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The Grand(ish) Experiment – The latest

Well, I’m no longer using the Venue as my daily driver. I liked the tablet and it proved itself perfectly capable of handling my workload. However, it’s now time for some the intended recipients of these things to try them out and see how they get on with them. To that end, I have given the four tablets to the occupants of one of our teaching rooms and we intend to set up a docking station in the room and connect all of their equipment to it. The four teachers have varying levels of computer confidence ranging from the high to the low so hopefully we should get a fair idea of how viable this little project will be.

We have however hit a snag. I actually tried to put the docking station in the room yesterday and connect it to a VGA projector. Unfortunately the docked tablet didn’t detect the projector when the dock was plugged into the projector using via the fixed VGA cable and the DisplayPort to VGA adaptor. They worked together happily enough when they were connected with a short 2m VGA cable so I don’t think it’s a question of compatibility as such. I think it’s down to either a faulty fixed VGA cable, the VGA DisplayPort to VGA adapter not outputting a powerful enough signal for the projector to pick up or the known problems with the A00 revision dock which I talked about before. We have a few more docks on order which will hopefully be the new revision and a Dell sanctioned DisplayPort to VGA adapter. When they arrive, we will give them a go and see if they’re any better. Hopefully we’ll be able to work around these little problems and get a setup working in a classroom for our teachers to experiment with.

On a related tangent, when we ordered our Venue 11 Pros we also ordered a couple of Venue 8 Pros as well with a view of seeing how they behaved for students. I borrowed one last week to go on a training course with. Microsoft no longer seem to be giving away paper literature with their courses, they are using electronic books instead. I hoped that they’d issue the books in PDF format which would have let me import them into OneNote and make notes on them. Sadly Microsoft use a proprietary courseware reader from a company called SkillPipe who use their own encrypted file format so I couldn’t do exactly what I wanted.

However, it did give me some time to get more closely acquainted with this tablet. Despite not being able to scribble notes onto the book, it still acted as a pretty good courseware reader with their Windows 8 app and a good ebook reader for when I was on the train. The tablet is a really nice size and weight and it feels well balanced in the hand when used in portrait mode. The performance of the tablet won’t set the world on fire but it has enough grunt to run the Office suite in its entirety, it was quite happy running the Modern Mode apps installed on it and surprisingly, it even made a decent fist of running PhotoShop CC 2014. It was quite fun using it to scribble. To my considerable surprise, after cursing and swearing at the Windows 8 interface on my work desktop for so long, I actually started to enjoy using it on the tablet. The swipes, the charms bar, the multitasking panes and the task switching interface all made sense when you poke the screen instead rather than use a keyboard and mouse. I think that if Microsoft had taken a similar route to Apple and decided to have separate OSes for desktops and tablets, the market would be looking very different right now. But I digress.

My only complaints would be the sad lack of apps on the Windows Store and the relatively low resolution screen. Google don’t have any official Microsoft apps so there is no official YouTube player, no Google Movies or Music, no Maps. Yes, there are the Microsoft equivalents but I didn’t think much of those. The availability of first party apps from other providers was pretty slim too; no Instagram, no Feedly, no third party browsers which use the Modern interface. Even where there were apps, they seems functionally poor compared to their iOS and Android cousins; I tried the Windows version of Tapatalk and it was just awful. There was, however, a decent Kindle app which I took full advantage of. Granted, a lot of these things could be accessed through the browser but I found that most websites were rendered in Desktop mode and were a bit too small to be usable with your fingers.

My other complaint was the screen. It is a 1280×800 IPS screen. The colour was good, viewing angles and brightness were excellent but after getting used to the Retina display on my iPhone and the 1080p display on the Venue 10s, the 8″ display just looked crap. A 1440×900 or 1080p screen would have been a massive improvement but I guess the GPU in the Atom Z3470D CPU isn’t powerful enough to run a display that size.

Anyway, despite all that I came away feeling pretty impressed with the Dell Venue 8 Pro and if I had a spare couple of hundred quid to spend it’d be on my list to consider.

The Grand(ish) Experiment – Two weeks in

It’s been two weeks since I started using the Dell tablet in anger. You may be wondering where the promised updates have gone. Well, here’s one.

I think that the biggest question that I needed to answer was “Can one of these tablets cope as my primary workstation?”. The answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes”. I have been using a Dell Venue 11 Pro 7139. This tablet has a dual core 1.6GHz Core i5, 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD in there. It is more powerful than a significant portion of the desktop machines in our college and frankly, I would be shocked if it couldn’t. The only thing I’d really want from it would be some more RAM, 4GB is a bit tight these days; sometimes the tablet would freeze while I was using certain System Center components which can be a bit RAM hungry.

The dock that we received was a revision A00 dock which appears to have some issues when using it with multiple monitors. You may recall in my last blog post that I mentioned that I was having difficultly getting a DisplayPort to DVI adapter to work and that I thought I would need an Active one instead. Well, I ordered an Active one and that didn’t work either. This should be a supported configuration. After a bit of research, I found out that that Dell have put out an A01 revision of this dock which fixes these issues. It looks like Dell still have a load of stock of the A00s as the order number on the box was from the end of November and it’s a complete lottery as to which revision you’ll get when you order one. We ordered ours from BT Business so maybe you’d have more luck if you ordered from Dell directly.

This aside, the dock still worked with the DisplayPort to VGA adapter that we ordered so I have been using that to connect my second monitor. This has been OK but there has been the odd occasion where the tablet “forgets” that there is a monitor attached after the displays or the tablet wakes up  after going to sleep. Sometimes telling Windows to reactivate the display works, sometimes you need to undock and redock the tablet to force it to start working again. However, I don’t think that this will be an issue for the people who are going to end up using them as most of them won’t have two monitors attached.

The DPI difference between the tablet’s display and the external monitors has been a source of annoyance for me. Each time I undocked the tablet to use elsewhere, I ended up logging it off and back on so that the desktop was usable. When I redocked afterwards, again I logged off and on so that everything wasn’t massive. Again, I don’t know if a teacher would find this to be an issue.

As a point of interest, when the new Windows 10 build (9926) appeared, I installed it on another 7139 I had lying around and the same resolution issues were still there.

There are still a few things for me to test; I’ve not brought it home to try yet and I haven’t had the opportunity to take it to many meetings. I haven’t tried it in a classroom scenario with visualisers and interactive whiteboards either which is something I will need to do.

The next step is to give a dock and tablet to a teacher and see what they make of it!


Well, this is new!

I’ve played with making personal websites and blogs in the past but have never really done anything with them. This time I hope to buck that trend.

I plan to write about various things, both work and personal. My job is as an IT Systems Engineer at a college in Bedfordshire. I work a lot with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and some of the other System Center components (DPM and VMM) so I’ll probably be writing about those. Things like problems that I’ve encountered and how I’ve got around them, posting scripts, configurations etc.

Personal stuff, maybe some cooking recipes that I’ve found and liked, thoughts on music, television and cinema. We will see I guess.