Careful forethought brings valuable options for Dell's new tablet, the Venue 11
Sell Venue 11 ProOptions: the Dell Venue Pro 11 with keyboard, dock and stylusIt was about time Apple's iPad was given a run for its money. Yes, Android tablets have made an impact, providing a credible alternative, but those with an investment in Microsoft technology faced the prospect of a forced mixed economy until Microsoft's Surface came over the hill last year.

At the BETT 2014 educational technology show in January the range of choices was reassuring. One of the more appealing new Windows tablets was the Dell Venue 11 Pro. This was selected by schools supplier Joskos as a contender for customers looking for iPad alternatives because it has one of the best detachable keyboards available (there's also a dock for desktop use if needed)

The Venue 11 has an 10.8-inch screen (an 8-inch version, the Venue 8 Pro, is available too, but without keyboard option). It's thin, light but sturdy with a good screen that’s almost as impressive as the one on the Surface. And using a loan machine from Joskos over three days was in all ways a good experience.

An 'open' tablet that give you instant access to whatever you want

Connectivity is just what you should expect from an 'open' tablet. One USB connector and one SD card slot (with secure cover like iPhone or Nokia Lumia SIM slots) mean that users have instant access to whatever material they want via an instant physical connection, a far cry from other, tied-down tablets. As is the capability to change battery yourself instead of having to send it in to a service centre (you can replace the 'flash' hard drive too). There's also a nice step forward for charging – in common with most mobile phones the Venue uses a standard mini-USB socket so you can use a regular phone charger.

Those who might want, or indeed need, to tie things down will appreciate the fact that the Venue 11 comes with Windows 8 Pro which means that it’s very network manageable, and that will go down well with those responsible for running schools' Windows networks. 

This was experienced at first hand when using the ‘guest’ account on the Joskos machine. There was plenty that could be done without coming across unavailable features but, ultimately, the bid for total user freedom was irresistible. This was achieved by entering a Microsoft identity to get access to the full features. Soon all the apps and content from the linked online OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) account were available, making this a useful machine indeed. 

The notion of different people being able to securely use these devices simply by signing in with their Microsoft identity is a major plus for any organisation wanting their money to go further. The only other devices that can offer this so effectively are Chromebooks but they lack the full functions of their online applications when offline.

Microsoft naysayers don't seem to fully appreciate the appeal of having the option of using Office apps in the cloud when working online, along with access to the full programs when they are offline. For those of us who try to remain objective and use different platforms and programs, it’s a compelling argument for working with Microsoft. And the OneDrive is going from strength to strength; as with Google Apps, users can see the service improving as they use it. 

Keyboard proved a real boon

While this tablet coped well with everything tried over three days, the Mobile keyboard proved a real boon. Yes, of course not everyone needs one, but many of us do, particularly if we are writing anything more than about 300 words. 

Pretty light considering it has its own battery (powered via mini-USB), this keyboard clips firmly to the tablet and only comes free with a firm push of the release button. The action of the keys was as good as you can expect, and the combination of tablet and keyboard functioned well as a laptop when required. The Venue 11 Pro can also be used with an optional stylus, useful for graphics work and handwritten notes, but there wasn't one with the review machine.

The wireless capability worked fine (there is an option for 3G), and although there is no Bluetooth its absence didn't cause a problem.

Three days with this technology wasn’t long enough to fully check out the pledges made on battery life – 11 hours for the tablet and a further five from the keyboard – but it certainly could easily deal with a full day’s work.

A visit to the Dell website shows a huge and possibly confusing range of variations on the Venue 11, so it’s helpful that Joskos has carefully selected the one thought to be most useful for school use. As an experienced schools supplier it would, of course, be happy to support whatever mobile device a school might want (iPads too).

It may have taken a surprising amount of time for PC suppliers to tune in to the level of innovation and design required to get truly mobile and compete with Apple, but the range of Windows tablets and light notebooks available at BETT 2014 from the likes of Dell, Samsung, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer and Stone demonstrated that true choice is now available. And Joskos demonstrated how ICT suppliers who listen carefully to schools can find interesting ways to add value, bringing them mobile touch technology with open access and the capability to use all the curriculum resources they already own (eg Flash-based).

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose  5
Ease of use              4
Features                   4
Quality                      4
Value for money       5

Dell Venue 11 Pro
Dell tablet (model 5310) with 10.8-inch touch-screen (1920x1080), 2Gb of memory (Ram), 64GB SSD hard drive, Intel Atom processor (quad core), wifi and NFC (near field communication), around a kilo in weight depending on configuration, dimensions (again varying on configuration) 10.2mm/0.4 inches – 15.4mm/0.6 inches wide, 176.8mm/6.96 inches thick, 297.7mm/11.72 inches long, Also comes with Windows 8.1 Pro (32bit) and Microsoft Office 2003 trial (schools that already have Microsoft licensing can add Office 2013 and OneDrive without extra expense) and one-year collect-and-return support. Available from Joskos with Dell Mobile tablet keyboard for a combined promotion price of £531 (cheaper than buying them separately from elsewhere). Check with Joskos for other options.
Dell Venue 11 on Joskos website  
Joskos Solutions tel: 020 7424 6960
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