In the age of tablets, 2-in-1s, Chromebooks and other hybrid PCs, there’s something refreshingly old-school about a classic laptop like the BlackBook Zero, however chunky it might initially seem.
This isn’t to say the Zero feels antiquated or behind-the-times. While it occupies a space that’s not quite high-spec, it’s still delivers fairly respectable performance for what it’s worth. For what it’s worth, newcomer brand Venom are pitching the machine as a more of a portable workstation and less of a portable power-station.
The BlackBook Zero touts a 14.1-inch Full HD display and your choice of either a 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor. It might look like a gaming machine but make no mistake, this is a PC aimed at professional users.
Venom have left it up to the customer to decide whether the laptop arrives with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, as well as how much can be held on the laptop’s Solid State Drive (which scales from 128GB up to 1TB). Again, it’s a pretty respectable effort and even if the basic package comes up short compared to some of its competitors on raw processing power.
With build-quality and design, the BlackBook Zero comes in at a pretty similar level of what we’ve seen in Razer laptops – though it carries a blessedly lower price-point. It’s surface is cold black steel that looks manages to look slick well beyond the first glance, despite a tendency to garner smudges.
In addition, the heft and weight of the BlackBook helps it sit sturdy in a way I liked, even if it’s easy to imagine that this quality isn’t for everyone. That said, I did wish that some smart innovations had been made on the design side of things. It feels like Venom have stuck to what absolutely, definitely works about this kind of laptop – but left little room for the kind of experimentation needed to make it stand out among the crowd a little more. Even just a minor mutation would help give it that little edge over the competition.
If you’re not a fan of thin-as-they-come netbooks or flimsy convertibles, the BlackBook Zero makes a strong case for the heavy-duty laptops of yore. Some of this appeal may well lie in the old-school laptop design, but I really enjoyed using the BlackBook Zero as my primary workstation. It didn’t hurt that the ultrabook delivered a consistent 8-12 hours of use on a single charge. Venom have even thrown in a second charging unit for frequent travelers.
If there’s one area of the design to be highlighted, it’s the quality of the BlackBook Zero’s keyboard. It’s robust and satisfying to type on, with enough width that it rarely feels like a key is out of place (with the stark exception of the right-hand shift button). After reviewing a string of hybrid with less-than-stellar keyboards, I found it to be a refreshing change of pace.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it’s best (and ultimately fairest) to compare the BlackBook Zero against its peers. Here, the biggest fly in the ointment emerges. Ranging from $1899 upwards, it feels fair to say it’s a little expensive for what you’re getting. While it manages to hit a cheaper price-point than a comparable Apple, Alienware or Razer machine, it also sits a little higher than comparable ultrabooks from Dell and Lenovo. Then, on the higher-end of things, the constraint of 16GB RAM and an on-board graphics chipset become more more notable limitations.
The BlackBook Zero uses LPDDR3 Ultra Low Voltage RAM chosen specifically to work in conjunction with the unit’s processor, delivering optimum levels of performance for long periods without overheating or system speed throttling. In practice, this proves to be a worthy investment – even if is partially to blame for the higher price.
It feels like you’re getting your money’s worth here, but little more than that. A good price-point makes you feel like you’re getting the better end of the deal and, despite liking the BlackBook Zero a great deal, I never got that sensation from it. As a relative-newcomer to the market, Venom can’t really rely on brand to sweeten the deal – and that makes the reality of what you’re getting with the BlackBook more black and white.
It’s far from the most inflated laptop out there but it’s still missing that nebulous X-factor that pushes it over the line and makes it the laptop you want to own, rather than just one that levels out to a rationally appealing choice by number-crunching alone.
It’s always exciting to see new players enter an established market but Venom have stuck a little close to the formula here – although it’s by no means a bad formula. Still, if you’re looking for a new ultrabook that rises to the occasion – the BlackBook Zero is up to the task and worth considering, even if a lack of willingness to innovate and high-price hold it back from being a must-have product.
At the end of the day, the BlackBook Zero isn’t just competing against other laptops when it comes to price – it’s also got to be matched up against the kind of high-end convertibles that companies like Acer and Lenovo are fielding. Under those conditions, it’s a little harder to stomach. However, if you long for the days before tablets and convertibles made their way onto the scene, the BlackBook Zero might be just the right blend of simple, consistent design that’s underwritten by confident technical specs to fit the bill.
Pricing for the Venom BlackBook Zero starts at $1699 and ranges up to $2799 depending on the combination of RAM, ROM and CPU.