Dell and Microsoft. When the two giants of the computing world get together, a smartphone is the last thing you'd expect. Dell has failed to make a mark with handsets so far, unless you include the Android-powered tablet, the Streak. And Microsoft, well there isn't really much to say about WinMo. So have the companies redeemed themselves with the Dell Venue Pro?

Living large

The Dell Venue Pro is definitely not a phone for dainty fingers. At first sight, it's intimidating – heavy, large and exuding ‘machoness' from every angle. But then you notice the detailing. Gentle sloping edges, chrome plated sides and the textured, engraved geometric pattern on the back panel.

The phone comes with a 4.1-inch AMOLED screen, that's one grade below the Super AMOLED display that the Samsung Galaxy S blew us away with. The shiny black fascia has three touch sensitive buttons at the bottom – the standard WP7 ones for Back, Windows (Home) and Search. A quick slide upwards will display the full QWERTY keypad that's hidden below. Because of the size of the phone, the keys are well spaced out and large. There's a dedicated function, symbol and smiley key for heavy texters. We found typing a breeze on the pull-out keypad, and were also really impressed by the touch screen one that was spot-on even in portrait mode.

The bottom has stereo speakers embedded in the body and encased in a steel grille, along with a mini USB port. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top and the rear panel has a 5-megger camera with LED flash. There's a dedicated camera button on the side.

User interface

You can unlock the phone with a quick press of the power button, and a screensaver flashes on the screen, with date and time in a nice big font. A simple slide upwards reveals the WP7 home screen, which consists of colourful tiles. There is no main menu button here that brings up your apps – you can choose instead to keep adding shortcuts in the form of tiles to the home screen. If you swipe to the left, you get a list of all the programs and applications installed on the phone, and you can choose to add any of these as a tile on the main home screen.

Like most smartphones, there's social networking integrated into the handset. So that means you can log on to your Facebook account, as well as get to configure multiple email accounts like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo. If you're using any email service apart from these three you have an option to configure that too. Setting them up is as simple as punching in your username and password, and the phone takes care of the rest. On the review handset, we had Facebook, Hotmail and Gmail as the configured accounts. You don't have one integrated mailbox for all your mails – instead they show up on different tiles on the home screen. Like with Android phones however, you do get an integrated contact list. The ‘People' tile displays all your phonebook and SNS contacts in one unified list, along with thumbnails of their profile pictures – so it's a nice colourful list.

Text messages are displayed as a thread, however while you can choose to delete an entire thread of messages, there is no way of completely wiping your inbox clean unless you select each thread manually or do a factory reset.

Media

The default browser on the Dell Venue Pro is Internet Explorer. Pages were quick to load even on a GPRS connection, and you can open multiple tabs. We had some issues with the Windows Marketplace – no matter how much we tried, we were unable to get it to load as it continually flashed ‘Windows Marketplace is currently unavailable in your area/region'. We faced this problem with the HTC Mozart which we reviewed last week too, so we feel that this is a problem with WP7 and not the handset. Considering that apps are a key indicator of OS, we think that Microsoft should rectify this problem soon. This also posed a problem when we tried to stream YouTube videos, as it requires a Video app to be downloaded from the Marketplace. Xbox Live too needed an update from the Marketplace, so we were unable to log into our accounts.

Facebook and Windows Live come together as an integrated app under ‘Me'. You can post your status updates directly to both sites from here. Be warned though, notifications, requests and inbox messages aren't displayed here so you'll have to access the Facebook mobile site on IE for more. There's no direct Twitter app either, which is a shame.

For shutterbugs, the camera is a decent 5-megger, and captured photos well even in low light. There were light noise levels in somephotogrpahs, but that's to be expected in most mobile phone cameras. You can access all your photos from the Pictures app, where all your Facebook photo albums are also displayed, so you can see all your pics at a glance.

Data can't be transferred through simple drag and drop – instead you'll have to install Microsoft Zune on your computer and sync your phone from there.

The phone supports .mpeg4 and .wmv video files. We loaded Frost/Nixon on it and were really impressed – there was no stagger between frames, and the screen was large enough for two to three people to comfortably watch the film. The sound quality from the stereo speakers was outstanding, and we were able to follow the movie clearly even in a noisy room.

The ‘Home' button on the phone with the Windows logo also functions as a voice command button with a long press. While it responded to simple commands like ‘Call Mom', it tended to get confused with Indian names, and also failed to accurately launch applications a lot of the times.

The phone comes with TTY/TTD access for the hearing or speech impaired, a thoughtful feature from Microsoft.

You get access to a whole suite of Microsoft Office apps – so you can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

Performance

The Dell Venue Pro runs on a 1GHz processor, which is pretty standard for most high-end smartphones nowadays. While we were able to multi-task, the phone tended to freeze very often, especially during heavy usage. This can usually be rectified by simply locking and unlocking the phone – but it does lose points on our test rating because of that.

The battery life was decent – we got about a day and a half of charge with multiple accounts configured and heavy talktime and browsing. However, we didn't use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you might drain power if you have those turned on.

The phone we got also comes with only 16GB of internal storage, which is not expandable – an iPhone-esque feature we thought it could have done without. We're hoping Dell at least comes up with a 32GB version so that people with higher media usage needs will be able to use it to its full potential.

Our verdict

The Dell Venue Pro scores in terms of smartphone design – touch and full QWERTY – and is the way to go for a business phone. Its excellent screen and sound quality also make it media friendly. Our main concerns are the niggling issues with the WP7 OS, but we think that once Microsoft vamps it up with a few upgrades, this could be the phone to buy.

Love: Professional build, AMOLED screen

Hate: Phone tends to freeze, no Bluetooth transfers

Rs 34,990

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