Dell Streak 7, the company's 7-inch tablet device, boasts a powerful dual-core processor, but needs Android 3.0 ('Honeycomb') and better battery life to be a true brawler.
Streak, released to the U.S. market in August 2010, suffered from something of
an identity crisis. Was it a tablet competitor to Apple's iPad, despite the
smaller touch-screen? Or did its calling ability make it more of an Android
smartphone, on par with the Samsung Galaxy S? Dell obviously hoped its new baby
would appeal to an audience in the market for both types of device-the risk
being that, in attempting to hit that sweet spot between the two, the Streak
would end up an also-ran in the tablet and
7 suffers no such crisis. It seems clearly meant to compete within the tablet
category, and specifically with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Research In Motion's
upcoming PlayBook, both of which also include 7-inch screens. Like its
predecessor and the other Android-based tablets currently on the market, the
Streak 7 runs Android 2.2 ("Froyo"), which was developed for smartphones (and
smaller screens). Dell is promising "over-the-air" software updates in the future,
presumably to the upcoming, tablet-optimized Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb"), and
that could change the user experience considerably. In the meantime, all the
quirks of Android 2.2 on a larger-screen device are pretty apparent.
the Dell Streak 7 is a handsome, middle-of-the-road tablet. It weighs just
under a pound. The 7-inch screen, paired with the smoothly curved bezels,
offers a comfortable one-handed grip-provided you have a hand on the larger
side. The textured backing provides a little bit of friction on smooth
surfaces, and the Gorilla Glass front will presumably resist at least some
damage; it survived four 3-foot and 5-foot test drops onto a hardwood floor
with no cracking or chipping. (As always, dropping your expensive mobile device
is not recommended.)
original Dell Streak featured three mechanical buttons along its topmost
rim-camera, power and volume-the Streak 7 offers only power and volume. Like
the original Streak, this larger edition relies on a PDMI (Portable Digital
Media Interface) connector with a 30-pin receptacle, connected to a USB port
and AC adaptor. Both Streaks' design is such that the connector takes a bit of
fumbling to slot into the tablet, but that's a comparatively minor quibble-far
more minor, say, than the Streak 7's seeming inability to charge when plugged
via USB into my ThinkPad.
The front of
the Streak 7 offers three capacitive buttons: Back, Menu and Home. This is an
Android device standard, and they all seemed responsive no matter what application
or feature happened to be running at the time.
The Streak 7's
screen, with an 800 by 480 resolution, seems a bit dim, compared with the
Samsung Galaxy Tab's 1024 by 600 resolution. RIM has claimed its PlayBook's
resolution will match the Tab's, which means the Streak 7 could find itself
lagging in the category come the next few quarters. Nor was the Streak 7's
viewing angles particularly ample: unless you stare at the screen head-on, or
at the slightest angle, it becomes unacceptably dark.
If the Streak
7's hardware has an Achilles Heel, it's the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. The
software is Android standard, with the ability to granularly adjust for picture
quality, white balance, etc. No matter what the setting and lighting
conditions, though, the resulting images often appeared muddy or washed-out.
The camera module's positioning on the upper-left portion of the Streak's frame
also made for some awkward centering.
As with the
original Streak, the camera's bright spot-so to speak-is the camcorder, and its
ability to shoot 720p video. Uploading both still images and video to Picasa,
Facebook, Gmail and Twitter is a snap.
Dell offers the same "Stage" user interface as its original Streak. As soon as
you start up the device, you're offered a set of screens, accessible by swiping
left or right, which includes Home, Web, E-mail, Social, and Music. The icons
within these screens are enclosed within a graphical interface meant to evoke
an old-style theater. Aesthetically, it looks far better on a 7-inch screen
than on a 5-incher, but most users will likely swipe right to Android's applications
Thanks to the
Streak 7's dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra processor, applications and games run
with nary a stutter. I played games such as Gun Bros and Asphalt 5 for 90
minutes or more at a stretch, without the back of the device becoming more than
just a little warm, and with no slowdown. Combined with the T-Mobile 4G
connection, downloading and opening Web pages and running video was likewise a
speedy experience. Inevitably, though, that speed costs power: over a few days'
consistent testing, I needed anywhere from two hours to four hours to drain a
us to the subject of Android 2.2-or rather, the increasingly desperate need for
Android 3.0. Or more specifically, the need for Google to offer a version of
Android not only optimized for tablet applications (done, once Honeycomb is
pushed into the ecosystem), but also tweaked for tablet-caliber power
once, I've run a third-party application or game only to find it sucking away
at the tablet's battery like a particularly famished vampire, and when you
navigate away from said program, there's no indicator or guarantee that it
isn't still running in the background. Say what you will about the drawbacks of
the "walled garden" model advocated by Apple of Microsoft-at least you're
assured of a certain quality level. If Google and its partners can impose a
greater degree of order on Android Marketplace, and tweak how those applications
interact with Android, then the Marketplace could conceivably gain the cachet
it needs to battle more heartily against Apple's App Store.
the Streak 7 crashed on me three times over the testing period when running applications.
In each instance, I needed to perform a hard restart. Whether this is the fault
of Android or the application is an open question. Nonetheless, those crashes
contributed greatly to the sense of Android needing another polish. Hopefully,
Google will decide to push out Honeycomb sooner rather than later.
users, the Streak 7 offers Quickoffice, calendar, and integrated GPS leveraging
Google Maps for on-the-road navigation. As with the original Streak, syncing
Exchange is an exercise in pure aggravation, although integration with a Google
account was the usual sync. The seven-inch screen meant the virtual keyboard is
better used in portrait mode, at least for those with smaller hands, and Swype
is available for those who like it. Having just tested Windows Phone 7 and its
Office hub, the experience with the Streak 7 left me wishing for Microsoft to
finally produce a tablet-optimized version of Office 2007 or 2010; it would
certainly make porting and editing documents that much easier.
7-inch screen and powerful processor, Dell's Streak 7 removes the ambiguities
that surrounded its smaller predecessor. In addition, the Streak 7 feels a bit
more polished than the original Streak-although its screen resolution and
battery life leave much to be desired.
the future upgrade to Honeycomb will eliminate some of the quirks associated
with Android 2.2, and perhaps improve the battery power to the point where it's
worthy of that speedy dual-core processor. Until that day, though, the Streak 7
may have some trouble distinguishing itself in the 7-inch tablet market,
especially when placed head-to-head against the Samsung Galaxy Tab or RIM