Alright, so I'll be the first to admit I get bored easily with my cell phone. I jump from phone to phone, and switched to prepaid a while ago since the thought of owning the same phone for two years is a travesty to me. A little background before I settle in:
I was a long time Sprint customer, starting out with my faithful Motorola i530 when Sprint first bought Nextel. The service was crap, but the phone made an amazing hockey puck when I was drunk. Beating on that for a while, I began reading about the hybrid iDen CDMA phones that Sprint began offering; CDMA for talking on Sprint's network, iDen for walkie talkie on Nextel's towers. Perfect! Switching to an iC502 when it was released, it turned out it wasn't all that cracked up to be; pinging two towers on two separate networks with two separate radios pretty much killed the battery.
Next step was the iC902, with an extended battery. My first full featured phone with a camera (oooohhh, camera!), I hung on to it for all of six months before ditching iDen and the one contact I still Direct Connected with in lieu of a LG Lotus. I'll admit the Lotus looked more like a compact mirror than a phone, but I'll be damned if it had amazing battery life, full QWERTY keyboard, and I had to restart that thing all of once. Fast forward another twelve months, and Android made its way to the scene!
My girlfriend at the time (one of many mistakes I made) convinced me to ditch my Lotus for an Android. I just can't deal with virtual keyboards, I needed a physical keyboard so I went with the Samsung Moment, running Android 1.5. Cupcake, if I remember correctly. This was my first actual smartphone, and it was amazing for all of about a day. Plagued by lock ups inherent to android, force closes, and the notorious airplane mode issue,
I got sick of the Moment in a Moment (and you're probably sick of my bad puns).
Fast forward, my still at the time girlfriend decided we should get a family plan, and I should change my number in order to get a new phone. Long story short, I did and, still deadset on a physical keyboard, got the Samsung Epic 4G. This phone included, among its other features, an additional $10 a month to access the 4G network Sprint doesn't have. Awesome. Similar to a Verizon Droid, the phone was amazing. Android ran well, very few force closes and I never had to turn it off. Of course, I was paying a handsome premium for this phone, but it actually worked! A few months later, my then girlfriend decides she's going with an employee plan her job offered through Verizon, ponying up the $200 termination fee to Sprint so she can get a cheap Verizon plan. With that, I ditched her, the family plan, and contract wireless altogether. Around this time Virgin Mobile offered an android phone, as well as a plan that offered unlimited text, data and 300 minutes for $25 a month.
Ah, my first Keyboard-less phone, the LG Optimus V. I got used to it, and learned to love Swype, but in the back of my mind I always missed the physical keyboard. The Optimus V was a solid phone, and I hadn't had an LG since my Lotus, so it reminded me just how good of a manufacturer they were. About three or four phone swaps throughout my three years as a Virgin Mobile customer, and I grew tired of their (Sprint's) poor service and building penetration. I then began reading about GSM and was reminded of Nextel's ability to use any phone with the simple swap of a SIM card. Now it was time to find a phone and carrier.
Android was out; I was bored with it, the phones are notorious for terrible battery life, and the OS itself is plagued by freezes and instability issues. To me, the iPhone is extremely overrated: I have an iPad and its nice, but Apple's walled garden leaves much to be desired, and I have a personal vendetta against the bastard software that is iTunes. That being said, I probably would have went with an iPhone, if a model featured a physical keyboard. That left Windows Phone. I'd heard mixed reviews, but I absolutely loved the idea of earning achievements on the go. Luckily, I never dealt with the abomination that was Windows Mobile 6, so I wasn't gun-shy about giving Microsoft a shot. I'd also heard that the OS was stable, and battery life was decent as far as smart phones go.
Alright, but now what phone to get? I had around $200 to spend, so I did my research. I needed a hardware keyboard, especially since Windows Phone does not have Swype. That left me all of two options: The HTC Arrive, with a landscape slide out keyboard, or the Dell Venue Pro with a portrait style blackberry-esque slide out keyboard. I was jumping ship from CDMA to GSM, so my only option was the Venue Pro. Doing a little Amazon search, I found a T-Mobile version Dell Venue Pro unlocked and without contract for the nice price of $212. Sold!
Now, what carrier to go with? I refused to go back to the outrageous prices of contract wireless, so that left a couple of prepaid options. Debating back and forth between Straight Talk and Simple Mobile, I went with Simple Mobile's unlimited talk, text, and 3G data for $40 a month. Sure, the data is throttled to the low end of 3G, but I am rarely without WiFi, so its not a huge issue. And I save $5 a month over Straight Talk (more if you factor in tax).
It was settled. A few days later I received my slick Dell Venue Pro in the mail, and my Simple Mobile SIM Card. From first taking it out of the box, I realized that the Venue was a top tier phone. The phone was portrait style, which was similar to the Blackberry I had just ditched on Virgin Mobile. It measures in at 4.1", probably the largest phone I've ever owned, with a slightly curved AMOLED touchsceen. The curvature reduces glare in direct sunlight, which is a nice addition. The back battery cover is textured nicely, so the phone doesn't feel like it will slip out of your hand, and the whole thing has some real weight to it: It feels very solid in your hand and your pocket.
Under the hood, the phone sports a 1GHz Snapdragon Processor, 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, 8GB of internal storage, a 5 MegaPixel camera with full LED flash, a GPS and even a FM radio! Come to find out, these are the minimum specs required by Microsoft in order for a phone to run the Windows Phone OS. So yes, I am a little late to the party and the Venue Pro was one of the first available Windows Phones on the market, but those specs are nicer than any phone I've ever owned.
