We’ve waited a long time for the Dell Venue Pro to surface. Announced along with the rest of the inaugural Windows Phone 7 smartphones back in October last year, it has taken until now for it to go on sale in the UK. The Venue Pro is the only Windows Phone 7 handset to have a mini sliding Qwerty keyboard.
Small keyboard, big difference
And it’s this mini-Qwerty keyboard that is the big differentiator between the Venue Pro and the rest of the Windows Phone 7 smartphones. The HTC 7 Pro also has a slide-out keyboard, but it’s a large one that extends from a long edge. The Venue Pro’s keyboard is a lot smaller – think BlackBerry sized. And in sliding out from the bottom edge, it makes what is already quite a chunky handset a bit top heavy. Indeed, at 192g the Venue Pro is heavier than the HTC 7 by a few grams.
The keys are quite small and close together. You’ll need little fingers and/or fingernails to type at speed. Indeed, we found we were just as quick working with the on screen keyboards in both wide and tall mode.
Big screen, bendy back
The bulk of the Dell Venue Pro isn’t all down to its slide-out keyboard, though. The 480×800-pixel screen is relatively large, measuring 4.1 inches. That’s useful for media-rich activities like watching video, browsing the web and even viewing email. With the Venue Pro aimed largely at a business audience, that last point counts for a lot.
While the large screen is a positive point in terms of ease of use, the slight curvature of the backplate is not. Curved backplates mean that handsets don’t sit flat on the desk, so that when you prod at the screen – or keyboard, in this case – the phone moves around. It’s not ideal.
Something of a clone
Microsoft lays down some strict rules about how Windows Phone 7 handsets should look and feel. True to form, there’s a side button here for the 5-megapixel camera, which can launch the camera even when the phone is in standby mode, and a large touch-sensitive button on the front beneath the screen which takes you to the Start screen. Here, you’ll also find search and back buttons.
The operating system’s look and feel is the same here as it is on other Windows Phone 7 smartphones, with a tile-based main screen that you can customise by adding tiles that link to apps or data, and a range of hubs such as a media hub for access to music and video, and an office hub for access to Word documents – including ones you’ve left on your PC at the office, if you’re suitably supported. Those who used to use ActiveSync on earlier versions of Microsoft’s smartphone operating system will find it replaced by Zune for local media synchronisation, and the cloud for contacts and diary sync.
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- Large, bright screen; keyboard is quality, but a little small and fiddly.
- Curved backplate is awkward; rather chunky design.
Windows Phone 7 changes a little from handset to handset, remaining predictable and unskinnable. We aren't sure it's the best fit for consumers. The Dell Venue Pro itself is chunky, but the large screen and mini-keyboard are definite plus points.