The Dell Venue 7840 (also known as the Dell Venue 8 7000 series) is not only the thinnest tablet currently on the market, but it also has three cameras on the back that allow for altering the focus of photos after the fact (kind of like the Lytro light field camera). Add a nearly bezel-less design and a large front-facing speaker, and you’ve got what should be a killer tablet.
So how does the Dell Venue 7840 actually hold up in real world testing? Let’s find out – and at the end of the review, we’ll be giving one away, worth $399, to one lucky reader!
Dimensions: .24″ (6mm) x 4.88″ (124.4mm) x 8.50″ (215.8mm)
Weight: .67lbs (305g)
Screen: 8.4″ OLED 2560px x 1600px
Cameras: 8MP (rear-facing) with Intel RealSense Depth Camera, 2MP (front-facing)
Storage: 16GB (32GB available in $449 model)
Expansion: MicroSD card up to 512GB
Android Version: 4.4.4 KitKat
To be quite honest, this is a gorgeous tablet. The hardware is just plain pretty. It’s all sturdy aluminum with sharp corners — grey metal around the back and edges, with black metal around the large bezel that houses the front-facing camera and speaker.
The general lack of bezels around the screen really makes this device feel futuristic. A lot of people assume that this would make it hard to hold, but I didn’t have that experience. The single large bezel is easy to rest your thumb against, and I never had any accidental touches no matter the orientation I was holding the device in.
The power and volume keys along the top left are very sleek and almost unnoticeable. It makes for a great look, but also makes them a bit hard to find by just feeling along the side of the tablet.
There is a microSD card slot housed on the right side of the tablet, but it does require a small pin to pop open, given the aluminum unibody design here.
Along the bottom, you’ll find the headphone jack and microUSB port. At an astonishing 6mm thin, this device really could not be any thinner, because the headphone jack barely fits in the casing as it is.
While the front-facing camera being at the “bottom” of the device is quite awkward, holding the tablet in landscape or upside-down portrait remedies that problem. In fact, using the tablet upside-down was actually my preference most of the time, since it allowed the speaker and camera to be at the “top”.
On the back, you’ll find more aluminum, though there are two strips of black glass where the three cameras are located (which are required for the RealSense Depth shots we’ll discuss later). The glass is incredibly fingerprint-prone, which is the only factor that may take away from the otherwise beautiful design.
My only real gripe with the design is that the boxiness of it makes it nearly impossible to pick up from a flat surface — especially if you don’t have long nails. Since there is no curve, you can’t get your fingers under the tablet to lift it, and since it’s only 6mm thin, it’s difficult to get a solid grip on the sides. The end result is a bit of two-handed shuffling to pick it up from hard, flat surfaces.
Overall, the Venue 8 is a wonderful piece of hardware that certainly beats out its Android competitors like the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 or Nexus 9, and I’d say it’s on par with or better than the most recent iPad Mini.
Software & Dell Add-ons
Delving into the software, it runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, though Dell has said it should be receiving 5.0 Lollipop at some point. It’s disappointing that it’s still shipping with KitKat, but at least Lollipop is coming.
Luckily, you won’t find a heavy-handed Android skin here — it’s nearly pure Android — but you will find a few bundled apps: CamCard, Dell Cast, Dell Live Wallpapers, POLARIS Office, My Dell, MaxxAudio, Dropbox, Evernote, Skitch, and McAfee Mobile Security.
MaxxAudio was actually my biggest software gripe with this device. It displays a consistent notification whether you’re using it or not, and there’s no way to quit it without disabling it completely.
Above, you can see the old-styled, skeuomorphic MaxxAudio app that feels super out of place on the Venue 8. It’s supposed to help with audio quality, but I honestly didn’t notice a difference with it on or off. In the top left, you can vaguely see a light blue icon — that’s MaxxAudio’s consistent notification. For those of you who like to keep your notification tray clear, it could be a huge annoyance.
