As a Guy Who Reviews Android Devices™, I've been faced with a strange sort of conundrum lately: When someone asks me to recommend a 10-in. Android tablet, I haven't had a good answer.
Sure, there are plenty of options out there. But it's been quite a while since there's been one that's stood out for being really great. Most of the contenders come with at least one serious caveat, be it chintzy construction, less-than-perfect performance, or software that makes you want to strike yourself with the nearest blunt object. And suffice it to say, those kinds of things take significant tolls on what a device is like to use.
You know what, though? My quandary is over. The 10-in. Android tablet is at long last back.
Meet the Dell Venue 10 7000. Yup -- a device from Dell. It might sound like an unexpected source for excitement, but if you've been paying attention over the past several months, it shouldn't come as a total surprise.
Forget what you think you know about Dell: The company's been on a rampage lately with distinctive and beautifully designed devices that put other products to shame. From the sexy XPS line of Ultrabooks to the sleek and striking Venue 8 7000 Android tablet, Dell's been showing it's serious about creating lust-worthy gadgets with spectacular user experiences.
The new Venue 10 7000 is no exception. I've been living with the tablet for the past couple of weeks, and let me tell you: This thing is an absolute delight to use. (And as anyone who's read many of my reviews knows, I don't throw those kinds of compliments around lightly.)
The Venue 10 is the bigger brother to the aforementioned Venue 8 7000, which I praised earlier this year for its exceptional design, display, and approach to Android software. The Venue 10 follows the same basic footprint and also introduces some significant new elements into the equation.
Like most nice things, it comes at a cost: The Venue 10 7000 runs $499 for a 16GB model, $549 for 32GB, or $629 and $679 for those same setups along with a keyboard docking attachment (which is a real high point, as we'll get to in a minute). A quick tip, though: You can get 50 bucks off the tablet-plus-keyboard prices if you buy the device from Dell's website with the coupon code 4S79F2CJG$974M between now and the end of July.
A premium body with an unusual form
The first thing you notice about the Venue 10 7000 is that it doesn't look like your typical tablet. Like some of Lenovo's Android products, the Venue 10 has a pronounced cylinder base at one end -- and that throws some interesting twists into how you use the device.
I won't lie: After years of holding uniformly shaped rectangular slates, seeing one with a base at one end is a little weird at first. But you know what? I've actually found I like it. A lot.
The base gives you a handle of sorts on which to hold the tablet when you're using it vertically -- which results in a very comfortable feel reminiscent of holding a folded-over magazine. When you flip the tablet horizontally, the base sits at the bottom and serves as a natural pivot for the tablet to rest on your lap. It does make the tablet a teensy bit bulky -- at 1.32 lbs., the Venue 10 isn't the lightest slate around -- but I honestly haven't given that an ounce of thought (so to speak) as I've used the thing.
Handling perks aside, the cylinder houses the Venue 10's impressive front-facing dual stereo speakers along with the device's battery. That arrangement allows the tablet to remain remarkably thin, at just under a quarter-inch in thickness -- the same measurement as Apple's iPad Air 2, a device frequently praised for its svelte form.
The whole Venue 10 tablet is encased in a dark metal finish that gives it an ultra-premium vibe. The only gripe I could raise is that the finish tends to pick up and show off a lot of greasy fingerprint smudges. (And I haven't been eating nachos while using it, either.) It's a minor blemish in an otherwise outstanding design, though, and one I certainly wouldn't lose any sleep over.
A killer keyboard experience
The Venue 10 7000's secret weapon is without a doubt its optional keyboard attachment. The aforementioned cylinder snaps right into the keyboard's top, effectively turning the tablet into a notebook-like device -- complete with a swiveling lid that can shut all the way to double as a case.
The keyboard is, in a word, fantastic: Though not full-sized, its keys are well-spaced, responsive, and sturdy, with just the right amount of give. I can happily type long emails or pound out documents on it without any frustration -- which is more than I can say for pretty much every other tablet keyboard case I've ever used.
Oh, and the keys are actually backlit. The lights come up when you're actively using the keyboard and dim down automatically when you're not. It really feels like a notebook-caliber experience.
The hinge that joins the tablet to the keyboard is secured by magnets and strong enough to keep the screen steady while you type, even when you reach up to tap the display. At the same time, it's easy to detach: You just push the screen back past its farthest supported angle -- roughly 140 degrees -- and it snaps right off.
The keyboard connects to the tablet via Bluetooth, which takes about five seconds to set up the first time you attach it and then happens automatically within a second or two every time thereafter. It pulls power from the tablet rather than requiring its own battery, which means you never have to worry about charging it. In theory, that could take a toll on the tablet's battery life -- but practically speaking, any effect it's had has been minimal and hard to even quantify in my experience.
