Dell Venue Pro Windows Phone 7 Smartphone Review

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Software & User Interface

Windows Phone 7, despite launching in time for the holiday season last year, is still a fledgling mobile OS. It's young, it's somewhat inexperienced, and it still lacks some of the refinement that Android and iOS currently have. But here's what it does have: elegance. Windows Phone 7 is just gorgeous. It's easily one of the most beautiful mobile operating systems on the market, edging past webOS in our estimation. The panels are beautiful, the transitions are beautiful, and the entire experience feels as if it were designed by someone who is just a master of UI.

If you have never used a WP7 device, you'll understand within the first five minutes.  It honestly makes Android look like a red-headed stepchild in the design department. Windows (the desktop OS) takes a lot of heat for not being as beautiful as OS X, but arguably perhaps, we think WP7 is even more beautiful than iOS. But as you well know, beauty is only skin deep.

The "skin" here is very attractive. Most casual smartphone users will fall head over heels for it, and probably won't care about the shortcomings. But there are a few. For one, there's no dedicated Gmail app. It'll sync with your Gmail account, and it supports push mail and syncing over the air (i.e. if you delete an email on your Venue Pro, it vanishes over at too), but there's no threaded messaging, no stars / labels and no easy way to archive things. On the upside, the UI is stunning, and there's an "unread" section that makes it easy to see what you have yet to open. We should also point out that each e-mail account you sync will produce a new panel; there's no unified inbox, which is a strong suit of iOS.

The other major Gmail problem is that it only syncs with your primary calendar. If you also have a spouse calendar, work calendars or other shared calendars for sports, holidays, etc., you'll never see those populate the Calendar app. Major oversight. The "People" tab is a place where you'll probably spend a lot of time. Aside from seeing your contacts there, you'll also see Facebook status updates. Microsoft spent a lot of time nailing the Facebook integration with WP7, but that's both a blessing and a curse. For one, it's a gorgeous way to look at Facebook (the "People" panel, that is). But it's not full-on Facebook -- thankfully, there's a dedicated app for that. Also, Facebook friends crowd your contact list, and there's no elegant way to pick and choose between who goes where.

And if Facebook is so well integrated, why isn't Twitter? You have to manually download a Twitter app (to date, Beezz, Seesmic and Twitter are your best options), and while the UI is (again) beautiful, there's really no option to integrate it. And this leads us to another major issue: there's really no "true" multitasking and background notification system. You'll get a brief alert when a new e-mail or text comes in, but there's no option to get an alert when someone DMs you on Twitter, or sends you a Facebook message. These things are common occurrences within Android, and it was difficult living without them in WP7.

We did love how the Photos application automatically pulled in our Facebook galleries, though, and the Calendar app worked perfectly outside of not pulling in our secondary Gcals. The Marketplace is also less robust than the Apple App Store and Android Market, but it's getting there. WP7 definitely has a ways to go before the app selection is anywhere near as good as those two platforms, but the basics, weather, social networking, sports, travel, etc. are here. Also, the Office integration is obviously top notch; if you're a busy professional who spends a lot of time looking over draft PowerPoints and Word documents, WP7 will definitely please you.

One of the differentiating factors of WP7 is the Xbox Live integration.  If you're an avid Xboxer, avatar and all, there's no way to not consider Windows Phone 7. You can pull over statistics, invite players to game with you, and do just about everything outside of boot your Xbox 360. The Games Hub is also home to any other third-party game you may download in the Marketplace. As gamers, we loved this feature, but if you don't own an Xbox, you may wonder why Microsoft spent so much time integrating this, but not Twitter or background notifications.

Much like iOS using the iPod app, WP7 has a Zune app. Zune hardware seems to be on its way to the grave, but it may live on in terms of software. There's no question that Zune (as an app) is great, and it works way better than most other music management apps. There's also the ability to sync tracks with your Zune library on your home PC over the air, which totally crushes those painful tethered iTunes syncs on the iPod side. There's also a new app out for Mac syncing as well, so even those with OS X can enjoy the spoils of wireless syncing.

As for search? It's all powered by Bing, of course, but we found a few oddities. The touch-sensitive Search icon at the bottom occasionally takes you to a mobile Bing page, but not while you're in some applications. So sometimes, you need to hit the main panel screen before getting to Search. Also, there's no actual "phone search" like there is in iOS. In other words, you can't search Bing for "Jackie" and see a contact within your phone pop up; instead, you search the Web for "Jackie." That's a bit of a letdown.

The Maps feature, while stopping short of providing turn-by-turn guidance, is still quite useful, and seemed to load very quickly in our testing. In fact, we found that everything loaded quickly. That's partly a testament to WP7's elegance, and partly due to the phone's 1GHz CPU. We'll close with Web surfing; Internet Explorer is the bundled browser, and for as much heat as IE6 has taken over the years, the mobile IE is a real star. You can easily pinch-to-zoom, and results loaded quickly and fluidly. The only major issue is the lack of Flash support. Both iOS and WP7 lack it, so it's pretty much Android or bust if you need it.

Overall, the software experience on WP7 is truly refreshing. There are certainly holes to be filled, but this really feels like a blast of innovation on a number of fronts, and we just can't get over how fluidly everything runs on the Venue Pro. For casual users, the software here will be thrilling. For hardcore business users, having tight Office integration will also be appealing. For hardcore Gmail users, unfortunately, it misses the mark quite a bit, and for hardcore travelers, Google Maps Navigation is still the superior option. We have to say, we think WP7 could really appeal to the mass market who doesn't fit into one specific niche or the other. Finally, the overall Venue Pro package here is extremely slick, and not just easy to use, but pleasing to use.

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