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Dell Venue 7 review: Simple and affordable with stable performance

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The Good The Dell Venue 7 and 8 are refreshingly bloatware-free and start at affordable sub-$200 prices. Performance during casual use is stable and there's a microSD card expansion slot.

The Bad Performance slows down when downloading app updates or large files. The thick bezels slightly outdate the tablet's design.

The Bottom Line The Dell Venue 7 is one of the best small tablet bargains. The larger Venue 8 is just as capable, however there are other 8-inch slates that offer more features for the same price.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7.5

There's an abundance of competitively priced small and midsize tablets, but the Dell Venue 7 and 8 stand out thanks to their stable performance, pure version of Android 4.4 KitKat, and affordable pricing. The 7- and 8-inch pair start at $160 and $200, respectively.

Both models are available in the US, and the 8-inch is available in the UK for £180. Dell offers the Venue Pro 8 in Australia (which runs Windows 8.1), but there has been no announcement of pricing or availability for the Venue 7 or 8.

Though lightweight with a unique back cover, they're not the sleekest slates on the block, or overflowing with features. Yet, if slim design and pre-loaded apps aren't of interest, the Dell Venue tablets are easy on the wallet.

There are some performance hang-ups when downloading big files and running large apps, but that's a typical limitation of simply specced bargain tablets.

If quality is king, but you're limited by your budget, the Dell Venues accommodate both with just a few sacrifices.

Design

The Dell Venue 7 and 8 look identical, except the ports and buttons are located on different edges; the 7-inch model has the headphone jack, Micro-USB port, and volume buttons on the top left corner, while the Venue 8 has them on the top right. The volume buttons are flush to the edges, but are still relatively easy to find without looking. The microSD card slot, expandable up to 64GB, is located on the right edge for both.

Dell Venue 7 Acer Iconia One 7 LG G Pad 7
Weight in pounds 0.64 0.73 0.65
Width in inches (landscape) 7.6 7.8 7.4
Height in inches 4.6 4.7 4.5
Depth in inches 0.35 0.4 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 0.8 0.7
Dell Venue 8 Lenovo A8 Asus MeMo Pad 8
Weight in pounds 0.74 0.8 0.72
Width in inches (landscape) 8.5 8.5 8.3
Height in inches 5.1 5.3 4.9
Depth in inches 0.35 0.35 0.33
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 0.8 0.7

Dell offers the Venue tablets in red or black (though the red is US-only), and the back features a circular grooved texture that feels pleasant on your fingertips and palms. The grooves aren't wide or deep enough to make an impression on your fingertips and the matte finish adds a level of stylish comfort. The all-black backs on our review units had a vinyl record-like resemblance and I found them to exude a subtle coolness typically associated with jazz musicians.

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It looks like a vinyl record, or a zen garden with black sand. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The bezels on each are thick enough to look like a pair of inexpensive tablets, but not chunky enough to look outdated. Both tablets actually sport the same bezel width and thickness. I wouldn't call the Venue tablets sleek, however, they're comfortable and lightweight with a fashionably subdued look.

Features

One of the best things about owning a pure Android tablet is the lack of bloatware. The Venue 7 and 8 do ship with some pre-loaded software, but it's easy to uninstall and the selection of apps are quite helpful for those unfamiliar with Android.

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Bezel twinsies Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The full suite of Google and Amazon apps, Polaris Office, and Evernote are just a few of the popular programs you'll find on there. Dropbox is also on there and, with the purchase your Dell Venue tablet, you get a free 20GB of cloud storage for one year.

Hardware

The Venue 7 and 8 house different processors. The 7-incher packs a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3460 while the 8-inch model offers a 2.1GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3480 CPU. Both tablets offer 16GB of internal storage, 1GB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi 802.11 A/C.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Dell Venue 7 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3460 PowerVR G6400 1GB Android 4.4.2
Acer Iconia One 7 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2560 PowerVR SGX544 1GB Android 4.2.2
LG G Pad 7 1.2 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 Adreno 305 1GB Android.4.4.2
Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Dell Venue 8 2.1GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z3480 PowerVR G6400 1GB Android 4.4.2
Lenovo A8 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek 8121 Mali 400 MP 1GB Android 4.2.2
Asus MeMo Pad 8 1.33GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Intel HD Graphics for BayTrail 1GB Android 4.4.2

Performance

The original Dell Venue tablets excelled in smooth performance and the 2014 revamps are no different. The Venue 7 and 8 didn't bat an eyelash while executing basic tasks like browsing the Web, checking email, streaming video, and playing simple mobile games.

