Hands-on: Dell’s Venue 11 Pro Should Make the Surface 2 Nervous

Dell’s new Venue 11 Pro Windows 8.1 tablet is gunning for the Surface 2/Pro 2 big time. It’s about the same size, works with a couple of different keyboard docks/covers, and supports active pen input. It does all this while coming off as lighter and more comfortable to hold.

The specs aren’t exactly the same, but I still suspect that many shoppers are going to compare these two tablets very closely. Having had some hands-on time with both, I’m more intrigued by the Venue 11 Pro.

Dell Venue Pro 11

The first thing I noticed when picking up the Venue 11 Pro is that it feels much lighter than the Surface Pro 2. It starts at 1.6 pounds for the Intel Atom version and the Core i version doesn’t quite get up to the Surface’s 2 pounds.

The rounded edges make it more pleasing to hold. The balance is also just right. This is impressive given that the Venue 11 has a slightly larger display–10.8 inches instead of 10.6.

The resolution is the same as the Surface Pro 2: full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels. The IPS display does seem to have wide viewing angles, though the light was very bright in the demo area and thus the glossiness got in the way no matter how I tilted it. The touchscreen is appropriately responsive and didn’t attract too many smudges and fingerprints despite being handled a lot.

Another big difference is the range of configurations that will be available. You can get the Venue 11 Pro with quad-core Bay Trail Intel Atom, dual-core Intel Pentium, or dual-core Haswell Core i3 and i5 chips. The Atom/Pentium version has a slightly different chassis, though the main difference you’ll see between them all is in performance.

Like the Surface Pro, the Venue 11 supports stylus input. Unlike the Surface, the pen isn’t included, it’s an extra (no price yet). There’s no place to store the pen in the tablet. Dell claims that this is because they wanted to concentrate on making the stylus feel like a real pen and not compromise on the experience. The pen’s too thick to easily fit inside the case even if there were a slot for a stylus.

The pen does feel good in the hand. The technology is from Synaptics, not Wacom, and the pen itself requires a battery. The tip glides well across the display and, in the short time I had to test it, the screen felt very responsive.

Dell Venue Pro 11 wit keyboard cover

Also notable are the two keyboard covers/docks Dell made for the Venue 11. One is similar to the Type Cover for the Surface tablets. It’s very thin and doubles as a cover, and the keys depress to give you a more traditional typing experience. Unfortunately, the keys don’t feel that nice when you type. It’s very plasticy and hollow and unpleasant. It’ll be fine for short typing, but not so great for longer sessions.

Then there’s the keyboard base. This one is just like the bases for convertible tablets in that it makes the Venue 11 feel like a small ultrabook. The base adds keyboard, touchpad, and doubles the battery life (Dell claims you should get 17 hours when using the keyboard and tablet together), but does not add extra ports.

That’s a missed opportunity. Even though Dell has another accessory for docking and using the Venue 11 Pro more like a traditional computer, I still think a dock that turns it into a more laptop-ish computer should expand the port selection.

Dell Venue Pro 11 with keyboard base

With this dock, the Venue 11 exceeds netbook average weight by a bit but doesn’t come off as too heavy. This combo is heavier than the Surface Pro 2 plus the battery-enhancing type cover, though. The keys offer good tactile feedback and return, plus the touchpad is wide and responsive.

The Venue 11 Pro may not be the grand slam Windows tablet Dell wants it to be but it should give people considering the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 a reason to hold off until both tablets are available. The fact that you get a range of processor choices is a big deal in itself. Plus, the $500 Atom model is only $50 more than the Surface 2 and runs full Windows 8.1, not RT. There’s no pricing on the Haswell models just yet. Chances are that it will be comparable with the $900 Surface Pro 2.

  • Jim

    “The Atom/Pentium version has a slightly different chassis”
    What are the differences? For example, dimensions (height, width and thickness), fans/fanless, weight (with/without dock), etc.

    “There’s no place to store the pen in the tablet. Dell claims that this is because they wanted to concentrate on making the stylus feel like a real pen and not compromise on the experience. … The technology is from Synaptics, not Wacom, and the pen itself requires a battery.”
    Sure Dell, my real pen doesn’t have batteries. Needing to use batteries is probably the real reason the pen is too fat to make a silo for it in the tablet. My real pen isn’t as fat either.

    I’m interested in the Bay Trail M configuration which I assume is the Pentium one. I’d like to know if it’s fanless, the max RAM, replaceable RAM and replaceable drive.

