First impressions: Dell Venue Pro 11 (Atom)
It has taken some time, but I'm pleased to have finally gotten my hands on a shiny new Atom-powered Venue Pro 11 from Dell. Their new line-up of tablets have come to market only fairly recently and offer an alternative to Microsoft's pricey Surface offering. As the title suggests, this is not a full review. Having had the device for only a few days it would be unfair to provide a full review at this point in time. Instead, I'll just cover off a few things I've noticed so far.
Out of the box
Dell package the Venue in a simple brown box complete with micro-USB cable, charging brick and the obligatory documentation (warranty, quickstart, etc).
Once the clear wrapping has been removed you're presented with a fairly basic, unassuming tablet. There are no defining features. Nothing sets it apart from any other Windows tab I've seen visually. A quick press of the power button and the well-known Dell logo pops up as it boots.
The Venue Pro 11 boasts a fantastically clear and crisp full HD (1080p) 10.8" screen, stereo speakers situated on either side of the tablet, a mini-HDMI port, a microSD slot for expansion of up to 64GB, both a micro-USB and full-size USB3 port and - incredibly - a fully serviceable, removable battery!
The removable battery in particular is the first I've seen in a tablet and immediately impressed me. A fully serviceable battery is an insanely useful feature meaning quick and easy battery swaps if the current battery runs out or fails completely. Given the Venue is promoted just as much for the business market as it is for consumers I believe this gives Dell an advantage over other manufacturers. After a year of continuous usage a quick and simple battery refresh can be all that's needed to keep the device in tip-top condition, not to mention the obvious advantages to having spare batteries for those who spend a lot of time out on the road.
For the 3G variant, the SIM slot is accessible once the battery is removed. There's an 8MP camera on the back and 2MP on the front. Both take decent pictures. Of course as with most Windows tablets on the market, the Windows "start" button is situated on the front of the device under the screen.
All of this hardware is packed into a solid case which feels nice to the touch and quite durable. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure it'd fare rather poorly in a fall but in comparison to tablets such as the Galaxy Note it feels really nice, solid and built with quality materials.
The model I'm using runs on a Quad-core Intel Atom, 2GB of RAM and 64GB storage. Other models allow up to Intel i5 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Out of the box my model was running Windows 8.1 Pro (full Windows 8, this isn't an RT version), Obviously as it's a Windows device the first hour or so was spent allowing the device to become fully updated, but after that (and several reboots) it was ready to go.
Unlike RT, the only Office available on the device was a trial awaiting a serial in order to unlock Office functionality. Fortunately for me, I have an active Office 365 subscription which allowed me to use Office for the purpose of the evaluation. There are several Dell utilities bundled with the tablet as is to be expected, but I'm pleased to see "bloatware" is almost non-existent.
Overall the device feels smooth, snappy and responsive. I have however hit a few snags along the way which I'll mention below.
Generally my biggest qualm with the device is how impractically small things appear to be on-screen, especially in "Desktop" mode. I've done a little experimenting with DPI, text size, etc but if anything the experience worsens as applications are "blown up" beyond their limit and become a little blurred to the eye. It's certainly nice to have a high-def screen, but you certainly pay when it comes to non-touch UI interfaces.
Aside from that I'm finding Windows 8.1 on this device, as it has arrived from factory, to be rather unstable. Since Friday (28th, 3 days ago) the device has blue-screened on me 3 times. At least once within the mail app and once after installing and switching between a few apps in quick succession. Additionally I'm finding that occasionally I have to tap the screen repeatedly in order for it to register my actions. For a brand new device with very little modification from the state it was out of the box, I don't expect this sort of behaviour.
So far I've consistently managed to get around and over 4.5 hours of usage per charge. I'm not attempting to save battery at all and do allow it to run a slideshow screensaver. Leaving the device idle for extended periods of time improves battery life considerably.
Take this with a pinch of salt for now as it's still very early days and I'm yet to really get a feel for the battery life over-all.
I've talked above about the removable battery - it's a great idea. My concern however is the cover for the rear compartment. I've removed this cover just a handful of times and can already see it's loosening up and no longer sitting flush with the frame in some areas. This is something I saw also with a pre-production model a few weeks back but had put that down to the fact it wasn't ready for prime-time. Seeing the same behaviour on a consumer device is a little disappointing.
To reiterate, this is only a conclusion of my initial thoughts on the device having used it for only a few days, but this is what I've found:
- Decent battery life
- Clear, crisp display (it really is gorgeous!)
- Light and portable, mostly well-built and feels durable.
- Snappy and responsive
- Affordable compared to Microsoft's Surface
- The rear panel feels cheap and appears to warp easily
- Windows 8.1 isn't overly stable (I'm hoping this will rectify itself once I wipe it)
- Occasionally difficult to register touches on the screen
- Desktop mode and some applications are far too small on the HD screen.
- The tablet gets very hot under relatively normal use occasionally
- Office doesn't come with the device
Thanks very much for stopping by and feel free to pop back for the full review in a few weeks. Do you have a Venue Pro 11? What do you think of it?
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