Another month, another Android. While it’s impressive that Google’s operating system is building such a formidable legion of devices, how much can one say about them? Differences between the phones are few, and hinge largely on the quality of the hardware. The repertoire of possible phrases is starting to run dry—everyone now knows that an Android phone will have great Internet features, a flexible user interface (UI) and access to hundreds of thousands of apps. We also know that it will be ridden with bugs small and sundry, and have (sometimes debilitating) battery issues.
All of the above holds true for the Dell Venue, the computer maker’s new smartphone. It occupies the comparatively sparse top end of the Android market, one currently dominated by Samsung’s Galaxy S and HTC’s Desire.
The hardware is fantastic. The Venue has a huge, stunningly bright 4.1-inch AMOLED screen protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass, and a nicely textured back. It has an 8 MP camera, but the picture quality is disappointing. The sound quality is excellent, and the phone’s tapered design means that you can place it normally on any surface and still hear crystal-clear sound.
The software is Android version 2.2, or “Froyo”. It works fast and is zippy (thanks to the 1 Ghz processor humming underneath) and quite competent in daily use.
What isn’t is Dell’s custom UI on top of it. If Android phone makers could somehow make their custom UI optional, or uninstallable without voiding your warranty, the world would be a much happier place.
Dell’s “Stage” UI doesn’t reach Motoblur levels of awful, but it is heavy and taxing and largely unpleasant. The widgets are huge, taking up an entire homescreen each, and are only minimally customizable. Switching to Launcher Pro or Zeam is recommended—the difference in speed is significant. Elsewhere, everything is standard Android— pleasingly customizable with the requisite annoyances that go with it. Apart from unnecessary American-style hyphenation for phone numbers (which converts a 9810098100 to 981-009-8100), the Venue gives no other ground for complaint in this department.
The Dell Venue is priced at Rs 28,999. The question eventually comes around to whether it is a better pick than the Desire or Galaxy S. Samsung’s flagship Android phone has pretty much the same specs, but is due for an update to “Gingerbread”, Android version 2.3, this month. The Desire has HTC’s “Sense” interface, the only custom UI preferable to stock Android. The Venue is in no way inferior to these phones, but doesn’t differentiate itself enough to be preferable over them.
It’s a bit of a late entrant though. The Galaxy S’ successors are already en route, while the Desire HD is due to be launched in April. Sony Ericsson is preparing the next line of Xperia phones for an April launch, and LG and Motorola are unveiling their dual-core devices. As Apple’s iPad competitors found out two weeks ago, just catching up doesn’t cut it in the tech world any more.