Poor Mrs A, she does struggle for what to get me for Christmas. I’m generally not a wanty person. But not this year… although it would be unwise to mention the words ‘Xbox One’ in our house (that’s a story for another time). There were a few things on my Christmas list but at the top was a little piece of technology… the Dell Venue 8 Pro.

I first saw the Venue 8 Pro a few weeks ago at a device showcase event in the office. What can I say apart from “wow”? Slimline, very light, a beautiful screen (1280 x 800), and running full Windows 8.1 with 2GB of RAM and a quad-core Atom processor. The rubberised (is that a real word?) back made it comfortable to hold and offered some grip, and the build quality seemed overall better than the rather tinny feel of Lenovo’s comparable offering. One slightly non-conformist design aspect was the positioning of the Windows button – on most Windows tablets the button sits within the bezel, but Dell have relocated it to the upper-left corner along the device edge (or lower-right corner if you want to flip things around). This actually is a good idea – because you’re likely to use the tablet in different orientations it’s possible your fingers would hold the tablet where the Windows button would usually be located, so it’s a design change that makes sense and is easy to adapt to.

Dell Venue 8 ProSo, on the strength of what I’d seen and some glowing recommendations from colleagues, I decided to order one for the princely sum of £249 (including delivery). Then I discovered that as Microsoft employees we qualified for a discount, so I cancelled the order and reordered (now making the Venue 8 Pro very good value indeed). It arrived a couple of days before Christmas, and I handed it to Mrs A so that it could go through the ritual of being wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree (I know, I know, but the same was done with her new handbag). Click on the image to see a larger version.

Twenty-eight hours after unwrapping I’m getting a chance to use it (typing this blog post). The set-up was quick and easy – having connected to WiFi and declared my Microsoft account, it told me I had other Windows 8.1 devices and asked me if I’d like to copy some settings from another. I selected my Surface RT, and soon after I had the same apps, start screen, wallpaper, e-mail accounts and favourites.

The battery life is, so I’m told, eight hours – I’ll have to come back to you on that one. There have been some reports of the WiFi dying after a certain Windows update – no problem with that one – and reports of a problem with the screen’s auto-brightness – no sign of that problem either. To be honest, it’s difficult to fault the Venue 8 Pro once you accept that it’s a small device and therefore will be light on screen real estate, RAM, processing power and storage. Having said that the performance is excellent, the screen is bright and responsive, and I know that I can get by with a 32GB drive because I’ve done it with my Surface RT for over a year. At £249 it’s a wonderful device, and for that price you get Office Home and Student 2013 included (that’s worth a few quid). Of course it does depend on your requirements and use cases as to whether it’s the right device for you - for me this will be a handy lightweight companion device but I’ll still need a ‘main’ laptop.