When we first looked at the retail Windows Phone 7 devices back in September of last year, we had one general takeaway - the hardware, regardless of manufacturer, was fairly conservative. Samsung’s popular Focus is basically just a respecced version of the Galaxy S phone template, while HTC ended up giving the HD2 a mild refresh to create the HD7. The launch was focused on Microsoft’s shiny new OS, but there was one handset that stood out to me - Dell’s new Venue Pro.

Dell has been getting serious about returning to the handheld game, starting with the 5” Streak last year, and now with their stable of smartphones and tablets releasing this year. The Venue Pro was the first to hit market, and it’s a very strong first strike. It’s a portrait slider with a QWERTY keyboard, a 4.1” AMOLED screen, and Snapdragon underhood, and I think it’s the most compelling Windows Phone 7 device released thus far.

The underlying hardware is similar to the rest of the Windows Phone 7 handsets - you get a Snapdragon QSD8250, with the now-standard 1GHz 65nm Scorpion core and Adreno 200 graphics on-board. Beyond that, the spec sheet reads pretty well - there’s a 5MP camera with autofocus and LED flash, 720p video recording, 8GB or 16GB of onboard storage, and a removable 5.18 Wh battery. The curved AMOLED display has protective Gorilla Glass and a WVGA resolution, and the 4.1” diagonal size puts it squarely between the Focus/Galaxy S and the HD7/EVO 4G.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 HTC Surround LG Optimus 7 Samsung Focus Dell Venue Pro
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 119.7 mm (4.71") 125 mm (4.92") 122.9 mm (4.84") 121.0 mm (4.76")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 61.5 mm (2.42") 59.8 mm (2.35") 65 mm (2.56") 64.4 mm (2.54")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 12.97 mm (0.51") 11.5 mm (0.45") 9.9 mm (0.39") 14.9 mm (0.59")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 165 grams (5.82 oz) 157 grams (5.54 oz) 119 grams (4.2 oz) 176 grams (6.21 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD8250
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200
RAM 512MB LPDDR1 (?) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU) 512 MB LPDDR1 (448 system, 64 GPU)
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 512 MB integrated, 16 GB (Internal Class 4 microSD) 16 GB integrated 8 GB integrated 8 or 16 GB integrated
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording 5 MP with autofocus, LED flash, 720P video recording
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 3.8" LCD 800 x 480 3.8" LCD 800 x 480 4" Super AMOLED 800 x 480 4.1" AMOLED   800 x 480
Battery Integrated 5.254 Whr Removable 4.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.55 Whr Removable 5.18 Whr

At 176 grams, the Dell is hefty on paper, but when you pick it up it feels lighter than you expect it to. One thing that’s very clear though, whether in pictures or in the hand, is that the Venue Pro is huge. The easiest way to describe the Venue Pro’s size is that it’s roughly as big as the Samsung Focus/Galaxy S and 50% thicker. You get a keyboard out of the bargain, and it’s about as thick as some of the landscape QWERTY devices like HTC’s G2 and EVO Shift 4G, but the Venue Pro is a pretty beefy phone regardless of how you slice it.

Dell did an excellent job with the industrial design, there is no other way to put it. As far as the new line of Windows handsets go, the Venue Pro is easily and by far the best looking of the lot. The glossy black body is nicely offset by the chrome trim on the sides and the buttons, and the design comes across as very high class. As my best friend put it, the Venue Pro is the smartphone a mob boss would carry. The material quality is first rate, with the glass-covered screen, metal sides, and neatly textured plastic back panel exuding a very high quality feel. The weightiness gives the phone a very substantial feel, backed up by the solid spring-loaded action of the slider.

Overall, there’s only a couple of problems with the hardware. The lock button is a small, recessed circular button at the top of the device. It’s a pain to press, and is occasionally unresponsive. The camera button is also small, recessed, and difficult to press, but I’ll get to that later on. Overall though, other than those two or three minor ergonomic mishaps, the Venue Pro hardware is pretty striking.

Dell Venue Pro - Keyboard and Screen
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  • eddman - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Then you might be interested in Venue, if you don't want the keyboard.

  • eddman - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    EDIT: "if the lack of keyboard isn't a problem for you."
  • takumsawsherman - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    More importantly, there seems to be no point in buying this phone. What would make it compelling? WP7? Big and bulky? Poor battery life? Camera that sucks? Few apps? No successful history? Made by a company that specializes in making poor quality computers that are a sad attempt at "Me, too"? Why don't you just buy a Dell Adamo while you're at it.

    Give me a good Android or iPhone, and I will be fine. I don't think someone can survive on a "Venue Pro". What exactly is a "Venue Pro", anyway? Even the name sucks.
  • VivekGowri - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Hmm, I actually have an Adamo...This might explain a lot. What I will say is that Dell can turn out some really well designed, high quality devices when they try. Unfortunately, only about one in ten Dell products are actually designed at that level, but the ones that are generally are quite nice. The Venue/Venue Pro is one of them.

    The camera isn't any better or worse than the other WP7 devices, most smartphones are pretty close these days as far as camera quality goes. Good pictures in well lit settings, terrible low light pictures, passable video camera. Other than the stuff about the camera button, I could have basically copied/pasted that section right out of my last smartphone review.

