My Week with a Dell Venue Pro
Product Category: Windows Phone 7 Smartphone
Where to Buy: Amazon [affiliate]
Price: $499 USD for T-Mobile with no contract
System Requirements: Windows Phone 7. You'll need a Windows Live or Hotmail account to take full advantage of the social media and marketplace.
Specifications: 1Ghz CPU, 8Gb internal storage; 4.1 WVGA (480 x 800) AMOLED screen; Quad band (850/900/1800/1900) GPRS; Tri band UTMS (900/1700/2100), GPS, 5mp colour camera w/autofocus + LED flash, 720p HD video recording; BT 2.1 EDR, 802.11b/g; 3.5mm stereo audio jack; microUSB 2.0; digital compass and G-Sensor; 120mm (4.8in) x 62mm (2.5in) x 13mm (0.5in); 190g (6.8 oz). Full specs are available at the Dell Site.
- Large, bright screen with portrait sliding keyboard (no need to rotate the unit);
- Solidly built.
- Screen pixels seem to have 'space' between them, creating a pixelated look to some images;
- Weight distribution is affected by sliding out the keyboard -- makes one-handed operation difficult;
- Bluetooth seems to have difficulty re-establishing connections.
Summary: While the Dell Venue Pro has been out and about for a number of months now, we don't hear much about it in the press or in advertisements. There was a lot of initial buzz about the new look of Dell's first venture into Windows Phone 7 and the 'portrait' slider keyboard. But here in Canada, it's been very difficult to get a hold of one, since none of the major cellular suppliers (Rogers, Bell or Telus) support it on their networks. But never fear, we here at Windows Phone Thoughts don't let a little thing like network support stop us! We managed to snag one to play with for a week or so thought you might be interested in what we found. Read on....
When Dell first announced they were returning to the cell phone market with the Venue Pro, there was a lot of anticipation regarding the form factor -- a large screen unit with a portrait slider keyboard! Reviews and opinions quickly started showing up in the forums, with many people raving about the keyboard. I have to admit that I have a particular fondness for a more 'square' design in my gadgets rather than rounded edges, so the overall 'look' of the Venue Pro appealed to me. I'm also finding I really need a keyboard to manage input of emails and messages (I'm not really good at the soft keyboards yet), so having a vertically sliding keyboard was a bonus.
I found an 8gig unit on eBay for a reasonable price (about half of what they retail for), so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, it was also one originally for T-Mobile in the U.S. so I knew I'd be stuck with Edge/2G data and voice connections. (T-Mobile uses different frequency bands for high-speed connections than those used by Rogers/Bell/Telus here in Canada.)
What Comes in the Package
When the package arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it seemed almost brand new in the box. For the price, I was expecting a 'slightly' used one that someone didn't want any more and, upon closer inspection, I found it even had a screen protector applied! (More on this later.)
The 'goodies' that come with the Venue Pro and now pretty standard fare.
Figure 1: Here's what comes in the package.
At the left is the Venue Pro itself, followed at the top right with the MicroUSB to USB charging/sync cable. In the centre is the wall charger which has a USB jack at the back, and in the plastic bag at the bottom is the stereo earbuds with microphone. You can just see to the left of the bar code one of a set of contour-fitted covers which form fit to various ears to make the buds fit better. Nice touch.
By now, most of us using WP7 phones are getting used to the standard configuration. With the Venue Pro, most everything is pretty much in the same place as all the other phones.
Figure 2: Here's the front of the Venue Pro, with the keyboard extended.
At the top of the screen, in the centre, is the earpiece. Immediately to its right, but unnoticeable in this picture are the light and proximity sensors, used to detect ambient light (for screen brightness) and whether the phone is against your head. At the bottom of the screen are the standard icons for back, home, and search. None of these are hardware buttons, but they do light up when the screen is touched. The screen actually slides upward to reveal the keyboard.
Generally, I found the build quality to be very good. The unit feels very solid in the hand and the keyboard slider is precise and locks in the open position with a noticeable click. There's no sense that the keyboard is going to slide in on you while it's in use.
Figure 3: The bottom of the Venue Pro. In the centre is the microUSB port for charging and sync. On the left and right are grills for the stereo speakers. Here you can see the difference in thickness between the screen portion (upper) and the keyboard unit (lower).
Figure 4: The top of the Venue Pro is pretty sparse. On the left is the recessed power button and on the far right is the 3.5mm earphone/microphone jack. In the centre of the screen unit, you can see the slot for the earpiece/front facing speaker.
Figure 5: Here's a shot of the right side of the unit (as you face the front). The Volume Up/Down rocker is on the right (at the top of the unit) and the button on the left (near the bottom) is for the camera. As is normal for WP7 phones, the left side is completely blank.
Figure 6: The back of the unit is pretty minimalist as well, with the 5mp camera lens in the middle, and the LED flash beside it. That's about it.
