Thanks to its long battery life and versatile docking options, the $499 version of the Dell Venue 11 Pro is one of the better Windows 8 tablet values. But what if you're looking for more oomph than an Atom processor and stronger security? The pricier, $1,080 version of the Venue 11 Pro packs a more powerful Core i5 CPU and both security software and a fingerprint reader. Add in the $139 keyboard, and you have a compact hybrid that could replace your laptop. But should you really splurge?
The Venue 11 Pro looks all business, with a removable, black, soft-touch rear panel that's resistant to fingerprints. It's surrounded by a hard-plastic, matte-gray border, which holds the rear-facing 8-megapixel camera and a large security-card slot. A chrome Dell logo in the center of the back is flanked by a NFC sticker and fingerprint scanner, a major addition for this version of the device.
Around the front of the tablet you'll see the 10.8-inch display surrounded by an inch-thick black bezel. A 2MP camera sits in the top center, while a Windows Home button rests along the bottom.
The 11 x 6.96 x 0.4~0.6-inch Venue 11 Pro is just as bulky as before, weighing a hearty 1.8 pounds. It's slightly heavier than the Atom-powered Venue 11 Pro (1.6 pounds, 11 x 6.96 x 0.4~0.6-inches), and the device's weight jumps to 3.3 pounds when combined with its keyboard dock.
Compare that to the 12-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (11.45 x 7.8 x 0.36 inches), which weighs 1.76 pounds by itself and 2.4 pounds with the Type Cover attached. In other words, you get a bigger screen in the Surface in a thinner and lighter design.
The Toshiba Portege Z10t (11.8 x 7.4 x 0.49 inches) weighs 1.9 pounds by itself and 3.2 pounds with its keyboard dock. Coming in at 2.38 pounds, the Apple Macbook Air 11-inch is only slightly thicker (11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches) than the Dell with its keyboard dock.
A chrome power button, microUSB port, mini HDMI, microSD slot and Noble security lock slot sit on the right side of the Venue 11 Pro. A full-sized USB 3.0 port, combination headphone/microphone jack and volume rocker are on the left. Four air vents occupy the top of the tablet, while a pair of docking ports, pins and a proprietary charging port line the bottom.
To protect against data theft, this version of the Venue 11 Pro is outfitted with a few security measures that make it safer than your average tablet. The obvious standouts are the fingerprint and Smart Card readers. The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) has been added for data encryption. Dell also offers its DDP|E Encryption Software for an additional $84.
The Venue 11 Pro sports a lovely 1080p display. The 10.8-inch screen served up bright and rich hues, as well as sharp details and wide viewing angles. Colors were especially vivid during the 1080p trailer of "Hercules." The titular character's bronze muscles glistened against the bright green water lilies as he trudged through an otherwise murky swamp.
The dazzling display averaged 370 nits on our light meter, well above the 333 tablet average. The MacBook Air came in a distant second at 322 nits, while the Surface Pro 3 and Portege Z10t registered 298 and 231 nits, respectively.
During color testing, the Venue 11 Pro produced 96.3 percent of the sRGB gamut, besting the 85-percent tablet average and the Z10t's score of 71.6 percent. The Surface Pro 3 was slightly better, with 98 percent.
The Venue 11 Pro's color accuracy isn't great. Its Delta-E score of 7.0 (closer to 0 is best) is worse than the 5.4 average. At least that's better than the Surface Pro 3's mark of 9.9.
The 10-point touch screen proved responsive during our testing, quickly performing Windows 8 gestures such as cuing up the Charms menu and swiping among open applications.
The Venue 11 Pro's side-mounted speakers are plenty loud. When we ran the Laptop Mag Audio Test (measuring a consistent tone from a distance 13 inches), the tablet registered 77 decibels. That was enough to surpass the Z10t's 71 dB but below the category average (79 dB) and the Surface Pro 3's showing of 85 dB.
The speakers easily filled our small test space with relatively clear sound. Robin Thicke's falsetto on the guitar-assisted "Get Her Back" was nice and sweet. The sparse percussion in the track also had a nice punch. However, at higher volumes we heard some distortion in the singer's usually smooth tenor.
Mobile Keyboard Dock
The Venue 11 Pro's optional Mobile Keyboard Dock ($139) helps you unlock the device's productivity potential. The bottom of the keyboard has the same soft-touch finish as the tablet's rear panel, combining to form an elegant (but chunky) ultraportable notebook when connected to the display. A thin, chrome lining at the top of the keyboard and the touchpad adds to the Venue's appeal.
Attaching and detaching the tablet to the keyboard dock involved a simple press of the docking button atop the keyboard deck. From there, the tablet easily slid out or snapped into place.
That chic chrome lining along the sides of the keyboard looks nice, but it dug into the fleshy part of our wrists as we typed. The keys are well spaced, but they don't provide the best feedback. We measured 1mm of vertical travel, which is below the normal notebook range of 1.5-2mm.
On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 53 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.
We had a better experience with the 3.5 x 1.75-inch touchpad. The bottom corners of the tool 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 two-finger gestures like swipe or rotate.
Dell also offers an 11-ounce, slim version of the keyboard dock for $99. Taking a cue from the Microsoft Surface 2's Touch Cover 2 keyboard, the keys on that dock are flat and cloth-like. We'd avoid this accessory.
A keyboard is nice, but sometimes you need to attach more peripherals than either a tablet or keyboard dock will allow. For those occasions, Dell offers its $139 tablet dock.
We had a much easier time attaching and detaching the tablet from the dock compared to our experience with the keyboard dock. The tablet rests against a sturdy, angled, aluminum arm.
The dock's best feature is its ability to support two displays via DisplayPort and HDMI, effectively turning the dock into a mini desktop. Other ports include 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.
