(Pocket-lint) - What are budget tablets about these days? Should they be the sort of devices you can slip into a small bag and carry around with you 24/7; light enough so you can hold them in one hand; cheap enough so you won't fall into a month-long depression when you crack the screen? These are what most budget tablets aim to achieve. But the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 doesn't.
Nope, the Venue 10 Pro is big and chunky. And starting at £349 it's not the sort of device you'll buy on a whim. It's meant more as laptop-replacement than something you'll use to read-up on soap gossip or iPhone 7 rumours while on the sofa - hence the "Pro" namesake.
But the Windows-based Dell Venue 10 Pro does have a few appeals of its own, even if it's not your all-purpose, for-everyone device. Here's what we have to make of it.
Dell Venue Pro 10 review: Design
If you're just looking for a 10-inch tablet, the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 might not be the best device - which becomes obvious as soon as you get your hands on it. It's big, heavy and thick - at 10mm - a bit like the Android tablets we used to get excited about back in 2011. This is a Windows 10 tablet, though, so don't write it off just yet.
It's quite obviously heavier than the screen parts of some of the recent affordable keyboard-combo machines too, like the Asus Transformer Book and the HP Pavilion X2. It honestly doesn't make all that much sense as a lone lifestyle tablet, which is why there's an optional keyboard.
However, Dell could make it easier to source a keyboard. There's no obvious bundle option on the company's website: you just add it as an accessory, on about the fifth page of spec customisation, below a half-dozen Bluetooth keyboard alternatives. Bit odd, right? The keyboard also costs £112, making the whole package dangerously close to £500.
Dell didn't send us a keyboard to test with this tablet either. But we can safely assume it, well, has keys and slots into the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056's bottom edge. It doesn't have any extra connections, though.
So this tablet may feel too heavy to use in one hand comfortably - 662g makes it around twice that of an iPad Air 2 - but the Venue 10 Pro 5056's weight does make it feel sturdy for an all-plastic tablet. There's a soft-touch panel on its back for a bit of bonus tactility and in a desperate situation you could probably use it to break a particularly poorly-made window.
The real benefit of the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 over its Android brothers is connectivity. It's laptop-like, with a full-size USB, microHDMI and a USB-C port (which doubles-up as the charging port). There's also a flap on one side that covers a microSD slot and, in our version, a hole for a SIM card. The 4G model costs £430, again without the keyboard. It could really do with an extra USB port, though, as right now you can only plug in one conventional USB device.
Dell Venue Pro 10 review: Screen
Some parts of the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 make you end up comparing it to much cheaper hybrids. After all, its size and fairly humble power mean it's probably going to be used for light duties anyway. The £229 (with keyboard) HP Pavilion X2 will be a valid alternative for some of you.
However, the screen is a cut above the real affordable stuff. The Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 has a 10.1-inch Full HD IPS screen. That means its 1920 x 1080 resolution looks plenty sharp and that it appears just fine from an angle. The blacks just appear a touch blue in certain light though. But overall it's a decent upper-entry-level tablet screen.
Contrast isn't perfect, colour is a little undersaturated, but both are a bit better than what you'd get from a hybrid that costs less than £300 (including the keyboard). And there are a few of those about.
This isn't close to what a Surface tablet offers, though. Those are sharper, punchier and even more expensive. There's also no stylus involved with the Dell, although an active stylus accessory is available. Straight out of the box the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 relies on a plain old touchscreen.
Dell Venue Pro 10 review: Software
Here's where we stumble upon the crux of whether the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 is any good or not. How does Windows 10 feel when it's controlled just through a touchscreen?
Where Windows 10 on a regular laptop feels closer to Windows 7's old-school style that Windows 8 did, the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 (without a keyboard) reverts to something closer to the old Windows Metro UI. This is where you get screens of big icon blocks, but no traditional desktop - which is hidden away.
There are also touch-friendly additional shortcut soft keys that will disappear when the Venue Pro keyboard is connected. They're roughly the same conceptually as the soft keys of an Android device.
If anything, though, Windows 10 has sidelined this tablet side in favour of a core interface that works better with a laptop or desktop. For example, the keyboard doesn't always pop-up when you want it to if you're running a "desktop" app, and the apps tray takes that bit longer to pop-up than it would on a mobile-focused OS.
Without the keyboard attached, the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 highlights our differing expectations of budget computers and budget mobile devices. It feels awkward and clumsy.
Dell Venue Pro 10 review: Performance
The Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 is not all that powerful given its price either, although it is totally up-to-date. It uses the Intel Atom X5 Z8500 CPU, a low-end dual-core 2.4GHz CPU. That and 4GB RAM get you slightly better than the £250 all-in hybrid alternatives from Asus and HP, but this is still a low-power tablet/sort-of-2-in-1.
General performance when you're just browsing and writing up some documents is fine. However, apps tend to take a while to load compared with an entry-level Ultrabook like the ZenBook UX305CA.
Why? As well as having a fairly slow CPU, the storage is pretty slow too. It uses solid state memory, 64GB or 128GB, but its performance is much closer to a hard drive or fast memory card than a proper SSD. It reads at 150MB/sec and writes at 90MB/sec; even entry-level SSDs read and write at 400MB-plus these days.
We had a crack at running Skyrim, the open-world game. It runs, but we didn't get a great result. We had to lower the resolution output to 1280 x 800 and turn down the graphics to minimum settings - and while it was just about playable like this, it's not really how the game should be played. This is not a gaming machine.
The Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 also has fairly poor speakers. They fire outwards from each side of the tablet, getting you a bit of stereo juice, but they're also fairly thin-sounding and don't go particularly loud. Now that even some super-skinny phones have decent (for a phone) speakers, this is real tech water-treading. Of course, you could argue that'd be a mis-allocation of funds, but then the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 isn't exactly budget.
There are a lot of patchy elements to the Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056, but its battery life is very solid. It'll last for just under 10 hours of video: good for a tablet, even better for a laptop if you splash out on the keyboard base. You could get a full day's work off this machine with the keyboard in tow.
The Dell Venue 10 Pro 5056 doesn't really seem like a tablet of 2016. A conservative design, non-aggressive price and entry-level power mean it struggles to ignite much gadgety lust when there are much cheaper hybrids available that include the keyboard.
If you can stomach the extra £112 for the keyboard module - and you really should if you're thinking about buying this machine - it'll make a decent little portable laptop. Good battery life is its major plus point, and once you start thinking about this Dell as a laptop rather than a tablet, its weight and size issues melt away to a degree.