Of course, the main feature of the Venue Pro is the portrait-oriented slide out keyboard which means you don't have to rotate the unit in your hand each time you want to type something in. Nor does the application you're working in have to worry about supporting a landscape-version of the input screen. As I mentioned before, this is one of the features I'd heard a lot about on the forums and that users were raving about.
Figure 7: A close-up shot of the Venue Pro's keyboard. This seems to be a fairly standard QWERTY style layout, with the function key on the left and the Symbol key on the right Notice the 'smiley face' emoticon key in the lower right as well.
The keyboard is a full QWERTY-configured unit, with a number of 'special' keys available, just like the side-sliders. The biggest difference is the size and spacing of the keys themselves. For those readers who have experience with RIM Blackberry keyboards, this one is very similar. The keys are smaller, but still quite useable -- having convex bumps in the centre to make them stand away from each other and make them easier to press. When pressed, the keys have a solid feel response feedback.
Because of the key size and proximity, the keyboard certainly won't support double-handed touch-typing but it was fine for double-thumb typing and certainly more accurate (for me) than the on-screen keyboards.
One thing I was hoping to have with a portrait slider was the ability to use the keyboard one-handed. Unfortunately with the Venue Pro, the total width of the keyboard is just that little too much to reach with one thumb, and the weight distribution changes significantly when you reveal the keyboard. The only way to use the unit was to keep the screen supported with one hand and finger type with the other, or support it in both palms while I used the keyboard with my thumbs.
The screen on the Venue Pro is a 4.1 inch, 480 x 800 WVGA AMOLED capacitive touch screen, with multi-point touch capability. The screen is big and bright and easily readable in sunlight, but it didn't seem any better or worse than my LG Quantum -- just larger. I was hoping that the increased size would mean more displayed area, or at least better resolution on the displayed graphics. Instead, it seems like they just expanded the pixels or put them farther apart to increase the size of the display. Both my teenaged son and I noticed pixelation or 'blanks' between parts of the images we saw on the screen which was quite distracting and actually made the images look worse in some cases.
As mentioned above, the unit I received came with a screen protector pre-installed. I'm not sure of the brand name, but it didn't appear to be one of the higher-end models. It gave the screen a 'sticky' feel which translated into mis-read screen swipes, etc. It got so bad that I eventually removed it.
This thing is massive compared to the other WP7, WM6.x and Android phones I have worked with lately. It's much bigger and noticeably heavier than the LG Quantum I'm currently using. (The Venue Pro weighs 6.7 oz/190g compared to the LG's 5.9oz/167g) It's not unpleasant to hold in one hand -- just bigger. And it definitely feels heavier in the pants pocket.
Figure 8: Here's a comparison shot of the Dell Venue Pro on the left and the LG Quantum on the right. There is a quite noticeable difference in screen size, but everything seems to be just expanded to fit the available space. The LG looks a bit darker here, but I think that's just because of the background wallpaper. In use, the brightness is equivalent.
Figure 9: A side shot showing the thickness comparison between the LG (top) and the Venue Pro (bottom). The slot along the side of the Venue Pro is where the keyboard (lower section) slides out. The Venue Pro is just a little bit thicker than the LG.
Windows Phone 7
As far as the new O/S is concerned, what can I say? We've had a steady stream of articles on the look-and-feel as they became available, and Doug did a pretty good job in his review of the HTC HD7 of the essential elements of the new Windows Phone 7 operating system. The unit I got did come with the NoDo update already installed, and when I connected it up to my desktop for the first time, it notified me that I had another update waiting. This was the 'Certificates' update (7392), which updated with no problems.
T-Mobile includes their normal suite of applications on the phone (Family Centre, Account Info, etc.) but all require a T-Mobile account to access and use them. They were quickly 'uninstalled'.
For any who have read any of my other phone reviews, for me the radios are really the heart of the beast. This is where the 'rubber meets the road'. If the radios in the phone don't perform, it doesn't really matter how pretty or flashy the operating system and apps are -- it just won't work. Let's see how the Venue Pro compares with my other WP7 phones.
As noted above, while the unit supports all the major bands, the one I got was for T-Mobile and hence, didn't support 3G/H modes for voice or data connections here in Canada. Rogers, Bell and Telus use the same band which is the same as the one AT&T uses, but it is different from the one T-Mobile is set up for. I believe there is an AT&T version of the Venue Pro available as well.
So, I spent most of the week running on Edge signals. Generally, I was expecting that the experience would mainly affect data downloads, etc. since there are still a huge quantity of phones out here in my neck of the woods that are not 'data' connected. (Yes, I know people who have just cell phones :-))
As expected, data transfers, web browsing, etc. was noticeably slower but not terribly so. Yes, it took a bit longer to get the page rendered but it wasn't unusable. There were a couple of times I navigated away because I couldn't be bothered waiting any more, but for most mobile sites, the download times were quite tolerable.