Good news for avid note takers and artists: Dell offers an optional $31.49 active stylus for the Venue 11 Pro. Made of metal and rubberized plastic, the stylus is thicker than most pens. Unfortunately, there's no place to dock it on the tablet.
The stylus is outfitted with a pair of buttons, which let you quickly select, erase and highlight text. In the Paint app, the pen's 1mm tip drew smooth lines whose thickness varied according to the pressure we exerted. When we used the handwriting option on the keyboard, the tablet had no difficulties deciphering our text, whether we used print or cursive.
Mobile workers will find the Dell Venue 11 Pro's 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4300Y CPU with 4GB of RAM a capable machine, but it's not as fast as its closest competitors. On the plus side, the tablet ably streamed an episode of "Orange Is the New Black" while running a full-system scan with six open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
On Geekbench 3, however, which measures overall performance, the Venue 11 Pro's score of 3,557 came up short against its direct competitors. The Toshiba Portege Z10t's 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4610Y CPU notched 4,890, while the MacBook Air's 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5-2460U CPU hit 5,392. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and its 1.9-GHz Intel Core i5-4300U CPU achieved an impressive score of 5,665. At least the Dell bested the 2,141 tablet average.
Thanks to its 128GB mobility SSD, the Venue 11 Pro booted Windows 8.1 Pro in 11 seconds, beating the 15-second average.
During the File Transfer Test, the Venue 11 Pro duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 54 seconds, which translates into a transfer rate of 94 MBps. That's faster than the 77.2-MBps category average. However, the tablet was outpaced by the Surface Pro 3, Z10t and MacBook Air, which notched 145.4 MBps, 196 MBps and 268 MBps, respectively.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Venue 11 Pro took 15 minutes and 26 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses, which is longer than the 14:30 average. The MacBook Air, Z10t and Surface Pro 3 clocked in at 5:33, 5:09 and 4:43, respectively.
Because of its meager Intel GT2 GPU, don't expect the Venue 11 Pro to do anything more graphically taxing than displaying high-def video or running casual games.
The Venue 11 Pro notched 5,950 on the 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark, falling well short of the 9,636 category average. The Intel HD Graphics-powered Toshiba Portege Z10t and Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablets scored 35,059 and 31,525, respectively.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the Venue 11 Pro managed only 15 frames per second on autodetect at 1366 x 768, missing the 25 fps average. The Z10t and Surface Pro 3 hit 44 and 41 fps, respectively.
The front-facing 2-MP camera on the Dell Venue 11 Pro captures sharp, but somewhat dark images. It didn't matter whether we were under fluorescent or natural light; most of our selfies came out darker than the actual room. Our red dress took on a deep crimson as opposed to its usual fire-engine red. The camera was sharp enough, however, to capture a few flyaway hairs in our curly locks.
Looking at pictures taken with the 8-MP rear camera is like looking at the world through gauze. No amount of wiping the lens could rid us of the persistent white haze in the majority of our 1080p floral images. The end results were consistently washed-out colors, particularly on lighter yellows, pinks and greens.
The fog carried over onto video, turning the sky into a hazy mess. A dark blue truck looked ashen, as did a passing yellow taxi and a green tour bus. At least text on passing vehicles looked clear, allowing us to easily read the advertisements as they raced past our lens.
By itself, the Dell Venue 11 Pro lasted 5 hours and 25 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100-nits brightness). That is well below the 8:06 tablet average. However, when used with its keyboard, the Venue 11 Pro's battery life jumped to 8:47. The Atom version of the Venue 11 Pro lasted 15:40 with a dock and 7:38 without.
The Toshiba Protege Z10t posted a time of 7:25, while the Microsoft Surface Pro hit 7:42. The MacBook Air outlasted the competition with an impressive runtime of 9:19.
Software and Warranty
The Venue 11 Pro may be heavy as a tablet, but it goes light on the software. The tablet has the usual lineup of Windows 8.1 apps, including Mail, OneDrive, Skype and Internet Explorer.
Dell added a small suite of utilities, such as the self-explanatory Dell Backup and Recovery. The Power Manager lets you toggle among multiple power settings. The Digital Delivery service downloads and installs the programs specified when the system was ordered.
McAfee Security Scan Plus is the only third-party app preinstalled on the Venue 11 Pro.
This Core i5 version of the Dell Venue 11 Pro has a one-year Basic Hardware Service warranty with one-year, next-business-day onsite service. See how Dell fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands report.
Our configuration of the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7139 (Security) is priced at a budget-slaying $1,080. However, since this is more or less an enterprise tablet, we imagine your place of business will absorb the cost. This model includes a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4300Y processor with 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and an Intel GT2 Graphics chip.
The starting price for the Venue 11 Pro is just $499, and that version has a 2.4-GHz Intel Atom Z3770 CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD and an Intel Gen7 Graphics GPU. However, it lacks security features such as the fingerprint and Smart Card readers.
There's also a $1,169 version of the tablet that features a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4300Y processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an Intel GT2 GPU.
The $1,080 Dell Venue 11 Pro impresses with its attractive design and sheer versatility, and businesses will appreciate the addition of the fingerprint and Smart Card readers. We also like the vivid, 10.8-inch display. However, this tablet simply doesn't offer the performance we would expect at the price.
If you add the keyboard alone, you're looking at $1,178, or $50 more than the Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover. The keyboard on Microsoft's hybrid isn't as comfortable as Dell's, but the Surface offers a bigger and sharper screen, more speed and an included pen. Plus, Microsoft's device lasts longer on a charge without its keyboard.
Overall, the Venue 11 Pro is at its best when combined with its additional docks, transforming the device from tablet to laptop to desktop as the need arises. But we wish you got more horsepower for your money.