Will the Venue Pro help Dell's smartphone presence?

New Windows Phone 7 handset features Gorilla Glass, vertical slider keyboard

Dell's Venue Pro
Dell's Venue Pro.
Visual tour: Windows Phone 7 handsets and OS

Dell's Venue Pro wins the prize for the most unusual model in the lineup of Windows Phone 7 smartphones from four manufacturers.

It comes with a durable Gorilla Glass 4.1-in. AMOLED touchscreen display and features a vertical slider that opens to reveal a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer singled out the Venue Pro as the lone "ruggedized" smartphone at the Monday launch event for the company's new mobile operating system.

But some observers questioned whether such hardware distinctions can help Dell, a smartphone newcomer, make a name for itself in a crowded market.

After Ballmer's comments on Monday, a Dell marketing representative demonstrated just how resilient the Gorilla Glass is. She took a ballpoint pen and repeatedly bashed the sharp end into the display of the Venue Pro.

"Wow!" was the reaction from a small throng of journalists nearby. The screen didn't appear to be blemished by the stabs with the pen, which weren't caught on video because cameras weren't permitted.

The demonstration of the strength of the Venue Pro's display notwithstanding, some analysts and reviewers wondered how popular the Dell Venue Pro might prove to be.

Part of their concern is that Dell seems to be selling hardware durability, as if Venue Pro were going to be used as a semi-ruggedized device by, say, delivery personnel and service workers, but is also positioning its new smartphone as a tool for the rest of the work force too.

Some noted that the Venue Pro is intended to be semi-rugged -- and possibly designed for people with large hands and fingers -- but the keys on the slide-out keyboard seem to be relatively small. (The Venue's keys are actually bigger than keys on many smartphones, especially most BlackBerry devices -- square in shape and raised in the center so a quick texter can find them more easily.)

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, called the new class of WP7 devices generally "pretty good," but added that the Venue Pro will likely be challenged because models with vertical sliders generally haven't sold well.

He noted that someone who used a Venue Pro with one hand and had the keyboard open wouldn't be able to touch the top left and top right of the large touchscreen with his thumb. That means some people will have to resort to two-handed operation.

He also said that the Gorilla Glass may make the display durable, but the entire device doesn't meet Gartner's definition of "rugged."

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