Venom-BlackBook-Zero-14-Phantom review

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom Review (2024 Update)

We’re glad to see Aussie-battler brand Venom return to High Performance Laptops. The company regards laptop making somewhat differently to the rest of the market thanks to the founder’s vision focusing upon what’s really important in a business laptop in addition to genuine sustainability issues. To that end, the latest Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom comes wielding a cacophony of RAM to support real-life work environments where Microsoft Teams is running and a user has several gazillion Chrome tabs open.

On top of that, you can trade it in seven years(!) after purchase for a [checks notes] guaranteed $500 cash back. So, is this the business notebook to buy? Also, should everyone else buy it, for that matter?

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom Specs

Screen14-inch, matte, 90Hz, 2,880 x 1,800, IPS display
Processor3.7-5GHz Intel Core i7-1360P CPU
Memory64GB DDR5-4800 RAM
Graphics1.5GHz Intel Xe
Hard drive1TB
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.2
1 x Thunderbolt 4
1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 1
2 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
3.5mm audio jack
HDMI 2.0
SD card reader
Speakers2 x 2-Watt
Extra SecurityIR webcam with Windows Hello
WebcamFull HD
Battery99Wh
Dimensions308 x 213 x 16mm
Weight1.22KG
Review SKUChallenger Edition
Full specs here.

Features, Ergonomics and Design

The Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom, like its siblings, is all-matte-black with a subtle, light-sensitive, printed moniker on the front (the word ‘Venom’ with the company’s Cobra logo) that’s part American muscle car and part ninja stealth. It’s part of Venom’s business laptop range and so we don’t expect it to raise any eyebrows in an office. But, it looks cool in any setting.

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review lid
The BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom really does look great in any setting.

The CNC-milled, magnesium-alloy chassis feels very high quality and impressively light. The hinges are very solid and our only potential issue is that it can be a bit of a fingerprint magnet… we’re not sure when we last didn’t say that in a laptop review, though.

Screen

Opening up the BlackBook Zero reveals a bright, thin-bezel screen. Despite only having a 14-inch diagonal it has a very high-resolution 2,880 x 1,800 resolution which keeps (even the smallest) text looking sharp and readable on the Windows Desktop. There’s plenty of real-estate to have multiple apps open at once and we found that this made us particularly productive.

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review oblique view
The BlackBook Zero’s screen has a very high resolution and provides plenty of desktop real estate. It’s very good for multimedia too.

Venom also makes the point that business laptop screens should not be glossy as the reflections cause accelerated eye fatigue. We used it as a daily driver for weeks and were inclined to agree in this regard.

For multimedia, colours are reasonable and we happily watched movies on it. While there’s a little light-stepping in some colour gradients (which is pretty normal for any non-HDR LCD screen) we were particularly impressed with monochromatic transitions as they were generally smooth and did not turn into a blocky mess – like we’ve come to expect from laptops in general.

Contrast was mostly impressive with almost true-black letterbox bars being displayed and plenty of detail being revealed in dark scenes. Highlights could blow out at the top-end but, considering this is fundamentally a business laptop, that’s negligible and we were very impressed.

The screen also supports a slightly faster than normal 90Hz refresh rate. While that’s not the quickest, it marries with a not-sluggish pixel response time to render fast-moving objects impressively smoothly (compared to any laptop). If you wanted to play some casual shooters on this, you can. But, don’t tell the boss.

Speakers

We didn’t expect much from the speakers within the BlackBook Zero’s 16mm-thick chassis but were, again, impressed. The twin, 2-Watt modules get surprisingly loud and yet retain good fidelity from top to bottom. There’s even a modicum of bass to be found when you play around with the Nahimic audio driver settings.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is a nice, Scrabble-tile, low-travel, touch-type affair that’s particularly comfortable and accurate to type upon for extended periods. The shortcuts on the F-keys are useful and our most major gripe was that the up-and-down arrow keys are squished(!)

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review keyboard
The keyboard is very-low travel, comfy and accurate. Please note that it’s not waterproof!

