Dell made a shaky entrance into the Windows Phone 7 market. You had supply issues, quality control issues and software headaches. Slowly but surely these problems are getting ironed out with the Venue Pro but does it leave consumers with a quality Windows Phone?

While some may see this as being late to the table (Dell isn't that generous with review units), we decided to take advantage of the $299.99 sale and ordered a few on our own. Out of the box, the Venue Pro makes a nice first impression. The 4.1" AMOLED Screen has a good bit of pop to it with vibrant colors and sharp contrast. But does the positive first impression last?

Just make the jump past the break to see if the Dell Venue Pro continued to shine or dulled a little after several days of use.

 

Design

The Dell Venue Pro is a hefty little phone when compared to the thinner, lighter Windows Phones such as the Samsung Focus. Measuring 2.5 x 4.8 x .6 inches and weighing 6.8 ounces the Venue Pro feels solid in the hand. The Venue Pro is just as thick as the LG Quantum and HTC 7 Pro/Arrive but it is heavier (Quantum is 6.2 oz and the 7 Pro is 6.5 oz.). Even though the Venue Pro matches the side keyboard models in thickness, the added weight makes it feel beefier.

That's not to say the Venue Pro feels like a boat anchor. The added weight and size gives the phone a solid feel to it. The Venue Pro hovers around the breaking point between comfort and weighing you down.

The layout of the phone has the power button and 3.5mm jack sitting at the top of the phone. I'm not a fan of the power button in that the button rests further back on the top of the phone and slightly recessed. It takes some time to get used to the contortions needed to access the power button with ease. I can't help but think the Dell Engineers could have placed the power button in a better location.

The left side of the Venue Pro is bare with the right side being the home for the volume buttons and camera button. To the bottom of the phone you will find the micro-USB port and dual speakers. To the back of the phone rests the 5.0 megapixel camera and LED light.

The Venue Pro's battery cover has a diamond plate design to it that is slightly raised. This gives the phone a nice looking, grippable surface. Personally, I could do without the chrome sides but overall, the Venue Pro is a nice looking Windows Phone.

I'll comment on this here (simply because I'm not sure where else to put it) but the Venue Pro lacks haptic feedback on many button features. You know, the vibration that occurs when you press one of the three buttons on a Windows Phone or when you first turn on the phone. The only button feature I've found feedback on is the camera button when you use it to launch the camera app.

This is an annoying omission. Granted, Windows Mobile phones didn't always have haptic feedback but they had physical buttons that you could feel being pressed. There was some form of feedback to let you know that the button was pressed. With the sub-surface buttons on Windows Phone 7 you really need the vibration to confirm you've pressed the buttons.

Under the Hood

The Venue Pro comes fitted with either an 8, 16 or 32 gigabyte storage drive and 512mb/1024mb(?) RAM/ROM. The model tested has the 16gb option. The rest of the Venue Pro's engine is fairly standard (1ghz processor, BT, Wifi, etc.). Everything is powered by a 1400mah battery that does rather nicely, on par with other Windows Phones I've used. At the end of the day, under moderate use (calls, email, web access, games) I easily had 30% of my battery life remaining.

Screen and Keyboard

The Venue Pro's two main attractions are its screen and keyboard. The 4.1" AMOLED Screen performed well and looks really good. It has noticeably more contrast and color saturation than the SVGA screen of the HTC HD7S and is really close in appearance to the Super AMOLED screen of the Samsung Focus. In comparing the two with game play, video play back and general appearance, I'll give the Super AMOLED screen the nod in overall quality. However, if the AMOLED screen was forced upon me I wouldn't complain.

The is also very responsive to the touch with touches, taps, and swipes registering nicely. If you judge the Venue Pro on screen quality alone, it's one of the top Windows Phones on the market.

The keyboard is another story. Granted you have a size restriction based on the phone's dimensions but the keyboard is small. The size and feel reminded me a lot of the Samsung Jack from the Windows Mobile days. The keys are covered in a rubber sheet and are responsive but they are also tiny. The onscreen keyboard offers you more elbow room and I found it easier and more effective to use.

