Review of the Dell Streak - Part 1: Introduction and Design

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Dell Streak - 2

The new Dell Streak falls somewhere between a tablet PC and a smartphone, straddling the fence in an effort to derive the best features from both types of devices. Fortunately for consumers, the effort has succeeded rather well and the device is really quite exceptional.

Dell is a well-regarded brand in the field of computers, but is still very much a fledging in the mobile phone world. With the Streak, Dell is breaking into the smartphone game without relinquishing its strengths in developing computers. Therefore the ideal demographic for the new Dell tablet is a user who wants to do away with at least one of their devices for the sake of convenience and mobility.

Design (5 out of 5)

The form of the tablet is standard, as there is not much in terms of innovation that can be reasonably expected. At the most there can be different-sized screens and colour combinations, and perhaps the odd metallic detailing, but that is the limit of tablet design as it stands. The Streak is uncompromisingly black, with rounded edges and buttons sitting flush against the surface to complete its thoroughly classic appearance.

The capacitive multi-touch screen is small for a tablet at 5 inches, and yet too large for a smartphone – which again serves to underline that the Streak is not quite either. The resolution of the screen is a far from shabby 480 x 800 pixels. It is an exceedingly slender device, measuring 152 by 79 by 10 mm. The device weighs in at 220 gm, which is appropriate for its size.

The device is naturally inclined to be used in landscape mode, as opposed to other smartphones. Although it is rather large, it can be used comfortably with either one hand or two. It can also be used without discomfort when making calls, which is an integral consideration for any telephony device.

Apart from the screen on the front, there are three buttons along the right edge and a speaker on the left. The buttons are touch-sensitive, and have haptic vibration to confirm the receipt of commands. There is a front-facing VGA camera for video conferencing. The top edge of the device has three hardware buttons including the volume controls, a camera shutter key and the power button. There is also a 3.5 mm jack on this edge, right next to the volume controls.

The back panel has a 5 megapixel camera, which is what differentiates the Streak from other tablet PCs. The port for charging is along the bottom edge, although with the microphone.

What is especially nice about the Streak is the tough screen. Although it is a touchscreen device, the Streak’s screen can withstand a great deal of punishment without a scratch. Since the Streak is intended to be taken along wherever a user goes, Dell has made the ideal screen.

Features (5 out of 5)

Dell Streak - 1

The contacts application is easy to set up, as it allows integration with Gmail, Facebook and Outlook. Any duplicate entries can be speedily disposed of, using the merge function. Each contact entry has a list of potential interaction methods running alongside to facilitate communication without entering the address book or the appropriate application. It is a nice touch for quick dialling or messaging. Additionally, the user can choose sets of contacts to view for easy location.

In terms of telephony, there is nothing new to admire in the Streak. In fact, it would have been nice to be able to have smart dialling options, but that feature hasn’t been included. There is Voice Calling, however, which somewhat redeems the call application from the depths of mediocrity.

The messaging application and the associated methods of input are varied and all equally well-designed. There is the option of using the device with one hand or two, and in either portrait or landscape mode – and all the permutations thereof. Of course, comfortable access is derived solely from the user’s personal preference, but on the whole, each method is easy to use with a little practice. There is an auto-correct functionality to account for any and all typing errors made when using the device. Additionally, the function learns from frequent use of the phone, therefore presumably it only gets better.

A user can configure multiple accounts on the Streak, and set them to lie side by side on the homescreen. Unfortunately there is no facility for threaded messages, which is a handy feature much loved by Gmail users.

The web browser certainly has more manoeuvrability than on a smartphone, making the experience akin to a fully-fledged computer. The device comes pre-loaded with the Android WebKit-based browser and Opera Mini, which always has my vote. In general, both browsers are evenly matched in terms of functionality and usability.

