Review: Dell Venue Pro is the best Windows Phone 7 device

Summary:I hesitated in buying the Dell Venue Pro, but after figuring out I could put in a 32GB microSD card I took the plunge. I am now kicking myself for missing out on this device that is the BEST WP7 smartphone available.

My recent research indicated many issues with the Dell Venue Pro may be related to the microSD card and I posted some initial thoughts with the device last thursday. It has now been a full week since I have had my DVP and after handling several WP7 devices I have to say the Dell Venue Pro is the BEST Windows Phone 7 device available today. Check out my image gallery and detailed thoughts on this device below.

I think one thing holding back Windows Phone 7 adoption in the US is the limited number of devices and carriers. There are two smartphones that work with T-Mobile's 3G data network, one sold by the carrier and the other only through Dell's retail channels. I purchased the HTC HD7 on launch day in November, but skipped the Dell Venue Pro after reading lots of horror stories with WiFi connectivity and regular resets. FYI, my DVP has a build date on the box of 7 January 2011 so this later build date may have an impact on reliability of the device. I understand that many people have had issues with the device, but this article is about MY experiences with it that may be tied to the build date, microSD card I have installed, or just plain luck that seems to follow me with my smartphones.


Image Gallery: Check out photos of the Dell Venue Pro Windows Phone 7 device.
Image Gallery: DVP retail box
Image Gallery: DVP in hand

In the box and first impressions

The Dell Venue Pro ships in a rather compact black box decorated with device images and specifications. I purchased the 8GB model knowing that I was upgrading it to 32GB. Inside the box you will find the "Dell Phone", battery, T-Mobile SIM card, USB charger and cable, stereo headset with microphone, and a few brochures and guides.

James captured a short video of me with my Dell Venue Pro earlier this week that you can check out below.

I previously held the DVP for about 10 minutes at a Microsoft meeting and even then thought the hardware felt great. After taking my own DVP from the box, this feeling of quality and solid design was reconfirmed. The DVP reminds me a bit of the Dell Axim X51v in terms of beautiful design and construction. I love the textured back, soft touch top and bottom with soft touch bars on the front above and below the display, the classy silver sides, the solid and fluid slider mechanism, and the well designed keyboard. Unlike my HD7 with the loose volume button and offset kickstand, the DVP has no hardware design flaws that I can find.

Specifications

Specifications for the Dell Venue Pro are pretty typical for Windows Phone 7 and include the following:
  • Windows Phone 7 operating system
  • 1 GHz Snapdragon processor
  • Slide-up display with QWERTY portrait keyboard
  • 5 megapixel camera with single LED flash
  • 4.1 inch WVGA (480x800) capacitive touch AMOLED Gorilla Glass display
  • Dedicated, touch-sensitive Back, Start, and Search areas
  • Proximity sensor, light sensor and digital compass
  • Integrated GPS
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • FM radio
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 1400 mAh battery
  • Non-accessible microSD card slot with included 8GB card
  • Dimensions: 4.76 x 2.54 x 0.59 inches and 6.74 ounces

Specifications do not vary much on Windows Phone 7 at this time with most manufacturers just meeting the minimum specs required by Microsoft. The standout features of the Dell Venue Pro are the 4.1 inch AMOLED Gorilla Glass display and QWERTY keyboard.

I took the risk and removed the 8GB microSD card from my DVP and inserted a SanDisk Class 2 32GB card as I described in this post. Keep in mind that you have to remove a black VOID sticker and that you might never be able to get warranty service through Dell if you perform this replacement. However, I now have the highest capacity Windows Phone 7 device available and can load it up with games, movies, and music to my heart's content.

Walk around the hardware

The front of the DVP is obviously taken up by the 4.1 inch AMOLED display. I compared it to my HTC HD7 with standard 4.3 inch TFT display and the DVP has more vibrant colors with darker blacks. The fonts don't seem to be as crisp and defined on the DVP, the tiles are smaller (obviously), and the color are much richer and less washed out. Honestly, the display on both are good and it really comes down to a preference in colors and I like the vibrancy and richness of the AMOLED one. I haven't had any sunny days here in Washington or Alaska to test them side-by-side so I cannot comment on this.

The display is made of Gorilla Glass too so it should not scratch.There is a bit of convex curvature to the display, but I haven't found that impacts any usage of it while making it a bit unique. The display does get fingerprints pretty easily and I am always wiping it on my shirt or pants to clean it off.

There is a speaker grill centered above the display, but unfortunately there is NO indicator light to be found on the device. This is a bit of an issue since you cannot tell if the DVP is charged or if there is some kind of missed notification when the display is off. Below the display are the three required WP7 touch sensitive areas. I really like the soft touch rubber bar along the top and bottom of the front as it gives it a quality feel.

When you slide up the display with the hinge mechanism that is both solid and smooth you will find the full QWERTY keyboard. There are four rows with the numbers being the alternate key in the top row. There are dedicated keys for FN, one shift, one return, one backspace/delete, comma, period, symbol, emoticon, space bar, and an accent button I cannot seem to get to work. The great thing is that double pressing the space bar enters a period (like RIM) and press and hold of keys enters the alternate symbol/punctuation. New sentences have the first letter capitalized as well. At first I didn't think pressing the keyboard woke up the device, but sometimes it does and after hitting combinations of keys I still haven't figured out what a consistent way to do this. You still have to swipe up on the display though to get off the lock screen, but this does save having to hit the power button on the top back.

