Dell Venue 11 Pro owners now have a variety of accessories to choose from. But from a productivity standpoint, your first order of business is of course a keyboard. And Dell provides two that integrate closely with the Venue 11 Pro: the Dell Slim Tablet Keyboard and Mobile Tablet Keyboard. Either would be a fine addition to your tablet.

I'll review both the Dell Slim Tablet Keyboard and Mobile Tablet Keyboard as part of my coming review of the Dell Venue 11 Pro. (Check out my Dell Venue 11 Pro First Impressions and Photos for a peek at this interesting Surface alternative.) For now, here are some initial thoughts.

First, in evaluating the Dell Venue 11 Pro over the past month or so, I've come to the conclusion that a device this big—especially a Windows full-sized tablet—really comes to life when you add a keyboard. And that's true even for the lower-end devices, like the Surface 2 (which is ARM-based) or the Atom-based Venue 11 Pro I'm evaluating. (Dell also sells more powerful Intel Core-based versions of this product.)

Second, the one area where all tablet makers save Microsoft falter is with the lack of a kickstand. There are far too many times I've wished to prop up a non-Surface tablet. Adding a keyboard is a ham-fisted way to get there, but it works, and both the Slim Tablet Keyboard and Mobile Tablet Keyboard work well for this purpose. This is useful if you're watching a movie on a plane, or if you're just monitoring email or whatever while watching TV, as I often do.

Looking at the most obvious competition in this space, Microsoft also sells two keyboards for its own Surface tablets, the Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2. (There is also a Power Cover that is based on the Type Keyboard; this is more of a specialty item of course.) The former is a strange, flat multi-touch accessory that does not offer physical typing feedback, while the latter is a more typical keyboard. But what they both lack is any sense of stability: Most people can't use a Surface with either typing cover on their laps.

I'm not much of a lap typist, but I've asked my wife to try out the Dell Venue 11 Pro with both the Slim Tablet Keyboard and Mobile Tablet Keyboard to see how they work. (She has also tested the Power Cover with Surface 2 for me, since that's a concern with that accessory; I'll write about this in my eventual review.) Long story short, both of these Dell keyboard accessories work better than the Surface offerings, though the tablet itself is of course top-heavy too. With the Mobile Tablet Keyboard, typing on a lap works much as it does with any laptop. It's the better choice.

Dell Slim Tablet Keyboard

It's a bit hard to place the Dell Slim Tablet Keyboard ($99) against the Surface typing covers. It's almost as thin as the Touch Cover 2, but it provides a real typing experience like the Type Cover 2 (albeit without backlighting). The touchpad actually clicks when you tap it—it seems to be mechanical, which I like—and it connects very securely to the device, while providing a single screen angle courtesy of a folding back flap.

It is in fact almost exactly the same size as the Surface Type Cover 2, and even the connector parts are very similar. Even the key "throw"—the amount of vertical movement each key makes when you type—is very similar.

The Slim Tablet Keyboard does flex a bit more than the Surface Type Cover 2, and of course it doesn't have backlighting. No customer would choose between these two accessories, of course: You get a keyboard that works with your tablet. But overall I like the Slim Tablet Keyboard quite a bit. That it's the lower-end of the keyboard docking solutions and yet stacks up well against the higher end Surface keyboard cover says a lot, I think. (It even has a little holder for the Dell Active Stylus, if you get one of those.)

Dell Mobile Tablet Keyboard

That brings us to the Mobile Tablet Keyboard ($159). Though it's bigger and heavier than the Slim, I'd be inclined to use this one instead. When connected to this keyboard dock, the Dell Venue 11 Pro is basically a laptop, and not "sort of" a laptop like a Surface. The connection between the device and keyboard is rock solid, stiff even. The responsiveness is topnotch. The fact that it has a bit of height to it provides a more typical typing experience.

So yes, it's heavier. But the weight of the thing helps manage the top-heaviness of the tablet nicely. It never teeters around at all. You can change the angle of the screen arbitrarily, like a laptop can, which I really like. (Though it doesn't go back very far.) And ... it has an extra battery! Excellent.

I think I'd pick the Mobile Tablet Keyboard if I had to choose, even given the expense. But, again ... that's for the review.

Dell Tablet Case

Incidentally, Dell also shipped a loaner Tablet Case ($19) that covers the back of the Venue 11 Pro. This case works with either of the keyboard docks noted above, so it's multi-functional and can help protect the tablet with just a small addition of weight and thickness.

With these accessories, the Dell Venue 11 Pro really comes into its own, and even the consumption-oriented version I'm testing suddenly looks interesting as an occasional productivity device and a worthy road companion. More soon in the review.