Dell Streak review
Dell attempts to take on Apple's iPad but is the Streak a tablet or an over-sized smartphone?
Verdict: The huge screen will sell it, but if you don't require a small telly in your pocket, you won't really need it.
Price: O2 only from free with contract or £400 PAYG
Pros: Huge 5in screen, quality build, Android OS, 5 megapixel camera, GPS, 1GHz processor
Cons: Big for a phone, small for a tablet, camera could be better quality
Design: Mini tablet
Operating System: Android 1.6
More Info: Dell website
Despite the best efforts of Microsoft and others, Apple is the first company to make tablets sexy with the iPad. Now Dell's Streak, available exclusively for now through O2, is being touted as a rival to that Apple's new baby. In truth, it's nothing of the sort, being much more of a smartphone with an outsize screen than a portable computer. But while it's certainly big, is it also clever?
It's a handful, but only just, filling the average palm and more with its 153mm x 9mm x 10mm and 220g bulk. It's only when you pick it up, however, that you realise it's actually very well proportioned, and its 10mm slimness, along with the tapered ends, goes a long way towards making it much more pocketable than a face-on view would suggest.
At one side of the 5in screen is a row of touch-sensitive buttons for menu, back and home. On the sides are power and camera shutter buttons as well as a volume rocker, power/sync port and 3.5mm headphone jack. Around the back, which is sealed with a sliding metallic plate, is the 5 megapixel camera lens and dual LED flash.
Operating system and user interface
The Streak runs on Android 1.6, which seems a little retro for June 2010 but Dell promises it will be releasing an upgrade to Android 2.2 later this year, though it hasn't given a date. The UI has been tweaked a little but not nearly as much as, say, HTC's Android handsets. There are three home screens which can be populated with shortcuts from the menu or dedicated widgets for handy things like email, the music player and social networking.
The 1GHz Snapdragon processor supports it well enough and we never noticed any untoward lag when multitasking, whether skipping between applications or watching video.
The frankly massive 5in touch screen is clearly the star of the show here. It offers 16:9 WVGA 800 x 400-pixel resolution and looks beautifully sharp and clear. It's covered with 'Gorilla Glass', an extra-tough substrate which Dell claims should protect it against most knocks and scratches. As well as looking good, it feels good too, supporting multi-touch for pinch-to-zoom and fast typing.
Email accounts are easy to set up, with most requiring just address and password to get going. There's also TouchDown support for Microsoft Exchange clients, which will keep a lot of corporate users happy. There's support for social networking via widgets for Facebook and Twitter (as well as their standard Android apps). They'll keep you abreast of your latest updates and you can also pull your Facebook contact details into your phone book, complete with pics, though strangely, you can't do the same for Twitter.
A big screen means a big keyboard and the Streak's doesn't disappoint. The keys are large but could perhaps have been a little larger if they'd run the numeric keys along the top row rather than incorporating them as a separate keypad at the side. There's room for 49 keys in all, though there's not quite enough room to use more than two fingers at a time.
There's WiFi and HSDPA 3G (7.2Mbps) for fast Internet access and pages generally render well, with plenty of room for zooming in on text. It's not rocket science, but a larger screen really does make it easier to read newspapers and ebooks online, and if that's something you're likely to do a lot of then this is a handset that's definitely worth considering.
The 5 megapixel snapper is decent enough but not a standout. It can manage 2592 x 1944 maximum resolution and includes autofocus, 4x digital zoom, multishot (up to nine pics) and flash but there's no smile or face detection, no close-up macro or panorama options. Picture quality isn't bad but we've certainly seen better, without quite so much tendency to blur and with better colour resolution.
There's also basic 0.3 megapixel camera on the front for video conferencing. The problem is that the handset currently doesn't support it, though that eventual upgrade to Android 2.2 should sort it.
You might imagine video would look great on such a large screen and sometimes you'd be right… but sometimes you'd be wrong. We found that several of the snippets that we use for testing showed the extent of their heavy compression on the larger screen and could appear jaggedy and blurry on occasion. It can handle MPEG4, H.263, H.264, .3GP, and WMV files.
The music player is very close to standard Android though with a few minor tweaks to make allowances for the bigger screen. Sound quality is okay though not exceptional through the supplied earphones but it's easy to upgrade using the 3.5mm headphone jack or stereo Bluetooth (which you might also consider for phone calls – it's a bit of a handful to hold up to your ear).
Media storage isn't a problem with a hefty 2GB of memory on board and the option to include a 16GB or 32GB microSD card depending on which package you go for from O2.
You might expect that big ol' screen to be a bit of a drain on the battery and you'd be absolutely right. We didn't quite make it to the end of a full day, though admittedly that was with some fairly heavy use.
The Dell Streak is an odd duck – very big for a smartphone, but too small to really cut it as a tablet PC. The features are generally strong however, from the speedy processor to its social networking capabilities and decent camera. But the only reason to go for this over other Android handsets is really that outsize screen, and if you're likely to be doing a lot of online reading, it's well worth a try.