When it debuted last year, the Atom-powered Venue 11 Pro impressed with strong battery life, a great 1080p display, and adequate performance to get most business tasks done. The pricier Intel Core i5 model in comparison was lackluster with weaker stamina and a chunkier body that housed a loud whirling fan. This year, the Venue 11 Pro 7000 joins the series, balancing portability and performance with Intel's Broadwell-based Core M processor at an entry price of $700 (£437 and AU$800).
Retaining the same form factor as last year, most of the improvements to the Venue 11 Pro 7000 are found under the hood. Dell is iterating on the success of the Venue 11 Pro series, and the evolutionary changes are akin to what Microsoft made when it transitioned from the Surface Pro to the Surface Pro 2. With the Core M processor delivering mainstream performance in a low-powered package, the Venue 11 Pro 7000 series combines the best of both the Atom and the Core i5 model.
For those who do not require an active stylus, the iPad Air 2 with third-party keyboard covers is also a great choice for mobile executives given its strong battery life and robust ecosystem of apps.
Thanks to the Intel Core M 5Y71 CPU's low thermal design, the 7000 series is able to shed the girth and heft from the Core i5. The chip's better heat management means that the Venue 11 Pro 7000 no longer needs extra space for a fan and Dell was able to reduce some of the thickness from the Core i5 model.
Weighing in at 1.6 pounds (0.72kg) and measuring 11.01 X 6.95 X 0.42 inches (27.97 X 17.65 X 1.07 cm), the 7000 shares the same weight and dimensions as the Atom model, and the overall design is relatively unchanged from last year.
Compared to the iPad Air 2's 0.96-pound (437g) weight and 9.4 X 6.67 X 0.24-inch size, the Venue 11 Pro 7000 is not only bigger, but comes in at nearly double the heft of Apple's tablet. The Dell weighs nearly as much as the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, though Samsung's tablet gives you a much larger display and the 1.66-pound Surface Pro 3 feels a lot more premium with a multi-angle kickstand and all-metal construction.
Both the Atom and the Core M Venue 11 Pro models share the same soft-touch black plastic construction, magnesium sides, and a 10.8-inch full HD display on the front. Thanks to a consistency in design, tablet accessories purchased from last year, like the two keyboard dock options, digital stylus, and the optional desktop dock accessories, will continue to work on the 7000 series. IT departments can upgrade the tablet without having to re-purchase the optional accessories.
Despite the dense build and having a solid weight, the soft-touch finish attracts dirt and grease, making the tablet feel cheap and marring the clean design. After the Venue 11 Pro is deployed in the field for a day, the dirt and grime on the soft-touch finish, combined with fingerprints trapped on the glass display, gives the tablet an aged look, especially when compared to the clean all-metal and angular design of the competing Surface Pro 2.
Despite the choice of materials, the Venue 11 Pro 7000 is a well-constructed machine. When using the system as a laptop with the optional keyboard dock, the tablet slid off my lap and landed back-first on my carpeted floors from a height of approximately three feet and survived unscathed.
Moving to this year's model, Dell made one change that makes the tablet less appealing to mobile workers. The rear panel is no longer removable; now you cannot swap a dead battery in the field with a fresh spare if more power is needed.
To increase the Venue 11 Pro's versatility, the keyboard dock accessory gives users access to a mini clickable trackpad and full-sized physical keys, but at the cost of reduced key spacing to fit the small profile. Key travel on the laptop dock accessory is good.
Power users will appreciate the addition of a spare battery inside the keyboard dock that almost doubles the Venue 11 Pro's run time. However, despite its added weight to the overall package of the Venue 11 Pro, the keyboard dock does not provide for any additional ports nor does it come with backlighting to see the keys in a dark room.
All of the inputs are found on the left and right sides of the Venue 11 Pro. If you're looking at a single computing device that can convert between tablet, desktop, and laptop, you'll likely want to invest in either a desktop dock or a USB hub, as the number of ports remain limited. The Venue 11 Pro gives you a micro HDMI port, full-sized USB 3.0, micro USB for charging, a Kensington lock port, headphone jack, and sealed micro SD card slot.
The sealed SD card slot helps to keep the Venue 11 Pro 7000 more durable against accidental spills and it's far easier to access than the locked SD card slot on last year's Venue 11 Pro series, requiring a small pin to pop out the SD tray.
There are also side-oriented stereo speakers. For a business-class convertible, the speakers pump out ample sound, and at higher volumes there is minimal distortion.
Thankfully, it appears that Dell has resolved the weak spot from last year's Venue 11 Pro by reinforcing the micro USB charging port so it doesn't break, an issue found on early Atom-powered Venue 11 Pros that prevented proper charging.
