Review: Dell Streak

Ed. note: Dell has not announced a price for the Streak.

Here’s what you need to know about me. I spend more time checking e-mail, playing with apps and browsing on my smartphone than actually talking on the device.

So what if there was a gadget that had an enormous screen that also focused on apps and reading. Oh, with a phone feature, too.

That would look a lot like the Streak, a 6-inch slab of glass and electronics running the Android operating system — except it bills itself as a tablet. Streak is targeted at smartphone users who crave a larger display but still need a device that’s portable and could potentially replace their phone.

The Streak isn’t there yet. It is a bit of everything — a brilliant 800 x 400 display, a 5-megapixel camera, a reasonably capable phone, a solid browser and access to Android apps. But it doesn’t blow you away with any of the features. There was nothing about it that made me want to abandon my current phone or tablet.

The Streak’s 5-inch touchscreen display is just a tad bigger than the latest crop of Android smartphones (HTC Evo and Droid X each sport a 4.3-inch touchscreen) but significantly smaller than the iPad’s 9.7-inch display. That puts the device in this awkward middle ground: too big to be a real phone, too small to directly take on the tablets.

Despite a gargantuan screen, the Streak sure doesn’t suffer from obesity issues. It weighs 7.8 ounces, so it won’t rip a whole through your pocket nor will you feel too silly holding it up to an ear.It’s also just 9.9 mm thick — almost on par with the iPhone 4 (though the iPhone is much smaller with its 3.5 inch display.) The tapered edges and rounded corners means it’s as svelte as Zoe Saldana, but don’t expect to cram it in a pair of jeggings anytime soon.

The device is also locked into landscape mode on the home screen. Sure, when you access an app you can switch over to a portrait configuration, but this feature is a little confusing at first.

Dell hasn’t extensively reskinned the Android 1.6 OS for the Streak, preferring to add just a few widgets and some user-interface enhancements. Some of it works pretty well: Two nice touches are the shortcut at the top of the screen that lets you click applications and the addition of a numeric pad next to the alphabets on the virtual keyboard.

But with the Facebook and Twitter client, Dell has taken two extremely popular tools and created versions that are … pretty unusable. For instance, you can’t check direct messages or @replies with the Twitter client, or photos and your inbox with the Facebook one. Instead of Dell’s widgets, we recommend you download the apps from the Android market and use them.

Also missing are little UI touches that would have made the device go from good to great. The ability to directly delete widgets off the touchscreen — as with the iPhone — rather than having to press a separate menu button to do it is just one example.

The Streak uses version 1.6 of the Android OS, which should be familiar to any Android phone user. The 1-GHz Qualcomm processor — pretty much a standard fixture on premium Android smartphones — keeps the device zippy.

But the older version of the OS (major smartphones are expected to update to Android 2.2 Froyo this summer) also means features are missing, such as support for Flash or multiple Gmail accounts.

The browser works beautifully on the larger display. Web pages feel more spacious on the screen, and the pinch-to-zoom feature makes it easy to handle. What would have helped is a little kickstand (as in the HTC Evo) to make watching videos on the Streak easier.

Dell isn’t offering its battery life spec, but the Streak’s battery lasted about eight hours of a heavy day’s use — using Google Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation for about 30 minutes, downloading eight or so apps from the Android market, checking e-mail, making a few calls, and playing with the browser. After flogging its capabilities all day, it finally went kaput around 8 in the evening.

Ultimately, that’s what we think defines the Streak. It is not a device for multiday use like the Kindle or the iPad. You will still have to plug the Streak in at the end of the day to keep it juiced.

Really this is a device that looks, acts and even quacks like a phone. Sure it’s a tad large, but it sure is capable. And after all, big is beautiful.

Spread the love