Dell’s fourth smartphone, the newly unveiled Venue, uses the same Android 2.2-based and Dell Stage user interface as the larger Streak 5 phone/tablet. The Venue’s good-looking hardware, however, is similar to that of the Windows Phone 7-driven Venue Pro, although without the Pro’s slide-out keyboard. That’s the start of what I discovered during a hands-on session at a Dell press event this weekend in Las Vegas.
As Dell delves more deeply into smartphones, the veteran PC maker is aiming its Android phones mostly at consumers, said Matt Christiansen, a Dell senior training analyst, in an interview at the event. The Venue Pro, on the other hand, is targeted at businesses, as well as at long-time RIM BlackBerry customers, other major users of texting, and anyone who is brand new to smartphones.
In checking out the Venue, Streak 5, and Venue Pro side-by-side, I found that the Venue is meaningfully lighter to hold and carry than either of the existing phones. Indeed, the lack of a keyboard subtracts extra baggage of around 30 grams, leaving the Venue with a total weight of around 160 grams, or about 5.6 ounces, Christiansen estimated. In contrast, the Streak 5 tips the scales at about 220 grams, or 7.8 ounces. Dell’s display at the event didn’t include the company’s first phone, the Android-driven Aero.
Aside from the presence of the QWERTY keyboard on the Venue Pro and its absence on the Venue, the only really major difference between these two devices is the interface. While the Android-based Streak 5 and the new Venue use Stage, the Venue Pro is outfitted with a purely Windows Phone 7 interface.
Actually, the version of Stage appearing on the Venue and Streak is a smaller subset of the tile-based Stage UI now gracing Dell consumer PCs such as the Inspiron One 23, a Windows 7 all-in-one. The smartphone edition of Stage includes only around 10 widgets. Specifically, the widgets give you direct touch access to things like Google searches, social networking sites, personal photo and music galleries, and e-mail.
My own favorite is the e-mail widget, which lets you manage up to five mailboxes in a single place. Instead of navigating around to multiple sites such as Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail to see all the mail that’s arrived in your various mailboxes, you can view it all in Stage, just by touching on icons that you’ve linked to the mailboxes. You can compose and reply to mail in the same space, too. Stage will also alert you to incoming mail.
For internal use among its employees, though, Dell picked the Venue Pro when deciding to replace its BlackBerries. Dell staffers are accustomed to using a physical keyboard for texting, Christiansen told me. Also, like many other enterprises, Dell uses Microsoft Exchange messaging servers. Christiansen suggested that, beyond those factors, some new smartphone initiates might prefer the Windows Phone 7 UI, since it’s based on the familiar Windows model and the tiles are bigger than those in Stage.
As I saw during my hands-on, at 4.1-inches, the screen of the Venue (and Venue Pro) is practically a full inch smaller than the Streak 5’s 5-inch display. Although both are without the Streak 5’s front-facing camera for videoconferencing, the Venue phones fit more comfortably into your hand.
Especially on the new Venue, Dell makes savvy use of the side panels. Unlike Acer’s Liquid Metal smartphone, the Venue isn’t equipped with the convenience of a message and battery status indicator on the top panel. But through a button on the left-hand panel you can unobtrusively put the ringer into silent mode, without having to take the phone out of your pocket,
In addition, on both Venue phones, the right-hand panel contains another two mechanisms, one for volume and the other for accessing the rear-facing camera–an 8 megapixel (MP) camera in the case of the Venue, and a 5 MP model for the Venue Pro.
Some critics have contended that the AMOLED screen used on the two Venues phones doesn’t produce all that much brightness. But during my hands-on session, Web pages and apps certainly seemed to show up brilliantly enough.
Other features of Dell’s new Venue smartphone include a 1 GHz Qualcomm QSD825 processor, 512 MB of RAM, a MicroSD card slot, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
For the moment, at least, the Streak 5 is available on both T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, whereas the Venue Pro is available only for T-Mobile. Christiansen declined to comment on rampant speculation that the Venue Pro might also appear on AT&T. Dell hasn’t yet announced a carrier, pricing, or release date for the Android-based Venue.