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Review: T-Mobile Dell Streak 7 disappoints even at $199.99

T-Mobile is rolling out the new Dell Streak 7, but even with HSPA+ and a Tegra 2 dual-core processor I would not even consider it due to the lame 800x480 pixel resolution display.

After just spending a couple of days with the Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab I went out and purchased my own Tab from T-Mobile. BTW, T-Mobile has dropped the price down to just $249.99 with a 2-year contract. T-Mobile is now rolling out their second Android tablet with the Dell Streak 7 that I have been using for the last few days. The Dell Streak 7 is priced $50 less, after mail-in rebate, than the Galaxy Tab even with the HSPA+ support and new NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor primarily due to one glaring fault. Check out several photos of the device in my image gallery that includes photos with the Galaxy Tab and read on below to see why I am passing up the Dell Streak 7 and don't really understand why it is even being released.


Image Gallery: You can check out several photos of the Dell Streak 7.
Image Gallery: Streak 7 retail box
Image Gallery: Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak 7

In the box and initial hands-on

The Dell Streak 7 comes in an attractive white box with glossy images of the device and apps on it. The main image on the front showing Qik video chat is laughable since the display on the Dell Streak 7 cannot come close to the crisp fonts shown in the picture and in my experiences with Qik video chat you will never see video quality on the level shown in the photo. If people think they will see what is shown on the box with their Dell Streak 7 then they are going to be extremely disappointed with actual results. The back also shows a high resolution shot of National Geographic and again the lame display resolution on the Dell Streak 7 will never show you fonts as crisp as shown on the box.

Inside the box you will find the Dell Streak 7, SIM card, special Dell charger, wired stereo headset, Start Guide, and terms & conditions.

When I first pulled the Dell Streak 7 out of the box I was quite impressed with the hardware. It feels solidly constructed, has a nice textured back, and fits fairly well in a large hand. It is longer than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but just about the same width and thickness. Disappointment quickly sets in though when you turn on the display and can obviously tell it is only 800x480 pixels. This is what we see on most all Android smartphones with 4.3 inches or less displays so when you extend that to 7 inches the fonts are pixelated and things overall look cheap. I gave the Dell Streak 7 to my daughters to try and the first thing they all asked was, "Why is the screen so fuzzy?" Not a good first impression here Dell.

Specifications

The specifications for the Dell Streak 7 include the following:
  • 7 inch 800x480 capacitive touchscreen display with Gorilla Glass
  • Android 2.2 operating system
  • NVIDIA Tegra 2 1GHz dual core processor
  • HSPA+ support up to 21 Mbps
  • 2GB internal application memory and 16GB internal tablet storage memory (about 11.6 GB user accessible)
  • SecureDigital (yes, SD) memory card slot
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Internal GPS receiver
  • 5 megapixel rear camera with flash and 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • 2,780 mAh battery
  • Dimensions of 7.87 x 4.72 x 0.49 inches and 15.9 ounces

The main specification that kills this device for me is the lower resolution display. The display on tablet devices is even more important than the display on smartphones so when people see the 800x480 pixels one on the Dell Streak I think it will be universally slammed.

I was excited to see how the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor performed and it seemed to perform very well. Asphalt 5 played like a champ with no stuttering or anything (check it out in my video) and the device allowed me to switch between apps as fast as I could press buttons.

I think the software on the Dell Streak 7 needs to be updated though as the wireless radio status icon kept showing a 4G connection when I was in areas I know are not 4G. This was verified by multiple speed tests too so the device reports 4G in places where only a 3G connection is present.

Walk around the hardware

The Dell Streak 7 is optimized and designed primarily for use in landscape orientation so all of the directional references below will assume you are holding it in landscape.

The front of the Dell Streak 7 is dominated by the 7 inch 800x480 pixel resolution display. If the display was at least 1024x600 (the resolution of the Galaxy Tab) then I may have even considered upgrading from my Tab to the Dell Streak. As I said though you will be looking and interacting with the display all the time and it just isn't good. The brightness is also quite a bit less than the Galaxy Tab and I am very disappointed in the display on the device.

The Dell Streak 7 is oriented for landscape usage so the front facing camera is above the display (in landscape) or on the right side of the front (in portrait). Unlike every other Android device I have seen with four buttons, the Dell Streak only has 3 touch sensitive buttons on the right side of the front for Back, Menu, and Home. There is no Search button present. All the button icons are presented in landscape orientation. The bezel is wider on the sides so you can easily place your thumbs there and hold it in landscape.

On the top you will find the volume and power buttons on the right side. There is a special Dell 30-pin connector on the bottom for charging and connecting to a PC/Mac. I wish everyone would standardize on microUSB, but the Galaxy Tab also has a similar proprietary connector.

One of the stereo speakers and the 3.5mm headset jack are found on the left side. The other stereo speaker is found on the right side with a large compartment (with cover) that houses the SIM card and a Secure Digital card slot. It seems everyone is using microSD today so I was surprised to find a SD card slot on the Dell Streak 7. Since many cameras use SD, it may be easier to view photos on the Streak 7 and SD is quite cheap.

