Venom is a computer brand that’s based in Melbourne but sells to the world. While the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom isn’t the usual high performance laptop we’re used to covering on this site, it certainly belongs in the category. The Zero brand is quite mature now. We actually reviewed its direct predecessor four years ago and Venom has not seen a need to make a new one in that time. It’s so-called because there’s no pesky discreet graphics to get in the way of the workload that this laptop is designed to excel at – namely office work and typing in a mobile setting. What’s most notable about it, though, is that Venom believes it’s so well put together and reliable that it guarantees to pay you $500 trade-in after SEVEN YEARS of use!
A major reason behind Venom’s decision to offer such a guarantee is to avoid e-waste. The notion that perfectly good parts should require significant energy and resources to break them down after use weighs heavily on the founder and you can read more about that here. However, other reasons include the reduction of support costs inherent in very well-built laptops and that many of the parts, like the high-quality keyboard and magnesium alloy chassis can be cheap sources of parts for refurbished products. After all, – why buy new expensive parts from the manufacturer when the consumer can supply for them for less? It’s an admirable outlook that goes against many wasteful recycling practices, especially in the technology space where we’re used to buying an expensive tool with the expectation that it will maybe last two years.
Venom also tells us that its, “Batteries, RAM and SSDs are all very easily serviceable which makes it easy to deploy globally or remotely as well as to upgrade and refurbish. Its all about being really fast for a long time” It adds that, “The average BlackBook user currently sits at 5 years plus [based upon this survey]. Old BlackBooks, get cleaned up and sold-on for another round of ownership.”
With that all said, how does the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 perform?
Key specs of the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom
Design and Handling
Venom almost takes a Spinal Tap approach to the BlackBook Zero 14’s design; but for the white, etched logo on the lid and the back-lit keys, it could be none more black. The Magnesium Alloy chassis is very light – weighing only 960 grams – and is yet very solid. It’s “Military Grade” certified to MIL-STD-810G which means its drop resistant and been through all manner of shock, vibration, temperature, dust and humidity tests. It’s spray resistant but not water resistant. The screen flexes a little when twisted but there’s only so rigid you can realistically make a consumer laptop that weighs less than a kilo. In short, it looks great, is lightweight and tough as boots.
The IPS screen gets bright and is colourful. The Full HD, 1920 x 1080 resolution provides enough screen real-estate for most office documents and all text is sharp, even when very small. The matte finish banishes reflections and the anti-glare coating performs well. Multimedia content looked very good with decent colour reproduction and smooth motion. While it’s not quite up to Creator-designated designer laptops in terms of colour accuracy and gradient transitions, it’s really not far off and it still supports 100 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut. It’s very evenly lit with minimal light bleed and halo effects, even around bright objects on dark backgrounds.
The keyboard is a particular joy to type on. The low-travel, thin-Scrabble-tile keys don’t take much pressure to actuate. You don’t need to stretch your fingers to reach any of the letters and you can comfortably type for extended periods without finger fatigue. Keys also sport LED lighting which can be adjusted to five different brightness levels or turned off. We’ve a pet gripe about the half-height arrow keys but Venom is not alone in providing these.
The centre-mounted trackpad is smooth and accurate to navigate. While the embedded buttons are simple enough to press although some may find them a smidge too tough. Ultimately, it’s a joy to use and interact with.
The twin, one-Watt speakers don’t get very loud (as you’d expect) but they are capable of providing a well-rounded sound without feeble bass or topped-out treble.
On the left of the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 is a USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, an HDMI 2.0 port and a Thunderbolt 4-compatible USB-C port.
On the right is USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 port, 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot. Inside is Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity plus a TPM 2.0 chip for security.
Other features include the HD webcam above the screen (which is Windows Hello compatible for face-recognition-based logging-in) but there’s no partner fingerprint reader.
The Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom laptop is highly customisable in that you can choose from 8GB to 40GB of speedy DDR4 3200 RAM and up to two, 4TB NVMe PCIe Gen 4 drives. With the processor being from Intel’s low-powered U series and the GPU being the embedded Xe graphics chip, we weren’t expecting much from the benchmarks. However, the 2.8-4.7GHz Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, with its four, hyperthreaded cores, scored 4,910 in PCMark 10 which is impressive for any office laptop and testament to Intel’s 11th Generation processor’s prowess. We didn’t run our 3DMark tests as there was absolutely no point. Nonetheless, the Xe GPU will be able to play old, basic, competitive games like CS:GO and Fortnite if you drop the detail settings very low.
We ran our Cinebench tests just to see how the low-powered CPU fared and saw 214 scored in R15 and 3628 in R23. These are numbersy-ways of saying that if you want to buy this laptop for hardcore rendering… don’t.
Portability and the Venom BlackBook Zero 14
Venom reckons the 72 WHr battery of the BlackBook Zero 14 will last for 30 hours if you turn everything down to minimum and were essentially typing in the dark. Considering that such extended, portable typing periods are part of this laptop’s remit we’re happy to repeat the claim. However, in the burgeoning industry standard PCMark 10 Modern Office battery test it lasted for 10hrs 34mins. That’s still easily a day out of the office. [Update: we ran the test again to check that the battery had been bedded in. After four full charging cycles the score improved to an impressive 12hrs 41mins.]
This score combined with the robust featherweight 960g chassis and reduced-size power brick means this really is one of the most portable laptops on the market. That Venom is happy to pay $500 after seven years of use means that many potential road-warriors will feel reassured about ‘lugging’ it around.
We should also note that it comes with an embossed, ‘velvet’ carry pouch and that, helpfully, a second power adapter is included so you don’t have to keep unplugging one from your primary base of operations.
The Zero 14 Phantom also uses a technology called, ‘Flexicharging.’ This, “Helps boost the longevity of lithium ion batteries which depend on the number of charge cycles. ‘Micro charging’ to 100 per cent while plugged into the mains shortens the overall life cycle of the battery. With the Flexicharger enabled between 40 per cent and 80 per cent, the BlackBook can operate without affecting the battery charge levels.”
Price of the BlackBook depends heavily on the spec you choose. Our bespoke review unit would have a top-of-the-range price tag of around $4000 but you can pick up a version of it for $1999.
It’s worth noting that an alternative to the BlackBook Zero 14 is Asus’ ExpertBook range. This offers similar features and a similar price at a lower spec in return for a 20-hour battery life. However, we’d like to see Asus’ faces if you ask for a $500 trade-in in seven years’ time. Or even two for that matter.
With that in mind, it’s worth labouring the point that this laptop will essentially do what it’s supposed to for the better part of a decade – that’s unheard of in computer terms – and then you’ll still be eligible for the hefty trade-in price. No other manufacturer comes close to offering that – you normally get two years at best. This means you’re getting about three laptops-worth of value in one purchase plus, you can feel good about yourself not contributing to future e-waste. When putting those considerations alongside the ExpertBook, there’s only one winner. So, while it’s a premium buy, if a portable, typing computer is what you’re after, this should be at the top of your list.