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Dell Venue 11 Pro with Travel Dock: Outstanding laptop

Most Windows hybrids are reasonable laptop substitutes with a keyboard dock. The Venue 11 Pro is a genuine laptop replacement with Dell’s dock.
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1 of 12 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Take a tablet and throw in a keyboard dock and you have a Windows hybrid. The tablet part is obvious, and plugging it into a keyboard dock that looks like a laptop turns it into a sort of notebook computer. How well it replaces the laptop varies from one model to another. In the case of the Dell Venue 11 Pro it is a genuine laptop replacement.

Dell has constructed one of the most solid tablets available in the Venue 11 Pro. It is fairly light for a 10.8-inch slate, with quality design through and through. It packs some unique features inside the thin form, most notably a battery that can be swapped out by the owner.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

Processor Intel Atom Z3770, 1.46GHz
Display 10.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,080, IPS
Memory 2GB (up to 4GB)
Storage 64GB (up to 256GB)
Communications Wi-fi a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0; NFC
Cameras Front: 2MP, Rear: 8MP
Ports Audio, Full USB 3.0, miniHDMI, microSD
Battery 30Whr, 10 hours, user swappable
Dimensions 6.96 x 11.72 x 0.4 inches; 177 x 297.7 x 10.2 mm
Weight 1.57 lbs

Take one tablet and call me in the morning

Holding the Venue 11 Pro in the hand is a reassuring experience. Everything feels solidly built and although it is on the fringe of what I prefer for the weight of a tablet, it is comfortable to hold. The material covering the back is textured to provide a good grip.

The IPS display is a good resolution, 1,920 x 1,080, and is nice and bright once you turn off the auto-brightness control. This is on by default and the Windows setup process was hard to read as the screen was far too dim. Turning the control off is done in Settings once Windows 8.1 boots the first time.

While 10.8 inches is pretty big for a tablet, it doesn’t feel to be so in the hand. The weight distribution is just right and it is easy to use in either portrait or landscape orientation.

Using it in portrait points out a glaring design miscue that is found on many Windows tablets. Dell has put a touch operated Windows button on the bezel, and using the Venue 11 Pro in portrait results in frequent unintended hitting of the button. I really wish Microsoft would forbid using anything but physical Windows buttons on tablets.

The optional stylus leverages the pen input on Windows 8. The Venue 11 Pro is almost too heavy to use for taking notes with the pen but it’s comfortable for short periods.

Splitting the Atom

The Venue 11 Pro can be configured with the Atom Bay Trail processor as reviewed, or with a Core i3 or i5. The performance with the Atom has been outstanding in my testing, and many should find it stout enough. It is significant that the Atom processor runs the system properly, as that’s what makes the 10 hours of battery life possible.

That’s all-day battery life already, but frequent business travelers will appreciate the second battery in the Travel Dock covered later in this article.

See related: The dirty little secret of Windows 8: It runs on lesser hardware really well | ThinkPad 10 (review): Great Windows tablet, good laptop

Power users will want one of the Core processors, but as I’ve covered in a recent article the current generation Atom processor with Bay Trail technology is leaps and bounds above previous generation Atoms.

The Venue 11 Pro is blazingly fast, and you’d almost believe it has a fast Core processor inside. Even with multiple heavy apps running at the same time the Venue keeps up with it all handily. Graphics are fast and smooth, too. It is impressive how fast and fluidly Windows operates.

What makes it particularly impressive about the good performance of the Atom is the unit I’m testing only has two GB of RAM. That is enough as I’ve not experienced laggy performance even once.

Travel Dock and laptop usage

The first thing you notice about the optional Travel Dock for the Venue 11 Pro is how solid it feels. It is well constructed and looks exactly like a laptop without the screen. When you snap the screen into the dock on the hinge the illusion is complete. It looks just like a laptop, unlike most hybrids with docks.

What sets the Travel Dock apart from much of the competition is the inclusion of a second battery inside. Dell claims it adds 50 percent battery life to the Venue 11 Pro, and while I haven’t done extensive testing it seems to be close. That’s an additional five hours of time away from an outlet, which combined with the 10 hours of the tablet is a respectable 15 hours unplugged. That's essentially a two day business trip without the charger.

The keyboard is very, very good. The keys feel solid with just the right amount of resistance, and fast touch typing is supported. All of the keys are where you expect them, and just like a laptop there is a CAPS LOCK indicator on the left of the keyboard.

Opening the laptop tilts the back of the keyboard up slightly, a nice ergonomic touch.

The trackpad is very responsive and big enough to be useful. It feels as good and responsive as trackpads on laptops much more expensive than this combination.

The Travel Dock is currently $140 from Dell.

The skinny

I really like the Venue 11 Pro as a tablet, and especially as a laptop with the Travel Dock. Out of the 20-plus Windows laptops and hybrids I have tested, the Dell Venue 11 Pro is the best, by far. It’s just the right size as a tablet, and indistinguishable from a “real” laptop with the Travel Dock. Dell has nailed it perfectly.

I don’t make recommendations often, but I strongly suggest those looking for a hybrid should not overlook the Dell Venue 11 Pro. Pricing starts at $429.99 from Dell.

Pros:

Good size

Nice performance even with the Atom

Outstanding as a laptop with the Travel Dock

Cons:

Touch-operated Windows button on the bezel

Almost, but not quite too heavy as a tablet

Auto-brightness control is too dim, should be off by default

Reviewer’s rating: 9.5 out of 10

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Venue 11 Pro tablet screen

The 1,920 x 1,080 resolution screen is a good fit for 10.8 inches.

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Venue 11 Pro in hand portrait

The tablet is comfortable in the hand, albeit a tad heavy.

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Venue 11 Pro Start screen

Fluid operation is the name of the game with this tablet from Dell.

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Venue 11 Pro front laptop mode

Pairing the tablet with the optional Travel Dock turns it into a genuine laptop replacement.

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Venue 11 Pro side

Opening the laptop tilts the keyboard up slightly.

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Venue 11 Pro keyboard and trackpad

The trackpad is a good size and the keyboard very good for touch typists.

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Venue 11 Pro back

The material on the back of the tablet provides a sure grip.

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Venue 11 Pro left side

There is one full-sized USB 3.0 port, a volume rocker, audio jack, and microUSB charging port on the left of the tablet.

 

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Venue 11 Pro right side

The microSD slot and microHDMI port are on the right side of the tablet.

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Venue 11 Pro top

The power button is on the top of the tablet.

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Venue 11 Pro closed laptop mode

When the tablet is in the Travel Dock, the combination looks just like a real laptop.

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