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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review of Dell Venue 11 Tablet

This spring I bought a Dell Venue 11 to replace my Ipad as a field computer.  I chose the Dell for a number of reasons.  Price was a consideration, but so was the fact that it was a windows computer and there is a hard case (Gumdrop) available for it.  I wrote early about it, but found I needed to delete that blog because issues I raised were later clarified. 

My Archer had decided it did not want to start.  I have had it since 2008 and a 7 year old computer is bound to quit working sooner or later.  I have also been having touch screen issues on my IPAD, so I thought it was time to upgrade at least one field computer.  It seems I have tried and reviewed a lot of different platforms for field work and of course I still have much of that equipment. Last year I upgraded to a Surface Pro 2.  It worked well enough that I decided that a windows tablet would be in order.

I know some consultants who are using Dell tablets to run Farmworks Mobile in the field.  I have used Global Mapper on my Toughbook and on my Surface Pro 2.  I have 2 issues with the Surface Pro 2.  One is price and the other is there is no ruggedized case.  I looked at the Dell tablets and they came equipped with Windows 8.1 and some of them have ruggedized gumdrop cases.  The Venue 11 looked like it would meet all my needs, so I got out the credit card and paid up.  I bought this computer strictly for field use and intended to only load up Global Mapper to use as my mapping software..

When I got the computer, my setup was simple.  I connected to my account and all my apps were transferred over.  I down loaded the latest version of Global Mapper.  When I tested Global Mapper, I found that the right click function does not work with Global Mapper.  To right click on a tablet, you hold the spot for 2 seconds and the appropriate menu pops up.  I called Dell immediately because the right click feature works on my Surface Pro 2.  Dell tech support got into my computer and checked it out.  Since the technician was using a mouse, Global Mapper was fully functional.  He promised to have an experienced technician look at it and get back to me the next day.

The next day, I did get a call as promised, but all they did was confirm my issues and promised another call a day later.  The technician that called back asked if I had contacted Global Mapper, which I had, but I told him that since it worked on the Surface Pro 2 with Windows 8.1, I thought it was their problem.  He asked if I bought it from their app store.  I said it was not available on their app store. He said they only back applications from their app store.  That answer was not very satisfactory to me.  If I want a computer that only runs proprietary stuff, I could buy another IPAD.  I really want the Windows versatility.

I decided to see if my GPS receiver would work, so I hooked up my Garmin Glo.  It paired easily and when I displayed the maps on Global Mapper the GPS function worked.  Global Mapper worked fine ln the Dell with anything I could do with a tap on the screen.  Just the right click won't work with my finger or a stylus.

I need to tell you up front that I have been a fan of Global Mapper since I first purchased it I think in 2007.  They have always been very responsive to issues and have even added features at my request.  Their support has been phenomenal.  I recently upgraded to version 16 and had an issue with using some black and white aerials that I really like.  The problem was corrected in less than 48 hours. Global Mapper's response was less than satisfying as well because they said that they do not support Global Mapper as a mobile app even though I have been using it as such on my Surface Pro 2 for a year. They did agree that it sounds like a Dell issue and not really a problem with their product.

Global Mapper came up with a solution a few days later.  After further checking on the Surface Pro 2 I found that the touch issue was also an issue on it.  It seems that the reason that Touch Mouse Pointer was invented was that Windows 8.1 had issues with the touch screen on certain apps.  It worked well enough that I downloaded it for my Surface Pro 2 as well.  

After solving the touch screen issue, I tested the Dell Venue 11 in the field.  I found that it shut itself down for no particular good reason.  I called Dell support again and they tried to update to the latest operating system. I tested it again and it still shut off.  They had me remove and replace the battery.  No fix with that either.  At this point I was wishing I could send it back for a refund, but I was past 30 days.   Eventually I convinced them I should send it in.  They messed with the operating system, said it was OK and sent it back.  When I had time to reload apps and test to again a couple of weeks later, It quit again rather quickly.  I could always restart it, but that was not acceptable.  Dell support sent me a memory stick that I was supposed to use to re-install the operating system myself.  Tue stick did not work. When I next called Dell support, they said perhaps it was the motherboard.  I sent it in again.  When I got it back it still shut itself off.  I really did not have time to mess with it, so it waited until August.  

In August I called again.  Dell support had me do some do some diagnostics and then told me to send it in again.  When I did, I also badmouthed them on twitter.  It seemed to take about a week to get it back.  With no place to test it, it sat there until fall sampling season started.  They said they had replaced the battery.  

I started the fall sampling season with the Dell.  I was not optimistic, but low an behold it worked.  The second day it was still going.  By setting the screen to light blue, and darkening the lines, visibility is pretty good.  I have to shade it in bright sunlight.  The computer is set to go to standby after 15 minutes.  This preserves the battery a bit.  f I give the start button a quick push it comes back on without logging in.  On standby over 15 minutes I have to use my password.  Battery life is good.  I worked from 9 AM till 5 PM in Schuyler County one day and had plenty of battery.  

I used the dell to record tracks that I use as boundaries between zones.  The tracks can then be exported to a shape file.  I am using One Drive to stove the shape files.  This means when I get home I can draw final maps at my desk without transferring files.  I also you One Drive to move files between Computers.  This setup works great. I do have issues with One Drive at times because it is slow to move large numbers of files.  That is why I try to keep files up to date on each computer individually. The computer seems to be more stable if I lock the screen.  I keep it in horizontal mode  because of the mount I have.  I called Ram-mounts to get them to sell me a mount that would work.  The one they sold me is OK, but not exactly right.  If I had to do that over again I would get a universal mount.  Also, I used a sma;l ball that I had.  I ended up getting larger ball because it was easier to tighten down.  

Once Dell finally solved the problem, I would have to say that the tablet lives up to my expectations.  I am not sure when I will buy another tablet, but it will be a Windows tablet for sure.  I am hesitant to say it will be a Dell because of the ordeal with support.  

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