Dell tablets nix Microsoft RT, compete with Surface Pro

Despite speculation that Dell's upcoming privatization may mean a shift away from the PC, Dell released four new tablets this week, noticeably without Microsoft's tablet software RT.

Dell released four new tablets this week, a new evolution of the Venue brand. Two of the models, the Venue 11 Pro (left) and the Venue 8 (right) are pictured here.

It’s the autumn of tablets, with offerings from everyone from Tesco to Samsung falling to the market like golden leaves from trees. But these aren’t likely to disappear under the winter freeze—with another company rolling out a tablet, it looks like tablet season is here to stay.

Dell, best known for innovative software and business technology, released four new tablets this week, ranging in capability from a basic 7-inch model to a Windows 8.1-powered 11-inch model. This release marks another shift in software, and foreshadows what could be ahead as Dell returns to private ownership.

Dell released four new tablets: Venue 7 and Venue 8, both running on Android OS (7-inches and 8-inches respectively), and Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro, which run on a Windows 8.1 hybrid (8-inches and 11-inches respectively). This release is a revival of the Venue brand, which Dell originally used for two smartphones released last year. Despite discontinuing the phones, Dell decided to repurpose Venue as its newest bid into the increasingly busy tablet market.

The Venue 7 and 8 offer basic tablet options: a 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution, powered by an Intel 2 GHz Clover Trail processor, and 16 GB of storage. There is also a microSD reader that can increase storage, and a 3-megapixel camera on the 7 and a 5-megapixel camera on the 8. The 7 is priced at $150, which is low for the tablet market but comparable to Google’s Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, and the 8 will go for $180. Both are available Oct. 18.

The Venue Pros, on the other hand, run on Windows 8.1, providing a lot more oomph for their size and price. Both the 8 and 11 run a faster Intel Bay Trail processor to support more applications and features, and they offer a 5-megapixel camera. With its small size and .88 pound weight, the Venue 8 Pro will act more as a competitor to the iPad mini. The Venue 11 Pro will be more of a competitor to the Surface Pro and the iPad, with its computer capability, high-resolution screen (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), and ability to connect to a physical keyboard. The 8 Pro will start at $299 and be available Oct. 18; the 11 Pro will start at $499 and be available in November.

Dell's switch to Android and Windows 8.1 software is a blow for Microsoft’s tablet-specific RT software, which ran on Dell’s previous (now discontinued) tablet, the XPS 10. Now, the Microsoft Surface 2 will be the only one to run on Windows RT.

The tablet release is a surprise coming from Dell, as it recently announced the company would go private. Many believed this signaled a pivot away from mobile and PC, where it has flopped in an increasingly competitive market, instead focusing on software and small-business tools. However, Dell executives say Dell will continue to work on PC technology after going private.

“We will continue to make large investments in R&D in enterprise solutions and services,” said Chief Financial Officer Brian Gladden in early September. “What we’ve seen is that part of the market is growing faster. By no means is that a statement of our lack of commitment to the PC business.”

But with a relatively standard offering in an increasingly innovative and niche tablet market, it may just be that Dell is idling until it decides where its tablet future lies. 

[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated which current tablet will run Windows RT. It is the Surface 2.]

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