To disable it, I simply went into Settings > Apps >MaxxAudio > Disable. I was still able to listen to audio via the speakers and headphones just fine without it.
When setting up your tablet, you’re actually offered the option to pick and choose some of your pre-loaded apps (the ones mentioned earlier come pre-loaded no matter what).
That’s a nice option, as it allows you to quickly and easily download popular apps like Facebook or Flipboard right away — I just wish they had extended that to all their bloatware so that I could get rid of POLARIS office. It’s a fine app, but there are much better free office alternatives to POLARIS that you should check out.
The My Dell app, shown above, is actually pretty useful. It gives you a nice overview of all your stats — from internal storage available to battery temperature to available RAM. Don’t be fooled by a high percentage of RAM usage, though; Android is actually designed to work like that. We’ve explained why in another post on why you shouldn’t use RAM booster or task killers.
If you’re having an issue with your tablet, you can run a Quick Checkup, which verifies that everything is running smoothly. If you have any issues, you’re able to contact Dell support, and it displays your warranty information too so you know if you’re covered.
The homescreen is very stock Android, though of course you could replace it with any number of alternative launchers. The modified Camera and Gallery apps are quite Dell-centric now, which we’ll dive into more in the Camera section.
Performance moving around was smooth and quick, thanks to a snappy processor and minimal tinkering on Dell’s part. The only real issue I ran into was that occasionally the background would take a couple seconds to load after pressing the home button, resulting in a black background, shown above.
Notifications and Quick Settings are handled just like on stock Android, and the Quick Settings likewise are not customizable. The only thing that really seems to be changed here is that a trash can has replaced the three-line clear button.
Hidden in the settings under Display, you’ll find an option called Intel Sensing Assist. This turns on the screen when it senses you picking up the tablet. In theory, it sounds great, but in practical usage, it didn’t always work. I ended up getting frustrated enough with it that I just turned it off. If only they would implement double-tap-to-wake as many other Android manufacturers have.
Now onto the rest of the pre-installed apps. To make any use of the Dell Cast app, you’ll need to actually buy a Dell Cast, an $80 dongle used for connecting your tablet to your TV or PC. Without a Dell Cast, we were unable to test this.
You also get 20GB of Dropbox space for 1 year with the purchase of your Dell Venue 8 7840, but there is an argument to be made for other cloud storage services, particularly when comparing Dropbox to OneDrive.
The screen on this tablet is outstanding. With a Full HD resolution of 2560 x 1600, you aren’t going to be seeing any pixels here. With an 8.4″ length, it has 359 pixels per inch (PPI). That beats the 326ppi on the iPad Mini 3 and the 281ppi on the Nexus 9, and it ties the Galaxy Tab S 8.4″ — though the difference between these high numbers is probably close to negligible.
It’s also an OLED panel (what’s the difference between LCD and OLED?), which means that you’re getting great contrast, with super black blacks and vibrant colors.
In bright sunlight, it can get pretty hard to see, but that’s a common problem with all tablet and smartphone screens. For displaying pictures, watching videos, or just scrolling through articles, everything was perfectly crisp and clear. You definitely won’t be disappointed by this screen.
Alright, it’s time to discuss that funky Intel RealSense Depth camera. In a nutshell, it does some pretty cool tricks, but you’ll need great lighting for it to matter.
Low-light shots came out grainier than a sandy beach, which was really disappointing considering that the camera is a main selling point of this device. Neither the front-facing nor rear-facing shooter was particularly impressive.
Regardless, if you’ve got some nice natural lighting, the camera produces some seriously cool focusing effects. Let’s take a look at a picture of a green skateboard I took right around sunset.
The Depth photos take about 30 seconds to a minute to process, and you have to back out of the Camera and go into the Gallery to access the depth-tweaking feature (which really confused me during my first use).
