Dell Streak review: Sizzle or fizzle?

Summary:The Dell Streak is the first Android tablet from a major PC maker. Learn the pros and cons of the Streak and whether TechRepublic recommends it or not.

The Dell Streak has finally arrived in the real world, after months of speculation and a couple false starts. It's technically the first Android tablet from a major PC maker, but it's actually a lot more like an Android smartphone than a competitor to the Apple iPad. Learn the pros and cons of the Streak and whether we can recommend it or not.

Photo gallery

Dell Streak tablet: Unboxing and comparison photos

Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T
  • OS: Android 1.6
  • Processor: 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (QSD 8250)
  • RAM: 512 MB
  • Storage: 2 GB built-in, plus 16 GB micro-SD (expandable to 32 GB)
  • Display: 5-inch WVGA, 800x480 pixels, Gorilla Glass
  • Battery: Lithium Ion 1530 mAh
  • Ports: 30-pin to USB
  • Weight: 7.7 oz
  • Dimensions: 6.0(h) x 3.1(w) x 0.4(d) inches
  • Camera: 5.0 megapixel (rear) with autofocus; VGA front-facing
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, GPS, e-compass
  • Keyboard: 49-key virtual keyboard (including number pad)
  • Networks: UMTS 850/1900/2100 MHz; GSM/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz;
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g; Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
  • Tethering: Not available
  • Price: $300 (with 2-year contract); $550 without a contract

Who is it for?

This is my primary question with the Streak. Who would use it? I've struggled to find any really good use cases, especially for business professionals. It's too big to make it your primary smartphone, unless you only make a couple calls a week and mostly use your smartphone for messaging, apps, and mobile Web browsing. And, you're comfortable with a 5-inch tablet in your pocket or bag. The Streak could be a decent tablet for field workers who use Web-based applications to do their jobs, or if there are Android apps to handle those tasks.

What problems does it solve?

We've been hearing about the flood of Android tablets preparing to hit the market since the beginning of 2010 -- even before Apple released the iPad. However, we're over half-way through the year and no significant Android-based iPad competitors have arrived. Dell's 5-inch device is the first Android tablet from a major PC manufacturer.

Standout features

  • Solid hardware - The Streak is slim and light, but it also feels substantial enough to impress. There's nothing cheap or flimsy about it. Holding it in two hands and flipping through menus and Web pages, typing messages, reading documents, and watching video clips all feel surprisingly natural. In terms of the processor, display, RAM, camera, and other hardware specs, the Streak meets the minimum requirements we'd expect, but it doesn't exceed anything that you'll find on the top Android smartphones in the market.
  • Expanded on-screen keyboard - The smartest Android UI addition that Dell has made to the Streak is the custom on-screen keyboard that has been expanded from the standard 30-35 keys to a 49-key model (in landscape mode) that includes a number pad and takes advantage of the extra space afforded by the 5-inch screen. It's not quite as accurate as the HTC EVO's ons-screen keyboard (which just uses its extra space for bigger keys) but the number pad on the Streak is highly useful and makes this a strong data entry device.
  • Android ecosystem - The reason why people have been waiting for an Android tablet to compete with the iPad is because the Android ecosystem is everything that the Apple ecosystem isn't -- open, customizable, and free for tinkerers to experiment on. It's just too bad that the Streak shipped with an outdated version of the OS.

What's wrong?

  • Runs outdated Android 1.6 - The one unforgivable sin of the Dell Steak is that it ships with Android 1.6. Yes, you read that correctly... version 1.6. It's been over 10 months since Android 2.0 was released with the launch of the original Motorola Droid and yet Dell inexplicably couldn't get at least 2.0 on this device -- let alone 2.1 (which is loaded on many of the current Android devices) or 2.2 (the latest version, which has started rolling out to the top devices). Because the Streak is stuck on 1.6, I found that a lot of my favorite Android apps and widgets don't work with the Streak. Dell has promised that the Streak will get an upgrade to Android 2.2 later this year. It can't come soon enough, and I question the wisdom of releasing this device with a stale version of Android.
  • Inconsistent performance - For a device running a 1 GHz Snapdragon, the Streak feels sluggish at times. It's not that it's consistently slow. Some tasks are instantaneous and faster than the HTC EVO or Nexus One, but then navigating some menus and opening some apps will take much longer to load than they should, and longer than other comparable Android devices. This could be a product of running Android 1.6 or it might be related to the customizations that Dell has done to the Android UI, but it's a nagging issue with the Streak.
  • Overpriced - At $300 (with a 2-year wireless contract), the Streak is $100 more expensive than devices such as the EVO, the Droid X, and the Samsung Galaxy S, but it's only advantage over those devices is a larger screen. When you factor in that it's less portable than any of those devices, runs an older OS, and doesn't have access to many of the latest apps, it's difficult to make a case for the Streak. If you want to buy it unlocked and just use it over Wi-Fi, it costs $550. That's more expensive than the 16 GB iPad Wi-Fi ($500), which has an even larger screen (10 inches), far more software, and a much more polished user experience. Again, a tough sell for the Streak. The only comparison where the Streak looks really good is when you compare it (at $300) tablet-for-tablet with the iPad 3G -- $630 (16 GB), $730 (32 GB), and $830 (64 GB). If Dell offered a Wi-Fi only version of the Streak for $200, it would be a lot more attractive.

Bottom line for business

The Dell Streak has two things going for it: 1.) It's technically the first Android tablet from one of the big PC vendors so it has first-mover advantage, and 2.) When you get it your hands, it feels very usable and likeable. But, the Dell Streak is much more like a smartphone than a tablet and when you compare it to the other top-of-the-line smartphones, it becomes much less attractive. If you really want an Android device with a big screen that feels like a small tablet, I'd recommend the 4.3-inch HTC EVO 4G over the Dell Streak.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Tablets, Dell, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Mobility, Smartphones

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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