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Dell Streak

Review A hybrid smartphone and tablet in one
Fri Aug 27 2010, 13:49

Product Dell Streak
Specifications 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, 5-inch 800x480 multi-touch screen, 512MB RAM, 2GB internal storage, SD card slot (16GB card supplied), quad-band GSM, HSPA, 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 5 megapixel rear camera with flash, VGA forward-facing camera, Android 1.6
Price £449 SIM-free

THE DELL STREAK is an Android-powered device that blends smartphone and tablet features and could potentially spawn a new mobile form factor, so long as users can get over having to hold an oversized device to their ear to make phone calls.

dell-streak-entertainmentAvailable since June on O2's network and SIM-free from Dell's online store, the Streak could easily be dismissed as either an outsized smartphone or a mini tablet that happens to run a smartphone operating system.

However, the 5-inch screen that dictates its size makes the Streak a better device for mobile web browsing than most smartphones, and could make it attractive as an application platform for business use.

On the downside, the Streak currently runs version 1.6 of the Android platform rather than one of the newer releases which added various performance tweaks and other improvements. We also found the Streak's performance to be sluggish at times, with the device taking several seconds to respond to on-screen controls being touched, though why this was happening was not clear.

In design, the Streak looks very much like a large smartphone, but it powers up with the display in landscape rather than portrait orientation, and the home screen is fixed in this mode. However, most other applications will switch orientation if users prefer to hold the device lengthwise, when reading a document for example.

dell-streak-in-handHeld in landscape orientation, the Streak is perhaps more akin to a portable games console or portable media player device, such as those from Archos. At 220g, it weighs twice as much as some phones, yet is not so heavy that it cannot easily be carried around. Its size of about 15cm long by 8cm wide and nearly 1cm thick makes it too large to fit easily into most pockets, though.

Dell's user interface for the Streak puts many of the most commonly accessed functions right on the desktop, with the home screen showing icons for the phone app, contacts, messaging, browser, Google Maps and Android Market. There is also a Google search bar and a strip of icons to quickly turn the WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS interfaces on or off. Overall, this makes the Streak feel more like using a small computer rather than a phone.

The full range of applications can be accessed from a drop-down menu at the top left of the screen and, as is usual for Android, the home screen itself can be customised by moving the icons or adding other widgets and shortcuts. Also like other Android devices, the Streak supports multiple screens that can be accessed by a sideways swipe gesture. On the Streak, there is just one additional screen either side of the home screen.

The left one is configured with widgets for Facebook and Twitter showing the latest updates on your account for these social networks. The screen to the right has a music player widget and shortcuts to the camera, photos, Youtube, Google Mail and an application called Touchdown from Nitrodesk that allows users to access email on a Microsoft Exchange server.

The 5-inch screen has a resolution of 800x480 pixels, and we found that the extra size really makes a difference in readability when using the Streak to browse web pages, either in portrait or landscape orientation. However, because the Streak currently runs Android 1.6, it does not support web pages with Flash content. Dell told us that it expects to make available a platform upgrade for the device sometime later this summer based on Android 2.2, which will allow users to install Flash 10.1.

Anyone considering the Streak to access web-based applications would also be well advised to test it out first, as we found the Android browser to be incompatible with one or two that we tried. We also found that the browser was one of the apps where the Streak mysteriously became unresponsive at times, occasionally taking longer than 10 seconds to react to taps on the address bar.

Other problems we encountered included the device occasionally losing all network connections for several seconds, and longer when coming out of standby. However, these quirks could possibly be due to a fault with our specific evaluation unit.

Applications supplied with the Streak will largely be familiar to those who have used an Android device before, but a notable inclusion is a version of Quickoffice, which allows users to view Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF documents in email attachments or Flash storage. The large screen really works well with this application, especially when reading Word documents in portrait mode. Users can also edit documents if they upgrade to a paid-for version of Quickoffice.

Also installed on our handset was a trial version of NitroDesk's Touchdown, an email client that supports push delivery of email, calendar, contacts and task updates from Microsoft Exchange mail servers, plus others such as Novell GroupWise and Sun Java Communication Suite.

This combination of Office document support and Exchange mail compatibility could make the Streak a compelling rival for Apple's Iphone in the affections of business users. The large screen also helps out here.

The Streak is comparable with current top-end smartphones. It is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm SnapDragon processor with 512MB memory plus 2GB internal storage used only by the system; user data is stored on a micro SD Flash card, and a 16GB one is included.