I quickly switched from one app to another without a hitch and, even with many apps open in the background, it kept on chugging as if nothing was happening. Performance noticeably slows down when downloading many apps or updates, but otherwise maintains a consistent swiftness to executing tasks.

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The volume buttons are almost flush to the edge. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

To be sure, there were a few hiccups like crashing apps and delayed touchscreen response, but not persistent enough to hinder the user experience. Large apps and games take awhile to load, which is usually the case for simple-spec budget slates. Whereas basic tasks could be conducted with apps open in the background just fine, utilizing large apps in the same manner did not bode as well. Closing background apps significantly helped large apps and games launch faster and perform better.

Tested spec Dell Venue 7 Acer Iconia One 7 LG G Pad 7
Maximum brightness 372 cd/m2 354 cd/m2 319 cd/m2
Maximum black level .34 cd/m2 .43 cd/m2 .31 cd/m2
Contrast ratio 1094:1 823:1 1029:1
Pixels-per-inch 216ppi 216ppi 216ppi
Screen resolution 1,280x800 1,280x800 1,280x800

The Dell Venue 7 has a brighter screen than its latest competition in the small budget tablet category, but the rest of its screen specs, including its 1,280x800-pixel resolution, are average. It's decently sharp for streaming video and looking at high-quality images. A subtle yellow tint to the videos and images on the screen is evident, mostly when seen in comparison to other devices.

Tested spec Dell Venue 8 Lenovo A8 Asus Memo Pad 8
Maximum brightness 368 cd/m2 300 cd/m2 389 cd/m2
Maximum black level .34 cd/m2 .21 cd/m2 .16 cd/m2
Contrast ratio 1082:1 1428:1 2431:1
Pixels-per-inch 283ppi 189ppi 189ppi
Screen resolution 1,920x1,200 1,280x800 1,280x800

The Venue 8 doesn't suffer from the pervasive yellow hue on the 7-inch model and benefits from a higher screen resolution. The upgrade to a 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution makes a noticeable difference when watching HD video; in comparison, the 7-incher's screen looks pixelated (yet still watchable.)

Both Venue tablets have an ambient light sensor, so it can automatically adjust the screen's brightness when you change environments. This small feature is missing on many budget tablets, so its inclusion here is welcome.

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Surfing and streaming is smooth sailing on the Dell Venue 7 and 8. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The Dell Venues have a 5-megapixel rear camera and the 7-inch has a 1-megapixel front-facing camera, while the 8-inch has a 2-megapixel one. The selfie-shooters produce fuzzy photos, but work fine for video conferencing. The rear camera is one of the sharpest I've seen on a budget tablet. If a photo is taken in focus, the details hold up when zoomed in to full resolution. Colors are still a bit washed out and the native camera apps doesn't offer many scene modes or manual options, however, the refreshingly sharp photo quality makes the transgressions forgivable.

Battery life was average. Both Venue slates lasted about a day with heavy use and about a day and a half with consistent casual use. Check back once we're done with battery testing in the CNET Labs for full results.

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If I had to pick a favorite Venue, it would be the 7. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Conclusion

The Dell Venue 7 and 8 offer the rare treat of bloatware-free vanilla Android with performance stable enough for everyday use, like checking email, surfing the Web, and binging on Netflix series.

The Venue 8 is just as capable as its smaller brother, but enters a more competitive 8-inch tablet category. If you want something that offers more bang for your buck, the Asus Memo Pad 8 is filled to the brim with features and pre-loaded apps, though its resolution isn't as high as the Venue 8.

The Dell Venue 7 is one of the best 7-inch budget options under $200, but if you can make your dollar stretch, the Google Nexus 7 is still the pure Android beast to beat.

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