The underlying strategy or ultimate goal for the Surface Pro tablets from Microsoft has been a question mark since the device first launched. Some experts believe that Microsoft truly wants to grab market share and compete head-to-head with Apple, Samsung, and others — while others think that Microsoft is simply trying to set the bar and create a model Windows tablet for OEM partners to mimic. If the Dell Venue 11 is any indication, it's the latter.
This is not Dell's first foray into the world of Windows Pro tablets — it's offered the Venue 8 for some time now. The Venue 11 line, however, offers a much more capable device and a far superior PC and tablet experience than its smaller predecessor.
The problem with the Dell Venue 8 is that it's underpowered. Sure, it's much cheaper than a Surface Pro, but you get what you pay for. It has a smaller display, weaker processor, less storage capacity, and less RAM than even the base model of the Surface Pro 3. The $250 (USD) price tag is appealing, but — in the end — a device like that results in an inferior experience and frustrated customers. It's not a good representation of what a Windows Pro tablet is capable of.
When Microsoft launched the original Surface Pro, it created a device that demonstrates what a Windows Pro tablet should be. There was no compromise on quality or power. Microsoft didn't just create a device that can sort of run Windows, it created a full Windows 8 PC that happens to fit into a tablet form factor, and it paid close to attention to the engineering and details of the construction of the tablet as well. The result was a phenomenal device that was unapologetic about its price.
Microsoft has not backed down from that premise. It improved on the concept with the Surface Pro 2, and more or less perfected the idea with the Surface Pro 3 — the first device Microsoft felt confident enough to dub "The tablet that can replace your laptop." There is a less expensive entry-level model, but overall, Microsoft hasn't caved on the pricing for the Surface Pro tablet lineup.
I pointed out in a previous article that the Surface Pro 3 pricing seems high when you consider it strictly as a tablet and compare it to an Apple iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab, but that isn't an accurate comparison. The Surface Pro 3 is more comparable to a MacBook Air or some of the touchscreen Windows 8 ultrabooks available from Microsoft's OEM partners. When you compare the Surface Pro 3 against those devices, the price is right where it should be for most models.
Dell got the memo. With the Venue 11 line, Dell still offers an underpowered model at a steep discount. The Venue 11 starts at $460 (USD) with an Intel Atom processor and only 2 GB of RAM. However, Dell also offers the tablet with an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor, plus more RAM and storage. In fact, Dell's Core i3 Venue 11 with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage capacity costs $799 (USD) — that's twice the storage of the entry-level Surface Pro 3 model with very similar specs for the same price. The Core i5 Venue 11 is only $850 (USD), which is actually $150 (USD) less than the similar Surface Pro 3 model.
Like Microsoft, Dell offers optional accessories like a keyboard cover and docking station for a fee. And, like Microsoft, those fees are very similar. Dell's keyboard covers and docking station are each a little cheaper than their Microsoft counterparts, but they're in the same ballpark.
What's Microsoft's grand plan for the Surface Pro line? That remains to be seen. If the idea was to blaze a trail for OEM partners and show them how it's done, the Dell Venue 11 suggests that perhaps that mission has already been accomplished.
- Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 targets laptops
- Surface Pro 3 teardown reveals fragile glass, redesigned interior
- Microsoft Surface: Where does it go from here?
- The Ultimate Surface Pro 3 Reviews Roundup
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.