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Dell Venue Pro Review

There was a bit of lack of information regarding this phone prior to my purchase of it, especially anything that had been recently written, so I took it upon myself to educate my fellow man about this device. The general take-away from the phone should mimic that of most Windows Phone 7-powered devices, but since this is the first time I've ever experienced WP7 before, my take on the software will also be under scrutiny in this very light and abbreviated review.

Microsoft limits much of what the hardware manufacturers are able to incorporate into their WP7 handsets. A general concern or fear of fragmentation of their software ecosystem is the reason for their stringent policies, and as such there has yet to be a sluggish or otherwise underpowered WP7 handset. When initially released to to general consumption, it was a bit hard to foresee a budget WP7 handset with the stringent specs imposed by Microsoft (a quick web search of "WP7 minimum specs" will reveal why). Recently there has been quite a lot going on with Nokia and Microsoft's collaboration together to help enable the reception of WP7 into the hands of those unable to pay the premiums demanded by the initial WP7 handsets.

Dell's initial foray into the western markets with a smartphone was based around the Dell Streak 5, a rather impressive device equipped with a 5" display that was, rather unfortunately, poorly received by the snug-clothes-wearing population viewing it as a phone as well as snubbed by size-conscious tablet-buyers that viewed the five-inch display as just too small to be used as a proper tablet. The DVP (Dell Venue Pro) is a more cohesive foray into the phone market which bucks the trends of previous Dell portable devices running Android for the (arguably) AMOLED-minded Windows Phone 7 operating system.

At first glance, the DVP appears very clean, and indeed, it is. The front glass is curved and adds a premium feel to the device because of this not-very-often-observed tweak. The chrome edges left and right of the glass certainly don't detract from this premium aura, either. On the top and bottom of the phone there is a soft-touch plastic, nicely complementing the aforementioned glossy surfaces.

Moving to the back, however, is a bit of a disappointment. While I appreciate the texturing given to the plastic panel covering the battery it simply doesn't have the same tangible quality that the other parts give off. It doesn't look bad, so that's a relief, but considering the same texture pattern is found on the backside of the display revealed when the display is slid up, but in this case has a very high-quality if borderline too slick (metal?) feeling to it, I'm left unimpressed by the battery cover. Tapping on this cover sounds rather hallow in certain places and it's simply an annoyance that detracts from the whole sensation.

Of course, the highlight of the Dell Venue Pro is its slide-up display revealing a portrait-style hardware QWERTY pad underneath. Initially I found this pad to be a bit small, but after a while my typing speed and accuracy improved a lot and I found it to be highly comparable to the pad found on the Nokia E71, though the software improvements made by Microsoft's WP7 in regards to typing prediction absolutely blow that older Nokia out of the water. The slide is smooth and solid, though I might argue it could use a bit more resistance to it. Regardless, once opened I rarely found a reason to shut it as I enjoyed the extra screen real-estate bought by not having to deal with an on-screen board.

Heft-wise, the phone is comfortable in-hand. All of the buttons are easy to get to: whoever complained about the power button being inaccessible has clearly not dealt with many of the larger-screen Android phones. The US-market variety, which tend to forego hardware buttons on the lower front in lieu of a single power button at the top-right corner of the device. What I'm trying to say here is that the process of turning on the phone requires no major finger stretch, at least for those of "average" hand size. Even easier is to simply slide the screen up, swipe the wallpaper away to unlock the device and use it as such, without even touching the power button once.

All of the necessary ports and connectors are quite easy to locate. I appreciate the symmetry created by the power button and 3.5mm audio plug on the top of the device and the center-located MicroUSB port on the bottom. The left side would have been slightly more ideal for a volume rocker, but the right side serves home for that instead. The two-stage shutter button is not vague about what it is useful for and I like that. Overall, I like the Dell Venue Pro's design.

Shortly after first booting on the DVP with  my T-Mobile card (this particular DVP has the T-Mobile AWS 3G bands), I was prompted with some very simple setup screens, which I initially bypassed in favor of getting my first true taste of the WP7 UI. Once I had reached the UI, I quickly realized I'd been a fool and backtracked so that I could gain access to some additional apps, my email and some general sync capabilities.

