Microsoft seemed ready to take over the mobile world with the launch of Windows Phone 7, but so far we’ve seen only a handful of phones. The Dell Venue Pro ($100 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile) is an affordable yet powerful WP7 offering. It isn’t the most attractive phone on the market, but if you’ve been dying to give WP7 a spin without breaking the bank, it is a good option.
The Venue Pro is a bit on the chunky side, and it feels plasticky. The glossy black surface with chrome trim gives it a professional appearance (hence the “Pro” in the name, I guess), while the textured battery cover keeps it from looking dull. Measuring 2.5 by 4.8 by 0.6 inches, the Venue Pro isn’t exactly petite. It is also somewhat heavy, weighing 6.8 ounces. Like all Windows Phone 7 devices, it gives you the standard Back, Menu, and Search touch keys below the display.
Part of the handset’s excess bulk is due to the vertically sliding full-QWERTY keyboard. Like many such keyboards, this one is fairly narrow. Since the keys are right next to one another, I made a few mistakes while typing out long messages. The spacebar is also pretty small, which can be annoying when you’re trying to pound out a text or e-mail message.
Perhaps the highlight of the Venue Pro’s design is the gorgeous 4.1-inch, 800-by-480-pixel AMOLED display. The display nicely showcases photos, videos, and games, as well as the whole user interface. Colors appeared bright though a little oversaturated, which is normal for AMOLED displays.
Windows Phone 7: Ready for business
By now, you probably know that Microsoft created Windows Phone 7 from scratch. Windows Phone 7 is light, fast, and user-friendly, but it isn’t perfect—missing features such as copy/paste and true multitasking are big oversights. (Microsoft says that copy/paste will come in an update later this year.) I also don’t find the OS all that visually consistent, and navigating requires a lot of scrolling.
One of the strengths of Windows Phone 7 is its excellent set of productivity and business apps. You’ll find all of them in the Office Hub. Microsoft does a good job of shrinking down such heavy apps as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote to a mobile scale. You can view and edit full documents, including charts, graphics, bullet points, and animations. This package is probably the best mobile Office software we’ve used, though it still has a few quirks.
That said, having a full-QWERTY keyboard definitely makes editing easier. I initially used the Office Hub with the all-touch screen, and found scrolling and tapping a bit annoying. Editing documents with the physical keyboard—even if it isn’t the best keyboard ever—was far simpler.
Good 5-megapixel camera
Microsoft requires handset manufacturers to ship their WP7 phones with a 5-megapixel camera or better. The Venue Pro sports a 5-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash. All WP7 phones also must have a dedicated camera key, which I always appreciate. The camera/shutter key wakes up the phone and brings you straight into camera mode, a nice touch.
The Windows Phone 7 camera interface takes some getting used to, though. The on-screen touch controls are a bit too small for my liking, and I had some trouble adjusting them while snapping a picture. You get a few basic camera controls such as scene settings (auto, portrait, landscape, sports, beach, and so on) and effects (grayscale, negative, solarize), as well as metering and resolution controls.
Image quality was pretty good, both indoors and outdoors on a sunny day. Details in a few of my indoor shots seemed blown out, but images were decent overall. My outdoor shots looked a lot better, with bright, natural colors and crisp details.
The Dell Venue Pro unfortunately does not support T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network; it supports HSPA 7.2-mbps download speeds. Although HSPA+ is still in the early stages of gaining countrywide coverage, it is disappointing—and odd—that Microsoft hasn’t jumped on the “4G” train. I was unable to test the Venue Pro’s upload and download speeds, as no Windows Phone 7 Ookla app (for measuring network speeds) is available yet.
Call quality was OK over T-Mobile 3G in San Francisco. Voices sounded good—natural, clear, but a bit distant. Callers on the other end of the line had mostly positive reports. When I made a few calls from a busy street corner, however, they reported that my voice was drowned out by the background noise.
The Dell Venue Pro packs in a lot of great features, such as a solid camera and an excellent display. Make sure to give Windows Phone 7 a test run before purchasing, however; the OS has a few quirks, as well as a few missing features such as copy/paste and Flash support. I’m also not sure about the longevity of Windows Phone 7 as a platform. While Android continues to explode and the iPhone retains its popularity, Windows Phone 7 already seems a bit stagnant. Microsoft’s promised update to add copy/paste hasn’t happened yet. App developers seem hesitant to jump on the platform, as well. Lastly, it’s unfortunate that the Windows Phone 7 devices we’ve seen don’t have 4G or HSPA+ support.
[Ginny Mies is an associate editor for PCWorld.]