    If you're looking for a WP7 device, this has some compelling features, namely the keyboard and design/build. Most of the WP7-related issues will go away over time (look how far Android has come in the last 18 months - Microsoft has the money and developers to do something similar).
  • neogodless - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    I've had the phone a week. I love the screen. I do agree it's a tad too dim for some outdoor activities, although, that's usually only a problem if I'm trying to walk while using it. The screen is also a huge magnet for smudges. I'm considering trying out a protector.

    My 8GB unit has been very stable. The camera is very tricky to use - I'd love to see a software shutter release in the future. The power button is a little hard to get to, but a quick quarter slide open/close is kind of nice for seeing if there's anything new. And seeing updates fed to the lock screen means you don't have to go any further (unless you want to check out live tiles.) The apps I've used generally load pretty fast. Facebook app is unimpressive but workable. Kindle is awesome. Haven't tested Netflix yet. I like the games (Bubble Birds and Ice Balls are neat to play with.)

    Really love the Gmail and Outlook email interfaces. And also love Office. Mostly just use OneNote for jotting things down.

    The browser seems just great for anything I've used it for, which I guess hasn't been anything too fancy.

    Love all the Zune stuff. Never had a Zune... really love the music player, the marketplace integration, and I like how you can use it as an MP3 player, tap a volume button and then pause or skip tracks. And the top audio jack is nice for sitting the phone in the car (though if I have to plug in a USB cord for longer trips on the bottom, that will be much less ideal!)

    Here's a list I made for a friend that asked about it (this was after 2 days use.)

    Minor annoyances
    • No way to sync Facebook calendar/events with main calendar as of yet (can view them from Facebook App though)
    • Copy/paste not supported… supposed to be here THIS WEEK though
    o (also can’t forward OneNote files or share them in any way, so lack of Copy/Paste a bummer for that purpose…)
    • Doesn’t charge very well from computer/USB – if battery is critically low, doesn’t charge at all. Does charge fine from wall charger
    o Battery life is pretty bad so far, though I’ve been using the phone a lot…
    • Physical keyboard… is kind of a waste of space for me, touch screen keyboard is actually great, and my fingers are HUGE
    • Poor t-mobile signal at my house, and unlike blackberry and some newer Androids, doesn’t support UMA or WiFi calling (does support WiFi for all data services though)
    • Have to slide open a bit or hit power button to light up screen, no notification LEDs, so have to do this to check for updates
    • Facebook Messages aren’t integrated, have to open Facebook App
    • Camera pretty bad in less than ideal lighting, button a little hard to press, too.

    Things I like or love
    • Everything is so smooth
    • Tons of high quality free apps and games
    • Tons of ways to access free music / streaming radios (even an FM radio built in, though you need headphones, but then, duh)
    • Love the Email and Texting interfaces
    • Actually like having work email and calendar on here, it’s unobtrusive and helps me get to my meetings on time
  • neogodless - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    You can email OneNote files. You may have to exit completely, then re-open so you are only in "View" mode, not "Edit' mode - you'll have Pin and Email icons.
    Battery Life has been pretty good now that I don't play with the phone every waking moment.
    It does charge OK though slowly from a USB port, but you can't let the battery get to "critically low" or you'll need the wall charger.
    Wait, when is Copy/Paste getting here?

    A little nuisance I found today was that I have some friends with multiple phone numbers... there was no way to see which one they used to text me, so I had to play around a little to figure out which one they use for that. Can't say that's a typical use case, though.

    And it would be nice to start seeing more apps released by companies... banks, fuelly.com, etc... hopefully it will come with popularity. I'm hoping to learn how to write my own in the meantime... especially if they provide open APIs :)
  • VivekGowri - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    That update was supposed to be there at the end of Jan, middle of Feb, beginning of March. I'll believe it when I see it.
  • mados123 - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Now if they could just have the DELL logo less obvious - maybe just remove the outer circle.
  • BaronMatrix - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    and it's better than EVERY one of my friends' phone (Android or IPhone). The Keyboard is so smooth I can type FAST. I DO hate that it doesn't allow you to go back without deleting text, but you can use the suggestions.
    The MP3 player is great - not as good as a dedicated one but MP3 players won't let you track yourself on a map.

    Texting is a JOY. It's SUPER-EASY to get to any apps. The People Hub pays for the whole phone. It allows you to add all of your contacts from Facebook, Live, Yahoo in one place. Selecting emails and phone numbers is so easy you don't need Copy and Paste.

    The Phone is VERY FAST opening the apps I use - haven't gotten any new ones. The animations are super smooth.

    Silverlight is the best platform for visual computing as it's easy to program and does everything that Flash AND JavaScript do using a high level language.

    MS doesn't always do it right but they did this time.

    Anyone looking for a first phone - GET THIS. Anyone unhappy or even happy with their existing phone - GET THIS. if they really improve the speed, it will dust off Android and iOS.

    IOW - GET THIS PHONE. You'll thank yourself.
  • halcyon - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    1. Last year's CPU and really tired GPU
    2. Performance that is sub-par against the best of breed - from last year
    3. Battery life that is not up there for a hard core use business phone
    4. Windows Phone 7, which is still so behind and needs the Mango update to start to shine

    Pass. Thanks for the right form factor Dell, pity about the wrong selection of innards (hw) and the OS (WP7).

    Maybe the next iteration, with Android, please.

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