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Dell Streak Review

Anybody looking for an Android phone has an overwhelming choice of devices, I believe its one of the reasons why Android has taken off so quickly and is growing faster than any other mobile OS. The Dell Streak is being marketed as a tablet by Dell (and Apple's purchase of adwords for the iPad against Streak searches suggest they see it as one too) but realistically its much more of a jumbo smartphone, albeit one that could become a truer tablet when Dell pushes Android 2.2 onto it.

Starting at the beginning though, the Streak's hardware. When the screen is off the front of the device looks like one piece of shiny blackness - the sentinel from 2001 in pocket size. Turn the screen on and you're presented with 5" of LCD loveliness. The screen doesn't have a particularly high resolution and as a result the ppi isn't high, yet the screen manages to look great nonetheless and as I'll discuss later, Dell has put that extra real estate to good use when applying its skin to the Streak. In bright sunlight the Streak outperforms both the iPhone 4 and Desire when viewed side by side, otherwise it gives a little away in terms of brightness to both although you'd never know unless you were viewing them side by side.

The 5 megapixel camera performs admirably for stills, with easy access to photo settings and a very usable editing program built in. The dual LED flash does a good job in low light situations but you do need to be quite close to your subject to get the flash benefit. Video performance is passable, VGA resolution clips are watchable however audio is somewhat distorted, probably because the microphone is located on the front of the Streak in a position where the hand holding the Streak can muffle audio pick up.

Media handling is good and the ability to output 720p video through the (not included) dock means that you could drive a large screen through the Streak. I can't honestly think of a scenario where that would be desirable though and the function would be much more accessible if Dell were to make available a HDMI cable to make the Streak a usable ad hoc video playback device. The Photo viewer is fast (even when compared with other 1GHz phones) and packs some very nice animation effects. The music player does the job well and has a nice home screen widget (more of which later). Audio quality is excellent through headphones or Bluetooth A2DP, however when played through the built in speaker there is some distortion, although volume levels are high as some consolation.

The Streak has a front mounted VGA for video calls, although the collapse of the relationship between Fring and Skype means that you are limited to Fring to Fring calling until Skype releases its updated Android client.

So onto the software. Dell have skinned Android to suit landscape operations. The Android notification bar, application drawer and settings access have been combined at the top of the screen. This new bar is split into five sections. Leftmost is the app drawer. This works well and being able to pop up the application drawer over any open application makes switching tasks quick and easy. Alongside this are the carrier details, which open either the home screen overview or a live overview of all open browser windows when tapped. Next we have the notification bar as per standard Android, followed by wireless and battery indicators which drop down a selection of settings options when tapped. Finally there's the time and date, which doesn't actually do anything when tapped.

Dell has reduced the size of icons and widgets on the home screens (of which you can have six) so that you can display 32 icons per page rather than the standard 16; widgets that normally display full screen on other Android devices take up half a screen on the Streak's customised home which makes for a much richer experience.

The Streak has a new keyboard layout which also works well. In landscape the keyboard has a numeric keypad on the right, the width of the screen means that this works a treat, although bizarrely Dell has chosen not to enable auto complete and auto correct by default, which are necessities for any soft keyboard.

Other Dell specific niceties are email, Twitter and Facebook widgets; a Dell badged analogue clock (although given the presence of time and date in the top bar this is somewhat superfluous) and individual wallpaper for each home screen panel.

So far so good, but what's the Streak like to use? Very much like a regular Android smartphone, but with a really big screen. As a phone its entirely usable, although to be fair if you don't have large hands you may look like you're talking into a small plate. Paired with a Bluetooth headset however there's little to complain about, especially as Dell includes Nuance voice recognition software which works flawlessly.

However if you're planning on using the Streak as a data device then that's when it really comes into its own. The large screen experience is far beyond that of a regular smartphone - even the Xperia X10's 4" screen seems puny by comparison. In fact reverting back to a smaller screen becomes a frustrating exercise, so much so that my original plans to use the Streak during the week and X10 at the weekends went out of the window and I now carry the Streak exclusively. It may be a large device but its thin enough to fit into the front pockets of most jeans or trousers and is a perfect fit in the inside pocket of a suit jacket.

In fact I think Dell have hit the sweet spot in terms of size - the Streak bests larger tablets like the iPad and UMPCs by being small enough to carry everywhere whilst offering enough additional functionality over smaller phones to make you want to carry it everywhere.

The only real limitation is the absence of Flash. The Streak ships with Android 1.6, which actually has very little impact on its usability other than denying access to the Flash plug-in and restricting the use of multi-touch to specific applications. Dell have committed to shipping Android 2.2 for the Streak by the end of the Summer so both of those issues should be resolved in one stroke.

Leaving Dell with what is probably its most desirable product to date. Now that a US launch is being planned let's hope that Dell puts some effort into building a community around this device because its a product that lifts the company from me-too box shifter to technology innovator and its about time it started to do some leading.

To summarize then, the Streak is a perfect choice if you're main requirements are for a data centric device, you aren't self conscious about its size as a telephone and you want the openness which defines Android. It has excellent battery performance, its slick in operation and looks and feels good in the hand. What few shortcomings it has should be addressed when the new version of Android arrives in the next couple of months, by which time its availability in the US should have pushed third party suppliers to develop some innovative accessories - especially the desperately required HDMI cable.

A well judged first attempt at an Android tablet which turns out to be optimal in many ways, keeping some momentum behind this good start should now be Dell's goal.


Anonymous said…
Thank you very much for the review. I was trying couple function on the streak and found most of them quite pleasent. The keyboard is almost overly sensitive, but after a while it works fine (not sure if I get used to it or it gets used to my way of typing).

Do you mind commenting on watching web video function on streak, say compare to your x10? I try going to youtube (wi-fi), and found that thethe video looks very distorted when viewed in streak. I play the same clip on a vivaz and the later is much better. I wonder if it is a software issue or if it is an issue with the screen resolution of streak.

I watched couple video locally, and the quality is very good, however.
elbowz said…
The Youtube app sets its default quality based on your connection type, low quality over 3G high over wifi. However you can select high quality even when on a 3G connection by going to the menu and selecting high quality. In high quality mode Youtube quality is excellent...
Anonymous said…
great review. love my new streak. size is great i don't know people's problem. it's great for emailing, tying papers, doing business. but the screen is also great size for facebook and games. super great unlocked cell phones. the wifi and gps help me get around. the screen is responsive and the processor is super fast. also got my blackberry unlock codes and cell phone unlocking for free! got my last 2 streaks at 2 thumbs way up