With the increasing popularity of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems, it was inevitable that Microsoft’s Windows Mobile share of the smartphone market was to take a hit. Consequently, the Redmond-based company pulled its socks up with Windows Phone 7, with CEO Steve Ballmer saying in 2010: “In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience.” Windows Phone 7 was designed to mark a turning point toward phones that truly reflect the speed of people’s lives and their need to connect to other people and all kinds of seamless experiences. Does it succeed? Let’s find out with Dell’s latest smartphone offering.
Dell’s Venue Pro (£359 inc. VAT & shipping) smartphone is actually designed with the mobile professional in mind (hence the black-and-silver business livery), which is good because consumers will take one look at its size and recall in horror―at 64x122x15mm and weighing a seam-tearing 193g, the Venue Pro is probably the largest smartphone we’ve seen this side of the 1980s. Seriously, if you thought Apple’s iPhone was big, you’ve seen nothing yet!
The main reason for the size of the Venue Pro is its slide-out vertical QWERTY keypad. Dell feels the keyboard is essential for the mobile business user―probably based on the popularity of BlackBerrys in the enterprise―but we’re not sure the size and weight premiums are worth it. After all, the lack of a keyboard hasn’t stopped iPhones making their way into businesses. Also, the added weight of the keyboard makes operating the Venue Pro very difficult with one hand.
The keypad does, however, actually make text entry faster, especially as the handset integrates effortlessly with the Microsoft Office Hub to view and edit Office documents, and to view, post and sync documents on a SharePoint site. The Venue Pro also allows integration with Microsoft Exchange Server and IMAP/POP accounts for e-mail messaging. For most business users, that’s all that matters―and we’re delighted to say the Venue Pro won’t disappoint in the productivity department.
Windows Phone 7 is completely unrecognisable from the dreadful stylus-reliant Windows Mobile―hooray! Heavily geared towards the consumer market, in particular generation-Z, the updated operating system does a really good job of entertaining when you’re away from the office. Particularly good for social networking on the move―besides the lack of multitasking support―the Venue Pro’s 4.1-inch WVGA AMOLED touch display is just gorgeous―it’s sharp, bright, responsive, and features rugged Gorilla Glass for exceptional durability and viewing angles.
Windows Phone 7 Live Tiles keep your priorities in focus, and the Venue Pro’s simple slider interface delivers easy access to a full range of applications including Bing for search, Xbox Live for games, and Zune for music and video (the 3.5mm audio socket lets you add your own set of headphones). With the younger generation loving the tile approach along with numerous new features such as a highly integrated social feed, Windows Phone 7 is definitely the new kid on the block.
The 5-Megapixel (720p video) autofocus camera with LED flash does a decent job, and high-speed wireless (3G, 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR) means you can take advantage of the ever-growing range of cloud-based services while sipping on a coffee at Starbucks. And with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 processor and 512MB of memory under the hood, the Venue Pro rarely misses a beat.
Other notable features include an e-compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, FM radio, and GPS (Bing Maps is pre-installed). The downside to all this functionality is operating time, with the non-removable 1400mAh battery lasting around 1 day between charges. Power users may also baulk at the lack of expandable storage―the Venue Pro comes with just 8GB of non-removable memory.
Regardless of what Dell tells you, the Venue Pro’s elliptical form factor does not make it easy to carry and there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a monster of a device. Sure it feels sturdy and dependable, but no-one will want to carry this thing around all day! On the plus side, the Venue Pro with Windows Phone 7 and a slide-out keyboard certainly brings a fresh approach of doing more with less and delivers an effective “mobile” solution to work, enjoy the Web and connect with friends. It also pulls off the difficulty of mixing business with pleasure. Sadly, despite Microsoft’s stellar efforts with Windows Phone 7, Dell’s hardware is just not exciting enough to threaten Apple’s iPhone and the latest Google Android-based handsets.