Dell Aero Smartphone Gets Mixed Reactions

The Dell Aero Smartphone on AT&T is $100 with a contract, suggesting that Dell may not intend for it to compete with high-end smartphones. Is its niche instead with small business customers?

Dell introduced the Android-running Aero smartphone Aug. 24, and already reactions are mixed.

Dell calls the Aero its first U.S. smartphone-which may come as news to those who thought the Dell Streak, launched Aug. 13, held claim to that title. A spokesperson for Dell confirmed to eWEEK Aug. 25 that the Aero runs a "superset" of Android 1.5 and features a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen with a resolution of 640 by 360 pixels. On board are 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, along with a full HTML browser, e-mail support and a 5-megapixel camera. The price, notably, is $99.99 with a two-year service contract with AT&T, or $299.99 without contract.

"With Dell's established relationships to small businesses through its laptop and PC business, the Dell brand, and Android's consumer appeal, this device may help AT&T capture new customers in [the] underserved [small and midsize business] segment," ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan said in a statement. These are customers, Morgan continued, "who want a capable smartphone without the high price of an iPhone or the additional enterprise fees of a BlackBerry device."

Morgan called the release of the Aero and its pricing a "a major accomplishment for Dell," which saw its smartphone initiatives rebuffed in 2009 by U.S. carriers, causing it to instead release the Dell Mini 3 smartphone in China and Brazil.

However, where Morgan sees an accomplishment, others see old news. On Aug. 25, PC World published an article titled, "Dell Aero: Three Reasons to Avoid It." The first reason was "mediocre hardware."

The Aero runs a 624MHz processor, while any number of recently debuted smartphones feature processors running 1GHz processors. Indeed, on June 1, Qualcomm even announced it had begun shipping dual-CPU Snapdragon chipsets with enhanced cores running at up to 1.2GHz.

In a video on the Direct2Dell blog, Linda Logan, a member of the Aero product team, demonstrates a few of the Aero's features. However, in more than one instance, Logan has to swipe or tap more than once, as the device doesn't respond. When it does-when she's swiping through various "panels" displaying the device's applications, for example-its response appears as slow as Logan is deliberate.

Another of PC World's gripes is the operating system, which the article calls "an embarrassment to Android." Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, seconded this opinion, telling eWEEK that the Aero's "old OS version" is "indeed a problem."

The third drawback, per PC World, is the Aero's link to AT&T Wireless. The problem is that the iPhone has put enormous strain on AT&T's network, even as the carrier has worked ardently and spent billions to address the data demands of its users. Likely, however, the iPhone is also the reason that AT&T scooped up the Aero and the Streak (and even Research In Motion's BlackBerry Torch) and agreed to be part of Dell's big debut in the consumer smartphone space. Analysts widely expect that in early 2011 AT&T will lose its exclusive contract to carry the iPhone, and so-like the wise ant preparing for the hardship ahead-AT&T has been working to round out its offerings, including boosting its Android portfolio.

The Aero can be purchased without the AT&T contract, through, but this creates an issue in itself. Greengart, who had not yet received a review unit, said while, based on the information he's been given, the Aero "definitely has its challenges" beyond the older operating system, "its online-only distribution is actually more problematic for volume sales."

With the Aero, Dell doesn't appear to have a mainstream hit on its hands, but ABI's Morgan added that Dell may be approaching the smartphone market the same way it did the PC market more than a decade ago.

"It will be important to follow Dell's approach to the smartphone market," Morgan said, "to see if it can carve itself a niche outside of high-end, consumer-centric devices."