The Dell Venue 11 Pro is a Windows tablet that’s portable enough to use in place of an iPad or Android tablet, but powerful and versatile enough to use as a laptop (if you buy an optional keyboard dock).
Featuring a 10.8 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS display an Intel processor, and Windows 8.1 software, the Venue 11 Pro is one of the most powerful Windows tablets in its size range — especially when you consider that Dell offers models with up to a Core i5 Haswell CPU and up to 8GB of RAM.
Folks looking for a more entry-level device can grab a tablet with an Intel Atom Bay Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB solid state drive for around $499. That’s the model Dell loaned me to review, and there’s a lot to like about this little tablet.
It earns the “Pro” name with a high-resolution display, long battery life, and features you don’t often find on small Windows tablets such as a full-sized USB port and a micro HDMI port.
But at $499 and up, the Dell Venue 11 Pro is kind of expensive compared with other Bay Trail tablets such as the $399 Asus Transformer Book T100, especially since the Asus tablet comes with a keyboard while Dell charges extra for a keyboard, stylus, or other accessories.
One of the Dell Venue 11 Pro’s key selling points is also a bit of a mixed blessing. Full-screen Windows Store apps look great on the full HD display. But some desktop apps have a habit of looking funny on a screen with 204 pixels per inch even after you futz with the Windows display settings.
Overall the $499 Dell Venue 11 Pro is a pretty interesting option for anyone looking for a portable Windows tablet that has some of the functions of a full-fledged Windows PC. But it’s not necessarily the best choice for everyone.
On paper, even the cheapest Dell Venue 11 Pro runs circles around most other Windows tablets that sell for under $500. Most have lower resolution displays, fewer ports, and fewer connectivity options.
The closest competition to the Dell Venue 11 Pro might be the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 — but while both Dell and Microsoft offer tablets with full HD screens smaller than 10 inches, Microsoft’s Surface 2 Pro has a starting price of $899 and is only available with a Core i5 processor. By offering a Bay Trail model, Dell is able to undercut Microsoft’s price.
The Dell Venue 11 Pro featured in this review has a 10.8 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel IPS display with support for 10-point touch input, 2GB of DDR3 memory, 64GB of storage, dual-band 2×2 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC.
It has 1 full-sized USB 3.0 port, 1 micro UBS port, a mini HDMI jack, a headset jack, and stereo speakers built into the sides of the tablet.
There are volume buttons on the left side of the tablet and a power button at the top. Like most Windows tablets, the Dell Venue 11 Pro has a capacitive Windows button in the bezel below the screen. Tapping that button brings up the Start Screen.
On the back is an 8MP camera, and there’s a 2MP front-facing camera. And unlike nearly every other tablet in this category, the Dell Venue 11 Pro has a removable back cover which you can remove without a screwdriver. Pop it open and you can easily remove the 32 Whr battery and replace it with a spare.
The tablet measures 11.7″ x 7″ x 0.6″ and weighs about 1.6 pounds, making it a bit heavier than some other tablets in its class. But it’s about the same weight as a first-generation Apple iPad, which had a smaller, lower resolution display.
Need more power? Dell offers models with Core i3 and Core i5 Haswell processors, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage, but prices for those models start at $799. Dell’s business division also sells models with up to 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and optional 4G LTE support.
The entry-level model with an Intel Atom Z3770 Bay Trail processor may not be as fast as some of the higher end machines, but it provides a nice balance between decent performance and long battery life. It also features Intel HD graphics with support for hardware-accelerated HD video playback and 3D graphics.
When using tablet apps, that Bay Trail processor provides just about all the power you’d probably need, while allowing you to get around 8 or 9 hours of battery life. If you try treating the tablet like a notebook by running desktop apps and multitasking, you could start to feel the limits of the low-power Atom processor and 2GB of RAM.
That’s not to say the Dell Venue 11 Pro ever feels sluggish… but it’s certainly not as zippy as a Haswell machine when you’re surfing the web with a dozen browser tabs while editing photos and listening to music (three things I often find myself doing).
