Editors' note: In this review, we'll focus more on the Dell Venue Pro's design, performance, and differentiating features. For more on its operating system and core functions, please read our full review of Windows Phone 7.
At the Windows Phone 7 launch event in October 2010, the Dell Venue Pro was one of the standout models with its portrait slider design and extra-large display and size. We've had to wait a long time since then to get one in for review and so have customers who experienced early shipment delays, but the good news is that the Venue Pro delivers. We had our doubts after the disappointing Dell Aero, but the company pumped out a solid device in the Venue Pro. It's a got a premium design with a good physical keyboard, a nice feature set, and smooth performance. If you can handle its large size, the smartphone shouldn't disappoint. The Dell Venue Pro is available with T-Mobile but is only sold through Dell. Pricing is reasonable: the 8GB model is $99.99 with a two-year contract and the 16GB model is $149.99 with a two-year contract.
The Dell Venue Pro is a hardy piece of hardware, which has its pros and cons. The smartphone measures 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and weighs 6.8 ounces, so it's a handful and certainly not the most pocket-friendly device. It's also quite heavy. The size alone will be a turnoff for many, but for those willing to overlook the bulk, you're getting a very solid and sturdy device. There are soft-touch finishes on the top and bottom of the phone, and the battery door has a textured surface; these plus the chrome accents along the sides make for an attractive handset.
Of course, the other benefit to the larger size is a bigger screen. The Venue Pro boasts a 4.1-inch AMOLED touch screen with a WVGA (480x800) resolution. Text and images appear sharp on the screen, and colors are bright and rich. The display does wash out a bit in bright sunlight, however. You can still read the contents of the screen at different angles, and there's a subtle curve to the screen when viewed from the side. This in no way hampers the responsiveness of the touch screen, as it immediately recognized our taps and easily zoomed in and out and scrolled through lists.
Aside from its size, the Dell Venue Pro has the distinction of being the only portrait slider in the current Windows Phone portfolio. The screen slides up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. The sliding mechanism is smooth and strong, so the display doesn't rock back and forth when you're simply holding the phone, and it securely locks into place once open.
The keyboard features rectangular buttons with a slight bump to them, making them easy to press since they're not flush with the surface. There isn't much spacing between the buttons, but they're a good size, keeping accidental presses to a minimum. Also, the phone isn't top-heavy, so it doesn't feel like it will tip over when you're using the keyboard. In addition to the physical keyboard, you can use the onscreen keyboard, which is really quite good. Unless we were sending a long e-mail, we found easier just to use the soft keyboard.
Below the display, you'll find the three required Windows Phone controls--Back, Start, and Search--in touch-sensitive form. On the right side, you get a volume rocker and dedicated camera key. The bottom of the device houses the Micro-USB port, while the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and power button are located on top. The latter sits on a downward slope, so it's a little awkward to press when you have to wake up the device.
Dell packages the Venue Pro with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
Starting with some of the basics, the Dell Venue Pro is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. It is 3G-capable but the smartphone doesn't support T-Mobile's HSPA+ "4G" network. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS are also all onboard. There were early reports that the smartphone had problems connecting to a secure Wi-Fi network, which Dell acknowledged and attributed to a software glitch in early units, but that has been resolved and we were able to connect to our secure home network with no problem.
Though not sold through its retail stores or Web channels, the Venue Pro is a T-Mobile handset and is preloaded with a number of the carrier's services, including T-Mobile TV, Family Room, and TeleNav GPS Navigator. There are also a couple of extra apps--Newsroom and Pageonce Personal Finance--thrown in. Unlike with some other platforms, you can uninstall these services if you don't care for them. The Dell Venue Pro does not offer expandable memory, but you can choose from either an 8GB or a 16GB model.
The Venue Pro is equipped with a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash and autofocus. The camera offers a handful of editing options, including ISO settings, white-balance controls, and four scene modes. It's also capable of 720p video capture.
Picture quality was a bit of a mixed bag. Despite our trying to be as still as possible, a number of photos came out blurry, but when we did get a clear shot, we were happy with the quality and color reproduction. We were also pleased with the video quality, but it's still frustrating that Windows Phone 7 doesn't offer an easy way to share videos from your phone. For now, you have to transfer the video file to your computer and then upload to YouTube or your social networking site of choice.
Dell Venue Pro call quality sample
Speakerphone quality could be better. The sound was a bit hollow, and there was barely enough volume to hear callers in a louder environment. We were able to pair the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Active Bluetooth Headphones with no problem.
Though the Venue Pro doesn't work with T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, we still experienced swift data speeds on the phone. CNET's full site loaded in 15 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 3 seconds and 6 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos took several seconds to load, and played back without interruption. However, the quality over a 3G connection could be a bit murky. Our own videos played back beautifully on the Venue Pro's large screen.
As with calls, we could hear a bit of static when listening to music through headphones. That said, it's worth noting again how Zune enhances the multimedia experience on Windows Phone 7 devices, with an attractive media player and the ability to purchase songs and videos via Zune Marketplace and stream media with a Zune Pass.
The Venue Pro is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and the smartphone felt snappy throughout our review period. We were able to easily navigate through various tasks and apps launched almost immediately. There was a bit of lag when loading games, but this is more a Windows Phone 7 issue and something Microsoft will address in its forthcoming update.
The Dell Venue Pro ships with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 7 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests we were able to get 6 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. In general, we've been able to get through a full day with moderate use before needing to recharge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Venue Pro has a digital SAR rating of 1.39W/kg