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Dell Venue 7 3000 Series review

Dell's Venue 7 is a scorching deal (in that it's cheap and gets very, very hot)

Highs

  • Light and comfortable to hold
  • Stock Android 4.4
  • Good battery life
  • MicroSD card slot

Rating

Our Score 5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Only 1GB of RAM makes for sluggish multitasking
  • Severe performance problems
  • Strange button and port layout
  • Single speaker
Dell’s Venue 7 is an attractive tablet with good battery life, a loud speaker, and a clean, up-to-date version of Android. But performance issues and its 1GB of RAM make it hard to recommend—especially for those who want to play games.

 Editor’s note: The Dell Venue 7 and 8 3000 series only vary by screen resolution and processor speed, as described below. Unless otherwise noted, impressions of the Dell Venue 7 described in the review also apply to the Venue 8.

It seems everyone is making budget Android tablets these days. But with most packing screens below 1080p and the same middling processors, it’s hard for any one of them to really stand out.

Dell’s Venue 7, which currently sells for about $160 online, doesn’t shake that trend. But it does offer a pleasingly clean and up-to-date version of Android (4.4.4) in a light (0.64 pounds) package that’s reasonably thin (0.35 inches). It’s also comfortable to hold with one hand, thanks to rounded corners and a circular-textured back similar to the company’s other recent tablets, like the Windows-powered Venue 8 Pro.

It’s not a flashy design, but this is one of the most comfortable tablets we’ve held in a long time.

The tablet also has a MicroSD card slot for adding extra storage, and comes standard with 16GB of internal space, unlike the $130 Acer Iconia One 7, which ships with a cramped 8GB. Sound output with the Venue 7 is also quite loud, although there is only one speaker.

If you need a larger screen and mostly better specs, Dell also sells a similar Venue 8, which may be worth paying extra for. The $200 Venue 8 bumps the screen resolution up to 1,920 x 1,200, while coming with a faster processor as well – an Intel Atom clocked at 2.1GHz, upgraded from the 1.6GHz Atom in the Venue 7.

The main drawback of both tablets, though, is that they are saddled with just 1GB of RAM. In our tests with the Venue 7, Android ran well doing basic tasks. But performance felt sluggish when apps were downloading or updating in the background. While the larger Venue 8 felt a little snappier, it suffered from the same occasional slowdowns. And as you’ll find out, both tablets woefully disappointed us on the gaming front.

Familiar aesthetics, but odd button and port placement

The Venue 7 Pro looks quite similar to the company’s Venue Pro Windows tablets, with a rounded back and corners, and circular grooves carved in the black plastic back. It’s not a flashy design, but this is one of the most comfortable tablets we’ve held in a long time. And it’s light enough that we had no issues holding it for long periods with one hand.

The Venue 7’s button and port placement, though, takes some getting used to. The power button is in the upper-right corner (holding the tablet in portrait orientation), and the headphone jack is in the upper-left — both fine. But the volume rocker and Micro USB charging port are both found near the upper corner on the tablet’s left edge, rather than the right.

This makes more sense when you rotate the tablet into landscape orientation, which puts the volume controls within reach of your right index finger. But when holding the tablet this way, the single speaker, which gets surprisingly loud, lands on the left edge, and is easy to accidentally cover with the edge of your palm. In portrait orientation, the speaker’s placement on the bottom makes more sense, but we’d still prefer two speakers rather than one.

Holding the tablet vertically, the MicroSD card slot hides behind a door on the right edge.

The cameras aren’t crap

In a surprising turn of events for a budget tablet, the Venue 7’s cameras actually aren’t awful — at least by budget tablet standards, which are admittedly pretty low. Outdoors or inside with good lighting, the rear 5-megapixel camera takes images that hold up on both the tablet’s screen and larger monitors. The colors aren’t overly vivid, but low-light shots, while noisy, actually capture a decent amount of detail. You can still get better results from most modern smartphone cameras. But you won’t hate the photos taken with the Venue 7, which is more than we can say for the shots we took with Acer’s Iconia One 7.

The front-facing 1-megapixel shooter is functional for video chats and the occasional selfie, but it produces images that are darker than we would like, with lots of noise.