My basic impressions of the UI are that it is highly polished, extremely quick though not necessarily intuitive. By that I mean it doesn't always seem like something is clickable until I try it, but I don't always feel like tapping or long-tapping (holding down on the item) to figure out what is possible. Almost everything on an iPhone tends to actually look selectable (if it is) and the same goes for Android in most cases. The typography on WP7 is beautiful and I can't help but find the way certain items fall off the screen to be a nice hint that swiping the screen left-and-right reveals further information.

However not everything is perfect. Screen brightness, for example, has only three selectable modes and automatic brightness, at least in the case of the DVP, tends to make things much brighter than they should be. I mean it when I say that the DVP has one of the brightest displays I have ever seen. Whites are a wee bit off-white as many AMOLED panels are. Also the color depth and gradients aren't stellar... most likely attributable to the pen-tile sub-pixel organization that is employed by this display panel, as I have seen better in the past. I cannot help but wonder what was going through the mind of the UI designer who decided email apps should display black text on a white background, either. Were they out of their mind? In a dark room the amount of light being put out from the DVP goes from minimal but sharp white text on black to blindingly impossible to deal with as the colors invert. It's bad enough that most webpages employ a white background and therefore browsing the web in the dark is an exercise in pain.

As other reviews have mentioned, this phone does not have the greatest battery life. When the battery cover is removed, I cannot help but wonder why the battery was made so small. I feel like a larger battery could have been used. Another hardware issue is the time it takes for the camera to focus. A two-stage shutter button is great but the annoyance of a slow shutter kind of defeats the purpose. The last hardware issue is reception: as a phone not equipped with T-Mobile's WiFi Calling feature, one would hope that all the extra room inside the phone's chassis would be used for a beefy antenna but this does not appear to be the case. Cellular reception is, in a word, merely adequate.

On the bright side, calls were clear and nobody ever complained of my voice being quiet much as they do with handsets that choose to locate their microphones in awkward locations. Download speeds were actually surprisingly speedy as well, all things considered. WiFi range turns out to also be surprisingly great while bluetooth was admittedly untested: as of now, the WP7 only supports bluetooth audio devices for the most part. (I lacked a convenient bluetooth audio device to test.)

The features which make the DVP unique were, in a sort of pleasantly surprising manner, quite good. While WP7 features what I can easily call the best on-screen keyboard I have ever used, apart from when used in landscape mode where it fails to take advantage of the extra scaling room, the physical keyboard that the DVP offers manages to take WP7's optimizations to a whole new level. Simply type away and WP7 manages to automatically fix and correct (properly) the most mistyped of words imaginable. Unlike an iPhone which insists on making its own corrections until a user forces the system to accept their spelling, WP7 makes it easy to add new words to the system dictionary. The keyboard could have been a bit quieter but considering the general target audience of the DVP, a slightly older demographic less inclined to shoot away SMS messages during a lecture and more prone to require the physical keyboard to respond to an email in a professional and well-written manner, I can hardly consider this a fault.

While undoubtedly a fingerprint magnet, the DVP's semi-unique curved display manages to enhance the device's appearance and keep many reflections when using the device at bay. Why Dell opted to have the device boot into the red-tile theme instead of a much more soothing and pleasurable green or teal scheme. Oh well.

The DVP is my first true experience of WP7 and I have to say, I like what I see. As a bit of a Nokia fan, I can completely understand what they were thinking when they made Windows Phone 7 their OS of choice for future handsets. Not too long ago I had been annoyed by Nokia's failure to adopt to a touchscreen based OS half as much as a result of their lame attempt to reequip S60 for it and half because I wasn't ready to move to a touchscreen-based phone. Then when WP7 was announced as the new tactical plan I lost faith and began to look elsewhere. The announcement of MeeGo on the N9 managed to rekindle the appreciation I had for the design department at Nokia but I was still sore about WP7. Not anymore. If anything I'm giddy. And I'm giddy because I cannot wait to see what Nokia can do with WP7 both in the low-end market and the high-end.

My feelings on WP7 itself are that it has a bit of time to mature before it will be truly mainstream ready. The lack of a Pandora Radio or Skype app is simply unexcusable. If Microsoft is taking its sweet time because it is waiting to integrate everything cleanly and seamlessly into the phone's base system then I understand: never before have I allowed a phone to tie all of my online networking and offline information as I have with Windows Phone 7 and I'll tell you this: I never once felt overwhelmed. It all simply worked. And I like that. Using this Windows Phone was as much about getting things done as it was about the process of doing them. It was kind of like holding the phone of the future and it made me smile.