Above, you can see the slider along the bottom is all the way to the left; well, here’s that same photo with the depth-slider all the way to the right:
That photo looks about ten times cooler with the blurred out background, and it really makes the skateboard pop. You can tweak the level of depth to play around with what you want to focus on too, so if you have multiple subjects at different distances, you could change the focus after the fact to focus on one or the other.
There’s also a feature for measuring distances and calculating the area of places. In my testing, it wasn’t super accurate. Above, you can see a picture of a couple columns (note how washed out the bright background appears compared to the shadowy foreground).
The Venue 8’s measurements of this column ranged from 1ft 3in to 3ft 7in as I measured different points on it. In reality, it was about 1ft 6in wide. The sq. ft measurement was likewise off by quite a bit. If it worked, it would be a super handy feature, but for now at least, it’s definitely too “approximate” to be very useful.
Built into the Gallery app is also some handy editing tools, like filters and brightness adjustment and all that. It actually works pretty well and could beat out other third party photo editing apps.
With the three cameras housed at the bottom of the device, it was pretty awkward to try and take photos, and even in landscape, it’s difficult to hold it so that you’re not covering any cameras. Thankfully, the interface gives you a little warning if your hand is blocking any of the three rear-facing cameras.
Can we just make front-facing speakers on tablets mandatory? Because they are magical.
The speaker on the Venue 8 is pretty loud and solid — especially for a mobile device, and the fact that it’s on the front means that you get the full force of it. If you’re using that bit of bezel to hold the device, however, you might mute a part of it, but it’s a relatively long speaker so you probably won’t be covering the entire thing.
In short, you won’t have to worry about the audio situation here.
Battery life on the Venue 8 isn’t the best in the world, but it’s certainly not bad. Obviously, it depends on how much you’re using it and for what purpose. I’ve been using the Venue 8 for a couple weeks now, and I’ve been happy with the battery life. Using the tablet for occasionally watching videos, sending messages on Facebook, and reading articles, I’ve squeezed about two to three days out of it on average.
The most rapid usage I got out of it is shown below.
You can see the long period of time when it wasn’t being used and it gradually drained. Later, I ended up using it extensively for YouTube videos and a bit of gaming. I managed to get almost five hours of screen time out of it this way, which is pretty impressive considering how much I was demanding of it.
You won’t have to worry about this thing dying on you in under a day, that’s for sure. Even if you’re watching hours of Netflix or YouTube (who would ever do that?).
Below, you can see another time when I was using it less frequently. Over the course of three days, it slowly drained as I mostly checked it for messages and emails.
This time I got almost three hours of screen on time. For most people’s uses, this is going to be just fine. And that’s impressive considering that they could’ve made this tablet a bit thicker and put a larger battery.
Though at the end of the day, the Venue 8 probably has slightly above average battery life.
Rooting & ROMs
If you’re looking to root your device for a higher level of customization, then I don’t have good news for you. The Dell Venue 8 7840 doesn’t even have an official thread over at the XDA forums. There does seem to be some information available (particularly in this thread) for rooting the device, but no custom ROMs and a severe lack of people developing for it.
For a user who needs a tablet to root, this probably isn’t your best bet, but for the average consumer, this isn’t an issue.
Should You Buy It?
The Dell Venue 8 7840 is a well-crafted tablet with solid battery life and a beautiful screen. Its $399 price puts it right up there with the Galaxy Tab S 8.4″, Nexus 9, and iPad Mini 3 — and it arguably is the better value thanks to its great design, minimal software, and great speakers.
The RealSense Depth camera is a cool feature, but it’s not of a high enough quality to really make it the deciding factor here. You also might want to look elsewhere for a device to root and tinker with, since it is lacking a thriving developer community.
Buy it. Dell has really stepped up their game in terms of design here, and that great hardware does well to differentiate this tablet from the slew of cheap plastic Android tablets out there. Plus, Dell hasn’t bogged down the software with pointless add-ons like Samsung, making this a light, quick, and extremely useable Android device.