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 recommended.
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 messaging.
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’ Streaks.
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 the market.
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.