Whilst this blog’s focus is generally on consumer gadgets, I wanted to bring your attention to a more corporate device that I’ve been evaluating for the last few weeks, as it’s turned out to be very interesting.
Bring Your Own Device
A major trend over the last few years has been for workers to want to augment their work supplied gadgets with their own, particularly when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Whilst it brings a few challenges for your IT guy, generally this is a very good thing. Users are more familiar with their own devices, and they will often compliment the office laptop, not replace it. Few offices can afford to supply everyone with a phone, tablet and laptop, so why not let them use their own?
I’ve been using my iPad at work since they first came out and as a device to take to meetings, annotate on and quickly fire off an email or two, it’s been a great alternative to the laptop. But there is also a more painful side where I take one device with me and wish I’d brought the other. Wouldn’t it be great to assimilate what’s best about the iPad into the laptop and go back to one device?
Sort it Out Microsoft
Well, Microsoft nearly blew that for all of us with the horror that was Windows 8 - but since then has made great strides to fix all the user complaints and, at the same time, Dell has been working on the hardware and turned out a range of ‘Venue Pro’ branded gadgets that I think could be the answer. A tablet device that can run all your applications, and replace the laptop too.
Applications, Not Just Apps
The Dell Venue Pro 11 is a smart looking tablet with a matt-black soft-touch plastic back and a glass front housing a lovely 1080p HD 11” widescreen display. It also has front and rear cameras for video conferencing and snapping some pictures (these cameras often get slated for being pointless, however I find it very handy to snap business cards into OneNote).
Whilst the design is quite understated and business-like, it does exude quality and I don’t think anyone would feel embarrassed to bring it out at an important meeting.
As a tablet, it is reasonably successful, but one of the keyboard accessories is essential to getting the best out of it. In tablet form, it’s heavy compared to an iPad Air, but still makes for a very pleasant way to read back documentation, surf the web or play with some of the touch-friendly apps from the App Store. I don’t really like Microsoft’s touch-screen keyboard, but it’s okay for an email or two and I expect you could easily install an alternative. There is also an active stylus available, which means you can scribble notes and diagrams into applications like Microsoft OneNote with great accuracy and I often find this is much better than tapping away at a keyboard when someone else is speaking.
Touchscreen Excel? No Thanks!
As I said, for the complete experience you really need a proper keyboard and Dell has been thoughtful enough to offer two. The first basically turns your tablet into a fully fledged laptop with the screen dropping neatly into the hinge and a single button release, it’s very easy to now have two devices in one! The keyboard itself is generally a big success. The chiclet keys are a decent size and keys like ‘shift’ and ‘enter’ that are often shrunk down are not compromised too much..
With the keyboard docked, you now have a device that weighs as much as an ultrabook, but it’s still very portable and you won’t necessarily need a case anymore. The keyboard also contains a second battery, giving you genuine all day mobility, like an iPad, but with full desktop computing power!
The alternative keyboard is for a different kind of worker. This one is a slim keyboard cover and the keys themselves, whilst remaining a decent size, do not have the same travel as the former. It saves a lot of weight and bulk, but you won’t want to write your magnum opus on it. Initially I didn’t like it at all, but I found that during sessions where I wasn’t writing at length, rather interacting with corporate applications, making notes and typing short messages into Lync, it was more than good enough. I think the idea is that you get your full screen back and the mousepad is there too, keeping the desktop side of Windows practical where no keyboard at all is painful.
In reality, many of us are not out on the road the whole time. Rather, we’re at a desk in an office where an 11” screen is not ideal for a day’s work. Fortunately, Dell also provide a very sturdy docking station for connection to your big monitor, with a couple of USBs for keyboard and mouse and even ethernet for the best connection to your corporate network.
Desktop Power, Tablet Portability
With either the Intel Core i3 or Core i5 under the hood (I’ve played with both but been pleased to note that the i3 has no problem keeping up with my working day) most people will find that full Windows applications run beautifully and you’ll be able to connect to all your IT services in a way that your iPad cannot. Speaking of connections, the tablet includes USB, HDMI, SD and even NFC if you can find something to use it with.
In my month with the Venue Pro 11, I’ve used my iPad less and less in the office. In fact, it’s starting to feel a bit limited when (with the right accessories) the Dell can answer all my requirements and still offer a slick and attractive user experience. It also did a great job replacing my PC when docked at my desk, driving a large monitor and providing a small second screen, which I used for instant messaging.
King of the Office, Minion of the Sofa?
I did find though that after a week or so, when the novelty had worn off, I was back to using the iPad on the sofa. When not working, the Venue is very good for surfing and watching videos, but the iPad is still a better device to relax with at home and way better for games. It’s also easier to hold, the consumer apps are still miles ahead and I do prefer the lovely retina display when sitting that close to it.
Without the keyboard, the Venue Pro does look and behave like a tablet, but with full Windows under the hood, it's still a PC really. Put it to sleep and its battery will be flat by the following morning. Fall behind with your antivirus updates and software patching and you may find yourself with a slow computer, badly in need of a service. For work, the complete PC functionality mitigates a lot of this (besides, your IT department should be worrying about the patching), but it's worth noting that it needs a little more looking after than your iPad.
So the Dell Venue Pro is a success that could sway many power users away from their iPads - however, before I finish, a word of warning. There is a bit of work for Dell to do to make this as polished as that iPad. Despite being bang up to date with all its updates, I regularly had problems with the Venue not responding to the keyboard or the touchscreen without being rebooted. This would happen seemingly at anytime, but it was worst after being switched between the docking station and one of the keyboard accessories. This is likely to be a driver issue, but Dell will hopefully note that it’s unlikely a company will want to buy too many of these whilst this is a problem - since the Support Helpdesk could wind up getting lots of calls from frustrated users. If they can iron out these issues, which are likely just driver updates, then I for one will be campaigning my work to introduce them.
Posted with Blogsy