Tablets for work are almost as popular as tablets for play, so it's no surprise to see Dell at the forefront of this growing market. Its new Venue 11 Pro is a flagship corporate machine, and it's got one of the most versatile designs we've seen from any slate.
We've tested the most expensive Venue 11 Pro, which sports a Core i5-4210Y processor. It's Haswell, which means Intel's newest 22nm architecture, but it's an ultra low-power part – its 1.5GHz stock speed, 1.9GHz Turbo peak and dual-core design aren't exactly inspiring. The Surface Pro 2, which is the Dell's closest rival, deploys a Core i5 chip that's usually found in laptops.
Our sample also comes with 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and 2x2 MIMO dual-band 802.11n wireless, but other Venue 11 Pro tablets include slower processors and smaller batteries.
A £629 (about $849, AU$1132) version makes do with a Core i3 processor, and the cheaper £469 (about $780, AU$844) model drops down to a Bay Trail-based Atom CPU with less memory, a smaller SSD, weaker integrated graphics and a 32-bit OS – but, oddly, it's the only Venue 11 Pro with mobile broadband. The base model costs £449 (about $747, AU$808) and has this lesser specification without that extra networking option, so you're stuck with Wi-Fi.
For starters, this is the only tablet we've seen with a removable rear panel. That means the Venue 11 Pro is instantly more manageable than any other tablet and many laptops and Ultrabooks, too. Behind the panel is a removable battery, and it's also possible to get at the SSD and wireless chip – a feature we've never seen on a tablet.
The rear is made from soft-touch plastic that looks good and feels comfortable, and the rest of the Venue is hewn from magnesium alloy, which means excellent build quality. This is a rare tablet with a full-sized USB 3 port, and it's also got micro-HDMI and microSD slots.
Dell also sells several accessories designed to complement this machine. The most exciting is the Tablet Keyboard, which has a laptop-style typing unit and a second battery that's almost as big as the Venue's main power pack. The cheaper Slim Keyboard mimics Microsoft's Surface Pro 2, which has a similar design with a fabric covering and smaller plastic keys.
A desktop dock adds three USB 3 ports, several display outputs and a Gigabit Ethernet socket, and there's also a Stylus – but that's not yet available in the UK.
The downside of the Dell's versatile design and broad range of accessories is that this is never a slim or light machine no matter how it's configured. When it's used as a tablet this model weighs 772g and is 13mm from front to back, which is heavier than the Nokia Lumia 2520, with only the 910g Surface Pro 2 proving bulkier.
The situation doesn't improve when those accessories are added. The Slim Keyboard only adds a couple of hundred grams and a few millimetres, but the larger Tablet Keyboard brings the total weight and thickness to 1.57kg and 22mm – as much as a bulky Ultrabook.
Performance and verdict
3DMark: Ice Storm: 24,543 Cloud Gate: 2,295 Fire Strike: 223
Cinebench 11.5: CPU: 1.67 GPU: 12.08
Cinebench R15: CPU: 152cb GPU: Wouldn't run
PCMark 8: Home score high performance: 1793 Home score power saver, no GPU: Home battery test, balanced, 75% screen: 3hr 54mins Home battery test, balanced, 75% screen, two batteries: 7hrs 2mins
DiRT 3: Ultra Low, 1,920 x 1,080 17.11fps/21.6fps Ultra Low, 1,366 x 768 24.74fps/31.93fps
The low-power processor limped to scores of 1.67 and 12.08fps in Cinebench's CPU and GPU benchmarks. They're reasonable results considering the modest hardware inside, but it's no match for the Surface: Microsoft's updated tablet scored 2.52 and 20.97fps in the same test.
The Dell's inauspicious processing performance didn't pick up when we ran graphical benchmarks. The Venue rattled through 3D Mark's easiest test, Ice Storm, with a score of 24,543 - but the Surface Pro's more powerful integrated core scored 41,598. The Dell's Cloud Gate score of 2,295 is half the speed of Microsoft's machine and, in the high-end Fire Strike test, the Venue's 223 result was three times slower than its rival.
That means the Venue 11 Pro can only handle modern games at their most basic settings. At 1,920 x 1,080 and set to ultra low quality modest racing title DiRT 3 only averaged 21.6fps; we had to run at 1,366 x 768 to get a playable 31.93fps. Bioshock Infinite, which is more demanding, didn't run at any playable framerates.
It's no speed demon, but the Venue still had enough power to handle plenty of everyday tasks. Tapping the Windows key quickly loaded the Start screen, and its tiles flicked back and forth rapidly - and apps and games in this mode booted swiftly and ran without issues.
