Introduced at CES 2011, the Dell Venue (not to be confused with the Dell Venue Pro) is the company's second Android smartphone. Its first go, the Dell Aero, was less than impressive with a poor design, frustrating user experience, and subpar performance. Fortunately, the Venue looks to be a huge improvement. The Android 2.2 device makes a good first impression with its attractive design, and its feature set looks good on paper, but does it deliver? Read on to find out.
At a superficial level, the Dell Venue's design could be described as being like the Dell Venue Pro without the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. It has the same overall shape and look, with the chrome edges, textured back, and Gorilla Glass display, but the Venue has its own pros and cons. One positive is that without the keyboard, the Venue is a more pocketable device. It's still large at 4.76 inches tall by 2.52 inches wide by 0.51 inch thick, but it's thinner and an ounce lighter (at 5.8 ounces) than the Venue Pro, which goes a long way in making the Venue easier to hold and carry around.
The front of the smartphone is dominated by the 4.1-inch WVGA AMOLED multitouch screen, which is fortified with Gorilla Glass. Overall, it's bright and clear, but not the sharpest when compared with some of the latest smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S 4G and the Motorola Atrix 4G. Still, the display's larger size makes it quite nice for viewing Web pages and multimedia, although the screen does tend to wash out in bright sunlight.
Like the Venue Pro, the Venue has a slight curve to its screen, which you can see when viewing it from the side. There isn't an obvious benefit to this, but we found it easy to swipe through the various home screens and menu pages. The touch screen was responsive to our taps, and the built-in accelerometer was quick to change orientation when we rotated the phone. The Venue offers both Swype and Android virtual keyboards.
Beneath the display are three touch-sensitive buttons--back, menu, and home--but unlike other Android phones, the Venue Pro does not have a search key. Though the smartphone can do voice-activated search and you can add a search widget to the home screen, we definitely missed having a dedicated button for easy one-touch access.
On the left side of the smartphone, you get a silent ringer switch; the right side has a volume rocker and a dedicated camera key. The top of the device houses the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, and the speakers and Micro-USB port are located on the bottom. On the back, you'll find the camera and flash.
The Dell Venue comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a preinstalled 16GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and reference material.
The Venue runs Android 2.2, along with Dell's custom Stage user interface. It's the same UI found on the company's Streak tablet line, and its purpose is to give you a more organized and simpler way to access your recent content and multimedia. Dell does this through its Stage widgets.
There are seven widgets in total (contacts, e-mail, gallery, home, music, social, and Web), and there just happens to be seven customizable home screens on the Venue. Each widget takes up the full screen and presents your most recent information (recent applications, recent photos, and so forth), with the exception of the contacts and Web widgets, which you can program with your favorite contacts and bookmarks.
In general, Stage achieves what it sets out to do. It does a particularly nice job of displaying your music library and photo and video gallery. We also like that you can touch the bottom of the screen and easily move through your different home screens.
However, Stage could use some refinement as well. It would be nice if you could adjust the size of some of the widgets similar to Motoblur. Though you don't have to add Stage widgets to every screen, it would be nice to have the flexibility to make them smaller, so you could add other shortcuts to the home screen. Also, though Stage is generally easy to use, there were some aspects that weren't intuitive. For example, it wasn't immediately obvious how to edit or remove contacts from the widget.
With custom UIs, it seems people fall into one of two camps: you either hate them or you can tolerate them. Admittedly, we were a little apprehensive about Stage when we first started using the Venue, but we started to warm up to it. The UI is generally attractive and it's functional. And it's heaps better than the user experience on the Dell Aero. That said, Stage definitely won't appeal to everyone, and Android purists will undoubtedly be better off sticking with the Nexus S, which offers the stock Android experience.
The Dell Venue is an unlocked quad-band GSM phone, with a speakerphone, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, voice dialing, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS are all onboard, and the smartphone is compatible with T-Mobile's 3G network but not its HSPA+ 4G network. You can use an AT&T SIM with the phone as well, but be aware that you'll only get EDGE speeds.
In addition to the standard Google services and support for Microsoft Exchange, POP3 and IMAP accounts, and social network integration, you get the benefits of Froyo, such as the ability to save apps to an SD card, voice dialing over Bluetooth, and Flash Player 10.1 support.
The Venue also comes preloaded with a number of extra apps. This includes a trial version of CoPilot Live, Evernote, Pageonce Personal Assistant, TuneIn Radio, which lets you listen to different radio stations from around the country, and Dell Video, with which you can preview, rent, and buy movies. The smartphone's built-in media player supports a number of standard music and video codecs, including MP3, AAC, WAV, H.264, MPEG-4 AVC, and WMV, and comes with 1GB of internal storage, as well as a preinstalled 16GB microSD card.
The Venue is also equipped with an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus, flash, and 4x digital zoom. You get a number of standard editing options, such as exposure settings, white-balance control, and focus mode. Unfortunately, picture quality was disappointing. Photos taken indoors or in low-light situations had a hazy look, and colors were pretty flat. The camera fared a little better with outdoor shots, as colors looked richer and brighter, but the edges looked blurry. Recorded video, even at the highest resolution, was murky and washed out.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Dell Venue in New York using T-Mobile service, and call quality was decent. The audio was clear on our end with minimal background noise, but voices could sound a bit muffled or garbled at times. Friends were generally positive in their feedback. Most didn't have any complaints, but a couple did mention that we sounded a bit tinny. Overall, we were happy with the experience, and we didn't have any dropped calls during our review period.
Dell Venue call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone quality was clear but hollow-sounding, and there was barely enough volume to hear callers in our louder environment. We successfully paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and were able make calls and listen to music.
Though the Venue doesn't support T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network, we were able to get decent data speeds from the carrier's 3G network. CNET's full site loaded in 13 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN loaded in 5 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. YouTube videos, even in HQ, loaded within several seconds and played back without interruption.
The Venue features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and general performance was mostly smooth. There were some brief lags here and there, but more often than not, the smartphone was able to keep up with our demands. The Dell Venue ships with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 7 hours and up to 16 days of standby time. The Venue fell an hour short of the rated talk time in our battery drain tests.
The Dell Venue is a pretty solid Android smartphone. It offers a good design with a functional user experience and a strong feature set. However, the Venue isn't the only unlocked Android device on the block, and the Venue faces some tough competition from the Nexus S by Samsung.
The Nexus S succeeds where the Venue falls a bit short, bringing better camera quality and a sharper screen. It also adds Android 2.3 Gingerbread and NFC technology. Though the latter may not be a big factor in the buying decision at this point, we think the other features are big pluses for the Nexus S. The Nexus S is $30 more than the $500 Venue off contract, but we think the Nexus S offers the more complete package for the money.