Usually, when a product gets tagged with a Pro label, it comes with a premium price tag and top-tier performance. But Dell's Venue 10 Pro tells a different story, offering a durable 10.1-inch Windows tablet targeted at students and costing as low as $329. You can also add extra storage, a keyboard dock and even an active stylus for just $135 more, which turns the Venue 10 Pro into a multi-purpose learning tool with impressive battery life. It's not as sleek or powerful as Microsoft's Surface 3 or Acer's Aspire Switch 11, but at $465 fully loaded, this Dell offers enough flexibility to make learning easier, without walloping your wallet.
Created for students of all ages, the Venue 10 Pro features a two-toned gunmetal-gray-on-black body with chunky rubberized sides, a glossy front and matte plastic back. The thick, 1-inch bezel around the 10.1-inch display makes the Venue 10 Pro look a little dated, but it does provide ample space for young students to hold the tablet tight. Dell puts the volume rocker below the headphone jack on the left, the power button on the top and the home button on the right, instead of the front like on most tablets.
On its bottom edge, the Venue 10 has two indentations that fit onto the keyboard dock's metal tabs with a satisfying mechanical click, although positioning the slate is a little more difficult than on tablets with a magnetic grip like Microsoft's Surface 3. Data from the keyboard and touchpad is transmitted to the slate via the six-pin connector in the middle.
Without any extra ports in the keyboard dock, the Venue 10 Pro is limited to just a single USB 2.0 port, a micro HDMI, a microSD card reader, a headset jack and a microUSB port for power.
At 10.34 x 6.92 x 0.39-inches and weighing 1.45 pounds, the Venue 10 Pro is expectedly smaller and lighter than the Acer Aspire Switch 11 (11.7 x 8.1 x 1 inches and 1.8 pounds), but not quite as sleek as the Microsoft Surface 3 (10.52 x 7.36 x 0.34 inches and 1.37 pounds).
When combined with their respective docks, the differences among the tablets become more pronounced, as the Venue 10 Pro jumps to 2.8 pounds, less than the 3.4-pound Switch 11, but almost a full pound heavier than the Surface 3 (1.95 pounds).
Dell must have infused the Venue 10 Pro's dock with the spirit of Mavis Beacon, because every time I put my hands on its diminutive keyboard, it was magic. Even with the keyboard's somewhat cramped layout, and almost no room to rest your hands, the well-placed keys let me hit 105 words per minute on my first run through 10fastfingers.com's typing test. That's way above my typical average of 75-80 wpm. But I can't promise others who experience the keyboard's 1.3 millimeters of travel and 62-gram actuation weight will fare the same.
Unfortunately, the touchpad wasn't as enjoyable to use. Even though its length is sufficient, at 3.5-inches, the pad measures only 1.5-inches wide. This caused my fingers to frequently run off the bottom of the pad when mousing around or using two-finger scrolling, and the integrated mouse buttons didn't help, with their unusually stiff feedback.
Separating the two parts of the Venue is a little cumbersome. It's easy enough when the Venue 10 is sitting on a table, but trying to do the same away from a flat surface is an exercise in frustration. Unless you have hands the size of an NBA player, it's nearly impossible to hit the release button without dropping the tablet, let alone separating it from its dock.
The $35 Active Stylus for the Venue 10 Pro is powered by a single AAAA battery (included), and features a pressure-sensitive 1.8-mm tip, a durable aluminum body and two buttons that default to erase and select.
The screen also has built-in palm rejection, so it knows that when you're using the pen, it should ignore your hand. It also has hover sensing, so you know where you're about to start writing before the stylus even touches the screen.
In OneNote, the Venue 10 Pro popped up a prompt asking which stylus I was using, and from there, it automatically added a window for selecting color and stroke weight. While it didn't feel quite as sensitive as the stylus on the Surface 3, it was still easy to apply pressure to draw a thicker or thinner line as needed. I also appreciate that Dell included an adhesive loop with the stylus, which you can attach to the tablet so there's somewhere to store the pen when it's not in use.
The 1,920 x 1,200 and 10.1-inch display on the Venue 10 Pro is relatively bright and responsive to touch (when the tablet is not multitasking too heavily), making this a good screen for students and teachers alike. When I watched Nova's Secrets Beneath the Ice, the Venue 10 Pro did a good job preserving the details of the harsh, frozen waste, while also accurately reproducing the environment's subtle icy blue tint.
According to our light meter, the Venue 10 Pro's display outputs 374 nits of brightness. That's better than the tablet average of 343 nits and the Acer Aspire Switch 11's dim 248 nits, but not quite as bright as the Microsoft Surface 3's 407 nits.
The Venue 10 Pro also has almost perfect color accuracy with a Delta-E rating of 1.03 (closer to zero is better). The Switch 11 and Surface 3 both lagged behind, with scores of 3.6 and 3.1, respectively.
