It's business, but not as usual. Dell's Venue 11 Pro (starting at $499) is one of the most versatile Windows 8 tablets yet. The slate packs a quad-core Atom processor, colorful 1080p screen and ports galore. But the real magic begins when you pair this 11-inch tablet with one of its optional docks, transforming the device into either a sleek business laptop or a mini desktop. But can this hybrid really do it all?
Ah, soft-touch finish, oh how we love thee. The 11 Pro's matte black rear panel is virtually smudge-proof and has a soft, luxurious texture that creates a firm hold. The black magnesium alloy border offsets the rubberized panel, creating a stately look. The 8-megapixel camera is located at the top of the tablet, encased in the border. Logos for Dell and Intel sit directly below, with an NFC logo positioned in the top left corner. (We could do without the Intel logo.)
Up front, there's a 2-MP camera in the top bezel with the Home button occupying the center of the bottom bezel.
Compared to most tablets, the 11 Pro has a fair number of slots and ports. That includes a microSD card reader, micro HDMI and a Noble lock profile slot. The microSD card reader is nice, but it's annoying that you need a paper clip to pop the port cover open.
The left side holds a full USB 3.0 port, microUSB, a combination headphone/microphone jack and a silver volume rocker. The tablet's power button resides on the top right corner. Along the device's bottom lies a pair of locking slots, a magnetic connector and a proprietary port for the optional keyboard and dock. The tablet also features a single speaker on either side.
Despite its good looks, the Dell is a bit on the bulky side. Measuring 1.6 pounds, 11 x 6.95 x 0.4~0.6 inches, the Venue Pro 11 is thicker and heavier than both the Microsoft Surface 2 (10.8 x 6.8 x 0.35 inches, 1.4 pounds) and ASUS Transformer Book T100 (10.4 x 6.7 x 0.41, 1.2 pounds). However, the Dell has a larger display than either device (10.8 inches vs. 10 inches).
You'll rarely go below the max brightness setting when viewing the Venue Pro 11's 10.8-inch, 1920 x 1080 display. The tablet notched a dim 174 lux on our light meter, well below the 359-lux average. The ASUS T100 fared better at 204 lux, while the Surface 2 and iPad Air scored a dazzling 364 and 411, respectively.
Despite the dimness, the IPS panel delivered vibrant colors. In the 1080p "Someone Marry Barry" trailer, the reds popped off the screen, particularly in the flowers in the funeral scene. A neon-yellow mountain bike riding by in the background drew the eye like controversy draws Kanye. Thanks to the very sharp details, we could see the individual hairs in the titular Barry's beard.
We were pleased with the generous viewing angles, which allowed us to watch the trailer from the sides without image washout.
In this case, loud doesn't necessarily mean good. The Venue 11 Pro's side-mounted speakers filled our small test space with sound, but they produced tinny audio.
On the Laptop Audio Test, the 11 Pro scored 81 decibels, beating the tablet category average. However, that was enough to trounce the Surface 2 and iPad Air, which registered 71dB and 67dB, respectively.
However, when we played Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," the bass was negligible, while the singer's vocals sounded distorted and somewhat hollow. The best parts of the track were the snaps in the background and the snares.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Venue Pro has an optional keyboard dock, which helps you unlock the device's productivity potential. The full-sized, island-style keyboard ($139) has a 3.5 x 1.75-inch touchpad. The bottom of the keyboard has the same soft-touch finish as the tablet's rear panel, creating an elegant ultraportable notebook when connected to the display. The top of the keyboard and the touchpad have a thin chrome lining that adds to the Venue's appeal.
Attaching and detaching the tablet to the keyboard dock called for more force than we'd like. When we began typing, that chic-looking chrome lining dug into the fleshy part of our wrists.
The keys themselves are well spaced, but they don't provide the best feedback. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 50 words per minute, compared to our usual 55 wpm. Combine that slow typing speed with a puny palm rest, and we wouldn't recommend using the keyboard attachment for long stretches of time.
The touchpad was better in terms of feedback. The bottom corners of the device delivered a firm, clicky response, and it performed the usual Windows 8 gestures without incident. However, we were disappointed to discover that aside from pinch-zoom, we couldn't perform multitouch gestures such as two-finger swipe or rotate.
Dell also offers a slim version of the keyboard dock for $129. Taking a cue from the Microsoft Surface 2's Touch Cover 2 keyboard, the keys are flat and cloth-like.
A keyboard is nice, but sometimes you need to attach more peripherals than either a tablet or keyboard dock would allow. For those occasions, Dell offers its $139 tablet dock. Similar to the tablet and keyboard, the dock's base has a black soft-touch finish. However the tablet rests against a sturdy aluminum arm positioned on a slant atop the base.
