By Brandon Miniman | February 2, 2011 4:32 PM
Dell did a fantastic job with the Dell Venue Pro that runs Windows Phone 7, so it’s no wonder that we had high hopes for the Android-powered Dell Venue. Once known as the Thunder, the Dell Venue is an Android 2.2 Froyo smartphone which inherits the same high build quality from its Windows Phone 7 counterpart. It’s also utilizing Dell’s proprietary Stage UI, made famous by the Dell Streak. Out of the box the Dell Venue is equipped to run on T-Mobile’s network and also European 3G networks, so it’s a highly versatile device. Do we have another winner on our hands?
The Venue includes accessories typical for any smartphone. Since the device is intended for Europe, it ships with a European plug. The Venue ships with a spacious 16GB class 4 microSD card preinstalled.
Let’s talk a bit about specs. The Venue is running with the Qualcomm 1GHz Snapdragon CPU supported by 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, and 16GB of storage via the microSD card. The screen is the largest shipping AMOLED panel at 4.1″ and WVGA 800×480 resolution. It’s a quadband (850/900/1800/1900) GSM device with triband UMTS (900/1700/2100) capable of HSPA (but in our testing, not HSPA+). For imaging, you get no front-facing camera, but a rear 8MP camera with autofocus and an LED flash that is capable of shooting 720p video (more on video quality later). Beyond that we have the standard radios like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the typical sensors like one for proximity and light. Powering the device is a 1400mAh battery.
The Dell Venue is a commanding device. The large 4.1″ AMOLED screen provides a fantastic level of contrast: far beyond what you get on a standard LCD, but not quite as high as Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays found on the Galaxy S phones. Not only is the screen big and constrasty, but it’s also curved, lending to improved ergonomics, an interesting visual appeal, and a high level of screen sensitivity. On the front we can see that Dell nixed the fourth Android button (search) commonly found on most hardware. The remaining three capacitive buttons are for back, menu, and home.
Here’s a closer look at the curvature of the display, and also of the back of the phone. On the top we have a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right, and on the left, a strangely shaped power button that Dell must have placed for the sake of symmetry. I found the headphone output of the Dell Venue to be too quiet and a bit static-y.
Flipping over to the left side of the device where we’d typically find a volume rocker, we find a mute switch instead. We’re happy to make this compromise, as having a hardware mute switch has become a rarity, and it’s a highly useful feature.
On the right side of the Venue we have the volume rocker, plus a nice dedicated dual-action camera button. I wish Dell had done some software magic to bring forth the same “launch the camera even when phone is on standby” feature from Windows Phone 7. I found myself tapping and holding the camera button when the phone was off in hopes that the camera app would spring into action.
Flipping over to the bottom we see the microUSB port for sync and charge, plus two audio vents: one used for the microphone, one used for the speaker. The speaker on the Venue was quite loud, though not as good as the Nexus One.
The back of the phone is as appealing as the facade: it features an interesting textured plastic that makes the device feel secure in-hand. Back here we get a better view of the chrome strips adorning the sides of the device, plus the 8MP camera with flash.
Taking off the easily-removable battery backing reveals the 1400mAh battery, SIM card slot, and 16GB class 4 microSD card that comes preinstalled.
Browsing the web on a 4.1″ AMOLED screen was a fantastic experience.
We’re thinking that our review unit has a bit of a flaw with the screen. Naturally, we expect to see some display distortion when viewing the Venue’s screen from the side due to the curved glass. We saw this with the Venue Pro. But what’s different here is that the display turns slightly green when you look at it off-center. This isn’t a problem for the viewer, but for people trying to view the screen from the sides (like when you’re sharing photos or a website).
The Dell Venue has some unique changes to the Android interface that bear some explanation. It features the Stage UI, taken from the Streak tablet, which provides a variety of full-screen widgets, plus a revamped application tray (which sadly can’t be changed from side-to-side scrolling to a list). Some (ahem, us) would tend to install a third party launcher like Launcher Pro or ADW Launcher, but many will appreciate what Dell has done here. Sadly, the homescreen interface doesn’t work in landscape. Here is a breakdown of the Stage UI widgets:
Home: Provides access to nine recently-used apps. Also has weather which links to AccuWeather website.
Email: Allows you to flip through your primary email account. Also has a button to compose new mail.
Gallery: Pulls up recently-taken photos from your gallery. Allows you to turn on the camera.
Music: Pulls in recently played albums or playlists. Links to the Android music app.
Social: Gives you a scrollable updates for Facebook or Twitter. Also allows you to update your status. No settings on update frequency, etc.
Contacts: Pulls from Android Favorites to show images of 12 contacts.
Bookmarks: Pulls from Bookmarks on the web, shows thumbnail preview of six websites. Lets you search Google.
In the above video we also compare the performance of the Nexus S with the Venue when browsing the web. Most of the time, the Nexus S comes out on top, except for screen rotation speed.
Video quality, even at maximum resolution, was sub-par on the Venue. This video came out noisy with under-saturated color.
Here are a few samples taken with the 8MP camera on the Venue. In all shooting situations, the camera on the Venue was poor. The camera had trouble focusing on nearby objects, low light situations were difficult (even with the flash), and colors came out under-saturated.
The Venue, in day-to-day use, is a speedy device, but it’s noticeably slower than the Nexus S. It’s running on Android 2.2, which is a big step up from 2.1 in terms of performance. Running Quadrant we achieve a score of about 817, which is a bit lower than the Galaxy S.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
We tested the Dell Venue on T-Mobile and AT&T. On the former you’ll get 3G, on the latter, you’ll get just EDGE speeds. Call quality over both networks were fine, with no dropped calls experienced. Running multiple networking benchmarks, we were able to achieve a maximum of 2.5mbps down and 1.6mbps up, which was a lot slower than the maximum of 4.6mbps down and 1.8mpbps on the Nexus S, also over T-Mobile.
Despite having such a large display, the Venue Pro does a good job in the battery life department. With heavy use, we were able to go a full day without needing a charge. With moderate use, expect to go a day and a half.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Dell Venue is sold unlocked. As such, it’s not subsidized by a carrier and is thus a bit more expensive. They are now shipping over at Negri Electronics for around $600.
+ Fantastic build quality
+ Gorgeous display
+ Solid performance
+ Works with T-Mobile
+ Dedicated camera button
+ Hardware mute switch
+ Great battery life
- Poor camera
- Curved display has green tint when not viewed head-on
- Audio output is too quiet and a bit fuzzy
- No HSPA+ for T-Mobile
- Stage UI has few options
We have to look at the Dell Venue comparatively. If you’re considering this device, you’re probably also considering other unlocked phones, probably ones that will work with T-Mobile if you’re in the US. One of our favorite phones, the Nexus S, happens to fit both of those criteria, plus it’s superior in many ways: it’s faster, it has the latest version of Android, the screen quality is better, and it’s much lighter.
Taken by itself, the Dell Venue is a fantastic Android handset, thanks to terrific build quality, an interesting UI, and great day-to-day performance. It’s also a bit last-generation. It doesn’t have a front-facing camera or a dual core processor, it’s shipping with an older version of Android, and there aren’t many options associated with the Dell Stage UI.
We rate the Dell Venue a 3.5/5.