The major strike against the Venue 10 Pro's display is its color reproduction. It showed just 69.9 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, less than the Switch 11 (102 percent) and the Surface 3 (99 percent).
Featuring stereo speakers located on opposite sides of its body, the Venue 10 Pro puts out enough sound to fill a medium-sized room. I just wished its audio sounded a little more refined. When I listened to Sebastien Tellier's "L'Amour Et La Violence," the rich piano was ruined by distortion that sounded like crinkling aluminum foil. This only got worse when the synthy bass kicked in later. Music students and teachers should stay far away.
Most tablets don't have problems with heat, but the Venue 10 Pro is an exception. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu, the back of the tablet, between the rear camera and the Dell logo, reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
That's well above our typical comfort threshold of 95 degrees, and was enough to cause my hands to sweat when streaming shows and movies from YouTube. Temps were even higher after a few rounds of playing Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, when the backside hit an unpleasant 115 degrees.
The Venue 10 Pro features two cameras for capturing pictures and videos: a 5-megapixel option in the rear and a 1.2-MP camera up front.
Outside, on a overcast day, a shot of our rooftop lounge came out a little underexposed, as the camera sacrificed detail in the dark gray stone to save shadows in the clouds and sky.
Indoors, at Laptop Mag's testing lab, the rear camera did a good job capturing a lineup of laptops without losing detail in the darker areas, although I wish there had been less graininess.
The front camera captured colors well, and in a selfie at our office, it nailed the powder blue zipper and piping on my jacket. Unfortunately, the low resolution and rainbow speckling detracted from overall sharpness and clarity.
In an effort to keep the Venue 10 Pro's price down, the device packs a 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Processor Z3735F with 4GB of RAM. I noticed that there was often lag when switching between tabs in Chrome (even with just five or six open), and when I fired up a 1080p video in YouTube, the whole system ground to a halt for a couple seconds. Even after it finished buffering, playback wasn't always smooth, and while the movie was playing, the computer was less responsive in doing anything else.
When we ran Geekbench 3 to test overall system performance, the Venue 10 Pro finished behind both the Intel Core i3-powered Acer Aspire Switch 11 (3,459), and the Intel Atom X7-equipped Microsoft Surface 3 (3,351) with a score of 2,194. That's also behind the tablet average of 2,507.
In terms of graphics, the Venue 10 Pro scored 165 on 3DMark's Fire Strike benchmark, once again behind the Acer Switch 11 (425), Microsoft Surface 3 (300) and tablet average of 327.
Results were also similar on our spreadsheet test, which uses OpenOffice to match 20,000 names and addresses. The Venue 10 Pro finished the task in 16 minutes and 12 seconds, behind the Switch 11's time of 9:06 and the Surface 3's showing of 13:31.
When we duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files, the Venue 10 Pro's 16GB of eMMC flash storage finished with a time of 2 minutes and 10 seconds, for a rate of 39.10 MBps. That's just slightly ahead of the Surface 3's 33.7 MBps, but 3.5 times slower than the SSD in the Acer Switch 11 (141.40).
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), the Venue 10 Pro lasted a substantial 9 hours and 25 minutes. That's three and a half hours longer than the Acer Aspire Switch 11 (6:05) and an hour and a half longer than both the Surface 3 (8:01) and the tablet category average (8:01).
The Venue 10 Pro comes in two main variations: For $329, you get a tablet with a 10.1-inch and 1,280 x 800 touch screen, an Intel Atom Z3735F CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash storage. Another $50 adds the detachable keyboard to the package, or you can opt for the version with the same Intel CPU and 2GB of RAM, but with 64GB of storage and a higher-res, 1,920 x 1,200 display for the same $379. Our fully loaded Venue 10 Pro review unit had a 1,920 x 1,200 screen, 64GB of storage and the keyboard dock for $429, but if you want the active stylus, you'll still have to toss in another $35.
Software and Warranty
The Venue 10 Pro comes with a pretty clean install of Windows 8.1. There aren't even any trials for antivirus software to slow the system down. Dell adds some support tools such as Dell Update, PC Checkup, and Dell Backup and Recovery, along with 20GB of free cloud storage on Dropbox for one year.
If you run into hardware issues, all Venue 10 Pro systems ship with a one-year limited hardware warranty with mail-in servicing. This can be upgraded with Dell's accidental damage protection for an additional $49, and extended to three years for $119.
Starting at $329, the Dell Venue 10 Pro is an affordable tablet for classroom education, featuring 9.5 hours of battery life and a bright screen. Just don't expect it to do a lot of things at the same time, as its performance is pretty weak. That might actually be a selling point, though, for teachers who want to prevent students from getting distracted by off-task apps and games.
Acer's Aspire Switch 11 offers better performance and twice the storage for just $400, albeit with much less battery life. The Surface 3 is the best all-around package, with its thin body, even-better screen and more-premium design, but it costs over $200 more when similarly configured. However, if you want an inexpensive Windows 10 tablet with solid battery life, the Venue 10 Pro is worth a look.