The Dell Venue Pro, perhaps more than any other Windows Phone 7 handset, has caught the eye of the chic geek crowd. Once again, Dell has refused just to make a clone phone, instead changing the form factor to something unexpected, but something awesome too.
Does that portrait QWERTY keyboard underneath its delicious screen make this the Windows Phone 7 blower for BlackBerry addicts? Is it time to convert? Read our Dell Venue Pro review right now to find out.
UPDATE: Our HTC 7 Pro review is now live – check out what we made of the Venue Pro’s closest rival!
The Dell Venue Pro is the best Windows Phone 7 handset so far, of that there’s no doubt: the trouble may be whether email addicts really want to use Windows Phone 7.
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Build and screen
The Dell Venue Pro is quite the looker, we must say. While there are no surprises when it comes to port and button lay out (3.5mm audio and screenlock on the top, micro USB on the bottom, volume and camera keys on the right), we’re loving its curved front face and mottled plastic backing. It’s not particularly thin when shut, but hefty in the hand, and resistant to scratches thanks to its Gorilla Glass.
That display, incidentally, is glorious. Dell is one of the few phone makers apart from Samsung and Nokia still pumping out AMOLED screens, and the 4.1-inch number looks utterly glorious – and has fantastic response and viewing angles. Only the Samsung Omnia 7 has a more vivid display amongst the Windows Phone 7 competition.
All in all, we like. Just a few niggles – the metal trim on the sides of the phone looks incredibly likely to scratch with more than a few days’ use, and the SIM card slot is an absolute nightmare to get SIMs in and out of. Hopefully you won’t be doing that too much. It’s also worth noting that the Dell Venue Pro only comes with 8GB of internal storage (No MicroSD cards allowed in Windows Phone 7), so this isn’t one for Zune zealots with huge MP3 libraries.
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This is the biggie: the Dell Venue Pro has a Palm Pre style slide out portrait QWERTY keyboard, and by and large it’s excellent. The keys are well laid out and click down in a way that’ll easily satisfy a BlackBerry user or Nokia QWERTY fan, with a large easy to reach function key in the bottom left. Windows Phone 7 does a great job of auto inserting punctuation too, so you can type just as fast on this as a BlackBerry with practice.
There are some odd key positions (The “ae” key suggests our unit is a European one: we’re in the process of confirming UK layout) and the dedicated smiley button is downright bizarre. But we never found that they got in the way.
The bad news? The slide mechanism that moves up to reveal the keyboard is ever so slightly rickety, so when you press the Windows home button, you get some unnerving give. You also have to watch out for the shaper corners on either edge when you grip it in two hands.
Bar this, any limitations for flinging emails off into the ether on the double are software ones that Dell can’t do much about – this is the best Windows Phone 7 phone for messaging obsessives.
Windows Phone 7
Because software makes or breaks a smartphone, we spend a lot of time going over the software when a new Android phone arrives – it can vary so much. But because Microsoft dictates minimum hardware specs and bans manufacturers from making any software tweaks rather than custom apps, the core Windows Phone 7 experience stays the same from phone to phone. In other words: if you haven’t already seen it, everything from our Windows Phone 7 review still applies to the Dell Venue Pro.
For better and for worse, the Dell Venue Pro is a very vanilla Windows Phone 7 experience. The unit we tested had no custom Dell apps, and the search button defaults to Bing in Internet Explorer as it should. On the downside, people tempted by that physical keyboard will absolutely hate the lack of cut and paste – it’s coming soon, but it still isn’t here yet and that’s just not good enough.
What is also disappointing to see, and something we may experience with the forthcoming HTC 7 Pro, is how little integration there is for physical keyboards in Windows Phone 7 right now. Currently, it extends to typing, and hiding the on-screen QWERTY when the keyboard is pulled out. Apps and core parts of the OS however don’t react to typing as you’d expect: typing on the homescreen won’t trigger universal search, or a list of contacts. it just flat out doesn’t do anything, and even more distressingly, that’s the same in the People hub too.
Hit the Bing bar meanwhile and you can’t just start typing, even there’s only one window to type on in the whole frame: you have to give it a prod still. As more Windows Phone 7 QWERTY phones start to arrive, we hope Microsoft addresses this, but in the meantime with these niggles, Windows Phone 7 is same as it ever was: Exchange support, easy to use and bloody good for gaming, but without multitasking.
The five megapixel camera on the Dell Venue Pro is rather disappointment after the snapper on the Dell Streak: you can’t pull off satisfyingly sharp shots in daylight as we’ve come accustomed to on other smartphones. Adding to this frustration is the fact that Windows Phone 7 returns all the camera settings to its defaults every time you close the camera app, which is incredibly frustrating. The Dell Venue Pro also shoots 720p HD video, but as you can see in the clip below, it’s rather jerky, and handles contrast appallingly.
Performance and call quality
The Dell Venue Pro runs on a 1GHz Snapdrgon processor and 512MB of RAM, which gives it plenty of oomph to burn through anything on Windows Phone 7. Slowdown just doesn’t happen – though apps taking a long time to load is still an issue with the OS. The 1400mAh battery life will get you through the day with push email and account syncing on, but no more – it’s not as power efficient as the Dell Streak.
The call quality on the Dell Venue Pro however, is excellent. Conversations sound clear, and the speakerphone is one of the best we’ve tested since the HTC Touch Pro 2. Two speaker grilles on the bottom of the phone pump out booming audio, and the person we spoke with reported no interference or echo down their end of the line. Make a lot of conference calls? You’ll like this.
Bar a lack of proper keyboard integration, the Dell Venue Pro is the best Windows Phone 7 handset yet – and the good news is it’s available on several networks on contract, not just O2 like the Streak. If you’re a BlackBerry user looking to jump ship to Windows Phone 7, this is the phone for you.
Our concern (and subtracted star from the score) still comes from Windows Phone 7 itself. Is the OS something BlackBerry addicts will appreciate? For all its apps and pinch to zoom skills, we suspect the lack of basic things like third party multitasking and cut and paste will put productivity types off. Windows Phone 7 is still best for casual phone users who enjoy gaming and media more than email.
It’s a pity, as with new build of Android on top, the Dell Venue Pro could have been the best phone of the last twelve months.