Still, it’s best to keep in mind that the Venue 11 Pro is fast for a tablet, but kind of on the slow side for a notebook — especially since you need to spend at least $530 to buy the notebook plus a keyboard if you really want to use it like a notebook. Dell offers a Slim Keyboard for $130, and a Mobile Keyboard for $160. I used the Mobile Keyboard while testing the tablet for this review.
There are at least two ways to judge the Dell Venue 11 Pro’s performance. You can treat it like a tablet designed to run Modern, full-screen apps from the Windows Store. Or you can think of it as a traditional Windows PC capable of running full desktop apps such as Office, Photoshop, and Firefox — although unlike some smaller Windows tablets, the Venue 11 Pro does not come with a free version of Office 2013 Home & Student.
But I think what Windows tablets really have going for them is the ability to do both of those things.
When it comes to tablets, I tend to prefer models with 7 or 8 inch screens because they’re lighter, easier to hold in one hand, and great for reading web pages or eBooks, or holding while playing a game of Scrabble. But even if you add a keyboard, those tablets are just too tiny to make decent laptops.
While the Dell Venue 11 Pro is a bit bulkier than a Venue 8 Pro or Google Nexus 7, it’s not too big to hold in your hands while watching videos, reading eBooks, or playing games. And it’s not so small that you’ll find yourself squinting at the screen when you hook up a keyboard and try to get some real work done (unless you use the Windows “make text and other items larger or smaller” option to make things “smaller”).
All told, the Dell Venue 11 Pro probably isn’t the best dedicated tablet you can find… nor does it make the best laptop. But it’s an interesting option for folks that don’t want to have to spend money on one of each. You can use it pretty effectively to perform common tablet or notebook tasks.
Here are some of the things I found myself doing during my time with the Dell Venue 11 Pro:
- Reading an eBook using the Kindle app.
- Playing Minion Rush and other touch-friendly games from the Windows Store.
- Surfing the web using Internet Explorer 11 in tablet mode.
- Reading web pages in Chrome and Firefox in desktop mode.
- Watching YouTube videos in a web browser, or full-screen videos from Netflix, VEVO, and other Windows Store apps.
- Listening to internet radio using the TuneIn Radio app in the background while running other apps in the foreground.
Windows Store apps run smoothly and look great on the tablet’s full HD display. Dell’s tablet also has decent viewing angles, so it doesn’t really matter how you’re holding it. The screen should be bright and colorful from most angles.
Unfortunately the Windows Store is still a bit of a wasteland when compared with the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. There are certainly some great apps available, including Kindle, VEVO, and Netflix. They’re attractive and easy to use once you get used to Microsoft’s touch-based gestures (swipe from the left to switch apps, from the right to bring up system-side settings, or from the top or bottom for additional in-app menus).
But there are plenty of apps that I use on my Android phone and tablets that simply aren’t available. There are no official apps for Pandora, Google Play Music, YouTube, or Google Calendar, for instance.
Performance (Laptop style)
Unlike my Android tablet, though, the Dell Venue 11 Pro can run the full desktop versions of Chrome, Firefox, Irfanview, and GIMP — the tools I use every day to keep this website up to date. So once Dell shipped me a Mobile Keyboard that allowed me to treat the tablet a bit more like a laptop, that’s what I did.
As laptops go, the Dell Venue 11 Pro isn’t exactly a speed demon — it has a slightly faster CPU than the Asus Transformer Book T100, but it actually feels like it might be a bit slower… possibly because it takes a bit more power to refresh the Dell tablet’s full HD display than the Asus tablet’s 1366 x 768 pixel screen. But the Dell tablet is fast enough for the sort of work I do as a blogger… and it gets ridiculously long battery life.
The tablet alone can run for up to 9 hours on a charge. The Mobile Keyboard has its own built-in battery which extends run time by about 50 percent, meaning that you can get around 14 hours of battery life or more.
