Hands on: Dell's Venue 8 7000 tablet makes an awesome first impression

It may have a painfully dull name, but Dell's new Android tablet deserves your attention.

Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet

Well, well...what do we have here? Why, it's the Dell Venue 8 7000 -- the most interesting and distinctive Android tablet to come along in quite some time.

If the name doesn't ring a bell, don't worry: This thin little number has one of the most puzzling and absurd monikers imaginable. Depending on where you look, you might see it called the Dell Venue 8 7000, the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series, or the Dell Venue 8 7840. Or maybe just "that Dell tablet." (I'm gonna stick with the first option for now.)

But don't let the branding mislead you: While its name may be forgettable, the device itself is anything but. And with a price of $400 -- the same as Google's ho-hum Nexus 9 -- this might just be the dark horse we've been waiting for.

I'm in the midst of getting to know the new Venue 8 7000 now. Here are the first things that have jumped out at me as I've started to use the tablet:

1. The form

From the second you pick it up, Dell's Venue 8 7000 feels like a premium device. The tablet's dark-colored aluminum body is both striking and sturdy, and the screen's nearly edge-to-edge nature gives the gadget a sleek and futuristic vibe.

Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet - Form

The only part of the tablet's face that isn't taken up by the screen is a small strip at the bottom (or side, depending on how you're holding it) where two speakers live side-by-side beneath a single grille. On the back, that same area is covered by glass and houses the device's main camera.

Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet

The downside to that design is that there's not much space on which to grasp the tablet without touching the display. But the Venue 8 7000 is actually closer in size to the Nexus 7 than the Nexus 9 -- and it's super thin, too, at just 0.24 in. -- so that may not end up being much of an issue in day-to-day use. We'll see.

Dell Venue 8 7000, Nexus 7, Nexus 9

The Dell Venue 8 7000 sandwiched between the Nexus 7 (left) and Nexus 9 (right)

2. The screen

At first glance, the Venue 8 7000's 8.4-in. OLED screen looks fantastic. With 2560-x-1600 resolution and 361 pixels per inch, of course, that's not entirely surprising -- but numbers alone often don't tell the full story.

One thing that might be surprising is the screen's size: At 8.4 in., you'd think it'd be pretty darn close in dimensions to the Nexus 9's 8.9-in. display. But that half inch makes a meaningful difference in the amount of usable surface area, and the Venue's screen feels far more compact as a result.

3. The software

All right, ready your groans: The Venue 8 7000 ships with Android 4.4 KitKat -- the version of Google's operating system released way back in October of 2013. That's a bit disappointing, to say the least, given that Android 5.0 Lollipop has been out in the wild for a full three months now.

But you know what? Practically speaking, it might not be the worst thing in the world. As anyone who's used the Nexus 9 can tell you, Lollipop still has some pesky quirks that need to be worked out -- including some that affect device performance. You win some, you lose some.

For what it's worth, Dell tells me it does plan to upgrade the Venue to Lollipop eventually, though there's no firm date as of yet. And on the plus side, the company's approach to Android seems pretty palatable. From what I've seen so far, it looks to be a near-stock user interface with just some minor tweaks and feature additions -- some of which could be genuinely useful, like an option to have the tablet's screen turn on anytime you pick it up.

And that's just the start

There's so much more to explore with Dell's Venue 8 7000, ranging from its unusual camera setup -- the Venue boasts a special "RealSense Depth Camera" that's supposed to let you refocus photos after the fact and conduct precise measurements of objects in your pictures -- to its performance, especially since the device uses an atypical (for an Android tablet) Intel Atom processor.

Rest assured: We'll get to all of that, along with a much more detailed look at the tablet's hardware and software, soon. I'll be living with the Venue 8 7000 for the next several days in order to get a full picture of what it's actually like to use in the real world.

Stay tuned for my in-depth review.

UPDATE: Venue 8 7000 review: A distinctive and premium Android tablet

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