Saturday, October 11, 2014

Dell Venue 8 7000 Review

Finally, a photo-enthusiast tablet for the masses. If you can't beat 'em...

With a refocus-after-the-fact camera array and top tier 2560 x 1600 resolution, this is the most excited I've ever been for a product from Dell.

As svelte as it gets
RealSense is niche, but great

Re-focus effect is dramatic
Software isn't perfect

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, but rarely does that innovation look as good as it does with the world's thinnest tablet, the Dell Venue 8 7000 series, announced on Tuesday at IDF.

And the reduction to a svelte 6mm is only the beginning. The real innovation isn't exactly something you can see...well, unless you snap a picture that is.

The Dell Venue 8 7000 is the first tablet to use Intel RealSense, a software that uses an 8MP camera and two 720p depth sensors on the back panel to grab depth and length information up to a range of 10 meters.

Want to filter out color by depth? How about measure dimensions without a ruler? Or, and I'm just spitballing here, refocus an image after it's shot?

The Venue 8 can do these and much more thanks to the Android 4.4 Kitkat OS and Intel Moorfield SoC with a quad-core Dual Atom processor that will ultimately make the Venue 8 a pretty compelling package when it comes out in time for the 2014 holiday season. (At a developer event at IDF, attendees were handed tickets redeemable for Nov. 5, but it is unconfirmed whether or not that is the Venue 8's intended US street date or early access.)

Push it to the limit

So why limit depth perception to 10 meters? An Intel tech told me that RealSense, like the human eye, loses depth after that range. Snap a picture inside that radius and open it up in the pack-in software, however, and something different happens: Your finger becomes a ruler.

Surprisingly? It actually works. Sometimes.

The rep pulled up a picture of a subway footlong sandwich he told me he shot earlier in the day. We should, more or less, know the length of said sandwich. (Hint: it's 12 inches.) He started his finger on one end of the sub and, sliding his finger along to the back, verified this fact.

Testing the unit out for myself, however, didn't quite yield the same results. My photo - a shot of Dell's pop-up shop in San Francisco - apparently wasn't the ideal spot for a 3D image. I was told that the software is still in development so when I went to measure someone's height, the man in question came in at a Shaq-and-a-half-size 12-feet tall.


The Dell Venue 8 7000 series's exterior design is similar to the tablet of a similar name released earlier this year, the Dell Venue 8 Pro. The all-metal chassis replaces the black-backed Pro, and Dell managed to shave an incredible 3mm from the already-thin 9mm Pro design.

The same 8.4-inch Super OLED touch-capacitive screen makes a comeback but with nearly double the resolution - 2560 x 1600 - will look entirely different. It's worth noting that the only other 2K resolution tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Pro 8.4, a few thousand pixels more than this year's iPad Air. The Venue 8 will be powered by 2GB of DDR3L memory and start its storage options at a 16GB SSD but additional memory can be upgraded via an SD card slot.

Holding the tablet felt great. It was light without feeling fragile. The only problem I noticed was that holding the tablet in the way that I was used to - one hand on the bottom edge and one on the side - blocked the camera and sensors.

Inner focus

The only thing worse than being one of those tourists snapping pictures on their 11-inch tablet is being one of those tourists snapping pictures on their 11-inch tablets who doesn't know how or where to focus.

Thankfully that's not a problem in the Venue 8's 7000 series. The two cameras use an array of sensors to capture the image at a variety of angles, allowing you to change focus after the image is already in memory.

The effect, at this stage at least, were a bit too dramatic for my taste. Images go from complete foreground blur when something in the back was in focus to smudging out everything in the back when something in the front was the subject. But I'm told that the final version will be more subtle.

Questions and (not great) answers

After seeing the tablet first-hand, some questions lingered. Why not Core M? Sure, the Intel Moorfield SoC can produce a perfectly crisp 2560 x 1600 resolution on the Venue 8's 8.4-inch screen, but isn't this kind of product - a tablet with insane image-processing capabilities - the reason Intel made Core M?

I'm told that Intel Core M was too large to fit inside the 7000's small package size, and upgrading to the processor wouldn't really be an option, in this form factor at least, down the road.

There was also no word, as of yet, what the pricing would be. If Dell decides to follow the Venue 8 Pro's example by leading with a 32GB version for $299 (about £184, AU$326), the 7000 series will off store shelves. What's more realistic is that it'll be competitively priced around $399 (about £246, AU$435) or more, making it a tough sell.

Early verdict

My early impression of the Dell Venue 8 7000 series is a positive one. Trading the bloated Windows OS for a responsive Android 4.4 seems like a great choice that will keep the tablet moving fast long after it leaves the box.

The refocus-after-the-fact camera technology is something we've only seen as a standalone product, and was not something we'd expect to find in a tablet. Take that and its ability to measure objects and you may catch an abundance of attention from the hobbyist crowd.

What will make or break this tablet is its price. If it can launch under the $399 mark, you could be witnessing the next big must-own tablet for this holiday season. If it's over $599...well, it will likely be dead in the water. It's up to Dell's marketing and sales team to make the product successful, the technology is already there.

This is the most excited I've ever been for a product from Dell.

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