Dell Venue 11 Pro is a Solid, Capable Tablet-Laptop

The Venue Pro's beautiful HD screen, decent processing power, and good battery life more than compensate for its chubbiness

dell venue 11 pro
Credit: Dell

I’ve had a chance to live with a Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 for three months now, and it’s keeping up -- both as a work machine and as a travel companion. Frankly, I never expected that from a $1,000, hard-sided "2-in-1" (tablet-laptop convertible). 

Here’s what that (roughly) $1,000 will buy: a snappy Intel Core i5 4300Y "Haswell" processor (3MB cache, 1.6GHz dual core), a 10.8-inch IPS 1,920-by-1,080 touchscreen, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD (plus a microSD slot), a swappable (!) 36Wh battery, Windows 8.1 Pro, integrated Intel GT2 graphics, 2x2 MIMO dual-band 802.11n, a substantial magnetically attached keyboard with an additional battery, a 2-megapixel/8-megapixel webcam, a USB 3 slot (yes, USB 3), mini HDMI, NFC, and a sensitive Synaptics stylus. 

Drop down to a Core i3 with no keyboard, and the price dips to less than $800. If you want to limp along with an Atom Z3775 processor, there’s a 64GB version with 2GB of RAM for not quite $500.

Snap the screen onto the well-designed keyboard, and you have an Ultrabook-like combination that’s equally adept at trackpad, stylus, and touch input. Dell also sells various docking stations, but I found that the base unit augmented by a full-size USB keyboard and mouse sufficed for all of the "normal" Windows work I could throw at it.

Throw I did. The full gamut of Office 2013 apps ran without a hiccup as it tackled my everyday workload. 

Working with the 10.8-inch screen took some squinting from time to time, but the accuracy of the trackpad, stylus, and USB mouse proved spot-on with the Windows 8.1 desktop. What surprised me most was the battery life. Using my standard beat-the-hell-out-of-it test, with 70 percent screen brightness, no sound, no Wi-Fi, looping on the Windows 7 wilderness.wmv video, the tablet itself ran for a full 4.5 hours -- an outstanding measure, particularly for the 1,920-by-1,080, full HD resolution on a gorgeous screen. Plug in the keyboard base, which has a second battery, and the movie will play for more than eight hours.

A panel on the back of the tablet pops open (long fingernails help) to reveal a swappable battery and access to the SSD -- remarkable achievements for a 0.4-inch-thick machine and a sure consideration for future-proofing. 

The rock-solid keyboard (eat your heart out, Surface) with the second battery makes for a not-so-svelte package. Put the tablet and keyboard together, and you get an Ultrabook-like weight of 3.46 pounds, with a thickness of less than 0.9 inch. Pop off the tablet and it weighs in at a tidy 1.65 pounds. Compare that to a Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover at 2.4 pounds or a MacBook Air at 2.96 pounds. 

The “enterprise security” part of the equation stems from built-in hardware TPM and the Dell Data Protection Security Tools, which may or may not be a factor in your environment.

I have one beef with the unit I tested. The screen brightness drives me nuts. It's too bright when it should be dim and way too dim when it needs to be bright. I found the cause to be a combination of two "intelligent" settings that aren’t intelligent at all.

The first setting is in Windows. Bring up Control Panel, then Hardware and Sound, then Power Options. Click or tap on the link next to your power plan to Change Plan Settings. Click Change Advanced Power Settings. Down near the bottom of the list, double-click on Display, and turn off Enable Adaptive Brightness for both the battery and plugged-in scenarios. 

Then to completely eliminate the automatic brightness settings, you have to click on the up arrow in the System Tray (lower-right corner, near the time and date). Double-click on the Intel Graphics icon -- it’s the blue one with two monitors on it and a yellow sunburst in the lower-left corner. Choose Graphics Properties, then double-click the Power icon. Click On Battery. At the bottom, where it says Display Power Saving Technology, click to Disable. 

From that point you can adjust the screen brightness manually, my usual Neanderthal mode, by swiping from the right (or bringing up the Charms with a Winkey-C), clicking on Settings, then Screen, and adjusting the brightness slider as you see fit. 

This is a surprisingly good machine, particularly for a stalwart mouser like me. The tiny weight differential didn’t concern me much. I like it almost as much as my MacBook Air, and for Windows-only use or for tablet-mostly use, it’s clearly superior to the Air, especially considering the price difference. 

I can’t wait to see how well it holds up with the new Windows 10 Technology Preview.

This story, "Dell Venue 11 Pro is a Solid, Capable Tablet-Laptop" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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