Like most journalists, I've made it fairly obvious that Apple consistently produces amazingly good products, both for consumer and business use. The iPhone and iPad are both groundbreaking, game-changing, world-dominating mobile devices. There's a reason the company has hit historic revenue numbers and is building an office that looks like a spaceship.
Yet, a tablet recently crossed my desk that could give the Cupertino tech giant a little run for its (enormous storehouse of) money. It's the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet, and, once you come to terms with the awkward name only an engineer could love, it has a good chance of dethroning the iPad Mini. In my book, it already has--although I will explain one major gotcha in a moment.
First off, it's important not to overlook the fit and finish of any tech product. To me, the quality of the workmanship says quite a bit about what is inside as well. The Venue is top-notch in every way. It just feels solid in your hand, like a good piece of solid oak or a high-end table you'd buy at Ikea. At 8.4 inches, the screen is ideal for those who just need the mobile goodies like email and browsing but don't plan to watch too many movies or play games that work better on a larger screen.
It's speedy, since it uses an Intel Atom 2.3 GHz processor. For business users, that means if you fire up a sales lead app that holds 14 bazillion contacts, it won't chug-chug-chug like some of the low-budget tablets I've tested before. The display uses the same OLED display you might find on a high-end television made by LG. Every email looked crisp and clear. I was pretty amazed at how the screen didn't have the typical glare problem of most tablets.
Dell sent me a device called the Dell Cast accessory, which looks like an oversize thumb drive and costs $80, to test with the tablet. It's a winner. The idea is that you plug the accessory into a monitor or television so you can mirror the Venue tablet for a presentation. With just a few clicks, I had a Google Slides presentation running on a Sony HDTV. To make it all work, you just plug the accessory into a free HDMI port; you can also connect a keyboard and mouse to use the Venue as a computer at your desk. It's pretty slick.
This feature is a bit superfluous for business users, but the Dell Venue 8 7000 is the first tablet to use the Intel RealSense Snapshot Depth Camera. When you snap a photo, you can change the focus of the image. The camera also lets you measure things, so, if you are in your office, you can measure the length of a wall if you need to install new carpet.
Why is it an iPad Mini beater? Mainly, it is due to how the Dell Venue lived up to my expectations using it as part of my daily work. The Venue is fast and worked great for business apps. It's a bit thinner than the Mini and about the same weight, but the overall quality is such that it feels like it could withstand some abuse. By comparison, the iPad Mini feels a bit chintzy. Ironically, the Dell Venue actually feels more like an iPhone 6 in terms of overall quality. The "feel" is a subjective term, but to me it means the quality of the tablet matches up nicely with other high-end gadgets from companies like Sony and Samsung in their superior look and durability.
The Venue 8 7000 costs $399 with 16GB of storage. That's more expensive than the iPad Mini, which costs $249 and also has 16GB of storage. The Venue is worth it for the quality of the tablet, the high-end camera, and the built-in ability to mirror your screen. (You can do the same thing with an iPad Mini but it requires an Apple TV.)
The only gotcha here is Android. The Google OS has closed the gap over the past few years and offers many of the same business apps you'll find on an iPad, such as Evernote, Skype, Dropbox, and even a few Microsoft apps like Office Mobile. Yet I'm still seeing apps debut on the iPad and iPhone before they come out on Android. For small-business owners, that might be a disadvantage if you need to stay on top of the latest mobile app developments.
Still, the Venue 8 7000 is a premium tablet. The screen is incredibly bright and clear, and the Intel processor ran lightning fast in my tests. It's my top tablet pick in this size.