Ratings in depth
Design 4.5
Features 4.5
Performance 3.5
Usability 4
Value 4

Business tablets never feel quite right when using iOS, Windows RT or Android, but Windows 8.1 is a much better fit – the full-fat version of Microsoft's OS can run desktop software, and these machines often come with more powerful specifications than their business counterparts.

The Venue 8 Pro is the latest in a growing band of smaller tablets that run Microsoft's latest OS, and it looks like Dell's machine will be a contender.

For starters, it's crammed with business-friendly features: support for Dell's Active Stylus makes work and navigation easier, there's expandable storage, dual-band Wi-Fi, one of Intel's latest processors and a wide variety of accessories and service options.

The physical design is suitably subtle, too. The Venue 8 Pro is clad in soft-touch plastic with a low-key pattern of concentric circles on the rear, and its screen is surrounded by a familiar glossy black bezel. It doesn't stand out as much as its rivals, but we've not got any issues with the Venue 8's exterior: this is a sturdy, well-made bit of kit that'll easily withstand a few knocks.

The price, crucially, also looks right. Venue 8 Pro tablets start at £249, and a more expensive model costs £329 – here, storage is doubled to 64GB and a mobile broadband SIM is included, although it's locked to O2 and you'll need to pay for your own data.

Both configurations can be customised with numerous warranty options alongside theft and damage protection, all of which will help businesses. Dell also produces a wireless keyboard, folio and rugged cases and a stylus, although the latter is temporarily unavailable.

The Venue 8 Pro combines a compelling feature set with a tempting price, but this market is becoming increasingly crowded. Acer has already debuted a Windows 8.1-inch tablet with an 8-inch screen, and the Iconia W4 can be bought for around £250 – not far off the cheapest Venue 8 Pro. We've also been hands-on with the Lenovo ThinkPad 8, which was debuted at CES and includes a Full HD screen as well as a reassuring ThinkPad design.

Elsewhere, Dell has to contend with hybrid systems like the Asus Transformer T100, which has a detachable screen alongside a physical keyboard, and Microsoft's own Surface Pro 2 – a high-quality 10-inch device that comes with a familiar fabric-covered keyboard.

Tablet

And, outside of the Windows ecosystem, the Venue faces stiff competition from two of the best small tablets on the market. Apple's iPad mini has the best selection of apps around and now comes with a high-resolution Retina screen, and the Nexus 7 has similarly impressive hardware – and it starts at less than £200, depending on storage capacity.