It's often said that that you shouldn't mix business with pleasure. If that's the case, someone needs to tell the folks at Dell, because the high-end business-focused Venue 11 Pro tablet is a joy to use. We already knew its specs looked impressive, but after testing it, we didn't want to give it back.
At the launch of the Venue 11 Pro, Dell said, "Dell Venue tablets are designed to give people on-the-go a wide selection of sizes and options to meet their varying needs." That's about as understated as you can get.
You can assume that, for the most part, the "on-the-go people" to which Dell refers are business-people and the selection of peripherals that is touted with Venue 11 Pro satisfies both the company's statement and any business-person's requirements. A pen-like stylus is offered for note-taking, there's a simple dock for standing the tablet upright, and two different types of keyboard suited to use either in the office or while traveling.
Once you really get stuck into day-to-day use of the Venue 11 Pro, however, it becomes apparent that this is much more than just a device for checking your emails when you're out of the office. It's versatile, powerful, fast, looks great, sounds great and, right now, can be bought for a good deal less than a Surface Pro 2, or a comparable iPad Air.
Look and feel
The Venue 11 Pro packs a fair punch and so it's a fairly weighty piece of kit. The Intel Core i5 model I was testing tips the scales at 0.79 kg (1.7 lb), although the less powerful, Atom processor version is a touch lighter. At 11.73 x 6.97 x 0.4 in (29.8 x 17.7 x 1 cm), it's slightly larger than the Surface Pro 2.
Despite the chunky feel, there's a real sense of build quality about the Venue 11 Pro. The rear cover is easy to remove and doesn't feel too plasticy, and the power and volume buttons feel solid. At times I thought the power button was a little unresponsive and sometimes the device wouldn't stay in sleep mode if it was being handled, but with a cover that wouldn't be an issue.
Once the Venue 11 Pro is connected to the bigger of the two detachable keyboards that are available it feels much like using a small laptop. In fact, the size is the only real giveaway. I'd say that the smaller keyboard and screen necessitated by a tablet like this make it a little impractical for use as a main computer, although that's speaking as someone who likes a spacious keyboard and two sizable screens to work on where possible.
Although it has its detractors, Windows 8.1 works well on tablets and the same applies here. The versatility that it provides in comparison to iOS makes it ideal for both work and entertainment purposes. Were the screen a touch larger, the Venue Pro 11 would feel like a seamless replacement for a laptop. In one respect it feels like tablets like this are just short of replacing laptops and in another, it feels like they already have far more to offer.
Perhaps my biggest qualm was that the touch screen kept disabling itself when I disconnected a keyboard. I'm certain that the solution is just a Windows, Dell or driver update, but for the life of me I couldn't find how to correct it.
Performance and battery life
The Intel Core i5 processor in our review unit (i5-4300Y), with support from 4 GB of DDR3 RAM and 128 GB SSD, made the device a pleasure to use for day-to-day tasks. It boots up in a matter of seconds, loads from sleep nigh on instantly and handles programs like Office comfortably. Anyone used to a really high-end laptop or a powerful desktop by today's standards may notice a touch of lag when opening programs, but it's nothing significant and even weightier programs like Spotify load up promptly.
Dell promises 8-10 hours of battery life for the Venue 11 Pro, which, with a variety of programs running and constant switching between videos and music. I got a little less than that, but for more business-focused activities it will surely have no problem with meeting those claims. What's more, the larger of the two keyboard can be charged to act as a secondary battery and will add another 3-4 hours of use.
Screen and audio
So far, so good, albeit not spectacular. But for my money, that all changes here. The Venue 11 Pro has a 10.8 in Full HD (1920 x 1080) display, which is, frankly, a joy to behold. I was testing the Toshiba Kira Ultrabook at the same time as the Venue 11 Pro and, while the Kira's 2560 x 1440 display was obviously sharper and crisper, the screen on the Dell tablet looked richer, with deeper colors. HD movies look stunning and it's a bit of a shame there isn't more screen to enjoy them on.
What's more, the Venue 11 Pro has some of the best in-built speakers I've come across in comparable devices. Once again it outgunned the Kira Ultrabook, which is nearly double the price. That's remarkable.
Of course, as a tablet, it's not going to rock the foundations of your home, but where such devices often fall down is their insipid bass frequencies, but the Venue 11 Pro actually had something good to offer here. Similarly, the mid-range and high-end frequencies sounded richer than most and were very listenable. I was more than happy to listen to music over the Dell's built-in speakers, something I can rarely say about a device.
Dell has put together an outstanding piece of kit here. The recommended UK retail price of £790 (US$1,049.99 in the US) for the i5-powered version, which is more expensive than both the Surface Pro 2 and comparable iPads.
If you're looking for a device with which you can breeze through work without compromising on multimedia playback support then this has to be right up there. The prospect of Dell following up the Venue 11 Pro with any significant upgrades is mouthwatering.