As much as Microsoft would love for you to think otherwise, the battle for tablet supremacy is still mostly a two-horse race. You've got the iPad family on one side and you've got the range of Android tablets on the other side, but then you really shouldn't forget about the Windows 8.1 tablets hanging out by the wayside either. They can offer you a much fuller experience as they really are full-blown PCs. And when you connect the Dell Venue 11 Pro to its keyboard dock, you're effectively getting a convertible touchscreen Ultrabook. Dude, should you get this Dell or are you better off getting all official with a Microsoft Surface instead?
Venue 11 Pro Specs at a Glance
When we took a look at the Dell Venue 8 Pro a while back, the name of the tablet broke down in a rather intuitive way. The "Venue" means it's a tablet, the "8" represents its 8-inch display, and the "Pro" indicates that it's got real Windows under the hood. Unsurprisingly, the Dell Venue 11 Pro breaks down in exactly the same way, except you get an 10.8-inch IPS full HD display with 10-point capacitive touch this time around. For all intents and purposes, that's an 11-inch screen.
The Dell Venue 11 Pro is running on Windows 8.1 (32-bit) and comes in a number of different configurations. The review version that we have here is toward the entry-level end of the spectrum, powered by an Intel Atom Z3770 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, along with 64GB of solid state storage and Intel Gen 7 graphics. There's dual-band 2x2 802.11n WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, 2MP front webcam, 8MP rear camera, and a 30Whr swappable battery. Other SKUs provide up to a Core i5-4300Y processor, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, Intel GT2 graphics, mobile broadband and a bigger battery.
Unlike some other similarly large Windows tablets, the Dell Venue 11 Pro does not use some larger proprietary connector for charging. It just uses good old micro-USB, which is fantastic for so many reasons.
Build Quality and Design
While I'd hardly say that the Venue 11 Pro tablet offers any semblance to being a truly premium product, it's not terribly cheap either. You get a soft-touch back cover, which you can remove to gain access to the swappable battery. I did find removing the cover to be a little finicky, though, as you need to remove it from the series of snaps around the perimeter. Releasing the battery itself isn't all that sure-footed either.
There is but a single USB 3.0 port on this tablet, limiting your options for peripherals and accessories, though this is generally par for the course as far as Windows tablets are concerned. And while there is a microSD card slot for expansion, it uses a similar kind of tray mechanism as the SIM slots on some smartphones. Carrying around an extra paperclip can be quite the unnecessary hassle.
It also doesn't help that the build quality of the tablet itself doesn't exactly well me up with confidence either. It's not bad, but you will notice quite a bit of flex when you contort the tablet. Considering that it's far from being the lightest tablet too, this is a little less forgivable.
The Optional Slim Tablet Keyboard
The keyboard has its own trackpad, so you really are getting an Ultrabook-like experience. However, there is a lot of flex in the keyboard itself and the lack of significant key travel takes a lot of getting used to. Taking the keyboard on its own, if you flex it just a little, you can almost activate the clicking trackpad. Perhaps this flex speaks to its durability, but I'm not so sure.
Day to Day Operations
Even though it's "just" an Atom processor and there is "only" 2GB of RAM, this entry-level version of the Dell Venue 11 Pro is perfectly adequate when it comes to most of your daily tasks. You won't have any trouble with your web browsing, emailing, and HD video watching on its 1080p display. It'll also hold up fine to some minor image editing and other multimedia tasks; just don't expect this to be any sort of real powerhouse.
The crisp IPS display is great for watching videos and it had no trouble with some light gaming too. I did find that the auto-dimming feature was too aggressive for my tastes, though, altering the brightness of the screen when it really wasn't necessary to do so. Thankfully, you can turn that off. I found myself using the keyboard more often than using the tablet on its own, but because it doesn't have a traditional laptop hinge, it was more difficult to use when I didn't have a real working surface to place it on.
PCMark 8 and 3DMark 11 Benchmark Scores
Unsurprisingly, the benchmark scores for the Venue 11 Pro are hardly going to win any awards, but they do demonstrate that it is a reasonably capable machine for your regular on-the-go tasks. The PCMark 8 score of 1215 in the Home Conventional 3.0 test actually beats the ATIV Book 9 Lite from Samsung and is in the same range as the smaller Dell Venue 8 Pro.
We ran two sets of benchmarks in 3DMark 11. The Ice Storm test is geared toward mobile devices and entry-level PCs, as would be the appropriate case here. The Venue 11 Pro got a respectable score of 16797. When pushed a bit further with the Cloud Gate test for notebooks and home PCs, however, the tablet did not hold up nearly as well, scoring just 1259. That's to be expected.
MEGATechie Window of Opportunity or MEGATechie Exiting the Venue?
The Windows 8 platform is largely being pushed by Microsoft as being all things to all people. They tell you it's just as appropriate for large, powerful desktop computers as it is for the mobile experience on a much smaller tablet. To this end, you can see how the Dell Venue 11 Pro can be perceived as a tablet, a potential notebook, or even as a low-powered desktop when paired with the right dock.
The full HD IPS display is easy on the eyes and the battery life is quite impressive. I'm not nearly as impressed with the overall build quality, however, and I'm not as convinced that I'd want to use this with the $140 Slim Tablet Keyboard to replace a true notebook. The SIM-tray style microSD slot could be altered and the weight reduced too. All this being said, the Venue 11 Pro can be found for under $500 online (MSRP starts at $739), making it a pretty great deal on a tablet of this size that gives you a real PC on the go.