricked it. It's somewhere in our local garbage dump now and I'm in love with my new Nexus 7.
        I've learned about Amazon and geo-blocking the hard way, but the expensive lesson will stick with me forever.
      • Appstore in Canada.

        The Amazon Appstore is available in Canada.
        Stephen Charchuk
    • Actually, you can sideload the Flash apk into Firefox for Android

      Then Amazon video works fine. Not as clean and smooth, but it IS possible. And as long as you only use it for Amazon video, security risk seems minimal (and will become more so with Android 4.4, where you can set an SELinux profile to cage the browser you use).
  • Really?

    "It’s not often that a manufacturer introduces two devices that have so much in common, on different platforms, so this is a real opportunity to do a detailed comparison."

    Dell has sold netbooks, laptops and desktops where the customer has had the option of either Windows or Ubuntu for some years. In fact, Dell currently has a laptop geared towards developers and a desktop geared toward gamers available for purchase.

    Where's the Windows versus Ubuntu cage match?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Ha ha ha

      Oh wait, you're serious?

      The big difference is those were the exact same machine with a different OS installed. These are different devices with some common features.

      The other big difference is that people are actually buying Android tablets.
      Ed Bott
      • Of course I'm serious

        I'm just calling you out for being inconsistent.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Inconsistent how?

          Where is this expectation that Ed is going to do side-by-side comparisons of every device that runs Windows next to every possible alternative to it?
          • It's not like the comparisons would be endless

            Ed's written about Windows on Apple Macs too. And Macs aren't sold with Windows pre-installed.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Ubuntu isn't a big player.

            Android, BBOS, iOS, and WP are the contenders within the mobile market, whereas the PC market has Mac OS and Windows.

            The OS's listed have some sort of significance and are easily recognized by the average consumer.

            Ubuntu? The general populace has no idea what it is.

            Sure, Linux runs on a huge number of devices, but that's a kernel, not an OS.

            Additionally, there are little to no Ubuntu-based competitors to devices.

            A Vaio Pro for instance, has no Ubuntu counterpart, and neither does a ThinkPad.

            Both are already full capable of running it, but that treads upon Ed's other rule, since the computer is still running the same exact hardware.

            Put it simply, there are very few actual Ubuntu-native notebooks in existence.
          • Be careful with the term 'big player'

            'Cause that would also leave out Microsoft's Windows RT and the Microsoft Surface, which Ed has written about.

            Also note that Ed has recently written articles about the Chromebook's absence of measurable market share. According to Ed's analysis, the Chromebook is not a big player.

            Be aware that the current GNU/LInux desktop market share is substantially larger than the Chromebook (and Chromebox) market share. And one can, conveniently, consider Ubuntu pre-installed on Dell hardware as a surrogate for the GNU/LInux desktop. It has long been among the top 5 distros at
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • 'Cause that would also leave out Microsoft's Windows RT and the Microsoft S

            windows RT is subset of windows 8, every pc that ships with 8 ships winrt which forms the base for windows RT.
          • And the Linux kernel is a subset of both Ubuntu and Android

            Canonical's Ubuntu for Android shares the Linux kernel with Android.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Oh please.

            Anything that has a Windows OS any brand on it at least has the potential to become a big player, even if its not yet there.

            Agreed, we have no idea of the long term fate of Windows RT, but its not like Ubuntu was invented in the last year or two; we already have pretty good evidence of its fate.
        • You should have checked this out before your invite to compare laptops.

          Go to and you will be re-directed to

          ASUS 1015E-DS03 10.1-Inch Laptop with Ubuntu

          This was selling for $199.00 a few days ago but they are low on inventory and have raised the price to $248.99

          So, yes people are buying Ubuntu pre-installed laptops and the reviews are very good, with the majority giving it four or five stars.

          As far as market share of Linux on desktop/laptop devices, NetMarketShare only counts RedHat and suse in there surveys.

          I wonder if Asus will be offering any Ubuntu Touch devices in the near future?
          • I bet people who purchase Ubuntu devices mostly like them a lot.

            But, if a manufacturer has brains they don't build millions of Ubuntu devices until there is some indication its becoming the year of Linux.
          • Vista.

            I useed Ubuntu after I bought Vista until 7 came out.
            Stephen Charchuk