The Mobile Keyboard does make the whole setup a bit chunkier. It measures 0.4 inches thick and weighs 1.75 pounds.
If you’re looking for a thinner solution, the Slim Keyboard is just 0.1 inches thick, weighs just 11 ounces, and has no batter. The Slim Keyboard also doubles as a cover for the tablet — but it isn’t really designed for use on your lap. The keyboard sits flat in front of the keyboard instead of attaching to it like a laptop base.
I quite like the Mobile Keyboard. The keys are large enough to make touch typing easy, and while there’s a bit of flex if you press down hard in the center, I didn’t have any problems typing most of this review on the keyboard.
Below the keyboard there’s a touchpad which supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling or tapping. You can also use edge gestures to bring up the Windows Charms menu by swiping from the right side of the touchpad instead of the right side of the touchscreen.
I do have two bones to pick with the Mobile Keyboard though. First, it doesn’t come with its own charging cable. You can use the micro USB cable that comes with the tablet to charge the keyboard dock, or the tablet.
If you want to charge both at once you can connect the keyboard to the tablet (which covers up the USB port on the keyboard) and connect your cable to the tablet. It should charge both devices… slowly. It can take a while for the keyboard to begin charging once the tablet is fully charged — in fact, I initially thought charging both devices with one cable didn’t work at all.
That means you can either charge the tablet or keyboard — but you can’t charge both at the same time (unless you pick up a separate micro USB charger and plug them both into separate wall jacks).
My second complaint is that the keyboard is just a keyboard and battery. While it’s nice that there are a full-sized USB and micro HDMI ports on the tablet, it’d be even nicer if adding the keyboard gave you a few extra ports. Right now there’s no easy way to plug in a USB flash drive and an external mouse without a USB hub.
Given the keyboard’s $160 price tag, a USB port or two doesn’t seem like much to ask for. It’d also be nice if you could tilt the screen back a bit further — it seems to stop at about 100 degrees or so. That’s not usually a problem when you’re using the system as a notebook PC on a table or desk, but I find it a bit hard to prop the screen at a decent angle when using the Venue 11 Pro and keyboard on my lap.
OK, so let’s say you’ve spend $560 to pick up the Intel Atom-powered tablet and keyboard. What you’ve got now is a 2-in-1 Windows convertible that’s a bit bigger than an Asus Transformer Book T100 and about $150 – $200 more expensive.
But you’ve also got a machine with a higher resolution display, a slightly faster CPU, longer tablet battery life, and a keyboard which adds even more run time. Throw in a few extra goodies like an 8MP rear camera, and it’s pretty clear that while you’re paying a bit more, you’re also getting a bit more.
Whether you’ll need it depends on how you expect to use this machine.
High resolution screens are all the rage on smartphones these days, because Android, iOS, and other mobile operating systems are designed so that items are about the same physical size no matter how many pixels are packed into your screen. Windows Store apps work pretty much the same way on Windows RT or Windows 8.1 tablets, laptops, and desktops.
But classic desktop Windows apps aren’t always optimized for screens with high pixel densities. So while Windows allows you to slide a dial to make text and images look smaller or larger, some apps just ignore the Windows settings. Image editing app GIMP, for instance, features tiny, tiny buttons that are hard to tap when used on a tablet with a small but high-resolution display.
And while it’s nice to be able to make text smaller so you can fit multiple desktop apps side-by-side, I have to lean in until my nose is nearly touching the screen to actually read text when I do that.
For instance, this is what two browser windows look like next to one another with the text and graphics options set to largest:
And this is how those two windows look at the smallest setting. You can fit more content on the screen, but it’s harder to see, especially if you have less than perfect vision.
So most of the time when I’m using the Dell Venue 11 Pro as a laptop, I have text and images set to their largest level… which means I’m using the 1920 x 1080 pixel display as if it were a 1366 x 768 pixel screen.
In terms of raw computing power, the Venue 11 Pro seems to be one of the fastest Intel Atom-powered tablets you’re likely to find in early 2104.