However, I was surprised by two things. a) I'd always been taught that running 3G normally chews battery up more than running E, so I was expecting to get noticeably longer battery life. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. I'll talk more about the battery later, but I was only getting about a day's worth of phone use under what I consider 'light' use during the week. And b) Because of the proliferation of '2G' phones still running around, I thought my connections to the system would be better all 'round than running 3G. Maybe this is another one of those early cellular systems myths, but it was very strange (and unsettling) to find many places inside office buildings where I could get very poor or no signals/service at all. With my LG in the same places, I normally get 2 to 3 bars and no service problems at all. It could also be due to the Venue Pro's radio being not quite as sensitive as the LG's.
The BT radio on the Surround is also the fairly standard BT 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate we see on most devices now with A2DP for stereo headsets. There's no mention on the spec sheet regarding support for AVRCP, HFP (hands free), HSP (head set), and PBAP (phone book access) profiles, but most of the stuff I tried seemed to work the same as on the LG. The radio range was the usual 10m (30 feet).
There were no problems pairing the unit with any of the BT devices I normally use (headset, stereo headphones, car hands free) but it wouldn't re-connect automatically with the Garmin GPS, even though the LG does this automatically everytime I enter the van. For the Venue Pro, I'd have to go to Settings/Bluetooth and select 'Connect' for the Garmin unit each time.
Unfortunately, the Venue Pro only provides 802.11 b and g support. Connection to the home WiFi went well, but it was not quite as speedy as the 'n-capable' phones I've had in the past. Range and sensitivity of the WiFi radio seem on par with the LG and the Surround. There was no problem connecting to the home network from anywhere in the house.
Sorry guys, I couldn't find any information on the specific GPS chipset included in the Venue Pro, but I think it's probably the same for all the WP7 models out there right now.
I haven't found any applications (yet) which let you see the status of the satellite signals and lock, but it seems to be about as sensitive as the LG -- achieving location locks in Bing Maps and other navigation apps (Marathon, Silver GPS Navigator) within seconds. I know though, that the phone is also using cell-tower triangulation to assist in getting initial location information, so it's most likely that AGPS (Assisted GPS) is activated by default.
Usual FM radio and application using the headset wire as an antenna. Nothing to see here, moving on....
The battery in the Dell is a 1400mAh rechargeable Li-Ion polymer unit. Dell doesn't provide any estimated use times but that's probably a good thing, since a lot of what you get from phone batteries these days depends upon how you use it. For me, I found I could only get about a day of use from a single battery charge on what I would say is 'light' use (a couple of phone calls, push email, some Internet browsing, etc.) As I mentioned before, I was expecting this to be better.
The Dell's camera is a now fairly standard 5 megapixel colour camera with autofocus and LED flash. It also supports 720p HD video recording.
There is a separate button for the camera on the right side (bottom) of the phone, which allows the camera to be turned on even if the phone is in sleep mode (but you have to configure the button for that in the camera settings). It takes a couple of seconds for everything to get ready to take a picture, and that's not too bad when compared to most digital point-and-shoot cameras these days. Once you frame your picture in the screen viewfinder, you press the button half way to set up the focus, then depress it the full way to take the picture.
The shots taken were fairly typical of other WP7 phones, although it did seem the Venue Pro's camera was having more difficulty with low-light situations than my LG.
Figure 10: The Dell Venue Pro taking a low light shot. Little bit of jitter (sorry).
Figure 11: The same shot with the LG. Note the distinct blue tinge in the Dell version, plus better overall detail and colour balance.
Sound from the unit is OK -- typical for a phone. Volume is about the same as my LG although more of the sound in the Dell seems to be directed forward, which is a good thing.
The Dell has a fairly standard video display capability, with almost everything automatically flipping into landscape mode for play. It had no problems with any of the test video files we use for our reviews, playing them all smoothly with no stuttering or mis-synchronization between audio and video.
Did the Dell Venue Pro live up to the hype I'd heard on the forums? Well, for me, no. Yes, it's a fine WP7 phone with a solid build and feel to it. It's a little bit heavier than I'm used to right now, but that's most likely due to the bigger screen and the slider keyboard. I really like the 'squared' look of the unit, but I'm not seeing any real advantage to the portrait keyboard. I'm quite happy with the larger keys available on my side-slider and having to rotate the unit to use them. I'm a little concerned about the cellular reception and the BT not connecting automatically and if I was going to keep the Dell, it would have to be a 3G capable one from AT&T. For now, I think I'll stick with my LG and wait for the next generation of phones coming (I hope) with the Mango release.
Don is a Senior Solution Architect for Fujitsu Consulting, specializing in Enterprise Mobility, Security and Privacy. When not bugging the local Rogers retailers about the availability of the latest and greatest handsets (which they never have), he's helping his sons and wife fully appreciate the wonderful, social side of cell phone ownership :-)
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