With the Venue 11 Pro, Dell offers a line of Windows-based tablets that's about as versatile and feature-rich as they come. Prices start at $429 for the base 2.4GHz quad-core Atom model and top out at $1,045 for the dual-core Haswell Core i5 base unit at 1.5GHz. There are seven Venue models, two keyboard options plus a docking station, choices enough to suit most commercial applications.
Common to all Venue 11 Pro models and among its more remarkable features is the full-HD screen. This IPS panel puts out 1,920-x-1080 of bright, crisp pixels that are viewable at any angle. Full HD resolution on a 10.80-inch display translates to a density of 204 pixels per inch. This is one nice display, and has as much workspace as a full-size desktop monitor. The downside to all that real estate is that fonts and controls are small and hard to control precisely with a finger. For people who need pin-point control, Dell offers an optional stylus for $35 that works with the 10-point capacitive touch digitizer under the glass.
Dell leverages Intel's 4th-gen processors for its graphics controllers. The three high-end Venue models (including the tested unit) drive video with the Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU (GT2), with 20 cores and a top speed of 1,350MHz. This GPU is roughly comparable to Nvidia's GeForce 260M/630M or AMD's Radeon HD 8560G. Atom-based Venues contain Intel Gen7 Graphics, which have four cores at a top speed of 896MHz.
Indeed, there's a ton of technology inside, all of which contributes to Venue's relatively hefty 1.6 pounds and 0.6 of an inch girth (thickness can be as little as 0.4 of an inch, depending on configuration). Venue measures 11 inches long by 7 inches wide and is encased in black polycarbonate (plastic) with a removable back panel for servicing the battery. That's right; the 30- or 37-watt-hour battery is replaceable, a rarity among tablets. It is not hot-swappable.
On the subject of battery life, Venue 11 Pro has plenty of it. Starting with a full charge, we cranked the screen brightness to full on the Core i5-based test unit and played a digital video file from its solid-state drive continuously for five and a half hours. The unit ran for another three hours from the battery inside the optional keyboard (more on that later). During part of that time we windowed the movie to browse the web over and perform other tasks similar to normal use. Recharging is through a small 24-watt adapter with a removable, pivoting plug and USB cable with a micro-USB-style connector at the tablet end. While we like this better than the straight canon plug we've seen on many of Dell's other devices, the jury's still out on whether microUSB will hold up over time. The upside is that a nonproprietary charging cable is easier to replace. When charging, an LED indicates that AC power is present but doesn't reflect charge status.
Physical controls include power and volume buttons, a headset jack, dual mics and speakers and a dedicated "home" button. There's also a single, full-size USB 3.0 port and a microSD card slot that reads SD, SDXC and SDHC formats and will address up to 64 GB. A Mini HDMI port that can drive full HD; the plug adapter is optional. Atom models are available with 32-bit Windows 8.1 running on 2 GB of RAM. Higher-end models come with 64-bit Windows 8.1 on either 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM. For storage, Dell offers models with 32-, 64- and 128-GB of flash-based storage. Hardware options are configured at the factory.
All models also include Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. Dell offers 3G and 4G LTE mobile broadband options (for the U.S. only), and earlier this year introduced a hardware TPM option for added security. Venue 11 Pro includes no sensors for ambient light, movement, orientation or acceleration. Of the two keyboard options, Dell sent the $159-list Tablet Keyboard-Mobile for testing. This is a full-sized keyboard and touchpad with integrated battery that locks onto the tablet and is released by pressing a button. The keyboard is quite comfortable for typing and added more than 50 percent to life on battery in tests but adds close to 2 pounds to the travel weight. There's also an 11-ouuce Tablet Keyboard-Slim with stand that lists for $129.
For a system with an Intel Core i5-4300Y processor and 4 GB RAM, Geekbench performance was a bit of a letdown. A top score on 64-bit Geekbench 2.3 was 5,607 and didn't even get Dell's high-end Venue 11 Pro into CRN Test Center's list of the Top 10 List Performing Laptops and Tablets. When connected to the keyboard, the Venue 11 Pro looks like a laptop but is a bit top-heavy. Despite manually disabling screen dimming in the Power Options Control Panel, Dell's brightness Nazi continued to dim the screen on its own, even when connected to AC power. And the dimmer key dims the screen only a few notches; it does not go all the way to black.
In the end, Dell's Venue 11 Pro is a sturdy, versatile tablet with models, options and accessories enough for most commercial situations and price points. Its replaceable battery will keep units in the field longer and a battery-equipped keyboard option can keep the unit running beyond an 8-hour shift. Shipping since November, Dell's largest tablet with hybrid option starts at $429 with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB of flash storage. Be sure to check out the CRN Test Center's comparison of the Dell Venue 11 Pro vs. Microsoft Surface 2.
PUBLISHED JUNE 12, 2014