It seems like the best model for working on the go changes every few years. It went from laptop to netbook to ultrabook and seems to be settling around a 10 or 11 inch tablet with an attachable keyboard. I’ve had every sort of tablet release in the last few years from the original iPad to a Blackberry Playbook, Nexus 7 and a Windows RT tablet and a Kindle Fire but I’ve never had a full on computer in that form factor.
Windows tablets have had that promise but they’ve never quite lived up – whether because they’re too small or the OS isn’t ready but when Dell asked if I wanted to look at their Venue Pro 11″ Tablets I was enthusiastic to try one. Unlike most tablets the Venue is sold as productivity and business device and it comes running Windows 10. After a day using it I could come to one conclusion straight away – thinking of the Venue Pro as tablet gives you an incorrect impression of it. Think of it as a full PC that doesn’t have a keyboard and it makes a lot more sense.
At first sight the Venue doesn’t look that impressive. It has a black slab like form factor which doesn’t stand out of the crowd for anything apart from its girth. It is rather thick by modern standards. Come a little closer and that thickness starts to make sense. Around the outside of the unit are a power button, microSD card slot, docking port and auxiliary connection slot, a full size USB 3.0 Port, a Kensington lock, micro HDMI and a microUSB charging port. That rubberized back pops off reveals both a large and removable battery and a sim card slot.
Dell sells a number of accessories for the Venue Pro line. There’s a lightweight keyboard and integrated cover, a integrated keyboard that also has a battery in for near double the battery life and an Active Stylus Pen. There’s also a dock that gives you an HDMI out, charging and several USB ports.
Internally the line goes from a basic atom processor with 2gb of Ram to a i3 with 4GB and a i5 with 8GB. Storage goes from 32gb to 128GB – although don’t forget that microSD card slot. All the designs are fanless and so silent but seem to cope with heat surprisingly well. None of them have dedicated GPU’s so you are not going to be able to play high end games on these but I was able to get a number of indie games running on low graphics.
Price: RRP £463 – £589
Included in the box: Charger, tablet and a quick start guide.
Paid Extras:There is no requirement to get any extras, but I’d recommend an external keyboard if you’re going to try to do any productivity work. If you have a bluetooth keyboard already this can work or Dell has two types of keyboard designed specifically for the Venue tablets.
Retailer: Dell or Amazon
About Manufacturer: Dell
Dell is a privately owned US PC manufacture started by Michael Dell in 1984. The company employs well over 100,000 worldwide and depending on how it is measured may be the worlds largest PC vendor. It has been a staple of enterprise and government PC sales for many years and focuses on producing reliable business focused systems.
As with most very large companies they have complicated and detailed environmental social policies – here. Of particular note is their recycling program that repurposes older systems no longer needed to charitable causes.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
The Venue Pro tablets are extremely versatile. This is due to two factors – the hardware and the software.
The hardware of the tablet is as versatile as it can be. It has USB 3.0, HDMI, an active digitizer screen, bluetooth, removable and changeable batteries and the ability to connect to the mobile phone networks. In short it can do everything your laptop PC can do in a more compact form factor. The only real drawbacks I’ve found are storage space – although a large microSD card goes along way to fixing that – and the lack of a dedicated GPU.
The tablets come pre-loaded with a 32 bit version of Windows 10. Windows 10 has its critics and its fans but one of its stronger points is the ability to go back and forth between a tablet and desktop mode depending on what hardware is plugged in. In other words if there’s an external keyboard and mouse you get conventional Windows start menus and if not you get bigger touch targets, an on screen keyboard and so on. It isn’t a perfect setup and the Windows Store still has a paucity of touch designed apps but the OS has more flexibility than any other tablet OS.
In short with the exception of heavy graphics or computational tasks like gaming or video processing the Venue Pro’s can do everything a normal PC can do.
The Venue Pro’s feel very solidly designed and the removable back is rubberized and grippy but there’s no getting away from the fact that the tablet is heavy and relatively thick. I found it great to watch TV on but very quickly added a stand to my list of accessories that I’d recommend carrying around.
The buttons on the tablet are on the top – power – and left hand side of the screen – volume rocker. They are nicely clicky and protrude enough to be easy to find without being too obvious.
Power for the tablet is via microUSB but I found the port extremely tight to get the cable in and out of. I’m not sure if it was just my tablet or them all but it needed a fair amount of force to plug and unplug. The other issue is that even though it is microUSB the tablet requires a higher wattage connection than most microUSB systems. Plug it into your phone’s charger and it might light up and Windows will show it charging but your battery will still go down. If you turn the tablet off completely you can trickle charge it but even overnight this filled less than half the tablets battery.
To get the most out of the Venue you need an external keyboard. At a base price of around £500 for the tablet and then another £120 for the keyboard and then £30 for a pen and you’re up to around £650. I was able to shop around and get the whole lot at around £400 in various sales.
The nearest obvious competitor for the Venue Pro is Microsoft’s Surface which comes in at around £750 for a similarly specced system – there are however many less sales available. The Surface line does have a slight edge in weight and looks but you pay for that extra.
Technical Specification – Review system
Processor: Intel Atom 1.46gHZ
Operating System: Windows 10
Network: 802.11n wifi
Optional cellular connector 5570e 3g and HSPA+
Memory: 2GB DDR3
Display: 10.8″ 10 touch point screen. 1920 x 1080
Camera: Front and rear facing
Connectivity: USB 3.0
Battery: Removeable 32 Watt Hour – replacements and spares available from Dell
Power and plug description: Micro USB – 5v 2A
Storage: 64GB Flash Hard disk
Windows: Windows 10 32bit
Warranty: One year Limited warranty
The system has no specific requirements to use. To get the most out of it on the go I’d recommend pairing it with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, a stand and possibly an external wifi hard disk drive. The active pen is interesting but unless you’re looking to do a lot of sketches or hand written notes is probably not necessary. Finally the docking station could let you use the Venue as your primary system with an external monitor, hard disk drive and wired in keyboard and mouse.
When I first unpacked the Dell’s Venue Pro I wasn’t impressed. It was heavy and not particularly good looking. After adjusting my expectations and realising that what I had wasn’t designed as a conventional tablet but rather as a business and productivity machine and things became much clearer. The Venue 11 Pro is not designed for someone who wants simple cut down experience but if you want a full PC/Windows environment with all the flexibility and complexity it comprises. By itself Windows 10 is not an ideal OS for this form factor but with a bluetooth keyboard added it can shine.
I’ve been using a Chromebook on the go for the last couple of years as well as carrying a small 7″ tablet for media and the Venue 11 has got me to rethink that. If you’re travelling or working on the go this is an option you should be considering. Highly recommended.
The review is based on the Venue 11 Pro (5130) Intel Atom Z3770 kindly provided by Dell. The current version has the same basic design, but somewhat improved internal specs to the version we reviewed. First published on the 22nd December 2015