Dell's Streak 5-inch tablet has been updated with Android 2.2, offering a solid Android experience with some hardware and software quirks.
Dell intends its 5-inch Streak to be the first of many
tablets rolling out over the next several quarters. In a September presentation
at Oracle OpenWorld, CEO
Michael Dell offered a sneak peek at a 7-inch tablet
, while indicating the
market segment was in a state of constant change and evolution.
That makes the Streak, which sells for $300 with a two-year
AT&T contract or $550 unlocked, already something of an artifact. In a
market as hot as tablets, any model's relevancy will drop precipitously as
months go on-and the Streak's already been on store shelves since early August.
However, Dell is replacing the Streak's Android 1.6 OS with
an Android 2.2 (Froyo) update
. This software refresh essentially makes the
Streak a brand-new device-especially when you consider how much early criticism
focused on the tablet's antiquated operating system and bug-riddled features.
Dell recently sent eWEEK a Streak installed with Android
2.2. Although the Streak is intended as a hybrid between a tablet PC and
smartphone, with the ability to make phone-calls, the company neglected to
include a SIM card. That limited testing to the Streak's capabilities as a
tablet, using WiFi.
At 7.7 ounces, the Streak certainly feels hefty in
comparison to 4.5 ounces for some Android smartphones. Weighed against the
3G-enabled Apple iPad at 1.6 pounds, of course, the Streak feels light.
However, with a 5-inch multi-touch screen, the first impression is more "This
is a phone by Dell" as opposed to "This is a tablet."
The mechanical buttons along the upper frame of the device
(Camera, Power, Volume) felt small and sharp and metallic. In the first few
hours with the device, I found myself repeatedly hitting the Power button when
I meant to use the Camera, and vice-versa. On the Streak's front, the
Back/Menu/Home buttons seemed nicely responsive to touch.
The screen is Gorilla Glass, and the Streak survived 3-foot and
5-foot drops onto a hardwood floor with no visible cracking, chipping or
performance damage. As always, dropping your expensive mobile device is not
The touch-screen is responsive, with nary a need to jam a
thumb into an icon in order to activate it. That being said, after months of
staring at Samsung's Super AMOLED screens for both the Samsung Galaxy S
smartphone line and the Galaxy Tab, as well as Apple's high-resolution Retina
Display, the Streak's screen came off as somewhat dim.
One of the Streak's prime advantages seems to be battery life.
Over two days of moderate use on WiFi networks-which included Web browsing,
video, email, navigating, instant messaging, and picture taking-the device
merely sipped power. Those who find themselves aggravated over plugging in
their mobile devices by afternoon could find this a pleasant surprise. But the
full picture of the Streak's battery life, alas, can't be offered thanks to the
inability to test in 3G.
The Streak's 5.0-megapixel camera is pretty standard-issue
for Android devices. In low-light conditions, the flash seemed short-range and
weak. The Streak's size makes it slightly cumbersome as a camera, and the
device often needed to be stabilized in both hands or against a flat surface in
order to take a non-blurry shot. The camcorder was the bright spot here,
shooting in 720p.
The Streak also offers a front-facing VGA camera. Unlike
Apple's iOS, with its comparatively easy access to the company's FaceTime
video-conferencing application, Android users will likely need to wait until
third-party developers start exploiting the hardware for their own video apps;
at the moment, there's a decided lack of ways to use the front- and rear-facing
cameras in combination.
Dell seems to have trod lightly when it came to skinning
Android 2.2. When you startup the device, you're presented with a default set
of home screens, accessible by swiping: Home, Contacts, Email, Social, and
Music. Your opinion of Dell's aesthetic tweaks to these home screens, which
involve icons enclosed in a "stage"-style design, may vary.
From the home screens, users can use the icons along the
bottom to access the phone, browser, or applications screens. With its 1GHz
Snapdragon processor, applications sped along with nary a stutter. The Streak
also supports Adobe Flash 10.1, which remains a competitive differentiator for
non-Apple tablets. Those who operate a Dell ecosystem will likely appreciate
the ability to sync their multimedia and contacts with their PCs, while those
with Google accounts will have the usual Android-enabled access to Gmail and
Early reviews of the Streak complained about user-interface
bugs. During a week's worth of testing, few of those quirks made themselves
known, although the testing device froze for a few minutes on two occasions
(with no running apps). Both times, it returned to life after a liberal and
repeated smacking of all mechanical buttons.
For enterprise users, the default Streak offers Quickoffice,
calendar, integrated GPS leveraging Google Maps for on-the-road navigation.
Syncing Exchange with the Streak is an exercise in hair-tearing aggravation,
not entirely unexpected given Android devices' inconsistent record in that
area. According to Dell, IT administrators will have the ability to manage
passwords, remote wipe, and perform similar functions with their organizations'
The Streak's virtual keyboard was another positive
experience. It includes Swype, for whose who want it. The keys seemed
responsive and right-sized.
If you're in the market for an Android smartphone, the
Streak's 5-inch screen and weighty form-factor might prove a bit too cumbersome
for your needs. If you want a tablet, that same 5-inch screen may prove a bit
too small in comparison to the Apple iPad or host of 7-inch tablets now hitting
That being said, a subset of the tech-buying population will
probably appreciate a smaller tablet, capable of being carried in one hand,
which can also make phone calls. For those users, the Streak offers a solid, and
fairly standard-issue, Android 2.2 experience. Lack of a SIM card made it
difficult to test the full capabilities here. Your own mileage may vary.