Final thoughts: Dell Venue Pro 11 (Atom)
This is a continuation of my previous post First impressions: Dell Venue Pro 11 (Atom) where I covered a lot of the basics around the Dell Venue Pro 11.
The Venue Pro 11 is a generally well built*, good sized tablet for the price. When it behaves it provides an experience not too dissimilar to the more expensive Surface Pro, but overall it feels as though it lacks the final thought and polish of a true Surface competitor.
*Plastic panel excluded.
From first impressions to final impressions
If you read First impressions: Dell Venue Pro 11 (Atom), you'll recall I provided pros and cons as follows:
- 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
After writing the previous post, I decided to completely reset the tablet due to the bluescreen issues as well as a few other niggles I was experiencing. That's typically not something I'd expect to have to do on a new device but never-the-less once it completed I noticed the following improvements:
- The tablet isn't getting as warm now as it was for the first week or so.
- After several updates the screen became more responsive (but it still isn't perfect).
- BSODs have reduced from 1-2 a day to a few per week (still unacceptable).
- Battery life has improved considerably.
At the time of writing my initial thoughts on the Venue, I was almost entirely reliant on 3G. Since I was out of the country I didn't have my typical office/home WIFI networks and this obviously impacted the battery life. That 4.5 - 5 hours I was getting initially appeared to improve after resetting the device to nearer 6-7 hours over 3G. I think that's pretty impressive. Back home on WIFI with more sporadic use (as it was no longer my only device) it could go 1-2 days before needing to charge. Overall I'm far more impressed with the battery life now than I was at first.
I've also found the screen responsiveness has improved, although there are still instances where it takes a few taps to get it to register input. Additionally I've noticed occasional screen flicker, especially on darker colours. Both of these I'm putting down to software bugs for now given that neither are consistent.
For the most-part the tablet has worked well for me. A stark contrast to the 17" HP I usually dock on my desk at work, the Venue gave me a quick, light and portable device to take into meetings, present content, take notes and more. Having it synced up with my Office 365 account meant all of my documents were available on both devices so switching back and forth was impossibly simple.
Dell has gone all-out on accessories for their Venue line. With my Venue I received a Dock, a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and a Dell Keyboard Slim comparable to that of the Surface Type Cover.
The dock allows for connection of external monitors and peripherals, a simple way of turning the tablet into an enterprise-grade desktop computer in but a few moments. Admittedly I didn't take full advantage of the dock as I already have a laptop and dock for work. Setting up the Venue for access to the corporate network seemed like more hassle than it was worth given the limited time I had with it.
When it works, the Dell Keyboard Slim is a great accessory for allowing typing on the go. Unlike the larger version of this keyboard, there's no battery integrated to keep it as light and travel-friendly as possible. It's a little difficult to type with at first given there's almost no travel in the keys, but after a while you get used to it. In order to use the keyboard you must dock the tablet into it. Powerful magnets take care of all of this, launching the connections towards the tablet as soon as it gets close enough to do so. With the keyboard there is also an extra flap that extends out behind the tablet and folds into a stand to keep it upright as you type. The viewing angle is great for typing.
Now I said when it works. I found the Slim often completely stopped working at random intervals - no keyboard or touchpad input what-so-ever. Disconnecting and reconnecting it did not always resolve the problem and often the solution was either to wait for it to come back to life or reboot the Venue. Several times during moments where I'd purposefully sat down to type out a blog post or other document (including this one!) I was forced to switch to another device or reboot; neither options were particularly pleasing.
That isn't the only issue however. The keyboard randomly and repeatedly inserts extra characters and spaces as I type meaning I'm constantly - even as I sit here now - going back and forth, removing rogue characters in sentences. Here's an unedited example:
Thee quick brown fox jumped over thhe lazy dog to catch the rabbit in the field. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog to catcch the rabbit in the field. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog to catch the rabbit in the field. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy ddog to catch the rabbit in the field.
It's hardly the end of the world, but it can be quite irritating when composing quite a long document or blog post. Thankfully Windows autocorrects a lot of this as I go (but if you notice any extra spaces or characters that I haven't corrected, you know why!)
Oh, and the Dell Bluetooth keyboard? Well unfortunately it didn't want to play nice with the Venue. I've tried it with other devices though and it feels and works really well. My only complaint with it is the layout. Due to the compact nature of the device, Dell have chosen to require the use of the Fn. key in order to type =, +, ', -, etc. It's easy enough to become accustomed to, but it takes a little while.
Of the two keyboards I tried, given the option I'd choose the Bluetooth keyboard. Ultimately though the full-size keyboard with an extra battery (the one I wasn't sent, but tried a few months back on a pre-production model) looks the best. Sure it's a little more bulky, but the folding dock mechanism and extra key travel gives it more of a laptop-feel - exactly how I want the tablet to feel when I attach a keyboard.
Between the difficulties I've had with the random and repetitive bluescreens, the sometimes unresponsive and occasionally flickering screen and the somewhat unreliable accessories, I've found myself often looking for almost any other device lying around to get on with what I'm doing.
The Venue has a lot of potential once the niggles are worked out and given the model I have appears to have been in one of the first batches off the line, I fully expect the device to improve over the coming months.
I've been looking forward to getting my hands on the Venue for quite a while and almost completely expected it to be a 5* device. Having spent a considerable amount of time using (and arguing with) it over the last few months however, I wouldn't now give it anything more than 3* and I definitely wouldn't buy one for myself until I know it works properly.
That said, please keep working on this one Dell. I think you'll soon be on to a winner.
Do you have a Venue Pro 11? Are you thinking of getting one? Are your own experiences completely different to mine (and I hope they are)? Leave a comment below or hop on over to Google+ to join in on the conversation.
NB: If you're interested in the smaller Venue Pro 8, keep an eye out on my upcoming (substantially more positive!) review of that tablet in the next few weeks.