HP isn't the only beleaguered PC manufacturer unleashing a tablet blitz. Today, Dell is revealing a full product lineup of new tablets under the recently resurrected Venue brand. Not only does the company have an 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet, but a pair of inexpensive Android slates as well — the first Android products Dell has announced since it discontinued the lackluster Venue smartphone well over a year ago. It's the fourth tablet, though, that's the star of the show. The Dell Venue 11 Pro is the company's answer to the Microsoft Surface Pro, and it rolls a whole number of ideas into one highly customizable tablet shell.
Starting at $499.99 when it goes on sale this November, the Venue 11 Pro comes standard with a custom-designed 10.8-inch 1080p IPS touchscreen, one of Intel's new Bay Trail Atom processors,
Taking on the Surface and the Transformer simultaneously2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, roughly 11 hours of battery life, and a full-size USB 3.0 port — in a 1.57 pound package that's just over 10 millimeters thick. But that's just the beginning, because you can outfit that same tablet with a Surface-like ultrathin fabric-mounted keyboard that doubles as a magnetic stand, or an Asus Transformer-like clamshell dock which adds a full-size keyboard and trackpad and an extra battery that adds several additional hours of runtime. Or, you can slot it into a $99 docking station that supports two external monitors and adds a host of ports. They're not nearly as fun and clicky as Microsoft's Surface blades, and that magnetic stand in particular felt a little flimsy, but they add plenty of options.
What's more, the internals are configurable as well: you can trade in that Atom processor for one of Intel's new fanless Core i5 Haswell chips, add up to 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid state storage, and have yourself the power of an ultrabook in a tablet package that lasts up to eight hours. For the enterprise, there's another version still that adds a SmartCard reader, a fingerprint reader, and a TPM module in a slightly thicker shell. Plus, all three versions have interchangable removeable batteries, and support an optional pressure-sensitive Synaptics stylus as well.
Compared to its larger brother, there's not nearly as much to say about the $299.99 Venue 8 Pro, except that for just $300 the company might actually have built a quality 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet. Though the 1280 x 800 IPS screen isn't particularly high-res — apparently not the 1080p screen we were told — the tablet is surprisingly svelte. At just 9 mm thin and 0.87 pounds light with a grippy rubber texture around back, it's perhaps the most comfortable Windows tablet we've ever held. Dell's finally bringing Windows down to the proportions of Android slates. The tablet does have a dearth of ports, though, with only a headphone jack, a micro USB port, a micro-SIM slot, and a microSD card reader to augment its 32GB or 64GB of solid state storage. The Venue 8 Pro will ship October 18th.
Android comes cheaper
Last and decidedly least, there's the Venue 7 and Venue 8, which discard the "Pro" branding because they run Android — Android 4.2.2, to be precise. That's not the latest version, but Dell promises they'll be upgraded to Android 4.3 and Android 4.4 in due time. Both come with low-res 1280 x 800 IPS displays, last-gen Clover Trail Plus Atom processors, and very simplistic designs, but what they do have going for them is a full 2GB of memory, a manufacturer-estimated 10 hours of battery life, and relatively low prices. The Venue 7 starts at $149.99, and the Venue 8 at $179.99. That's still $50 less than the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX, our current top picks for small Android devices. The Venue 7 and Venue 8 will also ship October 18th.
Conspicuously missing from Dell's lineup is any trace of Windows RT, the stripped-down version of Windows designed for ARM processors. Dell was the last remaining Windows RT supporter outside of Microsoft, at least until the company discontinued its XPS 10 last month. When we asked Dell's director of tablets, Bill Gorden, he said the company's still considering its options. "We're very happy with the direction of Windows 8.1, and we have multiple screen sizes and capabilities there," he said. "We're not sure what our plans are for Windows RT at the moment."
"We're not sure what our plans are for Windows RT at the moment."
However, Gorden suggests that we should take the Venue launch as a sign that Dell isn't planning to abandon the consumer market after it goes private. "I think the introduction of all these devices is really a signal of how important end-user computing is to Dell," he told The Verge. "I think you're going to start seeing Dell start being prominent in the consumer space."