Is the Dell Streak a Tablet, Smartphone or MID?

Dell calls its upcoming Streak a tablet, but critics, the majority of whom have yet to lay hands on the mobile device, aren't sure. The Streak offers several features the Apple tablet notably lacks, but in terms of usability it may be closer to a smartphone. Perhaps the price will tell.

Since the introduction of the Apple iPad, consumer interest in tablet PCs has skyrocketed, and more than a dozen manufacturers have shown off prototypes or announced their interest in the market. On May 24, Dell was the latest, with the introduction of the Streak, "a 5-inch Android-based tablet designed to provide people the best 'on-the-go' entertainment, social connection and navigation experience," Dell said in a news release.
In a post on the Dell blog, however, Lionel Menchaca offered a more open description, writing, "The Dell Streak is a hybrid device that lives in the space between a smartphone and other larger tablets or netbooks that you might be using right now. We designed it to provide a wide range of users flexibility to do what they need with a mobile device."
Given the Streak's 5-inch screen size, many are still wondering whether it's truly a small tablet or a large smartphone or falls into the vaguer category of MID (mobile Internet device).
"It's none of the above, and that's sort of the problem," analyst Avi Greengart, with Current Analysis, told eWEEK. "If you give someone [a 5-inch screen], they may find it's too much phone for them. You're sacrificing pocketability for only a small amount of additional screen size."
Greengart added that even the HTC Evo 4G, with its 4.3-inch touch screen, "is kind of pushing it," in terms of a phone size that people can comfortably carry.
Analyst Neil Mawston, with Strategy Analytics, agreed that pocketability is an issue with the Streak.
"The Dell Streak is a supersized Android smartphone that is targeted at high-end consumers looking for a tablet-class Web-browsing experience," Mawston told eWEEK in an e-mail. "The Streak offers attractive design, rich features and good Internet browsing, so it ticks many of the required boxes for a premium smartphone."
Its main challenge, Mawston continued, "is that its overall size may be a little too large for in-pocket smartphone usage, while its screen may be a little too small for an in-home tablet experience."
On the tablet front, however, the Streak offers several features that Apple has been criticized for leaving out of the iPad, notably support for Adobe's Flash technology, as well as a camera, a cellular radio and multitasking capabilities.
"What's interesting about the Streak is that it's set up to allow standard telephony and video conferencing, both of which the iPad doesn't have," Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK. "Yes, it is meant to be an entertainment device, but it's also meant to facilitate telephone calls and in a smaller package than the iPad."
So, the Streak is more of a tablet, then?
"I would put this in a different category," King said. "Intel has been talking about, in handheld computing, the need for complementary devices for standard notebooks. I see the Streak as being clearly a complementary device, either to a phone or a standard notebook. It has some of the core capabilities of both of those devices."
Another interesting thing about the Streak being Android-based, King said, "is the fact that the screen size isn't hugely different [from] a standard smartphone's, so it's not so large that users would see a great discrepancy in using [the Streak] with apps from the Android Market, in way that iPad users have seen a huge discrepancy in using apps designed for the iPhone."
King added that research has shown iPad sales to be putting a slight dent in Apple's Mac sales-an issue Dell isn't likely to experience with the 5-inch Streak.
However, what the Streak replaces, and how it ultimately sells, may largely be determined by how it's priced, which is a detail that Dell has yet to share.
"If the price is low enough, it may be a way to get people who wouldn't pay $500 for an iPad, but are considering a new smartphone," Greengart said. "If it's cheap enough, people will invent new use case scenarios."
Pund-IT's King, who's described Apple's successful run in the tablet space as a "one-horse race," added that he expects to see several companies introduce tablet-style form factors by this year's holiday season.
"It's going to be a much more interesting race than it has been in the past," King said.