Activating my new SIM and booting my phone up for the first time, I was greeted with the initial set up, which asked me for my Windows Live ID, configured my email settings, and sent me a complimentary welcome to windows phone email. While my Venue was brand new, it was taken out of the box and "unlocked" before being shipped to me. For those of you that are unaware, a GSM phone needs to be unlocked in order to run on a network different than the one it was intended. Since this Venue Pro was designated for T-Mobile and I wanted to use Simple Mobile, it needed to be unlocked by putting in an "unlock code" so that it will accept a SIM from any GSM company. Since it was already taken out of the box, I was pleasantly surprised to find the phone fully updated to Windows Phone 7.5, or "Mango".
I can't speak for Windows Phone before the Mango release, but from what I have read Mango fixed many issues early adopters had with the OS. The OS itself navigates similar to the Zune interface, that is scrolling up and down and left to right. It took me a few minutes to figure this out, since I have never owned a Zune either, but after about 5 minutes of getting used to it, its become second nature. The phone also synced my contacts and calendar with Google automatically, which was nice. However, it also synced my contact list with my Facebook friends; this meant duplicate and even triplicate contact names depending on what info was synced from where. Luckily, it was a simple check box to remove syncing with Facebook and all of the additional contacts were gone.
The "Live Tiles" are a nice touch, and a breath of fresh air when compared to Android or iOS's static home screens. Being an original Windows Phone, the included 1400mAH battery isn't the best out of what is available now, but it performs admirably all day, and that includes some heavy game playing, facebook updates, and constant email checks. As with any smart phone it will need to be charged each night, but it will certainly get you through the day and night.
I haven't had any force closes, or apps locking up on me, which is a bit unsettling, actually. Working in the IT field for the better part of eight years, I'm not used to a Microsoft product performing so well. Xbox Live integration is awesome, and my bathroom visits have almost doubled in length, much to my current girlfriend's chagrin. There are a handful of games offering achievements that are free of charge, including the maddeningly addictive Flowerz, which are more than enough to get you hooked on mobile achievements. The other games on offering, including spin-offs of Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, as well as the popular Angry Birds are all paid downloads, but are mostly reasonably priced at around $2.99 to $4.99.
Yes, you will have to pay for something like Angry Birds, which is free on virtually all other platforms, but can you really put a price on the ability to gain achievements and instant access to your friends list and gamerscore in your pocket? I think not! I haven't traversed beyond the scope of the free offerings, but I'm sure I will some time soon.
Unfortunately, the Venue, and almost every other Windows Phone I've read about, do not offer an MicroSD card or support any type of removable storage, which is a definite down side. I don't think I'll need more than 8GB of space, but its nice to have the option, and nothing is more convenient than dragging and dropping pictures and music files right onto an SD card. No, in order to move files onto and off of your Windows Phone you will need to download and install the Zune software. Upon hearing this, I shuddered. I mean the only thing worst than iTunes has to be an iTunes clone developed by Microsoft, right?!
I was actually pleasantly surprised when starting up the Zune software. The interface is similar to the Windows Phone itself, it recognized my device right away, and has many options for either automatic or manual sync. Organizing music and getting them to appear just how you want is actually surprisingly easy, and within minutes I loaded five full albums and plenty of pictures onto my phone. The software also offers access to the Windows Phone Marketplace; apps downloaded here will sync to your phone immediately. Again, over the course of a few minutes I was up and running with Netflix, Youtube, and a nifty flashlight app downloaded on my PC and synced straight to my phone. The computer access to the Apps marketplace reminds of the Blackberry desktop software, which isn't a bad thing either.
Web browsing, including flash support, is brought to you by Internet Explorer. Take that as you will, but I haven't had an issue with it. Trust me, I was more than a bit leery. I haven't checked whether or not another browser was available from the Apps marketplace, but there's nothing I've needed to do that couldn't be done with IE.
Of course, as many of you may have already heard, the app marketplace is rather limited when compared to Apple's or Android's. The focus seems to be on quality over quantity, and while many of my favorite apps were there, and an added bonus of Netflix, some were missing, including Shopkick and Words with Friends. Microsoft is working diligently on expanding the offerings, though, and I hope that is the OS matures so to will the development base.
The Venue Pro is not all gravy, either; Dell has stopped manufacturing and supporting the product, which means no new OS updates after Mango (If I understand correctly, there have already been two other minor updates since 7.5). If you are under contract and in the market for a new Windows Phone, it may be pertinent to note that Windows Phone 8, codenamed "Apollo" is in the works and set to release this year, as well. Something to mull over in the coming months.
The Dell Venue Pro is a sold phone, and my experience with the Windows Phone OS over the past month has been great. I don't see myself changing phones any time soon (until I see one of those shiny new Apollo phones, anyway), and that is saying something coming from me. For those of you looking for something newer, T-Mobile offers the excellently reviewed Lumia 710 by Nokia, and AT&T has just released the Lumia 800. Sprint sports the HTC Arrive, the only other Windows Phone with a keyboard, and Verizon offers the HTC Trophy. Verizon does not seem very interested in the platform, but that is probably because their Droid monicker has amassed them billions since the release of the Android OS. Why dump your cash cow for an unproven device?
Given the right amount of time and developer support, I can see Windows Phone flourishing over the coming months and years, rivaling the almighty red fruit and that green alien. I actually have to commend Microsoft for taking something as broken as Windows Mobile and doing a complete 360 (see what I did there?) with it. The Xbox Live integration is awesome, earning achievements on your mobile is even better, and hey its a nice phone as well!