Software & User Interface
When it comes to smartphones, it's arguable that the software is more important than the hardware--within reason. That's to say, good software can somewhat make up for lackluster hardware, but it rarely works the other way around. The most powerful device in the world won't offer much if it's stuck on Android 1.6. Dell ships the Venue with a customized form of Android 2.2 (Froyo). Obviously, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) is already on select phones, and Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is already on select tablets. In other words, technically this phone ships with an "outdated" version of Android, but the good news for most users is that they're not likely to notice a difference between Froyo and Gingerbread. The major Android 2.x features are here for the Venue: tethering, increased panels, Adobe Flash support, etc.
Those familiar with stock Android phones like the Nexus One will probably need a minute or two to acclimate to Dell's Stage UI. We were not fans of Dell's Stage user interface on their tablets and netbooks, but we have to confess that the Stage UI over Android really does work well. It's a fresh way of looking at the OS, and it reminds us a bit of HTC's Sense. The Stage UI sets up the six main panes with six different categories: Home, Social, Music, Contacts, Email, and one open pane.
The phone is not loaded up with lots of unwanted software, and that's a good thing. We've shown our hatred for bloatware in the past, and Dell did a good job of not going overboard here. There's TuneIn Radio, Quickoffice (actually useful!), Zinio Reader, a Dell Welcome app, Assistant Free, AccuWeather, Kindle, Dell Video Stage, CoPilot Live, Backup & Restore and Dell Sync. Other than that, it's pretty much the standard fare: Gmail, Latitude, Maps, Clock, Gallery, Google Search, Camera, Calculator, Browser, Contacts, etc.
All in all, we appreciate the common-sense nature to the Stage UI. The mail pane is great for a quick glance at the top of your inbox, and the Social pane is great for keeping up with the latest in social networking. Basically, Dell has figured out how to provide useful, "glanceable" information on these panes without cluttering things up. Also, these panes are fairly customizable, so that's a major plus. We'll touch on the performance in the pages to come, but we would like to point out that Dell's Stage UI feels no slower than our stock Nexus One when navigating. That's impressive. Usually, added layers of software hinder performance, but everything felt smooth, snappy and well-integrated in use.