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Dell Venue 8 Pro: Big Picture on a Small Screen

Dell Venue 8 Pro: Big Picture on a Small Screen

Filed inside: Reviews

Dell’s Venue 8 Pro is one of several budget-friendly tablets which run the full version of Windows 8.1. Similarly prices tablets include the Lenovo Miix 2 and Toshiba Encore, both offering a full-Windows experience for around $300. We picked up one of Dell’s 8-inch tablets to test out its gaming mettle.

The Intel Atom Z3740D processor surprised us with its horsepower, providing a varied experience for the gamer. The addition of an micro sd card slot, a faux pas for many mobile devices, is a welcome sight as hard drive space is always a source of contention in the mobile world.

With several easy workarounds for it’s shortcomings, the Dell Venue 8 Pro is an attractive device worthy of a look from gamers. We delve into the device to show it’s capabilities and how you can make the most of it.

Accessories

Given that the multitude of options with a full Windows 8.1 experience, there are many ways in which you can interface with the device. Even if you might not have a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard lying around, there are still convenient ways to get a great experience.

OTG Cable- Given the lack of a proper USB port this is an extraordinary wise investment for this device. It allows connection of any USB device such as a mouse, keyboard or gamepad.

Wired Xbox 360 controller- It works really well with Windows natively thereby giving you access to a variety games otherwise inaccessible without a full mouse and keyboard setup. Needless to say we’re more than a little excited at the eventuality of using a Steam Controller as well.

Smartphone – The fact that almost everyone today has a touch device lends itself well to the versatility of the tablet. Programs like Unified Remote opens a variety of doors by providing mouse and keyboard connectivity over either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Bluetooth Keyboard, Mouse, Controller – From our own experience, the DV8P isn’t picky when it comes to connecting via Bluetooth. This is especially important due to it’s lack of multiple inputs. We were able to use an old $20 Bluetooth keyboard designed for a Nexus 7 and have seen a variety of Bluetooth gamepads work well on it..

 Steam

Even though the tablet exists in a goldilocks-zone in terms of size, we found that it can make navigation on native windows programs like Steam cumbersome as they’re not designed with a touch interface in mind. In fact we preferred navigating through Steam’s store in-browser but were still forced to use the desktop app to get to our games.

Surprisingly it was through the use of Steam’s Big Picture Mode which made navigation through the store and our library a lot more intuitive and user friendly using either the touchscreen or gamepad although we preferred the latter. Right off the bat we can say with confidence that a wired-usb Xbox 360 controller and OTG cable are some of the best accessories you can invest in with this device unless you’re lucky enough to have a Steam Controller. Even though big picture mode’s navigation was designed with a controller in mind, the tablets touch interface works pretty well but can be a little wonky at times such as scrolling left and right.

We got to testing right away and found a plethora of attractive newer titles which work well on the device along with some classics. While there are obvious choices as to what would work best will a full Windows tablet we only take a look at ones you won’t be able to find on iOS or Android.

The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga Even though Stoic announced their tactical rpg will not be coming to iOS or Android, the game seems like it was built with touchscreen in mind. Movement orders and attack commands are easy to execute thanks to a streamlined and intuitive interface. The title’s chess-like pacing makes playing on a tablet perfect due to its mobility. Low system requirements provide smooth gameplay without overtaxing the processor. The Banner Saga is a fantastic addition which highlights the devices strengths perfectly. Our only gripe is the need of a mouse at certain times like choosing battle order. Pairing our smartphone was an easy fix which left its ease of use intact.
Recommended Accessories: Mouse

 Super Meat Boy:

Super Meat Boy Since this title was designed with the gamepad in mind, it was an obvious first choice. The game booted up right away and within a few moments we were splattering our guts over sawblades. The game ran very well, between 55-60 fps with some minor slowdown on certain levels. However, even on larger boss fights the framerate never dipped below 45fps giving the player a great experience on the DV8P.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

Final Fantasy VII & VIII (PC):

Final Fantasy VII & VIII Both PC ports of the classic rpgs from the PlayStation One run great on the tablet. The PC versions both sport cleaner textures than the console version which look great on the 8-inch device. Both games support a gamepad and worked well with the 360 controller, but for some odd reason it requires one keyboard press in order to get into the start menu. This might be especially annoying to those of you without a Bluetooth keyboard.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

Papers, Please:

Papers Please We’ve been waiting for a mobile version of this dystopian “day at work” thriller since we played it on the PC. Its mouse heavy interface is perfect for touchscreen, although for some reason the game controlled well in windowed mode only – going to full screen messes with the touch interface. Overall this is minor gripe and doesn’t really effect the experience in a negative way. You can incorporate a keyboard for the shortcuts you can unlock eventually, but playing the game through touch only is a very rewarding experience. In fact not using the shortcuts makes for an additional layer of challenge for veterans. Text was perfectly legible and moving documents is as easy as dragging your fingers. Papers, Please is a fantastic title for the device due to its low system requirements and minimal file size.
Recommended Accessories: Keyboard (If you’re a sissy.)