On the back you will find the 5 megapixel camera and single LED flash in the upper left side. There is a Dell logo centered on the back with the T-Mobile logo placed above it. The back has a texture to it, but it is not soft touch material and is more a design element than a grip technique.

I am a huge fan of the 7 inch tablet form factor and sold my iPad because I found my SGT went with me everywhere due to the size. The Dell Streak 7 feels just as good to me and appears to be a very solid device. Again, if the display had a higher resolution then I would likely have purchased this to replace my Galaxy Tab.

It takes a while to really test out the battery, but on my iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab I could easily go hard for a full day and never receive a low battery warning. However, on the Dell Streak 7 with the same usage patterns I was seeing the low battery warning and then battery depletion towards the end of a day. It is only 2,780 mAh, which is quite small for a tablet. By comparison, the SGT has a 4,000 mAh battery and the iPad has dual 24.8 Watt-hour batteries.

Software

The Dell Streak 7 is mostly a standard Android 2.2 device with a couple T-Mobile apps like T-Mobile TV, Hotspot Connect, and My Account. There are a few 3rd party apps preinstalled, such as Qik video chat, Let's Golf, Asphalt 5, Slacker, Kindle, BlockBuster on Demand, and Zinio. The games are just trials, but they do play as well as they can for having a lousy display to show them off.

I understand the Dell Streak 7 may get an upgrade to Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb) and I have more faith that will happen sooner than Samsung actually updating their Galaxy Tab devices. With the LG G-Slate coming soon from T-Mobile I still am not clear how this Dell Streak 7 fits into the tablet lineup.

Dell includes their Dell Stage home screen interface that has 7 panels with Home, web, email, social, music, and two blank screens. You can remove these panels as they are just widgets in Android. If you tap the dots found in the lower right or left then a row of icons showings all 7 panels appears for just over a second so you can quickly jump to another of the panels. The Dell Stage widgets do not take up the full display and you can actually see parts of the panels to the left and right when viewing the active one. I did not see any other custom Dell features on the Streak 7 so if you want a vanilla Android table then the Streak 7 may be one to consider.

Plans and pricing

Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, there are two monthly plans you can choose from. The 5GB plan (actually unlimited with throttled data after 5GB) is $39.99 per month for existing T-Mobile customers and $49.99 for new customers. The 200MB plan is $24.99 per month for existing T-Mobile customers and $29.99 for new customers. Unlimited text messaging, WiFi sharing (yes, free WiFi tethering included), and unlimited access to T-Mobile WiFi hotspots.

You can also buy prepaid data with the Dell Streak 7 at $10/week (100 MB), $30/month (300 MB), andn $50/month (1 GB).

The Dell Streak 7 will be available from T-Mobile starting February 2 for $199.99 after $50 mail-in rebate with a two year service agreement and qualifying rate plan. Customers can also purchase the Streak 7 without a contract for $449.99 (yeah, right) and pair it with any of T-Mobile’s prepaid mobile broadband plans.

Closing thoughts

The Dell Streak 7 has one fatal flaw and that is the resolution of the display. The thing is, the display quality is vital to the usage of a tablet and I personally would never buy one because of the display resolution. Another issue I have with it is the apparent limited battery life and again I want a tablet where I do not have to think about battery life for at least a full, busy day of usage.

The performance was very good and I do look forward to more Android tablets in the future running the Tegra 2 processor with HSPA+ support. Dell does need to fix the 4G wireless status though to reflect the actual connection speed of the device.

As I was checking it out and before I knew the pricing I said to myself that the only way this tablet makes any sense for T-Mobile is if it comes in cheaper than every other model and it does, by $50. However, even at this $199.99 price after rebate I still would not even consider the Dell Streak 7. And there is no way in the world you should pay $450 for this device, especially with a likely iPad 2 coming out in the $500 range in a WiFi ony model. I suppose if you want you can buy the Dell Streak 7 and use it as an HSPA+ MiFi device too since $40/month for unlimited data is still a cheaper deal than the MiFi on every other wireless carrier.

Other reviews

I read a couple of rather positive reviews on Wired and TechCrunch after I posted my review so I was starting to question my take on the device. Then I read some reviews from people I trust who actually are users and see my thoughts and experiences were validated. You can check out other reviews of the Dell Streak 7 here and I encourage you to read more than just one review before making a purchase decision:

  • Kevin Tofel at GigaOM
  • Joanna Stern at Engadget (Good battery life test results too)
  • Avram Piltch at Laptop Magazine (2 out of 5 star rating)
  • Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo (Great title of 10 Ways to Not Make an Android Tablet)
  • John Biggs at TechCrunch
  • Donald Bell at CNET (3.5 of 5 stars)

Thankfully, I just saw some detailed battery test results over on Laptop Magazine so I can send back the Dell Streak 7 without having to spend anymore time with it to see how bad it is for myself. I don't think we can judge the Tegra 2 dual-core processor in regards to battery life yet since Dell used a rather small battery in the Streak 7 that should not be in place in upcoming Android tablets.