Although cameras are commonplace on smartphones, on tablets not so much. Therefore it is the Streak’s 5-megapixel camera that trumps the Apple iPad. Not only is the camera a better model, but the camera application is also excellent. There are features and functions packaged to the hilt, making it one of the better cameras available in the market. The camera also has dual flash, autofocus and multishot functions. There is also a fairly workable 4x digital zoom. The front-facing camera is obviously not as good, but its mere presence is a huge bonus.

The media player is fun to use with funky widgets and an interesting interface. There isn’t much that can be done to make a media player interesting, so the floating elements of the Streak are a lovely surprise. However, some of the controls are a little confusing. The sound quality also doesn’t come off well, which is a surprise considering this is not an issue during telephony. The overall performance of the media player is slow, again disappointing when all things are taken into account.

The Streak’s GPS is powered by Google, and their irreplaceable turn-by-turn navigation. The device’s size makes for easy viewing and almost effortless use. Added to that, the Streak has a built-in compass for the directionally-challenged users as well.

Connectivity options are commonplace for a device of this kind; there is Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, EDGE, 3G and everything else in between.

User Interface (5 out of 5)

The Dell Streak has Android installed as the mobile operating system and, although it is an older version, Android is still a great operating system. The version used is 1.6 or Éclair, which has its deficiencies like lack of active wallpapers for instance. However, these small details do not take away too much from the overall user experience.

Android has the multiple homescreens on most of its devices, and the Streak is no exception. Its homescreens are called Rooms and they are completely customizable with widgets. The advantage of having a bigger screen is evident when using the homescreen, as many more widgets fit into the space easily. A user can have anywhere between three to six homescreens depending on their personal requirement. Moving from screen to screen is effortless with a swiping gesture on the capacitive touchscreen.

The Dell Streak has added tabs to the homescreens, making it easier to navigate, like with a web browser. The tab on the extreme left brings up a list of widgets, and can be customized to show the most commonly used applications, which is a nice touch.

Closer to the right side, there is a tab dedicated to just notifications, refining upon Android’s concept of universal notification availability. The last tab on the right side has all the connectivity and productivity options like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, alarm and calendar. The wonderful layout of the bar on top gives itself over to easy accessibility of practically all the functions on the Streak.

The buttons are perfectly placed for accessibility, except if the user happens to be left-handed. Unfortunately for that particular section of users, there are very few devices designed to suit their orientation.

Overall, the user interface is a pleasure to manipulate. Dell has worked upon the Android base to generate a fabulous user experience.

Performance (4 out of 5)

The speed on the Dell Streak is practically unparalleled, compared to most other devices in the smartphone market. Even though it has a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, the sheer speed is sometimes quite startling. The accelerometer also works rather well, with barely a blink to register the change. The touchscreen, though, isn’t the fastest available on the market, but it is far from being a slouch. In fact, it encourages the user to use firm, decisive strokes rather than gently sweep the surface. Depending on the user’s personal preference, the touchscreen’s firm handling could be a plus rather than a drawback.

Calls are clear, with crisp audio output. The loudspeakers also function quite well.

Web browsing is a cinch with the powerful Snapdragon processor, as the touchscreen navigational options execute very smoothly indeed. In addition, pages load super-fast making the experience pleasurable.

The battery life expectancy is standard, with a large battery powering the device. Obviously, a larger device will require more power but even so the output is pretty solid. The advantage though of the Streak is that it is not dependant on just the wall charger for a power supply. It will charge when plugged into a USB port, which gives the user the flexibility to use it when it is charging as well.

The Verdict (5 out of 5)

The main attraction of the Dell Streak is the fact that it is not completely a smartphone and not entirely a tablet. It seems to be a happy juxtaposition between the two, which makes for a portable computer that can be easily used as a phone. Dell appears to be targeting the potential iPad demographic with the device, but it is in a category in its own right. All that remains to be seen is the extent of its adoption to properly judge whether it has successfully challenged almighty Apple.

The Streak is certainly an impressive device with a great deal going for it. There are just a few flaws which one would hope would get ironed out in subsequent releases. All in all, it is a device worth investing in, although iPad users may beg to differ.