A bright IPS screen

The 1,280 x 800 resolution of the Venue 7’s screen isn’t exactly impressive, but it is an IPS panel, so viewing angles aren’t an issue. The display also gets reasonably bright, although the tablet may throttle the brightness when gaming to keep from overheating, as we detail in our performance tests below. Also, while images on the screen look good, colors were noticeably more saturated on the screen of the 2013 Nexus 7.

Very good battery life

Battery life is another area where the Venue 7 does well for a budget tablet. After 14 hours of intermittent but regular use, downloading and installing several apps and games, running benchmarks, checking Facebook, taking photos, and playing several levels of Plants Vs. Zombies, the battery meter still showed 36 percent remaining. That’s much better than Acer’s Iconia One 7, which begged to be recharged after only about six hours of use.

Performance

Overall, the Venue 7’s performance was mixed. It usually felt responsive and stable, but as previously stated, things occasionally got sluggish when the tablet was trying to do more than one thing at a time (say, trying to play a game while apps are updating). Recent Anomaly games refused to run, while other titles, like The Walking Dead Season Two and Archangel ran fairly well (though the latter defaulted to low graphics settings).

When playing the game with the screen at maximum brightness, we repeatedly got a “Throttling brightness due to thermal event” message.

We’re not sure adding an extra gigabyte of RAM would have made more games playable, but it would at least help the tablet run more smoothly when multitasking. We’d like to see Dell (and all tablet makers, really) stick to 2GB of RAM, or at least offer a slightly more expensive option with more memory.

We don’t put much stock in Android benchmarks, as many companies have admitted to juicing their devices to increase scores. But just for some context, the Dell Venue 7 scored a healthy 10,284 in the Quadrant benchmark, which measures overall performance. That’s loads better than the 5,125 that Acer’s Iconia One 7 scored on the same test, thanks to its last-generation Intel Clover Trail processor. But the high-end Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 managed a much better 19,900 on the same benchmark.

While the game Plants vs. Zombies 2 ran fairly well on the Venue 7, when playing the game with the screen at maximum brightness, we repeatedly got a “Throttling brightness due to thermal event” message. We couldn’t replicate the same problem with the Venue 8, but after playing a few levels of the same game on the larger tablet, the app started to crash when attempting to launch levels.

And while most apps and games ran just fine and the tablets were otherwise quite stable, 11 Bit Studios’ Anomaly 2 and Anomaly Defenders crashed every time we attempted to launch them, refusing to run past the intro screens and videos.

Oddly, The Venue 7 managed a score of 11,051 on 3DMark’ Ice Storm Unlimited gaming performance test, again well ahead of the Acer tablet’s 6,065, and not too far off the Samsung Tab S’s score of 13,350. But while Dell’s tablet may impress in benchmarks, the fact that it got hot enough to throttle the screen brightness on a game with Plants vs. Zombies 2, a game with cartoon graphics, makes it a poor choice for a gaming tablet.

We measured as high as 110 degrees on the back of the Venue 7 just a few seconds after we saw the throttling message on the screen. The areas around the edge of the tablet where we were holding it didn’t feel warm, but this is the first time we’ve seen an Android tablet visibly throttle due to heat. Clearly Dell should have done a better job keeping the tablet’s Atom chip cool.

Conclusion

For a budget-priced tablet, the Dell Venue 7 looks, feels, and sounds quite good—and the rear-facing camera can produce attractive photos as well, something many budget slates can’t do. We also appreciate the MicroSD card slot and the fact that the tablet runs a modern version of Android that’s mostly free of bloat or annoying OS tweaks.

But the tablet’s 1GB of RAM holds it back from performing as well as we’d like, especially when doing more than one task at once. And some games just refused to run. These issues, combined with the fact that our review unit seemed to have a persistent overheating issue, even after applying an OS update, make the Venue 7 hard to recommend when there are many other affordable tablets available.

If you can spend a little more, we’d suggest stepping up to Google’s Nexus 7. If your budget is stuck at around $150, LG’s G Pad 7 is a better choice, although it, too, only has 1GB of RAM. If at all possible, we’d recommend paying extra for a tablet with 2GB.

Highs

  • Light and comfortable to hold
  • Stock Android 4.4
  • Good battery life
  • MicroSD card slot

Lows

  • Only 1GB of RAM makes for sluggish multitasking
  • Severe performance problems
  • Strange button and port layout
  • Single speaker

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