In terms of productivity, using Android with a physical keyboard isn't as good of an experience as using a Chromebook or a more traditional laptop -- but depending on what you're doing, it can definitely be good enough. I've found I really enjoy being able to pop the tablet onto the keyboard when I want to type something that's more than a handful of words, whether it's an email, a document, or just a lengthy Hangouts message. I could see this being a fantastic supplementary device for a lot of people -- a super-tablet, if you will, for around-the-house use or days when you want to leave your laptop at home -- and for some folks, it could conceivably even serve as a full-fledged laptop replacement.
As I've rediscovered while using this device, Android has some built-in keyboard shortcuts for physical keyboards -- standard things like being able to press Alt-Tab to toggle through recent apps -- which, along with the keyboard's Android-specific function keys, makes it surprisingly natural to get around the system in a more traditional way. The dock has a well-performing trackpad on it, too, which puts a pointer on your screen and lets you click your way around like you would on a regular desktop. You can even scroll up and down through pages on the trackpad by using a two-finger gesture.
Lest you think the docking attachment is all work and no play, Dell's keyboard actually has a hidden secondary function: In addition to holding the tablet in a laptop-like position, you can drop the device onto the base backwards -- with the screen facing away from the keys -- to create a stand- or tent-based setup that keeps the screen upright at any angle. That's a handy built-in feature for the times you want to watch a video or read something on the screen without having to hold it up. (And with the circular way in which the speakers are designed, they still face you even in that flipped-around configuration.)
Hardware that doesn't disappoint
The Venue 10 7000's 10.5-in. 2560-x-1600 OLED display is top-notch -- really just stunning and among the finest you'll feast your eyes on. Performance, just like on Dell's 8-in. model, has been rock-solid; I've yet to see a single stutter, slowdown, or sign of lag.
The Venue 10's stamina, meanwhile, is sufficient, if not extraordinary: I've generally been charging the tablet every two to three days, depending on how much I'm using it. I typically end up with around six to eight hours of total active use by the time I plug it in. And the device's idle power consumption is almost unreal: I've been leaving it sitting on overnight for eight to 10 hours, and every morning, I find it with the exact same level of battery remaining as when I left it the night before. It's consuming next-to-no power when idle, in other words -- which is insanely impressive.
The Venue 10 comes with either 16 or 32GB of internal space, depending on which model you get; my review unit has the latter and provided just over 23GB of available space for use. All the models have micro-SD card slots, too, so you can add as much extra storage as you want (technically anything up to 512GB). The devices also include an upgraded Dropbox storage subscription that'll give you an additional 18GB of cloud-based storage for 12 months, if you're interested in such a promotion.
Like its smaller sibling, the Venue 10 has an Intel RealSense camera setup that lets you play around with focus and depth after capturing a picture (see my Venue 8 review for a detailed look at how it works). Just like on the 8-in. device, the feature strikes me as more gimmicky than anything -- but honestly, you shouldn't be buying a tablet for its cameras, anyway. If that kind of thing matters to you, though, it's there.
Android software at its best -- with one asterisk
Last but not least is the software -- and we're looking at the same basic setup from the Venue 8 7000, which is to say it's essentially Google's stock Android Lollipop (5.0.2) user interface without any annoying tweaks or arbitrary visual changes. That's a breath of fresh air and something that goes a long way in separating this tablet from the pack: The software is actually cohesive, polished, and pleasant to use -- and it fits in seamlessly with the rest of the Android ecosystem.
Dell has added in a smattering of its own apps -- custom Camera and Gallery utilities along with a My Dell device management tool, an app for controlling the tablet's audio system, and an app connected to the company's Dell Cast Chromecast-like device. There's a bit of bloatware preloaded, too, which is mildly annoying -- but other than the My Dell app, you can easily disable and hide it all from view, at least.
If there's one Achilles' heel to Dell's 10-in. tablet, it's the uncertainty surrounding the device's future in terms of Android OS upgrades. The Venue 8, as you may recall, shipped with an older version of Android and didn't receive the Lollipop upgrade until six months after the software's release. Neither that tablet nor this one has yet to receive the newer Android 5.1 update, meanwhile, and Dell has made no public commitment about if or when it'll provide such a rollout (I asked). The company is also making no promises as of now about if or when either device might receive this fall's upcoming Android "M" release.
That's a bummer, to say the least; I was really hoping that at a minimum, Dell would commit broadly to a guarantee of getting this new device upgraded to the current pending release and then to Google's next announced update. A commitment to timely and ongoing upgrades is about the only thing holding Dell back at this point -- and it's baffling, given the company's near-stock approach to software and the speedy rollouts that should enable. But the situation is what it is. Take it for what you will.
What we can say is that this tablet in its current state is wildly impressive. If you can tolerate the uncertainty surrounding future upgrades, the Venue 10 7000 is arguably the best all-around large Android tablet out there today -- and one I'd wholeheartedly recommend.