Dell's first foray out to the bold frontier of Windows Phone is quite a discovery, thanks to its astonishing size, and a distinctive sliding keyboard that lets you type in portrait mode. The Venue Pro is held back from greatness, however, by a lack of expandable storage, poor video capture and average battery life.
The Venue Pro is available for around £20 on a monthly contract, with SIM-free prices starting at about £450.
There's no getting away from it -- the Venue Pro is one seriously chunky customer. With an overall weight of 193g, it's easily one of the heaviest phones we've witnessed in recent memory, and its striking dimensions ensure a beefy bulge in your pocket.
Weight is often an indication of solid build quality, however, and that is most certainly the case here. Dell is famous for its robust personal computers and laptops, and the same design ethos has been carried over here. The Venue Pro feels sturdy and dependable.
Another plus point to the phone's design is the vibrant AMOLED screen, which dominates the front of the handset thanks to its 4.1-inch size. Although it's not quite as bright as the Super AMOLED variant showcased by the Google Nexus S and Samsung Galaxy S II, it's still impressive.
The most striking aspect of the Venue Pro's design is its slide-out keyboard, which (unlike Windows Phone rival the HTC 7 Pro) is used in portrait mode, that is, it slides down from beneath the screen rather than sideways. Ironically, the physical keys aren't entirely necessarily -- we actually found it quicker to use Windows Phone 7's excellent touchscreen keyboard instead.
Another problem is that when the keyboard is exposed, the Venue Pro's already intimidating height balloons to a staggering six and a half inches, making it awkward to hold with one hand. Still, we're sure BlackBerry veterans and other people doing serious business will appreciate the presence of physical buttons.
Like many of its Windows Phone brethren, the Venue Pro comes equipped with a 1GHz processor and 512MB of memory. This combination ensures performance is nippy and responsive, with no describable lag between operations. Much of this speed is due to Windows Phone 7 being such a streamlined operating system, but if you're used to Android's often inconsistent performance, using the Venue Pro could be a pleasant surprise.
Windows to the soul
The Windows Phone 7 OS hasn't changed much since we first saw it on the HTC HD7. In fact, we're rather disappointed Microsoft isn't forging ahead with new features. Multi-tasking is still missing, and although navigating the menu system is a breeze, things become sticky once you've downloaded a lot of applications. The layout needs work.
Speaking of applications, the Windows Marketplace remains a distant third when compared to Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. Although the flow of new apps and games is encouraging, some of the prices are a joke. Many games cost almost four times as much as they do on the iPhone.
The Venue Pro is capable of capturing 5-megapixel still images and 720p video. Sadly, it does neither of these things to a truly mind-blowing degree. Photos tend to look rather dull, while HD video recording is laggy and over-exposed. You're also limited by the lack of external storage.
How Zune is now?
Windows Phone's Zune music playback software continues to surprise however, and the presence of a 3.5mm audio socket means you can crack out your own set of headphones. Sadly, the Venue Pro's multimedia aspirations are curtailed by a measly 8GB of internal storage, with no way to boost that with memory cards. If you're a serious music listener, you may wish to pick a device with more cavernous storage, such as the 32GB iPhone 4.
Thanks to the hungry processor and equally demanding AMOLED screen, even a moderate amount of use puts the Venue Pro's 1,400mAh battery under intense strain. Expect it to last you a day at the very most, but any trips longer than that will almost certainly require you to pack your trusty wall charger.
The Venue Pro unquestionably makes an impression, but that's largely down to its size rather than its performance. With its physical keyboard exposed, this phone is a monster -- but it does at least have commendable build quality to compliment its gigantic dimensions.
Being able to use the keyboard without having to hold the phone sideways is obviously going to appeal to text-happy BlackBerry fans, but Window Phone 7's on-screen text entry system is arguably just as effective.
It's also impossible to shake the feeling that Microsoft's much-hyped operating system needs a boot up the backside if it's to remain in contention with Google's rapidly evolving Android platform and Apple's ever-popular iOS. It works well and is intuitive, but it lacks key features which should have been available from day one, yet are still curiously absent.
Still, if you're itching to try Windows Phone 7 and desire a physical interface as well as a touchscreen one, the Venue Pro is worth considering.
Edited by Nick Hide