Spelunky:

Spelunky When we booted up Spelunky and saw it running at a brisk 60fps our hearts fluttered with excitement. This amazing rogue-like cave explorer runs like a dream, even sporting between 40-50 fps with 4-players on-screen. This is one of those titles which makes the DV8P a must-buy for gaming on the go.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

Risk of Rain:

Risk of Rain This side-scrolling shooter with rogue-like elements has found a great home on the Dell Venue 8 Pro. The game maintains 55-60 fps even in the more hectic moments the game offers. It fully sports controller functionality and only requires a few touch-screen presses to get into the game. Even with some of the smallest sprites ever seen in a game, it looks and plays great on the 8 inch screen.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

 Hotline Miami:

Hotline Miami The fact this title is playable adds huge value to the device. Hotline Miami would make for a great mobile title if not for its reliance on a precise control scheme. It’s perfectly playable on a gamepad, but will take some getting used to over a mouse and keyboard. Nevertheless the title runs amazingly well – sporting a steady 55-60 fps in all its gruesome glory. Highly recommend picking this one up!
Gamepad/OTG cable or Bluetooth M&K

 Dust: An Elysian Tail:

Dust An Elysian Tail If you’re a fan of Metroid-vania games this is a must-have. Since it’s a newer title the game runs at around 30 fps, but maintains this well even though a multitude of enemies and attacks on screen at any given time. Perfectly playable and enjoyable till the very end.
Required Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

 FTL:

FTL From the moment we played FTL for the first time we imagined how well it would lend itself to mobile devices. It seems like Subset Games realizes it too as they announced an iOS port of the upcoming Advanced Edition in early 2014. While this title does run smooth as silk, it really hates the touchscreen interface, giving the player no choice but to use a mouse and keyboard.
Bluetooth Keyboard & Mouse

 Portal:

Portal We can’t tell you enough how excited we are to see Portal running on this device. We ran this on a low 640 x 480 resolution which gave us a couple black bars on each side. As such the game ran frame perfect – providing a great Portal experience on a mobile device.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

 Civilization IV:

Civ IV Yes- you’re reading that correctly, IV not V. While Civ V sports a native Windows 8 touchscreen interface, we found this mode was limited to DirectX 11 – something the DV8P’s Intel Atom processor doesn’t handle well. Even in DX9 mode in low settings the game barely chugs along once the game ramps up. It’s predecessor, Civ IV, lends a hand by running brilliantly. While a keyboard and mouse are optimal for a great experience, we were surprised at how well the native touchscreen interface works by itself. Single taps selects units and issue orders while tapping on any area of the map centers your view. Long presses(right clicks) issue movement commands – you can even drag your finger to issue multiple turn routes. In fact the only time the keyboard is necessary is for However, to get into the game menu (save, load, exit) you will need a keyboard.
Recommended Accessories: Bluetooth Keyboard & Mouse

 Braid:

Braid The puzzle-platformer, Braid is another great title previously unavailable on a mobile device. It’s mind bending puzzles are a welcome sight on the device. The game runs at a decent 20 fps which is not ideal but playable nonetheless.
Recommended Accessories: Gamepad/OTG cable

 Verdict

Not only limited to Steam, the inclusion of GoG’s library and available emulation options makes this device a no-brainer for those looking to do some gaming on a tablet without breaking the bank. We were able to pick up the 64gb version and a 64gb micro-sd card giving us a 128gb full Windows 8.1 tablet for about $350. In fact with all the games mentioned above installed along with a full Microsoft Office 2010 suite along with a few other programs, we have yet to fill the internal storage giving us about 80gb of free space with addition of an SD card slot.

Overall the device’s robust selection of playable titles makes it an attractive offer to PC gamers, especially those of us ingrained into Steam’s digital playground. While there are more powerful tablet options like Microsoft’s Surface devices, the the cost of these rivals decent full size gaming rigs which somewhat defeats their purpose in a gaming sense. It’s exciting to see multiple options available to those on a budget and we look forward to what the future holds for mobile PC gaming.

Stay tuned to Thumb Throne as we’ll be taking a close look at our Good Old Games library in our next installment.

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Written by Bill Hawken

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