Dell gets serious about tablets and 2-in-1s

Dell unveiled a line of Venue Windows 8 and Android tablets, an 11-inch hybrid and a couple premium XPS Ultrabooks that it hopes will shake the PC market out its slump.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Earlier this week I wrote about the Dell XPS 12, which is one of the best hybrid devices currently available.

Today Dell announced a series of tablets, convertibles and refreshed Ultrabooks--under both the Venue and XPS brands--that illustrate how serious the company is about this emerging category.

Dell Venue 8 Pro
Image: Dell

The most interesting of these are a pair of Windows 8.1 tablets including the first 8-inch model and an 11-inch one with a range of features designed to appeal to both consumers and businesses. Both can also accept pen input using an optional Dell Active Stylus.

The Venue 8 Pro has a 1,280x800 IPS display and the Bay Trail Atom quad-core processor announced at Intel’s annual conference last month. At 400 grams and 8.9mm thick, it is arguably the smallest tablet available that delivers full Windows 8, along with a copy of Office 2013 Home & Student (the Acer Iconia W3 weighs 500 grams and is 11.4mm thick). The Venue 8 Pro, equipped with 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage, will be available starting October 18, for $300.

The ambitious Venue 11 Pro is, like the Asus Transformer Book Trio, an attempt at a 3-in-1 that can bridge the worlds of the tablet, laptop and desktop. It has a 10.8-inch Full HD IPS display and a choice of either the Bay Trail Atom processor or fourth-generation (Haswell) Core i3 and i5--some of which come equipped with Intel’s vPro technology for businesses.

Dell Venue 11 Pro
Image: Dell

Like its smaller sibling, the Venue 11 Pro works with an optional stylus. Dell rates the Venue 11 Pro at a competitive 10 hours of battery life, but it also has a removable battery--an unusual feature in a tablet--which means you can swap in a second one for extended use. What sets the Venue 11 Pro apart is a line of accessories including a Slim Keyboard that doubles as a cover--like Microsoft Surface--a more substantial Mobile Keyboard with an extra battery built in (up to 16 hours combined, Dell says), and a Desktop Dock with outputs for two displays and two USB 3.0 ports.

The Venue 11 Pro will start at $500 with an Atom Z3770 quad-core, 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage. It can also be configured with Intel’s Haswell-Y Pentium and Core i3 and i5 processors, which in this case use as little as 6 watts (some upcoming chips will consume even less) in typical tablet usage scenarios. You can also get it with up to 8GB of memory and drives with capacities up to 256GB. The Venue 11 Pro will be available starting in November.

In my previous post, I mentioned that Dell will be releasing an XPS 11 convertible. Now it has announced the details on what it is billing as the world’s thinnest (11-15mm thick) and most compact 2-in-1, weighing in at only 2.5 pounds. Unlike the XPS 13, this one uses the hinge that folds backwards 360 degrees like the Lenovo Yoga, but with a wrinkle: the 11.6-inch display has a Quad HD resolution. Dell says this is the first 2-in-1 of its size with a 2,560x1,440 display; the larger XPS 13 tops out at 1,920x1,080. Although the design is different, the XPS uses the same high-quality materials—machined aluminum and carbon fiber—that make the XPS 13 feel sturdy and look stylish. Unfortunately the keyboard is different, but you can’t have everything in a system this small.

Dell XPS 11
Image: Dell

Like the Venue 11 Pro, the XPS 11 will offer Intel’s Haswell-Y low-voltage processors. It will be available in November starting at $1,000 with a Core i3-4020Y processor, 4GB of memory and an 80GB solid-state drive.

Dell also announced two Android –based tablets, the Venue 7 and 8, designed to reach down into lower prices. These are based on the older Atom Clover Trail dual-core processor. The Venue 7 has a 7.0 inch IPS display (1,280x800), Atom Z2560, 2GB of memory and 16GB of storage. The Venue 8 has an 8.0 inch IPS Display with the same resolution, a faster Atom Z2580, 2GB of memory and either 16- or 32GB of storage. In comparison to the Nexus 7, the Venue tablets are slightly thicker but about the same weight, which means they are very easy to carry around or hold in your hand for long periods. The Dell Venue models also come with a microSD card slot—something you don’t get on the Nexus 7—but they run an older version of Android (Jelly Bean 4.2.2). The Venue 7 and 8 will be available starting October 18 for $150 and $180, respectively. Intel has vowed that it will compete in the fast-growing market for low-cost Android tablets, and these models are the proof.

Dell Venue 8
Image: Dell

Dell rounded out the announcements with two new XPS laptops. The XPS 13 refresh adds a 13.3-inch Full HD display (a touchscreen is optional) and fourth-generation Core processors that boost performance and provide better battery life. But it has about the same footprint as an 11-inch model, according to Dell, and weighs less than 3 pounds. It will start at $1,000 with a Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD and will be available in November.

The XPS 15 has a 15.6-inch display with an optional Quad HD+ (3,200x1,800) resolution but is only 8-18mm thick and weighs 4.4 pounds. Starting at $1,500, the XPS 15 is more than twice the price of an average laptop but it also boasts some serious specs. The base configuration has a Full HD display, and a Core i5-4200H processor with Intel HD 4400 graphics and 8GB of memory, but you can also configure it with the faster Core i7-4702HQ, more memory and Nvidia GeForce GT 750M discrete graphics with its own 2GB of memory. The XPS 15 also pairs a 32GB SSD with a 500GB hard drive (larger drives are an option) to boost performance. It will be available starting October 18.

The one thing Dell won’t be offering is Windows RT. The company recently discontinued its XPS 10 tablet—the only remaining Windows RT device aside from Microsoft Surface—and Dell executives said they have no plans to develop or sell additional Windows RT devices.

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