It’s safe to say the “Post-PC” market has become saturated with buzzword-laden products like hybrids, 2-in-1s, convertibles, and multimode laptops. With such an onslaught of devices, certain ones fall victim to inaccurate comparisons and misrepresentation, and Dell's Venue 11 Pro is one such device.
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Just one example is CNET, which bashed the Venue 11 Pro’s optional keyboard dock — a sturdy attachment which also supplies a whopping 10 additional hours of battery life — based mainly on its price tag of $159. Yet CNET praised the utility of Microsoft's Surface Pro Type Cover without batting an eyelash at its exorbitant price of $129, and that accessory doesn’t provide any extra battery life. Other outlets inexplicably pit the Venue 11 Pro against the iPad or Surface Pro 2 – neither of which are sensible comparisons — or proclaim it as an overpriced dual-purpose Windows tablet.
I think Dell’s Venue 11 Pro deserves a fairer shake, with comparisons based on a better blend of price and performance and not merely popularity or screen size. To that end, the Venue 11 Pro is worth examining if you’ve been shopping around for a Surface 2 (not the Pro, but Microsoft’s Windows RT sequel).
Consider this: Both products are fairly beefy standalone tablets, and both commit what I consider a grave technological sin by not making their fantastic keyboard accessories a mandatory bundled purchase. Both use chips designed primarily as mobile CPUs. At the ~$500 mark, both offer 64GB of storage space and 10″ IPS displays. And honestly, both products also suffer from an identity crisis prompted by Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1: They’re far more efficient at being compact laptops than they are at being tablets.
Here are the specs you’re getting when purchasing the baseline $499 Venue 11 Pro:
- CPU: Quad-Core Intel Atom Z3370 at 2.4 GHz
- System Memory: 2GB DDR3
- System Storage: 64 GB + microSD card slot
- Operating System: Windows 8.1
- Display: 10.8″ IPS LCD at 1920 x 1080 resolution
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n/g/b, NFC
- Cameras: 8 megapixel/108op rear camera, 2 megapixel, 720p front camera
- Ports & Slots: USB 3.0, micro USB, mini HDMI out
- Weight: 1.57 pounds
- Purchase the
optionalmandatory $159 tablet keyboard accessory, and you’ll also get a full-sized island style keyboard, 3/5″ wide trackpad, and up to an additional 10 hours of battery life.
Design and Form Factor:
On its own, the Venue 11 Pro adopts the same design language Dell’s had in place for several years, which shouldn’t be interpreted as a negative. You’ve got the striking black against silver color scheme, gently curved edges, and a soft-touch matte black cover on the backside of the tablet. In a very appreciated nod to business and power users, the cover can be removed to access a replaceable battery.
Attach the $159 keyboard accessory, and the Venue 11 Pro becomes a slim laptop with productivity at its core. It boasts Dell’s familiar recessed chicklet keyboard, stylish chrome strips around its body and trackpad, and an angular design that’s pleasing to look at.
As one unit or as standalone pieces of hardware, they’re sturdily built and feel like premium products.
Dell is packing a 10.8″ LCD IPS screen into the Venue 11 Pro, and at 1920 x 1080 it outputs vibrant color at wide viewing angles without the image fading. It doesn’t have quite the eye-popping brightness as the Surface 2, but it’s perfectly serviceable and overall a fantastic display.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s a 10-point capacitive touch display with support for an optional Dell Active Stylus.
Keyboard and Trackpad:
A $159 accessory should feel solid and deliver real value, and for the most part Dell has delivered. We’ll touch on battery life later, but that double boost of juice is the undisputed killer feature here. Typing on this was a joy; the keys have adequate spacing, decent travel, and feel “clicky” under your fingers. The palm rest may be a bit too cramped depending on hand size, but I think that goes with the territory considering it’s not even an 11″ device.
The trackpad is just wide enough to be comfortable, and felt very responsive. It recognized Windows 8 swipe gestures consistently, but strangely lacks any type of multi-touch gesturing like pinch-to-zoom.
My one complaint about the docking mechanism is that the hinge doesn’t extend quite far enough, giving the screen about 110 degrees of flexibility. If it’s sitting on your desk, that viewing angle is just fine; on your lap, you may find yourself slouching for optimum visibility.
Again, I have to emphasize that this shouldn’t be viewed as an “optional” accessory. By itself, the Venue 11 Pro is too hefty for regular tablet-specific usage, and that was probably by design. In short bursts it’s fine, but I can’t imagine holding it up in bed to watch Netflix.
Without the keyboard accessory, you’ll eek out all day battery life only if using the tablet conservatively. In my battery test, which sees the display at 50% brightness with WiFi and Bluetooth on, I measured 6 hours and 34 minutes using PCMark 8′s productivity-focused Work benchmark. Docked with the keyboard attachment, that battery life almost doubled to 12 hours and 35 minutes of constant use.
I was surprised to see Intel’s Atom Z3370 edge out Nvidia’s Tegra 4 (present in Microsoft’s Surface 2) in Geekbench; that’s for both single-core and multi-core tests.
Intel’s embedded Gen7 graphics architecture scored 9184 on 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme benchmark test, compared to 7836 using Surface 2′s Tegra 4. You won’t have any problems playing the most graphically-intensive apps like Halo: Spartan Assault, but don’t expect it to run Battlefield 4!
The performance differences here aren’t negligible, but they’re important when looking at the overall picture. Consider that the Surface 2 costs $50 more for its 64GB version and runs a handicapped version of Windows (8.1 RT) compared to full-blown Windows 8.1 on the Venue 11 Pro. Microsoft’s Type Cover is an additional $129 expense and doesn’t bring any extra battery life to the party (though in fairness, it does have backlit keys which the Venue 11 Pro lacks).
For a grand total of about $658 with the keyboard dock, the Venue 11 Pro is the decisive winner if you’re debating between it and something like the Surface 2. Determining if it’s a viable alternative to other hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga 2 ($599) is a more difficult matter. You’re getting superior juice levels when unplugged, and a user-replaceable internal battery. You’re also getting a sharper resolution, but Lenovo delivers more system memory and a 500GB hard drive in what’s still a pretty slim package.
As a complete package, Dell’s Venue 11 Pro is a fantastic, premium-feeling Windows 8.1 device with an emphasis on marathon battery life and productivity. It does face the same identity crisis as other hybrids like the Surface, however, in that you should never consider buying just the tablet component without its complimentary accessories.
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