Desktop mode was just as fast, and we ran several simple apps without hitting trouble: we wrote this review, had a browser window open alongside Word and played music on Spotify at the same time. The low-power processor hits its limit when tasked with high-end work applications – the only area where the Surface Pro 2 felt noticeably faster.
We ran PC Mark 8's Home battery test in Balanced mode with the Venue's main 36Wh battery and the tablet lasted for 3hrs 54mins. That's a long way behind the Surface Pro, which lasted for almost seven hours. We plugged in the keyboard though, and its 28Wh battery helped: the Venue's revised lifespan of just over seven hours was a little ahead of Microsoft's machine. Bear in mind that the two cheaper Venue 11 models come with a 32Wh battery, so times will be a little down.
The SanDisk SSD's sequential read pace of 427MB/s is excellent, but its write pace of 111MB/s is disappointing. Those inconsistent results didn't hamper loading times, though, and the Venue still booted from cold in an impressive 13s.
The 1,920 x 1,080 screen matches the Surface's resolution, and that means the Venue's 10.8in screen is consistently sharp. It's got great viewing angles and, while it's a glossy panel, we were never distracted by strong reflections.
The Venue's IPS screen backed up its great first impression with superb testing figures. Its measured brightness of 389cd/m2 isn't far enough behind the Surface Pro's quote 400cd/m2 to make any difference, and the Venue's contrast ratio of 994:1 is almost identical to the Microsoft tablet.
The Dell's colour accuracy is fantastic, too, thanks to an average Delta E of 2.39. That's one of the best results we've seen from any tablet, and almost as good as the Surface Pro's 1.56 result. The Venue's colour temperature of 6.793K is excellent, and far better than the Microsoft machine's 7,119K score – the latter figure meant the Surface Pro's panel could feel a little cold.
The Venue's screen displays 96.4% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a handful of red and pink shades falling just short of perfection. It's a fantastic result and, overall, this panel is the match of the Microsoft's screen – and one of the best we've seen on any tablet.
The accessories are a mixed bag. The Tablet Keyboard is excellent: a full-size laptop keyboard with well-spaced keys arranged with a sensible layout, its buttons have plenty of travel and a consistent, responsive action. We've tested laptops that haven't approached this level of quality.
The Slim Keyboard also has plastic keys, which bodes well up against the Surface Pro's fabric-coated equivalent, but it's no better than Microsoft's effort. The Venue's thinner peripheral suffers from a lack of comfort, with less than a millimetre of travel on each key – we wouldn't want to do any serious work using this.
The Dell only falls down in a couple of areas. Its 2MP front camera is only suitable for Skype calls, and the 8mp rear shooter produces shots that are a little too dark for our liking. And, when it comes to audio, there's little to shout about: the Venue's stereo speakers have good volume but tinny high-hats and a muddy mid-range.
Microsoft's Surface Pro impressed thanks to its physical design, processing power and impressive screen, but the Dell Venue fights back with more versatility, its own impressive Full HD panel and enough CPU power to get the job done – as well as a hefty dose of value thanks to its differing specifications.
The second battery pack available in the Venue's optional keyboard adds welcome longevity, and the Venue 11 Pro still works out at good value when compared to the Surface and its equivalent accessory. It's a versatile tablet that'll be at home in the office, but we'd still consider a similarly-sized Ultrabook if a keyboard was crucial.
The Venue 11 Pro is a well-built machine with a good port selection, and this is the only time we've seen a removable rear cover on a tablet, which means a swappable battery as well as access to the SSD and wireless chip – unprecedented access for slates as well as Ultrabooks.
The Full HD screen has the pixels and quality for work tasks, and the Core i5 processor is faster enough too, as long as you're not too demanding. The rest of the specificaton is ample.
Dell's Tablet Keyboard might add a significant amount to the Venue's price, but it's a high-quality accessory with a great keyboard, a similarly impressive touchpad and a second battery – a unit that shoots this machine to the top of our battery life tables.
The Surface Pro still has a better processor and a superior screen to the Dell, and it's a smarter-looking system too thanks to its uniform black design and its sharp lines.
The Venue's slimmer keyboard is poor, but when the more expensive Tablet Keyboard is attached the Venue 11 Pro is bulkier than many Ultrabooks.
And, of course, there's the issue that affects many tablet and hybrid machines – the weight. With its larger keyboard attached, the Venue 11 Pro is just as bulky as many Ultrabooks, and similarly priced. If a keyboard is that important, we'd always recommend buying a dedicated device.
The Dell squares up to the Surface Pro with great versatility, better accessories and a stunning screen, and it's just as good value when bought with its best peripherals. The Surface Pro might be a bit faster, but the Venue has enough power to get the job done – if you need a tablet for work, you won't be disappointed with this.