By Brandon Miniman | January 25, 2011 1:47 PM
The Dell Venue Pro is the second-to-last launch device to sport the new Windows Phone 7 operating system. It’s possible that they’ve saved the best for the end, though, because the Venue Pro features a slick slide-down keyboard, fantastic build quality, and great performance. The sleek form factor comes at a cost though, and this smarpthone isn’t for everyone. In this review we’ll cover the hardware and software of the phone and leave you with a final reccomendation on whether you should buy a Venue Pro.
It was a bit strange for us to unbox a smartphone with the Dell logo on the front. This is Dell’s third smarpthone release after the Aero and the Streak. Inside the box we find typical accessories like a charger and earbuds. There’s also a T-Mobile SIM included, as the Venue Pro is locked to that network (an AT&T version might be forthcoming).
In terms of specs, the Dell Venue Pro is running with similar internals as all of the other Windows Phone 7 launch devices. That includes a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 512MB of RAM (update: 256MB RAM), Wi-Fi b/g/n, aGPS, Bluetooth 2.1, FM Radio, and HSDPA/HSUPA. It comes in both 8GB and 16GB storage configurations without a user-accessible microSD slot for added storage. It’s packing a five-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash that can record 720p video. The battery is 1400mAh.
The screen is a focal point of the Venue Pro. It’s the largest AMOLED screen on the market by our count, at 4.1″ diagonal running with WVGA 800×480 resolution. While its display is not as contrasty as the Super AMOLED display found on the Samsung Focus, it’s crisper than a typical LCD.
The Venue Pro is a sleek and sexy device, yet it’s heavy and bulky at the same time. The curved piece of glass that adorns the facade is unique. The glass does a great job at deterring fingerprints. As with all Windows Phone 7 devices, the Venue Pro has a back, Start, and search button on the front. The buttons light up in dark conditions, and are capacitive touch.
While the contrast on this display isn’t as great as that on the Samsung Focus (with its Super AMOLED screen), it’s crisper and clearer than most other displays we’ve tested. The screen performed well in bright sunlight thanks to the responsive light sensor.
The Venue Pro has a fantastic slide-out keyboard that has four rows. The keys provide a great level of tactile feedback, and are sized adequately for those with large or small fingers. However, the on-screen keyboard on the Venue Pro is the best we’ve ever tested, so you might not be needing the hardware keyboard too often.
Retracting the keyboard with one hand is easy thanks to a rubbery ledge below the screen. Opening up the slider will take the device out of standby, but unfortuntaely you cannot use the slider to answer or end calls.
Flipping over to the back we have some fantastic attention to detail. The large Dell logo sits above a Windows Phone logo, which resides on a piece of plastic with a laser-etched patterns that not only looks high-end, but feels secure in-hand. Even the back of the display has this interesting pattern. Also back here you can see the five-megapixel camera with LED flash.
On the bottom of the device we have the microUSB port, plus the speaker and microphone. The speaker on the Venue Pro was top-notch and more “bassy” than any phone we’ve tested.
On the left side of the device we have just a smooth chrome strip.
And on the right side of the Venue Pro we have the volume rocker (which is usually on the left side) plus the dual-action camera button.
Browsing the web on the Venue Pro’s big AMOLED display is a great experience, also thanks to the great performance of Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 7.
You’ve already seen Windows Phone 7, and if you haven’t, be sure to check out our full review.
There’s a few added programs on the Dell Venue Pro that come from T-Mobile, but none are that special. Here’s an outline of what you get:
- Family Room: A family-centric app that lets you share a whiteboard, calendar, and more, among several handsets
- My Account: An app that lets you check your account balance, view activity, etc
- Pageonce Finance: A personal finance app that is otherwise available in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace
- Telenav: A turn-by-turn navigation solution that will cost you $10 per month to use
- T-Mobile TV: A mobiTV application that lets you watch live TV for a monthly fee
What you get is a pretty clean installation of Windows Phone 7 on the Venue Pro, which is a good thing, because it’s a great operating system that performs well, especially on the Venue Pro. We compared the Dell smartphone to the Samsung Focus, and found that most of the time, it was faster in launching apps and going through the various screens of the operating system. Compared to the Nexus S and iPhone, the Venue Pro is competitive when it comes to internet browsing speed.
Not only does it seem faster than other Windows Phone 7 devices, but the screen sensitivity seems to be the highest, thus making for a very fluid experience thanks to the super light touch required to register a screen press.
The Venue Pro can record video at 720p, but, like the other Windows Phone 7 device, doesn’t “remember” your resolution setting. Each time you shoot video you have to choose 720p. That’s annoying.
For still photography, the Venue Pro takes photos at five megapixels and can do autofocus (but not touch-to-focus). Here are a few samples: indoor, indoor macro, outdoor. As you can see from the samples, the camera has trouble focusing on close-up objects, and also tends to not accurately portray colors.
The Venue Pro is a work horse, and lives up to the “Pro” moniker. It’s the fastest Windows Phone 7 device we’ve used, and we’ve used them all.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
Running on the T-Mobile HSDPA network, expect to get 1-2mbps download speeds. The device isn’t capable of T-Mobile 4G-like HSPA+ speeds, unfortunately.
Call quality was fantastic, and I didn’t experience any dropped calls.
Battery life on the Venue Pro was above average. With heavy use, expect to get through about a day and half on one charge. With moderate use, you can go a full two day without plugging in. Very good!
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Venue Pro is available directly from Dell in two configurations. The 8GB version is $99 with a two year contract, or $449 without. The 16GB model will run you $149 with a T-mobile plan, or $500 without.
+ Windows Phone 7 runs buttery smooth
+ Curved glass display looks and feels great
+ Great battery life
+ Super high build quality with great attention to detail
+ Fantastic hardware keyboard
+ Excellent on-screen keyboard
+ Loud speaker
- Windows Phone 7 still lacks key features
- Heavy and bulky
- No user-accessible microSD storage
- Keyboard slider can’t be used to answer/end calls
- Awkwardly-placed power button
- No HSPA+ for T-Mobile
We mentioned early in the review that the slick form factor of the Venue Pro comes at a cost. That cost is size and weight. The phone is a scale-tipping 180 grams. As a frame of reference, the iPhone is 137 grams, and the Nexus S is 129 grams. In terms of size, the phone, with keyboard extended, is about 50% taller than the iPhone, which can be uncomfortable if you’re trying to tap onscreen elements while keeping your fingers on the keyboard. Fortunately, the on-screen keyboard of the Venue Pro is one of the best we’ve ever seen, so it’s not neccessary to retract the keyboard but for times when you need to write long messages.
The build quality of the Venue Pro is remarkable, and we hope this is a sign of things to come from Dell. The mixed used of glass, metal, textured plastic, and rubbery plastic makes for a very high-end feel. That, coupled with the weight of the device, and you’ve got a commanding device that feels ready to do whatever you ask of it.
If you’ve been waiting for Windows Phone 7 and wouldn’t mind the bulk of a heavier device, the Venue Pro might be the phone to get. With an AT&T version passing the FCC, more people may soon have access to this terrific device.
We rate the Venue Pro a 4.5/5.