Powered by an Atom Z3770 quad-core Bay Trail processor, the tablet managed to complete every test I could throw at it in less time than it took the Dell Venue 8 Pro (with an Atom Z3740D) or the Asus Transformer Book T100 (with an Atom Z3740).
That includes transcoding audio and video files using VirtualDub and WinLame (two tools I’ve been using for years… even though they’re not necessarily the most up-to-date), as well as creating a large archive containing over 2,000 files using 7-zip.
I also took video encoding tool Handbrake for a spin, and again the Venue 11 Pro was king of the Atom-powered tablet hill.
In every test, the Dell XPS 11 tablet with an Intel Core i5-4210y Haswell processor was faster than any of the Atom systems. But that’s not surprising given that tablet’s $1300 price tag.
What is surprising is that the XPS 11 wasn’t actually all that much faster than the Venue 11 Pro in many tests… even though the Venue tablet is less than half the price.
Benchmarks don’t always tell the whole story, and in real-world usage the XPS 11 tablet feels significantly faster. Apps launch more quickly, the system doesn’t slow down at all when you’ve got dozens of web browser tabs open or multiple apps running simultaneously. If the XPS 11 had a mechanical keyboard instead of an odd, hard-to-use touch-sensitive keyboard, there’s no question it’d be the better tablet/notebook hybrid.
But the Venue 11 Pro is a surprisingly capable laptop substitute when you add the Mobile Keyboard, fire up desktop style apps, and get to work.
I’m most comfortable when I also plug in an external mouse, not because there’s anything wrong with the touchpad on the Mobile Keyboard (when it works properly), but because when I rely on the touchpad I find myself frequently reaching up to tap the touchscreen display. This works fine in most desktop apps, but for some reason Google Chrome has a habit of bringing up the on-screen keyboard if you tap a text input box with your fingertip… even if you have a physical keyboard attached.
Since I tend to use Chrome, I find myself also using a wireless mouse so I can tap the URL bar or other text boxes without bringing up a virtual keyboard which covers half the screen. When I don’t have a mouse nearby, I just use Firefox instead, since that browser doesn’t behave the same way when I tap text boxes. Two-finger scrolling with the touchpad also works better in Firefox.
From time to time I have noticed that the touchpad simply stops working… particularly after I’ve been using an external mouse or relying on the touchscreen for a while. It can take a few reboots or other black magic to get it to start working again. I don’t seem to be the only one with this problem.
Dell’s Venue 11 Pro tablet is head and shoulders above the competition in one important way: Dell offers a wide range of configuration options and accessories. All versions of the Dell Venue 11 Pro may be a 10.8 inch tablet with a full HD display, an Intel processor, and Windows 8.1 software. But you can configure it with a range of processor, memory, and storage options.
Dell also offers accessories including a $35 digital pen for use with the built-in active digitizer so you can write or draw on the screen and a $140 desktop dock that lets you connect dual displays, printers, keybaords, or other peripherals.
As a standalone device, the $499 Dell Venue 11 Pro is one of the nicer Windows tablets I’ve tested… but whether it’s worth $499 at a time when there are cheaper options available depends on just how much you want a Windows tablet with full HD display, removable battery, and full-sized USB 3.0 port.
But if you think of the $499 tablet as a starting point and begin adding accessories like a keyboard, it’s a 2-in-1 computer that can provide true all-day battery life and decent performance for relatively light-weight tasks.
Of course, once you add the keyboard dock the Dell Venue 11 Pro is starting to get into ultrabook territory in terms of price. It’s not hard to find a thin and light laptop touchscreen with a Celeron or even Core i3 or core i5 processor in the $600 and up price range these days… although you probably won’t find one with 10+ hours of battery life and a detachable tablet.
Bargain-hunters might be better served with an Asus Transformer Book T100. Notebook hunters can find cheaper options. But ultimately there’s nothing else quite like the Dell Venue 11 Pro on the market, and if you’re willing to pay a bit more for this tablet and its range of accessories, you get a bit more than you would with other tablets and convertibles.