An issue we continue to experience with the tablet this year is that sometimes it does not go to sleep properly when you close the laptop lid when docked to the keyboard. When we stowed the tablet inside a briefcase or bag, the tablet continued to run and exhaust the battery and overheated. When this happens, the tablet has to cool down before it will accept a charge, making it unusable for thirty minutes or so.
It's unclear if this is a software issue, or if the power button on the side of the tablet is being inadvertently activated in a briefcase that prevents the tablet from sleeping properly. This has occurred twice in the week we've had the Venue 11 Pro 7000.
Specs and performance
The Venue 11 Pro 7000 competes most closely against Microsoft's Surface Pro series in form factor, but with added features that make it attractive for business adoption. With its enterprise focus, the Venue 11 Pro comes with security features such as Dell encryption, a TPM module, and certification to meet FIPS and HIPAA requirements, making it suitable for use in government and healthcare industries.
Running the full version of Windows 8 (upgradeable to Windows 8.1 and later Windows 10), the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 has an optional Slim Keyboard Cover, similar to the Surface Pro's Touch Cover. Though the Slim Keyboard Cover has physical keys unlike the capacitive touch-based Microsoft cover, the keys do not have much travel so they don't move as far in as a laptop or desktop keyboard.
A second travel keyboard dock is also available for the Dell tablet with full-sized chiclet keys but with reduced spacing between each key. The travel keyboard feels more like a laptop keyboard and packs in a secondary battery.
Other accessories include an optional stylus using technology from Synaptics for digital inking, and a desktop dock lets you connect more USB peripherals like keyboard, mouse, and hard drives, along with an HDMI-powered display, to turn the Venue 11 Pro into a desktop.
The versatility in form factors makes the Venue 11 Pro an appealing option to enterprise users who prefer to carry one computing device. Unlike having separate devices, you won't have to manage, transfer, or synchronize files between your tablet, laptop, and desktop.
Processor: Intel Core M-5Y71 vPro
Display: 10.8-inch FHD 1920 X 1080 IPS display with 400 nits brightness
Memory: 8 GB
GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5300
Storage: 128 GB SSD
Wireless: Intel 7265 dual-band 2X2 802.11 ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 2-megapixel webcam; 8-megapixel rear camera
Ports: USB 3.0 full size,micro HDMI, BT 4.0, micro SD card slot
Weight: 1.6 pounds (0.72kg)
Size: 11.01 x 6.95 x .42 inches (27.97 X 17.65 X 1.07 cm)
The Venue 11 Pro fluidly handles most computing tasks you throw at it. Opening documents, editing spreadsheets, checking email, browsing the web, and making Skype calls feel snappier than the Atom version. The Core M processor and updated Intel HD Graphics 5300 provide enough horsepower to do light video work and quick Photoshop edits.
Given its powerful performance, the compact 11-inch form factor is as much a liability as it is a benefit. The Venue 11 Pro 7000's small stature means that it could fit comfortably on an airplane tray table, even if the person in front reclines their seat, and its compact size makes it easily portable.
However, the small size makes it feel cramped when you're juggling two windows or more at the same time.
When I had a Word document open to type this review and Internet Explorer to research Dell's website, I found myself switching between the two tasks rather than having two windows open side-by-side. If you're at a desk, you'll likely want to connect an external display, keyboard, and mouse to make things more comfortable.
In tablet mode, the 16:9 aspect display feels too narrow when trying to read a digital PDF or magazine. Inking on the tablet also feels cramped in portrait. If you're taking notes using a digital stylus in the same portrait orientation, the page width could feel constrained as well.
When paired to the optional keyboard dock that transforms the Venue 11 Pro into a notebook, the laptop's display doesn't recline far enough back. In laptop mode, the Venue 11 Pro's angle of recline doesn't go as far back as the second stage hinge on the Surface Pro 2, meaning that the screen is more upright on the Dell.
The limited angle of tilt creates poor ergonomics. Rather than tilting your neck slightly downward to look at a more opened clamshell display on your lap, you're instead looking down into the screen. This requires your neck to be tucked down further, and after a few hours of using the Venue 11 Pro as a laptop, my neck experienced more strain than using a device like the MacBook Air 11 or the Dell XPS 13.
The saving grace of the limited screen recline is the IPS display. Even though you may be looking down into the laptop, rather than directly at the screen, you'll still be able to see the content on your display thanks to the wide viewing angles of an IPS screen.
Also, the display comes in a bit brighter than both models last year. Whereas the Atom Venue 11 Pro has a 150-nit display brightness, the Core M model comes with a 400-nit display. Confusingly, you'll have to adjust the brightness on Windows 8 in two different areas to avoid Windows' aggressive auto brightness adjustments.
