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Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom laptop review

We find out what makes this speedy computer, and its Aussie maker, so special.

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom laptop
Last updated: 27 July 2021

CHOICE verdict

If you're looking for a laptop with some real bite, the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom (yes, it's quite a mouthful) is an unusual and impressive package. This premium notebook computer has a lot to offer. It's light yet solidly built, fast (with spectacularly speedy storage), has a useful range of ports, good non-reflective Full HD screen, and long battery life – plus the rare ability to access and upgrade internal components. It ships with two power supplies (one for home and one for work) along with a USB recovery drive tool, and you can trade it in for up to $500 on a new model once you're finished with it, in six or seven years' time. In the performance laptop market the Phantom stands out as a real contender.

Price: $2699
Contact: shopvenom.com

How does the BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom perform?

Venom top side view

The magnesium alloy unibody chassis is light and strong and the base can be removed to access and upgrade key components

The BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom is a business class laptop and comes with Windows 10 Pro, but is ready for Windows 11. Our test model, loaned courtesy of Venom, was the Delta Edition. It's built tough, to US military (MIL-STD-810G) standard with testing conditions that include heat, moisture, altitude, low temperature, shock, vibration, dust and more.  

Our test model came with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 main processor and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics using shared memory, 16GB (gigabytes) of RAM (memory) and a 1TB (terabyte) SSD (solid-state drive) for storage.

Connections

Wireless connectivity is via the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1, and plug-in ports include two USB 3.0 (Type-A) and a high-speed USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) port, microSD storage slot, full-sized HDMI, headset port and a cable lock slot.

The SSD is the fastest we've ever tested, with 7080MBps (megabytes per second) read speed and 5122MBps write speed. This is a seriously fast drive. The read speed is almost double the next fastest laptop we've tested and more than double most of them.

The built-in storage is the fastest we've ever tested

This drive makes very short work of file transfers, which lifts overall performance and gives the laptop very snappy responsiveness in everyday usage. It should cope easily with any general app you throw at it, but if you need to do specialised highly intensive jobs such as 3D rendering, look to the Pro models.

It's actively cooled and since it's a thin laptop with a Core i7 in it, you can at times hear the fan, though there is an app included to control the fan speed to improve cooling, which can help prolong the life of electronic components.

Keyboard and audio

Venom front

The keyboard and touchpad are fine but audio could use a boost.

The keyboard is good and comfortable to use, and the backlit keys have multiple illumination levels, and though we found they have slightly shallow travel they have good responsiveness. The touchpad is a decent size and tracks smoothly. We had no issues with its performance. 

We found the audio less impressive, with the speakers sounding somewhat muffled and flat, and bass can't be heard easily. This is fine for most tasks but if you're a music buff you'll be better off plugging in some speakers or headphones to get enjoyable audio.

Modular design

The Phantom has a thin Aerospace-grade magnesium alloy unibody chassis and a light weight of approximately 1kg – these days it's unusual to see a thin-and-light laptop that has serviceable and upgradeable parts.

Many have the RAM and even the storage soldered in, so what you buy is what you've got for the life of the computer. The bottom panel can be removed easily to reveal the battery (which isn't glued-in, as is the case with many), SSD (and spare slot), Wi-Fi module, and RAM slot.

Venom with base removed

The BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom has the unusual feature of a removable base to easily access and upgrade RAM, storage and other key components for longer life.

Screen

The 14-inch non-reflective matte anti-glare screen is Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) with wide viewing angles, and it produces excellent detail in light and dark areas, along with well-balanced colour.

We measured the screen brightness at 275 nits, which is good. A 180-degree hinge lets the screen fold back flat, but it's not a touchscreen. The 1MP (megapixel) web camera supports Windows Hello facial recognition login, but doesn't have a physical cover.

Battery

With a huge 72.9WH battery, the Phantom is one of the longer running laptops we've tested. In our worst-case heavy usage testing it lasted more than 10 hours, which means you won't need to pack the power supply when you head out on the road for a day's work.

And you don't need to carry it to and from the office because you get two power supplies included with the laptop. Smart charging software is included to prevent overcharging and optimise battery life.

What makes the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom special?

The Phantom comes with some unusual features, such as a serviceable design, two external power supplies, and a USB recovery drive for emergencies. It's a thoughtful touch but one that makes sense because supplying this tool upfront potentially cuts down the need for tech support if you run into problems down the track or just want to upgrade your drives.

Part of what makes the BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom special is the company behind it

The Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom is unusual in several ways for this class of laptop, but a big part of what makes it special is the company itself. Venom is an Australian brand, based in Melbourne.

You won't find the BlackBook (in its Zero 14, Zero 14 Phantom, Zero 15, Pro 16, Pro 17 and upcoming BlackBook X configurations) on mainstream department store shelves. You have to deal directly with the company, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

Venom offers free delivery across Australia and internationally via DHL Global Express couriers and also free collection if needed for warranty repair or replacement. It also offers a $500 buyback on used models up to seven years old, when you buy a new one. 

Venom has to compete with the big multinational computer makers, so it takes an approach that it says is different to most laptop makers. The philosophy is to design models for longevity and ensure they're "made really well". Venom claims that more than 97% of their customers were still using their BlackBook five years after purchase, and 81% over five years have never needed support.

Venom is setting the bar high for other suppliers, with long product lifecycle, serviceable components, and a guaranteed trade-in program

The company is setting the bar high for other suppliers. It's longer product lifecycle, serviceable components, the trade-in program and mindfulness of reducing e-waste, among other things, is a refreshing approach. It's also moving towards sustainable, easily recyclable packaging, printed with soy ink.

The trade-in program is a win for Venom too, as selling fast, reliable, value machines means they have a product that they're willing to purchase back at a future date. You get 30 days to send in your old model after you've received your new one. This gives you plenty of time to transfer your files and configure settings to your liking.

The BlackBook Zero 14 comes in two models, the standard BlackBook Zero 14 (starting at $1599) and the Phantom (starting at $1999), which has more RAM and storage capability (it will support dual drives – our test Phantom had a free full-sized M.2 SSD slot for extra internal storage), larger battery, Thunderbolt 4 and US military build spec.

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