Hey Dell: we don’t need any more mediocre tablets

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Last week, one of the older players on the mobile scene stepped back into the spotlight with some new products: Dell. My very first PDA was a Dell Axim X30, so the company’s held a special place in my heart, and it was great to see it take another stab at mobile devices. After all, the Dell Streak 5 was a bit of an innovator in its own right, paving the way for phablets, and the Dell Venue Pro was an interesting (if a bit unlucky) smartphone; I’ve been curious to see what else Dell might have up its sleeve.

That turned out to be four new tablets, consisting of a pair of Windows 8.1 and a pair of Android devices. Now, the Windows tablets were definitely the most interesting parts of that announcement, and even with the Venue 8 Pro’s low resolution and other corner-cutting specs, making a full Windows tablet available for just $300 is too interesting a prospect to ignore. The Venue 11 Pro is even more capable, and with tons of customization options, to boot.

dell-venue-8The problem wasn’t the Windows lineup at all, but what Dell had to offer in Android land. We could just go with the standard “meh,” but maybe a bit more dissatisfied “bleh” would be more appropriate.

The Dell Venue 7 and Dell Venue 8 are clearly Dell’s answer to the Nexus 7s, Kindle Fires, and all the other budget tablets out there; these tablets were engineered to hit specific price points, not to deliver the best experience possible. That leaves users with low-res 1280 x 800 screens and last year’s Clover Trail+ Atom chips instead of the newer Bay Trail we see in the Venue 8 Pro.

The 7-inch and 8-inch models are very similar, but where they differ we can spot even more cost-cutting options, like how the Venue 7’s rear camera has an embarrassingly low three-megapixel resolution; I mean, at least it has one, but isn’t five-megapixel pretty standard by now?

Now, there’s definitely a place in the tablet market for lower-end hardware with a killer price, and there’s little doubt here: Dell has priced these babies to sell. The Venue 7 will retail for a scant $150, while the Venue 8 will go for more like $180. Both of those undercut the Nexus 7, as well as the Kindle Fire HDX, but the new seven-inch Fire HD is some much more direct competition, itself selling for about $140.

In fact, with another seven-inch 1280 x 800 screen, the Kindle Fire HD sure has a lot in common with the Venue 7. So, why am I bad-mouthing Dell while Amazon gets a pass?

Well, for starters, Amazon’s not just trying to make the cheapest tablet around, and its software goes a long way towards making the Fire HD not just a budget tablet, but a good introductory tablet; users are insulated by Amazon’s ecosystem, and the idea is to provide an accessible, intuitive interface for people who might otherwise feel a bit like fish out of water when just dropped straight into Android, like they’d be with some no-name tablet.

dell-venue-8-smallDell may not be some white label OEM, but it’s sure not doing any better by its customers with the Venue 7 and Venue 8. They may run Jelly Bean 4.2.2, but you’re going to be stuck on what’s essentially last year’s hardware with no safety net.

Granted, Nexus tablets roll the same way, but you’re getting much more capable hardware there, and they’re aimed at a different audience: the kind of enthusiast who values early access to the latest Android builds, or at least the kind already at home with Android. Either way, Google or Amazon are both bundling extra value into their tablets – with the Dells, the only value you get is monetary, and you’re not even saving that much when compared to seriously more capable models.

Don’t get me wrong; Dell may have made some missteps in the mobile game, but I don’t think this is one of them – well, not entirely. I mean that people are sure to see that sticker price, go all tunnel vision, and care about nothing else. That could easily score Dell a whole lot of sales, especially with the holiday season approaching. The problem there is that I can’t see the new owners of these Venue models as coming away from that experience with especially glowing feelings about Dell, let alone going back to Dell for their next tablets.

And therein lies the problem with models like these. They don’t help with your brand, they don’t help build a reputation, and at the mobile crossroads Dell now finds itself, building a good rep is just what the company should be doing.

Frankly, Dell should have left these Venues at home and just introduced the Venue Pro models.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!