A really quick look at the Dell Aero and a Windows Phone 7 Series prototype

The smartphones are being shown at the CTIA conference

LAS VEGAS -- AT&T has begun teasing customers with photos and a few details on the Dell Aero, describing the smartphone as having a 5-megapixel camera and a 3.5-in. HD display.

At the CTIA Wireless show today, I got a chance to hold an Aero but was not allowed to turn it on and use it. Based on brief experience, it feels great, is lightweight and has a stylish silver accent on the side and back.

Other than that, AT&T is revealing only that the Aero will offer Web browsing with Flash Lite support for audio and video content and will connect to Wi-Fi hot spots. It also includes an onboard GPS system that works while a user is talking hands-free.

Dell Aero
AT&T will be selling Dell's Aero smartphone. (Photo courtesy of AT&T)

AT&T yesterday said it would have the Aero available soon in the U.S. It is a cousin of Dell's Android-based Mini 3, which is sold in in Brazil and China, although AT&T wouldn't comment today on any differences between the Aero and the Mini 3.

Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices at AT&T, offered me the Aero to hold and look at but said I couldn't turn it on because "it isn't ready."

I had a similar experience with another smartphone that isn't completely ready -- Microsoft's prototype of a Windows Phone 7 Series device. Mike Chang, senior product manager, let me hold the prototype but said it is not the final hardware that Microsoft expects a number of manufacturers to build for the new OS. That's a good thing, because the hardware prototype is heavy and looks terrible, with a screen that seemed to have a scratch protector on top that kept the full colors from showing through.

Some of the specs of the hardware were shown to developers at the MIX conference a week ago, and a Microsoft official said the prototype was built on Asus hardware.

Most notable in the Windows Phone 7 Series specs is that it will rely on capacitive touch, with four or more contact points possible simultaneously, which is good for gaming, Chang said.

Chang wouldn't divulge the speed of the prototype's processor, but a slide at the MIX conference described it as an ARM Version 7 Cortex/ Scorpion "or better."

I played with the prototype briefly but couldn't say whether the touch response was all that quick because I often have problems getting touch screens to respond. Chang said that the touch sensitivity on the prototype isn't final.

The start screen on the Windows Phone 7 prototype was depicted mainly with blue colors, which looked faint to me and not at all as vibrant as iPhone users are accustomed to seeing. Chang said Microsoft has chosen to give users the option of mainly blue, green, red or yellow as the theme colors for the start screen.

All in all, I'm intrigued by what Microsoft is planning for its Windows Phone 7 Series, but it's far too early to judge the device without the actual hardware in place. In comparison, the Dell Aero hardware looks cool, although it also is unfinished and I didn't have a chance to put the software through its paces.

Prototype phone using the Windows Phone 7 Series
A prototype phone using the Windows Phone 7 Series. (Photo by Matt Hamblen of Computerworld )

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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