Dell will begin shipping the Venue Pro, its first Windows Phone 7 handset, Dec. 9. Retailing for $99.99 with a two-year contract, the smartphone includes a 4.1-inch multi-touch display and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.
Microsoft hopes that the Venue Pro and other Windows Phone 7 smartphones launched during this holiday season will attract both consumers and businesses, allowing it to retake some of the market share in mobile lost over the past few years to the likes of Google Android and the Apple iPhone. Microsoft is requiring that its manufacturing partners respect certain minimum requirements for each handset, including a 1-GHz processor; beyond that, some of those OEMs have begun adding their own hardware tweaks to the basic Windows Phone 7 model, including pop-out speakers and, in the case of Dell, slide-out keyboards.
With just such a slide-out keyboard, the Venue Pro greatly resembles the BlackBerry Torch 9800, Research In Motion's latest attempt to bridge the consumer and enterprise segments. Dell is similarly casting its new phone as a device intended for the broadest possible audience.
"We see the Venue Pro for everyday people with a diverse range of full and busy lives," Bill Gorden, a Dell spokesperson, wrote in an Oct. 11 posting on the corporate Direct2Dell blog. "They need to stay connected, be productive and keep in touch with colleagues, friends and families. Dell designed the Venue Pro to be a multipurpose device to help people be more efficient, always connected and entertained."
Dell's other smartphone entries include the Streak, which launched in the United States Aug. 13. Meant to walk the thin line between smartphone and tablet, the 5-inch device features front- and rear-facing cameras and a modified Google Android operating system. It is priced at either $549.99 unlocked or $299 with a two-year AT&T contract.
Microsoft is backing Windows Phone 7 with an appropriately huge marketing campaign, but some analysts think these smartphones face an uphill battle for adoption.
"Not all the stars are aligning for the Microsoft operating system the way it did for [Google] Android," Ross Rubin, the NPD Group's executive director for industry analysis, wrote in a Nov. 30 posting on the research firm's corporate blog. "First, whereas Verizon had a paucity of touch-screen smartphones prior to the Droid, AT&T and T-Mobile are flush with them." As GSM-based carriers, both AT&T and T-Mobile are offering Windows Phone 7 first; CDMA-based carriers such as Verizon will debut their own line of devices in 2011.
"On the other hand, the devices at those carriers offer clear alternatives to the incumbents," Rubin wrote. "All of the Windows phones at AT&T pack something the iPhone lacks, and the HD7's screen looms large above others in T-Mobile's portfolio."
Microsoft executives have suggested a Windows Phone 7 software update is already in the works for release within the next few weeks; rumors from developers, meanwhile, insist that the update itself will be massive in scope, possibly adding features missing from the smartphones' first iteration. However, Microsoft and its carrier partners have yet to offer any hard sales data for Windows Phone 7, which went on sale in early November.