    • Joe

      I think the Bay Trail is only going to come with 2 gigs dual channel. I know that processor can support up to 4 gigs dual channel, though I don’t think Dell is gonna offer it. (Look how the ram is broken up here: http://i.dell.com/sites/doccontent/corporate/secure/en/Documents/dell-venue-11pro-brochure.pdf) I don’t know how conceivable it is to add ram to a tablet after market. I know it’s possible, and it’s a good sign that the back comes off easily to replace the battery.

      • CyberGusa

        Bay Trail M supports up to 8GB, only Bay Trail T and I are limited to 4GB and less…

        But lack of Windows 8 64bit driver support until early next year, though, will probably drive early releases to only have less than 4GB for now, as you suggest…

        Tablets usually have everything soldered, so it is unlikely you could upgrade it later… not without voiding warranty and having some special tools on hand anyway.

        Bay Trail M based laptops, though, should have user replaceable RAM slots and use standard SO-DIMM DDR3L RAM… but space is just too much of a premium for tablets.

    • Joe
      • Alan

        I wonder why there’s no quad core Pentium N3510.

    • http://ktbradford.com K. T. Bradford

      The Atom one feels a bit lighter. The buttons and ports aren’t all in the same place. I thought the Atom one might be slightly thinner as well, but it seems not.

      • Tom

        Fanless?

      • voleheart

        Atom is fanless

  • agumonkey

    Isn’t there a consumer market law that says if a product doesn’t sell well, competition will drive sales up ? I’m sure people will wanna buy more surface if they see more brand derivatives.

  • jup68

    The desktop dock, gives the tablet an extra USB port and two display outputs.

    http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Venue11Pro_dock.jpg

  • Sam Curcio

    Why do these companies announce these products so far in advance of release? I could use this right now, but I have to wait another month. I suppose it’s all about anticipation and the excitement of the roll out.

    • CyberGusa

      Some companies are worse than others but these are due out in just months, which is relatively fast… Mind that companies like Asus, etc can have a product release up to over a year after it was originally announced for comparison…

      While, the general idea is a combination of getting the word out to induce interest, something that can take a lot of time, and they usually start early with pre-orders to help lock in customers as soon as possible…

  • Kings

    Venue 11 has lower speed of i5 cpu with Y series while Surface Pro 2 has U series i5 which has better performance in turbo boost. Surface Pro 2 has HD4400 Graphic whith Venue only has GT2 GPU. If you really wants performance(light gaming as well), goes for SP2. Venue 11 is just thinner and lighter but with worse performance.

    • Kings

      Kings

      Venue has i5-4300Y with graphic HD4200 which is same as the SONY Vaio Tap 11.

    • Joe

      The Venue 11 (HD4200) will perform better than the SP1 with respect to gaming (which had an HD4000), but it will likely perform a little worse than the SP2 (which has an HD4400). From what I have read, though, the difference in performance between the HD4200 and HD4400 is negligible. You don’t see major differences until the HD5000+ (which the SP2 does not have available), which, also, from what I understand, doesn’t create really a significant difference. Haswell was built more for battery life improvements.

      As for actual performance outside of gaming, I don’t think the average person will ever notice a difference between the Venue 11 and the SP2.

  • voleheart

    I think the digitizer was a real fail. I mean Synaptics? there are NO 3rd party digitizers for them which sucks. Second of all why not just employ WACOM? Widely used and loved.

  • Joe_HTH

    The Surface build quality is in another league. The Surface Pro 2 also has slightly better hardware, an optically bonded screen, a superior Wacom pen, better accessories, integrated kickstand, etc.

    • Joe

      And the SP also feels terrible in the hand; it’s heavy and awkward. You’re going to pay a lot extra for that build quality as well. And the integrated kickstand is such a waste of time and technology. It’ll end up some weird relic of old technology. For $100 on the Dell you get a keyboard that has a battery (for longer life than the SP2) that actually turns the device into a laptop. The SP2 battery accessory is twice the price and does nothing the old, bad keyboard didn’t do. And the Dell has optional LTE. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this will sell and the SP2 will not.

  • Paul

    On the Dell Venue 11 Pro, how far does the screen tilt back when it’s placed on the keyboard power/base (I mean the keyboard that includes the battery)? I want to comfortably be able to place it on my lap and be able to tilt the screen backwards as necessary. Is the attachment to the base sturdy or can it fall backwards due to the tablet’s weight if you’ve got it on your lap?

    The video in this review only shows how far forward it tilts rather than backwards. It’s a shame that every demo/review video regarding degrees of maximum tilt omits showing how far backwards the tilt is.

  • Arash Jafari

    I still think the Surface Pro 2 looks very good and will be my choice.