The layout of the QWERTY keyboard includes a function key for typing symbols and numbers as well as a smiley key for emoticons. The sliding mechanism is smooth but when the keyboard is extended, the Venue Pro feels awkward. Top heavy if you will. I could use the Venue Pro one handed with the keyboard extended but it bounced a lot as I typed. It was more efficient and stable using the phone with both hands.

While some prefer a physical keyboard to the onscreen keyboard, Dell should have given serious thought of either a) scrapping the keyboard all together and relying on the very good, on-screen keyboard of Windows Phone 7 or b) moved to a side sliding keyboard which would give you more elbow room and comfort.

Camera

The Venue Pro has the standard Windows Phone camera software. It does include camera settings to reduce banding, which I haven't seen present on other Windows Phones. Camera performance is decent but as with any other Windows Phone camera, lighting is the key. You do have the LED light but it serves the phone better with a flashlight app than as a camera flash.

I did notice that the Venue Pro's camera created a little haze around images.  It's not as noticeable on landscapes but closer shots such as portraits, it is really noticeable.  At first I thought I had a smudge on the lens or a protective covering was still in place.  But the lens was clear and clean.  The first image of the garden gnome was shot in bright sunlight while the second was shot under overcast skies.  If I didn't know any better I would think that too much light was just as bad as not enough light for this camera.

Video quality is nice when shooting 720p. Decent when shooting VGA. 

All in all, the camera was below par when compared to other Windows Phones.  Images, both still and video, could have been sharper and the haze present in still images was bothersome.  I'd have to rank the camera as no better than "It'll do".  In a jam, it'll do but don't rely on it for important photographs or videos.

Software

Not much to report here. The Venue Pro does come loaded with the most recent version of Windows Phone 7 and the updated firmware. You have your standard WP7 apps plus three apps unique to the Venue Pro.

You have a Connection Settings App that allows you to manually configure your MMS Settings, a Newsroom app that offers customizable weather, news and stock information and Pageonce Personal Finance (bloatware).

All in all, the software ran fine on the Dell Venue Pro, not unlike other Windows Phones. However, there seemed to be a lag time of a second or two between pushing the power button and the screen waking up. There was also a random lag that occurred when returning to the Start Screen from a running app. I wouldn't consider these anomalies drastic but rather noticeable.

Phone Performance

The Venue Pro's performance as a phone was on par with other Windows Phones. Volume levels in the ear piece were a little low compared to other phones and the speakers maybe a touch louder.

If you've followed my reviews of Windows Phones, I feel the vibrating ringer is an important feature. You need a reliable silent ringer when your in meetings, at church, at the movies, or any where else discretion is needed.

The Venue Pro's vibrating alert is marginal at best. It's a touch stronger than the Samsung Focus but not as strong as the HTC Arrive or HD7S.

Overall Impression

I think Dell has created a very nice starting point for a Windows Phone in the Venue Pro.  The Venue Pro makes a nice first impression but after using it for several days, you come to realize that there is still work to be done to make the Venue Pro a quality Windows Phone.

From the odd power button to the cramped keyboard to the lack of haptic feedback to the firmware issues (which are slowly being resolved), the Venue Pro has plenty room for improvement.  Call quality was good, music/video playback nice but the camera, rather disappointing.

The Venue Pro is so close to being a very good Windows Phone and while individually, the issues seem minor, collectively they hold the phone back. For all it's shortcomings, there is still something compelling about the Venue Pro.

Maybe it's the screen, which is fantastic, or the solid feel the phone has.  While the Venue Pro has plenty of positives, I just don't see it being strong enough to be a serious contender against the LG Quantum or Arrive with their side sliding keyboards.

It does have the price point going for it, especially if you shop out of contract. Unlocked, out of contract price for the 16GB model is $299.99 through Dell. Out of contract through Amazon Wireless, the Focus is running in the $499 range and the Quantum is running $469.

The Venue Pro isn't a bad Windows Phone, it's just a case where there are a lot of little things you'll have to get used to.  Things that may make the alternative Windows Phones more attractive.