The Venom’s glass-coated trackpad is smooth and accurate and the two buttons actuate with a comfortable, firm press and a light click. You can disable it by double tapping on the top-left corner.

Webcam and Conferencing

The Full HD webcam captures an impressively sharp image and it does a good job of fending-off grain in low light. The dual-array microphone array does a good job of capturing sharp and clear vocals when streaming. It’s perhaps not the best at removing background noise in a noisy environment though.

Ultimately, the BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom impressed us in our daily usage as we expected it to be, like its forbear, a tool for office work only. However, it’s got genuine multimedia (and even some gaming) chops and we didn’t feel like switching to another model because it was found wanting in any area.

Connectivity and Ports

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review left side
On the left of the BlackBook Zero are USB-C, USB-A and 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a UHS-I SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review right side
On the right is a Thunderbolt 4 port, another USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port and an HDMI 2.0 port.

Inside there’s Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2. There are certainly more-updated connectors on the market, but all the important business-class connections are here and you won’t need to carry around any dongles, like some minimalist rivals.

Design, Features and Ergonomics: 4.1 / 5

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom Review: Photo Flourish

The photos in our review were taken at Bistro Molines in the Hunter Valley just North of Sydney. We highly recommend going there, even if it’s just to admire the best view in the region.

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review lid open
This is the extent to which the lid opens. The matte screen looks glossy but that’s only because it’s pointing at the sky.

Performance

The BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom’s predecessor, that we saw, was very low powered indeed, but this model uses a rather punchy, 13th-Gen, Intel Core i7-1360P processor which runs from 3.7-5GHz across four Performance cores, eight Efficiency cores and 16 threads. It’s flanked by a very generous 64GB of DDR5-4800 RAM and a rapid PCIe 4.0, NVMe hard drive.

General Computing and 2D Performance

In the general computing, PCMark 10 benchmark, the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom scored 5,376 which is nippy for an ultraportable and just below average when compared across the entire laptop market.

In the Cinebench CPU-based rendering tests, it scored 1,465 in the rapid R15 test and 8,332 in the longer R23 test. These aren’t the fastest scores – as we’d expect from a quad-Performance-core processor – but it’s not incapable for occasional workloads.

We also ran our new, UL Procyon real-world benchmarks. In the Office Productivity benchmark, which uses Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook to perform typical office tasks on typical apps, it scored 6,074.

We’ve not yet got enough data to establish how this truly fits into a market but, for some perspective, the Word ‘Export to PDF’ task to 15.4 seconds and every other task took less than a second whereas a top-tier, multimedia laptop with a 14th-Gen Core Ultra 9 185H processor scored 6,666 and exported the PDF in *cough* 15.3 seconds.

In Excel, the longest task on the Venom was ‘Unique Pairs’ which took 6.8 seconds while the multimedia monster took 3.6 seconds. But everything else wasn’t too different with the Venom doing the ‘Solving Equations’ test in 6 seconds while the multimedia machine took 5.8 seconds.

There wasn’t much difference in PowerPoint tasks and the multimedia machine only stretched ahead when performing the ‘Searching for Mails’ test in Outlook (2.7 vs 6.7 seconds). Most other tasks took less-than a second on both machines. Consequently, there’s not much point in buying an uber-powerful machine when you’re primarily performing office tasks as the BlackBook Zero can essentially handle it just as well.

In the Procyon Video Editing benchmark, which uses Adobe Premiere, the BlackBook Zero scored 2,772 which means it completed all four video exporting tests between 158 and 3,546 seconds. To get some context by way of a harsh comparison, we recently saw the extremely fast MSI Raider gaming laptop score 45,674 which means it completed the same tasks between 20.9 seconds and 56.7 seconds.

No ultraportable has much of a chance of posting a good score in this test (we’ll see just how true that is over time) but you don’t buy this laptop if you’re into regular video editing (duh!) and yet, it will still perform much better in this area when compared to rival laptops with low-powered processors – even if you need to wait around a bit.

