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Dell Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro hands-on review

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Dell launched a new line of tablets this week, and V3 was on the spot to get a hands on with the latest offerings which boast both consumer appeal and business punch: the Dell Venue 8 Pro and its bigger 11 Pro brother, both based on the upcoming Windows 8.1 release from Microsoft.

Opening thoughts
The Dell Venue 8 Pro is the first 8in Windows tablet produced by Dell, as it looks to reaffirm itself in the tablet market after earlier efforts that failed to gain traction. The 10.8in Venue 11 Pro, meanwhile, is a device that has as much potential as it has optional extras, which makes it a firm contender to beat the Surface Pro 2.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro features a reasonable 1280 x 800 screen

The devices announced yesterday certainly have plenty of business acumen with device management tools and Intel vPro featuring heavily, but the Venue 8 Pro will also be a pretty attractive offering to consumers too, with a sub-$300 price tag in the US. There's no UK price for the Venue 8 Pro yet, but the Venue 11 Pro starts from £349 (+VAT).

Design and build
The Venue 8 Pro can be held comfortably both horizontally or vertically. Its plastic back features a circular pattern, as seen with older Dell devices, which certainly doesn't feel cheap. It's just 9mm thick and weighs 394g, which is definitely light enough to chuck into your bag without much thought.

The Dell Venue 8 Pro features a plastic back with a circular texture pattern

The Venue 11 Pro is a solid device, at over 10mm thick, but it isn't particularly heavy either, coming in at 712g.

It's interesting to note that the Windows button – seemingly mandatory for all devices running Windows 8 – is found on the side of the 8 Pro rather than on the front. Initially it might be a bit of a surprise for seasoned tablet users, but it should be a benefit in the long term as we found that our fingers tend to rest on the edges of the device rather than near a front-facing home button.

The Venue 8 Pro's in-plane switching (IPS) touchscreen comes in at 1280x800 pixels, which is a little disappointing for a tablet of this size, although it does at least beat the iPad Mini's 1024x768 display. Viewing angles are good and it's certainly bright enough; the vibrant Windows 8.1 Start screen looked good. But web pages were not at all as crisp as we would have liked, with some images displaying strangely off colours and low resolution in Internet Explorer 11.

Furthermore, we don't particularly fancy playing around in desktop mode on this machine; fiddly is the only word we can use to describe the experience. It's nice to know it's there if you need it, however.

The Dell Venue 11 Pro attaches to its additional keyboards using a magnet combined with a port

The Venue 11 Pro touts a full HD 1920x1080 IPS screen, which is a good – if not groundbreaking – specification for a tablet of this size. Dell boasts near-180 degree viewing angles, and we can't really find ourselves disagreeing: it looks good from most reasonable vantage points.

Operating system and software
As previously mentioned, both tablets come with Windows 8.1 pre-installed, with Dell abandoning the ARM-based Windows RT in favour of the full-blooded Pro version of the OS. Furthermore, they also come with Dell's own device management software in addition to the optional inclusion of trusted platform module (TPM) security chips. This will be a boon for IT managers looking for secure devices to roll out to workers.

For consumers buying the tablets from retailers, they come with Office Home & Student free, but this offer does not apply to business buyers.

Other than that, there's little to report in terms of bloatware, at least in the pre-production devices we got our hands on.

The Venue 8 Pro comes with Intel's latest quad-core Bay Trail Atom processors, and in our short time with the device it was genuinely a joy to use. We couldn't go beyond loading a few image-heavy webpages and floating around a few of the pre-installed Windows apps so we can hardly call our tests conclusive, but we're optimistic that the Venue 8 Pro will tackle most everyday tasks with ease.

The 11 Pro meanwhile comes with a range of processors, meaning it's ultra-customisable for a variety of users. Pentium, Bay Trail Atom and Haswell i3 and i5 chips all make an appearance and, coupled with a maximum of 8GB RAM, 256GB of solid-state storage and a USB 3.0 port, at maximum specifications this device should be a real powerhouse. We look forward to putting it through its paces when it comes to market in early November.

Both devices come with high-speed packet access (HSPA+) connectivity when on the move, but 4G LTE is a notable absence.

We should also mention the cameras here: the pair of 5MP snappers wouldn't seem to be much to write home about. Front-facing lenses also make an appearance for family chats or video conferencing.

Dell claims both devices will last around 10 hours, which is certainly good enough. The Venue 11 Pro has another ace up its sleeve, with its removable plastic back revealing the power-user's holy grail: an interchangeable battery. This is a great feature which has made an appearance in previous Dell tablets, but its presence is still one that could prove to be a tremendous selling point.

The Dell Venue 11 Pro features a removable battery

Both devices feature an optional stylus, although neither has anywhere to stow them as far as we can see. The Venue 8 Pro will eventually be compatible with some form of attachable keyboard, although there's currently no sign of it.

In contrast, the 11 Pro comes with a raft of add-ons, including two keyboards and a dock. We were able to have a look at all three of these during our time with the slate, and for the most part they seem like essential buys if you're looking to be remotely productive on the move and in the workplace.

There's the simple keyboard cover, which is a very thin case that doubles up as a typing device. The keys feature very slight movement, which means you do get some tactile feedback while typing. The other keyboard cover features a battery that Dell claims can boost the battery life of the device by up to 80 percent.

Both keypads clip to the 11 Pro using magnets like the Microsoft Surface, and while we wouldn't risk dangling them above a wooden floor, they felt secure enough.

The Dell XPS 11 features a dock accessory allowing for the connection of two extra monitors

The aforementioned dock features a couple of USB 3.0 ports and support for two external monitors. This means, when attached, you can have a triple-monitor setup with your 11 Pro, which should be very welcome for power users who like to work on the move but also value a proper desk setup when in the office. This again rivals the Surface Pro 2, which also now comes with its own docking station.

It could have been the fact we were using a pre-production model, but the dock did not feel like quite the perfect fit for the tablet. We hope this will be fixed come launch day.

There's no UK price for any of the add-ons yet, unfortunately, but the docking station will retail in the US for $99 (£61).

These new devices have a lot of potential. If Dell can market them to consumers as well as they have tailored them to business users, this could be the start of Dell's revival in the client device market.

03 Oct 2013

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