If you were wondering what an Atom-based Surface might look like, look no further than the Dell Venue 11 Pro: This 11-inch 2-in-1 tablet provides the desktop application compatibility that Surface 2/RT lacks along with a pleasing array of useful ports. I'll need a few more weeks of use to know for sure, but the first impressions here are decidedly positive.
Given the starting price of this device--$499, or about $50 more than a base (32 GB) Surface 2, and $50 cheaper than a comparable (64 GB) Surface 2—some obvious comparisons are warranted. Will this device's desktop application and driver compatibility put it over the top? I think so ... Assuming the battery life and performance is comparable. Dell rates the Venue 11 Pro at "up to 10 hours of battery life," exactly the same as the claimed battery life of Surface 2. So I'll be doing head-to-head comparisons of both battery life and performance.
Until then, here are some specs and some immediately obvious observations.
Processor. The view unit I received comes with an Intel Atom Z3770 CPU running at 1.46 GHz.
RAM. The Dell ships with 2 GB of RAM, as is common on entry-level Windows tablets and 2-in-1s.
Storage. My review unit is the base version and ships with 64 GB of SSD-type storage, which is the only option with the Atom processor.
Screen. The Venue 11 Pro's screen is a stunner: It's technically 10.8 inches diagonally, utilizes a crisp 1920 x 1080 resolution, and has 10 touch points. As it did with the Venue 8 Pro, Dell ships this device with the screen on auto-brightness, which detracts from the view: Turn that off and—bam!—it's absolutely gorgeous and appears to be even brighter than the Surface 2.
Battery. The Dell Venue 11 Pro battery is a 3-cell unit and, as noted previously, is rated for up to 10 hours of life. But get this ...it's swappable! You can remove the back cover and replace the battery whenever you want. As important, this raises the possibility of more powerful battery options, too. (If you get a Dell keyboard, noted below, that provides a second battery, too.)
Other configurations. If you like the design of the Dell Venue 11 Pro—understandable—but want something more powerful, Dell offers Intel Core i3- ($800 and up) and i5-based ($850 and up) versions too. These versions also come with more RAM (4 GB), better graphics (Intel GT2) and more storage (128 GB).
Ports and such. The lack of reasonable ports is one of the disappointments of the first round of Windows 8.1 mini-tablets, but as a full-sized tablet, the Dell Venue 11 Pro does not suffer from this issue. It features one USB 3.0 port (no dongles required), 1 mini-HDMI (for video-out), a micro-SD card reader, and a proprietary keyboard connector (which isn't found on the Dell Venue 8 Pro). It also includes dual cameras (2 MP HD up front and 8 MP on back), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Miracast compatibility (for wireless video-out).
Kickstand. If Surface has colored my perception of tablets in any way, it's the kickstand: I love having one, and miss it when it's not there. Yes, many would simply use a keyboard or dock in lieu of a kickstand, but those devices are extra cost, take up space, and lack the simplicity and elegance of having such a thing built-in. Every Windows tablet should ship with a kickstand. Period.
Windows 8.1. The actual base version of the Venue 11 Pro ships with Windows 8.1 "Core," according to the Dell web site. But the version I received for review comes with Windows 8.1 Pro for some reason. That's a bit surprising given the Atom processor and 2 GB of RAM, but then it's also a 32-bit version of the OS, and not a 64-bit version. (I believe Dell uses the word "Pro" in its hardware products to differentiate them from the Android devices; the Pro versions run Windows.)
Crapware free. The Dell is delightfully free of crapware, and there isn't a single Dell or third party tile on the Start screen. There are some Dell utilities in Apps—backup and recovery, power manager, and so on; nothing offensive—and a single Dell application icon on the desktop. If you do order the base version, you get a free version of Office 2013 Home & Student, thanks to Microsoft's licensing terms for Windows 8.1 "Core" (and Windows RT). But my review device, which came with Windows 8.1 Pro, does not include Office. Instead, you can tap the Office tile on the desktop, run a trial, sign-in to your existing Office 365 subscription or buy one and get started. (This would be the case for the higher-end versions of the tablet too.)
In the box. There's not much happening with Dell's minimalistic packaging. Inside the box, you'll find only the tablet, a USB cable, a large and non-compactable power adapter, and some skimpy documentation. (Might I recommend an extremely affordable and well-written Windows 8.1 e-book instead? Cough.)
Accessories. I didn't receive a keyboard or dock with the Dell, and I'll ask about that because I think this device could perform well as a laptop-type device and as an inexpensive alternative to Surface Pro 2 for many. The Dell Tablet Keyboard – Mobile ($160) in particular looks promising, but Dell also sells a Dell Tablet Keyboard – Slim ($140) and Dell Tablet Dock ($140).
Fit and finish. One of the things I really like about the Dell Venue 8 Pro mini-tablet (see my review) is its "grippy" back surface. The Venue 11 Pro lacks that surface, but the soft matte backing (a thin cover you can remove to access the battery) is actually quite nice to the touch too. Overall, the device feels wonder in the hands, a bit heavy, but the right kind of heavy, if that makes sense: A quality feel.
Weight. The Dell Venue 11 Pro weighs 1.6 pounds, compared to 1.5 pounds for the Surface 2 and 2 pounds for the Surface Pro 2. But it absolutely feels heavier and denser than the Surface 2 in the hand. As noted above, it's a quality feel regardless.
If you can't wait for the full review, you can purchase the Dell Venue 11 Pro from the Microsoft Store or from Dell.com. But if you want an Intel Core version of the device, wait you shall: Those versions won't ship until the end of March, it looks like.
Let me know if you have any questions.