In the Procyon Photo Editing benchmark which uses Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom Classic, the BlackBook Zero scored 4,240. This means it performed all retouching and batch processing tasks in 320 seconds. The Raider took 110.6 seconds. In reality, of the 14 tests, it was only the ‘Enhance Details’ where the Venom struggled – that represented 164 seconds of the total score(!) We did plenty of photo editing on this laptop and had very few issues.

General Computing and 2D Performance: 1.8 / 5

3D Performance

While we didn’t expect the BlackBook Zero to be much of a video rendering machine, we certainly didn’t expect it to be good at games. The integrated 1.5GHz Intel Xe graphics are never up to much, but we ran our regular tests to find the laptop’s limits, nonetheless.

It wouldn’t run the difficult 3DMark ray-tracing tests, Speed Way and Port Royal.

In the AAA-game-title mimicking Time Spy and Fire Strike Extreme tests, it scored 1,799 and 2,505 respectively. These scores equate to average frame-rates of 10fps and 11.1fps, again respectively. That’s not a total failure but you’ll need to dramatically drop resolution and detail settings to get any smooth playability from top titles.

In the lesser 3DMark Night Raid test, which apes casual and competitive games, the BlackBook scored 15,488 which is an average of 90.6fps. This, coupled with the not-slow 90Hz screen means you can actually play some FPS shooters on this laptop (without wanting to claw your eyes out because of blurring). But, again, don’t tell the boss.

3D Performance: 1.3 / 5

Cooling

The Venom Support and Control App might look basic but, in a world of constantly updating, UX-clusterfails from rivals, we really appreciated its simplicity. It’s here were you can switch the Power Settings between Power Saver, Balanced and High performance which adjusts the ‘Active Venom Stealth Cooling’ (AVSC) performance. At worst, it makes a light whoosh when under load. However, much of the time it emits a barely-there whir, to stay quiet.

The magnesium-alloy chassis helps with heat dissipation and, while it can get warm, we didn’t ever find it uncomfortable.

Portability and Battery Life

The CNC-milled chassis feels very robust and rigid and yet it only weighs 1.22KG which makes it very easy to cart around all day. The three-year pick-up and return warranty plus, the guaranteed, seven-year $500 cashback promise, suggest that it’s unlikely to fall apart… for a very long time.

The PSU and cables add an extra 309g to the mix but, brilliantly, Venom provides two of them, so you can leave one neatly wired into your main office and use the other when travelling, if you need to. We’re big fans of this.

Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom review underside
In addition to two sets of chargers, the Venom also comes with a USB rescue key should you need to reset it in an emergency.

Also impressive is the maximum-size, 99.9Wh battery – very unusual for an ultraportable of these dimensions. It ran our PCMark 10 Modern Office battery test for decent 13 hours and 22 minutes so it should easily last the full day. We also ran the Procyon, MS Office-based, Office Productivity Battery Life benchmark and it did so for 15 hours 45 minutes – just shy of two full days out of the office.

Ultraportables usually only exceed these scores when they sport slower, ultra-low powered processors, so these scores are particularly impressive.

Portability: 4.1 / 5

Price and Availability

Despite being based in Australia, it ships to the world and is supported globally. Our SKU of the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom – The Challenger Edition – is available now for $3,699. There are multiple variants though, ranging from $2,099 all the way to $6,299 for a model with 8TB storage! All have that $500 cashback promise.

Being a business laptop means that you can procure multiple units via Venom’s managed accounts and MSP partners. These provide the potential for tailored, bulk discounts and, as with other-business class ultraportables, this has the potential to warp our value score somewhat.

Value: 3.7 / 5

Conclusion: Should you buy the Venom BlackBook Zero 14 Phantom?

We went into this review thinking we’d primarily be examining the BlackBook Zero’s business credentials, but it’s impressed us greatly with its multimedia chops too. If you want a smart-looking, robust, barely-there laptop – and one that gives peace of mind by being backed by a three-year, pick-up-and-return warranty and that seven-year $500 cash-back guarantee – then it needs to be on the shortlist for anyone who wants a high-quality, mobile computer.

Overall: 4 / 5

Awards

High Recommended Portable Laptop Award
Highly Recommended Business Laptop Award
  • Overall
4

Verdict

One of the best business laptops you can buy.

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