The keyboard has good sized buttons with great tactile feedback. It is a bit tight, but I am quite fast at using it so like all of these it just takes practice. The nice thing about using the keyboard is that the soft input keyboard auto hides so you get the full view of the display to use. Also, there is one line of prediction going on so you can use this to speed up text entry. It works just like the soft input keyboard where pressing the space bar accepts the bold suggestion or you can tap on the display to select an alternative.

On the right side you will find attractive high gloss silver material with two volume buttons on the top and a dedicated camera activation/capture button on the bottom. There is nothing but glossy silver on the left side.

The bottom is covered in black soft touch material with two metal grilles on either side of the microUSB port. One of these openings is for a mono speaker and the other is for the microphone even though it appears to be stereo speakers. I found the volume to be very loud and more than satisfactory for listening to music without a headset. The microUSB port is inset a bit so you have to make sure to insert your cable carefully.

The top also has this great black soft touch material with the 3.5mm headset jack and power button on either side of the bottom piece (not the slider display top part).

The back is one piece of removable plastic that has an attractive pattern of gold on black. You will find the 5 megapixel camera lens and single LED flash up top with the Dell logo embedded in the upper thired. There is a Windows Phone label down towards the bottom. The flash is pretty useless and I did not find it to be helpful in taking pictures in low light. The camera seems to do OK in good outside lighting, but the cameras on these Windows Phone 7 devices have all been rather disappointing. This is a real shame given that Microsoft has nice camera functionality for launching from a locked condition. Now if Nokia comes onboard WP7 we might get a fantastic camera experience in the future.

The back of the slid up display also has this gold on black design with a soft touch back so there is a lot of classy design elements on the Dell Venue Pro.

Walk through the software

I presented a comprehensive look at the Windows Phone 7 operating system in my Technical Preview guide article last July that covered most all elements of the OS. Since that time, Microsoft rolled out the full Marketplace and Xbox LIVE gaming support as I cover weekly in my Windows Phone 7 Wednesday articles.

The Windows Phone 7 operating system is fun, fluid, intuitive, and fast. I keep going back to using WP7 as my daily driver, even with some of the limitations on copy/paste and multi-tasking.

There are only a couple of apps that I can see are likely put on the DVP by Dell and these are Pageone Finance and Newsroom. Pageone Finance is a financial management software that works on iOS, BB, and Android and since there is no Mint.com app on WP7 I went to this new service for my financial management. Newsroom is a utility like HTC Hub that provides weather, news, and stocks in a single user interface.

There are a few T-Mobile apps/services on the Dell Venue Pro. They are T-Mobile Family Room, T-Mobile My Account, TeleNav GPS Navigator and T-Mobile TV apps. Since Bing Maps does not provide navigation or voice guidance support I like using the TeleNav GPS Navigator service (it is $10/month). T-Mobile TV is their branded MobiTV and some content is available for free while you can pay another $10/month for lots more content. I am just using it for paid content at this time and haven't subscribed since I have Netflix and SlingPlayer Mobile on my WP7 devices.

Stability, performance, and daily usage

I have been using Windows Phone 7 since last July and honestly it has been the MOST STABLE OS I have ever used on a mobile phone. The only issues I have had with WP7 is the occasional lock up of Marketplace that happens if I leave Marketplace during an active session (download or search). I was very hesitant to purchase the Dell Venue Pro and actually canceled a couple of orders that I place over the last couple of months. After my research indicated the issues may be due to early devices and/or the microSD card I decided to take the plunge since I wanted something more than the HD7.

In one week of heavy usage, my 32GB Dell Venue Pro has been as stable as my HD7 and other WP7 devices I have tested. I have connected it via both WiFi and 3G for Marketplace downloads and upon initial startup I had something over 25 apps in the download queue and the device never stumbled or locked up. I connect it daily to my Bluetooth car speaker for listening to podcasts (thanks to BringCast) and taking/making calls and it has performed without issue. I get a solid 3G signal similar to what I see with other phones and have no concerns with RF reception quality. I generally leave WiFi and Bluetooth on all the time and just let it connect automatically when in range of these networks (just like I do with my HD7) and performance has been flawless.

The battery seems to be a bit better than my HD7, but neither of these WP7 devices will last me a full day of heavy usage. I use my phones a LOT and do require charging during the day to go from 5 am to 10 pm, but that is normal for me so I can live with it. I may look to get an extra battery or an extended battery when Seidio releases one too.

Gaming with Xbox LIVE games rocks and I love that I am earning achievement points on the go since I only get an hour or two of Xbox 360 time each month due to my busy schedule.

Pricing and availability

You can buy the Dell Venue Pro now from Dell directly or through Microsoft stores that have them. I have yet to visit a Microsoft store, but need to swing by the one in Bellevue soon to check it out. You can buy the 8GB model for $99.99 with a T-Mobile contract or $449.99 with no contract (this is what I did) and the 16GB for $149.99 or $499.99. In typical Dell fashion you also get 1 year limited warranty and 1 year advanced exchange service with your Venue Pro purchase.

I understand there are many people voicing issues with the Dell Venue Pro in various forums, but my particular device and setup has honestly been rock solid and awesome. IMHO, the Dell Venue Pro is the BEST piece of Windows Phone 7 hardware and I would buy another in a second if this one was dropped and shattered.

Topics: Hardware, Dell, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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