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.

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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.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Dell, Windows 8

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169 comments
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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
    larry@...
    • 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
        aschwarzt12
        • 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.
        paleoflatus
      • Appstore in Canada.

        The Amazon Appstore is available in Canada. https://www.amazon.ca/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1001206081&ref_=amb_link_376430422_2
        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).
      daboochmeister
  • Really?

    Article:
    "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?
          Emacho
          • 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.
            ForeverCookie
          • 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 distrowatch.com.
            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.
            Meansman
          • 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.
            Cayble
        • You should have checked this out before your invite to compare laptops.

          Go to http://www.ubuntu.com and you will be re-directed to http://www.ubuntu.com/index_asus.html

          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?
          WhoRUKiddin
          • 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.
            Cayble
          • Vista.

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