Dell’s Venue Pro 11 offers a Surface Pro 2 alternative at a lower price point, but disappoints with sub-par battery life.
Dell Venue Pro 11: On the plus side
The professional Windows 8 tablet space has rather been monopolised by Microsoft’s own Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 tablets, but they’re not the only options if you’re after a more business-centric tablet/laptop hybrid option.
Dell pitches the Venue Pro 11 at the business crowd, with a relatively plain design that doesn’t particularly stand out for good or bad; if you didn’t spot the Windows logo on the side you could easily mistake it for any of a number of Android tablets. It’s solidly built, although not quite as showy as the Surface Pro 2.
The model Dell sent me for evaluation comes with an Intel Core i3-4020Y processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD drive, although as with all things Windows, expect a little less storage space availability in real world usage; my review sample had around 98GB available for user storage.
The Core i3 is a low-end processor — this no doubt helps keep the price down — but the Venue Pro 11 managed perfectly acceptable tablet benchmark scores, managing a score of 1930 in PCMark8’s Home test and 3251 in the Work test. That’s outpaced by the Surface Pro 2 (2963 and 3773 respectively) but should still provide a solid enough working experience.
The Venue Pro 11 also managed to run a couple of 3DMark’s benchmarks to completion, generating scores of 12866 in 3DMark Ice Storm and 1630 in Cloud Gate. Not stellar scores, but then this isn’t a gaming laptop per se.
Windows 8 is copping a lot of criticism for mouse users, and it’s undeniable that the operating system makes a lot more sense in a pure touch environment. The Venue Pro 11, like every other touch enabled Windows device makes the most of the operating system. It’s helped in the Venue Pro 11’s case by its 10.8 inch 1920×1080 IPS Display, which offers excellent visual fidelity.
Dell Venue Pro 11: On the minus side
The one thing that I would have hoped for with the inclusion of a lower power processor would be better battery life, and here the Venue Pro 11 has stiff competition; the relatively similar Surface Pro 2 managed to get six hours and forty eight minutes out of a battery life test looping full screen video with all battery saving measures disabled and screen brightness at maximum. The Dell Venue Pro 11 running the same tests conked out at a much less impressive four hours and fifty one minutes.
It’s deliberately a harsh “worst case” test, so it’s entirely feasible that you could get more battery life out of the Venue Pro 11 — but it’s still not a good overall score, although the fact that the battery is swappable is a nice touch.
The model Dell supplied me with was covered in stickers proclaiming it an engineering sample. I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on things like that, because it’s a tricky slope to judge; quite how much leeway should you give for an early sample if it’s quirky? It’s a trap, because not mentioning issues that may be present in final models doesn’t present the whole picture, but at the same time, pointing out flaws that may have been fixed may also give a false impression.
This much I will say; the model I tested with (and a replacement) had a persistent issue with detecting something being plugged into (and out of) the audio port on a repetitive basis. I certainly hope that’s an engineering quirk, because if I’d paid money for the Venue Pro 11 and it did that, I’d be seeking a refund quite quickly.
Dell Venue Pro 11: Pricing
As with all things Dell, there’s a certain amount of configuration that changes the price of the Venue Pro. The model I tested with was the entry level model which, at the time of writing, would set you back $999 from Dell’s online store; punching up the processor to a Core i5 bumps pricing up to $1,099, and if you want the Core i5 and double the memory, that’ll cost you $1,349.
Dell Venue Pro 11: Fat Duck verdict
The Venue Pro 11 is a solid enough tablet, but it’s ultimately not a terribly competitive one. If you’re keen on a pure touch Windows 8 experience, the Surface Pro 2 is just a touch more expensive (or identical if you can survive on the base model’s 64GB of storage) for what is a more capable tablet.
At the $999 price point, you’re also well into Ultrabook territory these days, with plenty of choices from a variety of manufacturers, including Dell itself.
Being Dell, there’s always the possibility of spot specials and discounts, and if you were keen on the Venue Pro 11, that’s what I’d hold out for. As it stands, I’d buy either a Surface Pro 2 or a full laptop instead.