Following the initial rush of Windows Phone 7 handsets, computer manufacturer Dell has delivered one of its rare forays into the mobile world, with the Venue Pro, which features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, AMOLED touchscreen, 5-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and GPS. Let's see how it gets on...
Design and build
The most striking thing about the Dell Venue Pro is its sheer size. It's a chunky fella measuring 122 x 64 x 15mm and at 193g it will make a fair-sized dent in your pocket. If you can put up with that, however, it's certainly a sturdily built device that gives the feeling it could stand up to a bit of rough handling.
Beneath the screen are the standard three WinPho7 buttons (back, menu and search) on a touch sensitive strip, with volume and camera buttons on the side, microUSB power/sync slot on the bottom plus power/sleep button and 3.5mm headphone jack on top.
The top slides upwards with a well-sprung thunk to reveal the QWERTY keyboard. It has 37 plasticky keys which are raised in the middle to make them easy to find under the thumbs and they offer a decent amount of travel and feedback too, making them comfortable to use. Yes, they could possibly have squeezed in a few more keys, but making them any smaller would have made them awkward to use.
It may not be up there with the best (thankyou HTC 7 Pro), but it's practical and easy to use. Then again, so is the virtual keyboard, which is actually bigger in portrait mode, so unless you're a diehard physical button fan, you won't necessarily need the additional keyboard.
One of the Venue Pro's more impressive points is its super-sharp 4.1in AMOLED touchscreen. It looks superb, and comes as a bit of a surprise considering reports of shortages from the major AMOLED manufacturer, Samsung, over the last year or so.
It may not be quite as bright as the Super AMOLED screens available on Samsung's high-end models like the Galaxy S II, but it's a clear cut above standard LCD and stands up well in sunlight too.
It's sensitive as well, reacting to brushes and presses with aplomb. The only real problem is that it doesn't appear to have any sort of anti-grease coating whatsoever, and is very prone to smudges, which can be a pain when you're browsing or watching video.
Interface and OS
In common with other WinPho 7 phones, the Venue Pro is powered by a 1GHz processor and 512MB RAM, which keeps things nipping along nicely. The operating system with its neat tile-based interface has remained steady and consistent, or boringly unchanged, depending on your viewpoint.
It's a breeze to navigate and its many little design quirks are a joy, but those used to regular Android updates may find it a bit disappointing that Windows doesn't appear to be powering ahead with innovations and additions.
The 5-megapixel camera includes LED flash, autofocus and a few scene modes, but none of those fancy smile and face detection tricks, or even multi-shot capability. It's essentially point and shoot, and picture quality is fair in good light but not outstanding.
There's also 720p HD video recording, which is a welcome addition and looks okay for the most part, though it can be a little bit jerky on occasion.
Apps and browser
The Windows Marketplace is still way behind Apple's App Store and the Android Market in terms of the number of apps available, and economies of scale don't appear to have kicked in yet, with many apps costing considerably more than they do on rival stores.
The browser, connected over Wi-Fi or 3G, is fast and fairly intuitive, at least once you get used to switching from portrait mode to navigate and landscape mode to view pages.
Media and connectivity
Like other WinPho 7 handsets, there's no expandable memory on the Venue Pro, though there is a choice of 8MB or 16GB versions. Even the larger version, however, may not be enough for serious media fans, especially if you're fond of HD video.
Syncing is via Microsoft's very capable Zune software, which allows you to automatically sync your media from selected folders on your computer, though oddly, syncing your emails with Outlook involves a rather awkward workaround.
Videos look great on the big, bright, sharp screen and the stereo speakers mounted on the bottom can go surprisingly loud, though there's a risk of distortion at full volume, depending on the material.
Unlike HTC's models, there's no equaliser to adjust the sound just the way you like it. The supplied headphones aren't bad at all, a little bright perhaps, but with plenty of controlled bass and comfy, noise-isolating grommets. If you need better, they're easily upgradable via the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Performance and battery life
In practise the Venue Pro works quickly with no noticeable lag when switching between apps, browsing or watching video. Unfortunately the powerful processor and lovely AMOLED screen tend to take their toll on the 1400mAh battery - you can't really expect to get much more than a full day's use out of it.
- Well built
- Slide-out QWERTY keyboard
- Windows Phone 7 interface
- Big and heavy
- Photos and video not great
- Screen's a fingerprint magnet
- No expandable storage
Verdict: It's a hefty beast, but solidly built, and text nutters will appreciate the physical QWERTY keyboard (though for many the onscreen keyboard is more than capable enough). It's a fast operator too though it would have been nice to see a few more features appearing on the WinPho 7 operating system by now. If you can put up with the bulk, it's a capable handset, a little cheaper than the HTC 7 Pro, but not really a front runner.
More info: Dell Venue Pro spec
Price: From free on contract; £440 SIM-free