For connectivity, the Streak supports HSPA on 3G networks with download speeds up to 7.2Mbps and upload speeds up to 5.76Mbps. It also has 802.11b/g WiFi, and automatically reconnects to networks for which the user has previously supplied credentials.

Also supported is Bluetooth, allowing you to use a headset rather than hold the Streak to your ear to make calls, and GPS for location-based services such as Google Maps.

dell-streak-rearThe Streak feels sturdy, and we suspect it would stand up to the rough and tumble of everyday use better than many smartphones, especially with its display manufactured from the toughened Gorilla Glass.

This perception is reinforced by the metal back cover concealing the battery compartment. Opening this cover automatically powers off the device and you cannot turn it back on with the cover removed.

Physical controls are limited to an on/off switch, camera button and volume control on the top edge of the Streak, while three touch sensitive buttons next to the screen perform the home, back and menu functions.

Other external features include a forward facing camera to the left of the screen, plus a five megapixel camera with flash at the rear. A 30-pin connector is on the bottom of the case, similar to that seen on Apple devices, plus a jack socket for the supplied wired headset on the top edge.

Some comparison with Apple's Ipad is inevitable, but the two devices actually have more differences than similarities. The Ipad supports a higher screen resolution, and is about four times the size and three times the weight of the Streak.

While the Ipad has a compelling electronic book reader application, none is built into the Streak, although a quick search on the Android Market app store shows plenty available to download.

The Streak can also make voice calls, which the Ipad does not support. In fact, while the Streak is bigger than a smartphone, it is just about small enough to be used like a phone, which is possibly what determined its size.

The phone dialler application works in landscape and portrait modes, but unless you are using a headset, the Streak needs to be upright so that the microphone and earpiece are positioned near your mouth and ear. It actually works just fine like this, although you do feel like you are holding a brick against your head at first.

Despite the large display on the Streak, we were disappointed by its on-screen keyboard, which caused us much frustration with mistyped words during our tests. Dell has used the extra screen space to graft on a numeric keypad rather than make the keys larger, which is a missed opportunity in our opinion.

The 5 megapixel camera at the rear of the Streak took pretty decent photos in our tests, but the lens is positioned exactly where you put your fingers to hold the device in landscape mode. Users can also shoot video with the camera application, and upload content directly to Youtube or Flickr.

Dell has followed Apple in its use of a 30-pin connector rather than a USB port to connect to the outside world. This can be used to connect optional extras, such as a car dock kit or home AV dock kit. The latter provides HDMI output, enabling the Streak to play 720p digital video via a monitor or TV.

However, Dell does include a cable that connects the Streak to a PC USB port or power adapter. When connected to a PC, the Streak allows the option of browsing the contents of its SD memory card or synchronising data via the Dell PC Suite. The first option allows you to treat the Streak as if it were USB storage, and simply move files on and off the device from your PC.

The install files for Dell PC Suite are actually found on the Streak's SD card. Once installed, this can be used to synchronise Contacts, Task, Calendar and Notes data between the PC and Streak, and to back up or restore data from the Streak to the PC.

Dell supplies the Streak with a 1530mAh lithium ion battery pack which can be removed and replaced, if necessary. The company does not offer any battery life figures, but we found the Streak typically needed a recharge after a day's testing with WiFi and cellular radios turned on.

dell-streak-navigationOverall, we were impressed with the Streak, which does seem to be more than simply an oversized smartphone. It could appeal to those looking for a device for mobile web access, but the extra screen area also comes in handy for other uses such as reading documents, while it can still make phone calls so you do not have to carry a second device.

With the optional car dock kit, the Streak's 5-inch screen could also see it do duty as a sat-nav device, thanks to Google Maps with its turn-by-turn directions capability.

However, we had one or two concerns with our review unit's lack of responsiveness and losing network connections at times, and we would also be happier recommending the Streak if there was a confirmed date for the promised update to Android 2.2.

In Short
If you find smartphone screens a bit cramped for web browsing, the Streak could be the device you're looking for. It provides all the features of an Android smartphone in a larger format, but not so large that it can't be used as a phone as well. µ

The Good
Large 5-inch screen for easy reading, feels rugged, powerful specifications.

The Bad
Android 1.6, cumbersome as a phone, poor on-screen keyboard.

The Ugly

Bartender's Score



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