First, you'll want to swipe from the right panel to activate the Charms menu, go to Settings, and then choose Change PC Settings. After that, you'll go into the PC and Devices menu and go to Power and Sleep where you'll turn off the auto brightness adjustment. After adjusting this setting, you should have better control over brightness adjustments.
3D Mark: Cloud Gate: 3706; Sky Driver: 1862; Fire Strike: 512
PCMark 8 Home Test: 3.0, 2141; PCMark 8 Business Test: 2.0, 2634
PCMark Battery Life: 4:01
Cinebench: OpenGL: 21.46 fps, double the performance of the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU of a comparable Core i5 model. CPU: 182 cb, just slightly slower than an Intel Core i5-3317U processor
The Venue 11 Pro 7000 performs somewhere between last year's Atom processor and the Core i5 model, and it shows in both the processor tests as well as battery life.
Though the Venue 11 Pro 7000 readily bests the i5 in the graphics department thanks to Intel's newer integrated HD Graphics 5300, CPU performance is slightly worse than that of the i5 and much improved over the Atom model.
The improved performance over the Atom-powered Venue 11 Pro is reflected in the device's battery life. I get between seven and eight hours of computing time on the power-conservative Atom model with the screen brightness set to medium; this year's more agile tablet comes in at just 4:01 using PCMark's battery test. Battery performance is far short of the approximately ten hours you get on leading consumer tablets like Apple's iPad Air and the Wacom digitizer-equipped Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.
In real world performance using the browser, email, and opening documents and spreadsheets, I averaged around four to five hours before depleting the battery, and I got between three to four extra hours using the Venue 11 Pro 7000 with the keyboard dock that houses a secondary battery. For comparison, I squeezed between five to seven hours in real world usage on a Surface Pro 2 and about three to four hours on a Core i5 Venue 11 Pro.
Fortunately, the Venue 11 Pro 7000 doesn't come pre-loaded with bloatware. Users can install the software they need right out of the box without having to spend time uninstalling unnecessary software or be left with annoying antivirus software subscription popup notices.
The Venue 11 Pro comes with a trial for Microsoft Office along with a suite of MSN Modern apps, including Money to track your stocks, Health and Fitness for the latest diet and exercise tips, Travel for inspiration for your next vacation, Food and Drink for recipe recommendations and restaurant reviews, Sports for the latest team scores and news, News, and Weather.
OneNote is also included and should work with an optional Dell Active Stylus.
Business users will find Skype preinstalled along with a simple Mail client and People app for contacts.
The Venue 11 Pro 7000 offers a lot of power in a compact and portable form factor. The 10.8-inch IPS screen with full HD resolution is quite good, and on maximum brightness it is even usable outdoors.
Dell offers a number of different optional accessories that extends the utility of the tablet. Two separate keyboard docks, a desktop dock, and special cases for healthcare and a retail case to swipe credit cards show that Dell is targeting enterprise and vertical markets.
In daily use, the Venue 11 Pro could become a relatively affordable tablet that replaces a laptop, tablet, and desktop and allows enterprises to focus on the task at hand rather than having to manage files, synchronize documents, and track changes to files if they were to use different computing devices.
While the Venue 11 Pro delivers great performance in both tablet and laptop mode, usage as a tablet, especially when the Pro 11 is held in portrait orientation is a little awkward. Because of the 16:9 aspect ratio, portrait orientation made the tablet a little too long to be comfortable. In this view, reading letter-sized PDFs, magazines, and digital books left black letterboxing at the top and bottom of the screen.
Additionally, the 10.8-inch display feels a lot more cramped than the 12.2-inch 3:2 aspect ratio of the newer Surface Pro 3. Personally, I wish Dell had gone with a larger screen and with either the Surface pro 3's 3:2 or the iPad Air's 4:3 aspect ratio, which feels more comfortable to ink on.
With the 16:9 aspect ratio in portrait, I felt like I was quickly running out of line space and had to shift to a new line every time I inked with a Stylus whereas the 4:3 and 3:2 ratios feel more akin to writing on letter paper.
At the $700 (£437 and AU$800) entry price, the Venue Pro 7000 offers a nice balance of performance and portability in a travel-friendly size. However, unless you find yourself accessing CPU and GPU taxing apps, you might find more value in an Atom-based convertible. Going with Atom will lower your cost and give you better battery life.
For those who need power and performance, the confines of a 10.8-inch display may be too rigid to maximize productivity. Opening more than a few tabs or windows on the small display will trigger claustrophobia. If you need to be more productive, there are bigger convertible options, like the Surface Pro 3, to choose from that may fit that need better.