The dock features an abundance of ports, including a USB 3.0 port and combination headphone/microphone along the front. The back of the dock holds another pair of USB 3.0 ports, along with Ethernet, full-size HDMI and DisplayPort. A single connector port sits at the top for connecting to the tablet. We had a much easier time attaching and detaching the tablet from the dock compared to the keyboard dock.
It's nice that you can use a mouse with the tablet. However, the tablet's best feature is its ability to support two displays via the DisplayPort and HDMI, effectively turning the dock into a mini desktop.
In case you need to jot something down, Dell will also offer an active stylus for $29.99.
With its 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3770 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Dell Venue 11 Pro can handle just about any productivity task (within reason). The tablet smoothly streamed an episode of "Full Metal Alchemist" on Netflix, with six open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, all while running a system scan.
The Venue 11 Pro scored 2,692 on Geekbench 3, surpassing the 1,805 tablet average. The ASUS Transformer Book T100's 1.3-GHz quad-core Atom Z3740 CPU came in right behind with 2,611, while the Apple iPad Air's A7 chip barely edged out the Dell, with a score of 2,694.
The Dell Venue 11 Pro's 64GB SSD's took 20 seconds to boot Windows 8.1, slower than the 16-second category average. The ASUS T100 took 17 seconds, matching the Windows RT-powered Surface 2.
During the File Transfer test, the Venue 11 Pro offered a transfer rate of 40.7 MBps, which fell short of the 68-MBps average. That's much better than the T100's score of 25 MBps, but similar to the 40.4 MBps registered by the Surface 2's 32GB eMMC storage drive.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Venue 11 Pro matched 20,000 names and addresses in 15 minutes and 46 seconds. That beats the 16:22 category average and the T100's time of 20:48.
The front-facing 2MP camera on the Dell Venue 11 Pro captures sharp, but somewhat dark images. It didn't matter if we were under fluorescent or natural light; most of our selfies came out darker than the actual room. The camera was sharp enough, however, to capture the individual locks in our barrel curls and the pattern of the fabric in our sweater.
The 8-MP rear camera fared better, delivering vibrant color in addition to sharp detail at 3264 x 1836 resolution. Our favorite floral shot showed off the delicate striations of the daisy petals, as well as the tiny florets. The camera did a good job of capturing the deep blues and oranges in the bouquet without blowing out the image.
Video of New York City Traffic (captured in 1080p) was just as sharp and colorful, allowing us to read the text on a passing sightseeing bus and the signs across the street.
With a business-centric tablet, you expect a battery that can last at least as long as the workday. During the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Venue 11 Pro lasted an even 8 hours, topping the 7:38 tablet average. That time jumped to a whopping 15:40 when attached to the keyboard dock.
The Microsoft Surface 2 lasted 9:19 on our battery test, while the Apple iPad Air posted 10:47 over 4G LTE and 11:51 over Wi-Fi. The ASUS Transformer Book T100 notched a very impressive runtime of 12:28 (it's dock doesn't house a battery).
Software and Warranty
Similar to most business-centric devices, the Venue 11 Pro has virtually no bloatware. Instead, the usual cast of Windows 8 applications populates the tablet, including Mail, Calendar, News, Skype and SkyDrive.
Dell has also added a few utilities, including Dell Backup and Recovery, a service that allows users to create backups of their system or of selected data, and restore said information. The Digital Delivery software downloads and installs programs that were ordered with the computer. With the Power Manager, users can adjust power settings among Standard, ExpressCharge, Primarily AC Use, Adaptive and Custom.
The Dell Venue 11 Pro comes with a one-year limited warranty. See how Dell fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands report.
Our $499 configuration of the Dell Venue 11 Pro features a 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3770 processor and 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SSD with Intel Gen7 graphics. The mid-tier $799 version has a 1.5-GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 4020Y CPU, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and Intel GT2 graphics. The $849 version retains the specs of the mid-level configuration and adds a 1.5-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-4210Y processor.
The Dell Venue 11 Pro is a little bit tablet and a little bit ultraportable, but it's all business. For $499 you get a tablet with full Windows 8.1 (not the Surface 2's limited Windows RT) and 8 hours of battery life, in an elegant, yet eye-catching frame. We also appreciate the multiple docking options. Just keep in mind that the option for the desktop and keyboard dock inflates the price to $777, the cost of a mid-tier business notebook like the Dell Latitude E6430.
Those who don't mind working with a smaller, 10-inch screen could pick up the $399 ASUS Transformer Book T100, which includes the keyboard dock. The T100 also offers a brighter display and longer battery life. However, mobile professionals searching for a tablet that offers a compelling mix of mobility, versatility and productivity will find the Dell Venue 11 Pro a satisfying hybrid.