Dell Venue 11 Pro updated review
Six Month Update
Its rare for us to revisit a review with an update, but our experiences with the Dell Venue 11 Pro have encouraged us to come back with a brief update after extended use. And it's not a positive one.
Over time the tablet has become slow and unstable. The USB port is weak and seems to be very temperamental when charging using the official charger. We've also used the desktop dock and this is just as flaky - the chargers seem to fail to deliver enough power to charge the battery at a sensible rate and more than once we've removed it from the dock after a few days to find only 50% battery due to connectivity issues. It often takes a little shuffle to get the charger or dock to connect.
The rear cover is also flaky - due to battery issues we've had to remove it a few times and it no longer sits flush. The battery issues have meant that we've had to REMOVE the battery completely and reinstall it to get the tablet to start.
Another fatal flaw is the official keyboard dock - the good one with the battery. If you charge that independently of the tablet, the touchpad will fail to work at all. The only way to restore it is to COMPLETELY run down both batteries and then charge via the tablet rather than the keyboard charging port. As note above, charging brings its own set of problems. Right now the keyboard is a useless paperweight as we can't charge it via the tablet and the touchpad has locked out yet again. We're not alone with this - it's a common issue that affects all versions of the keyboard, even on the latest firmware.
There have been a huge number of slow-downs needing a forced restart too. All in all, what were initially little quibbles have become deterrents to the point that the Dell Venue 11 Pro is effectively useless to us. We really don't recommend it - which is a shame, as when it works as it should it is a cracking piece of kit.
Windows 8 continues to struggle in terms of market share - Microsoft's attempt at bringing together tablets and PCs under one OS has faced criticism from both sides of the fence. The touch-driven interface sits at odds with mouse control while the lack of apps means that the tablet side of the equation doesn't really offer a viable alternative to the iPad and Android devices.
It's actually a shame - as a tablet OS, Windows 8 and 8.1 are good. The live tiles of the 'Metro' interfaces work really well and their chunky nature works really well under finger control. Unfortunately, the Windows Desktop really doesn't work well under touch.
One of the most recent devices to try to take advantage of all of Windows 8's best features is the Dell Venue 11 Pro - a 10.8" Windows 8 tablet that is sold with optional keyboards and docks that can turn it into a viable notebook OR even desktop PC. Impressive stuff if it works, let's find out if it does.
The model on test here is the Core i5 Haswell powered tablet. It comes with 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD - spec wise its on a par of my main Windows laptop. The 10.8" screen offers a nice and sharp 1920x1080 display (full 1080p HD) and is, as you'd expect of a tablet very glossy. These specs mean that the Venue 11 Pro is a weighty beast - heavier than any other 10 inch tablet I've used. There is a less powerful Atom version of the tablet which is reportedly lighter, on a par with the original iPad, but this particular one is a chunky 800g. The heft makes one handed use uncomfortable after a while, but it's rare that a tablet of this size would be used that way without additional support anyway.
One nice thing about the i5 version of the device is that you can actually remove the back and swap out the battery along with a couple of other pieces of hardware. You don't have the option to increase the RAM unfortunately - this is something that would have been a killer feature!
In all, its a well built thing. One reservation we have is the removable back has partially unclipped in our bag a couple of times. This indicates that the fit isn't quite as secure as we'd have liked.
As a tablet it works pretty well. It's nippy (think good laptop performance!) and we really like the concept of the Windows touch interface. Unfortunately we've had a few issues - occasionally the touch screen becomes unresponsive or inaccurate (typing on the onscreen keyboard is frustrating at times) and we've had occasional pauses. Interestingly both of these issues only seem to be a problem when running on battery and we've had no such issues when connected to the mains. HOWEVER, this is a tablet - it shouldn't need to be connected to a power source in this form factor and the supplied micro USB cable is short.
The speakers are good - better than any other tablet we've heard. Our review model had a little bit of vibration/distortion at maximum volume that was distracting but it is surprisingly loud at maximum volume and turning it down a nudge resolved this problem.
The screen is gorgeous when on power, but we've struggled with brightness issues on battery - even if we set the brightness slider to maximum it's just a bit dull. Plug it in and you can see its true potential. The 1080p display lends itself to video playback and full HD video looks STUNNING.
One thing we weren't so keen on was the noisy fan - it's not permanent, but when it kicks in it is really distracting and makes you realise what you're using is actually a laptop in a tablet form factor and NOT a dedicated mobile tablet device.
We've managed about 4-5 hours of solid use between charges with the standalone tablet. When using the option mini keyboard (not the slim one), we've seen over 10 hours. The former isn't amazing for a tablet, but the latter is brilliant - even in comparison to note/ultrabooks.
The mini keyboard is actually the Venue 11 Pro's masterstroke. It isn't cheap, but it turns the OK tablet into a really good 10.8 inch notebook. The keyboard is comfortable to use and its only let down by a very average trackpad. This whole review was written on the Venue 11 Pro with the mini keyboard - so it's clear that it's perfect for day to day use. We'd go as far as say the keyboard is an essential addition and Dell should include it as standard. The only other thing we'd have liked is more in the way of USB connectivity in the keyboard as one USB output on the whole lot is a little lacking.
We haven't been able to try the slim keyboard, but reports suggest it isn't quite as good a device in terms of functionality or comfort AND it doesn't include the extra battery.
There is a separate desktop dock that adds more USB connections and a full size HDMI socket to connect to an external monitor. We haven't tried this out, but expect, given the quality of the mini keyboard that it'll be an excellent idea and turns the Venue 11 Pro into a powerful business device.
As a laptop/desktop alternative the Dell Venue Pro 11 is excellent, as a tablet it's not quite as impressive but the fact that you have one device with all three functions means we can almost overlook this. It's not an iPad killer as a tablet - far from it, but having a full PC at your fingertips is a powerful feeling! We just with that Windows was a bit better at being a jack of all trades - hopefully Windows 9 will address a lot of the issues it has.