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Dell Streak Android Tablet Review
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Date: Sep 02, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Daniel A. Begun
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Introduction & Specifications


When it comes to Android devices, there are two inevitabilities. The first is that its popularity is unstoppable. Twice as many Android smartphones are sold now than were only two months earlier; Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, claims that about 200,000 Android devices are sold every day. The second given is that an onslaught of Android tablets are about to descend upon us. There is already a smattering of Android tablet devices, but the choices are still few and far between. However, major manufacturers, such as Asus, LG, Motorola, and Samsung have their devices in the pipeline for later this summer, the fall, or early next year.



But Dell says, why wait? The Dell Streak Android tablet is available right now. (In fact, not only has it already been available in the U.K. since June, but we first got a glimpse of it back in January, when it was still being called the Dell Mini 5.) With an 800x480, five-inch (diagonal) screen, some might question the Streak’s claim as a tablet—especially when you consider that the current über-tablet, the Apple iPad, has a 1024x768, 9.7-inch screen. But a five-inch display is really too big for a phone—even the HTC Evo 4G has only a 4.3-inch screen. So the Streak really fits somewhere between a phone and a tablet—you could call it a “phablet.”


Check out our full, detailed review with benchmarks on the pages ahead!

Regardless what you call it, if you want one, you’ll have to plunk down $299.99 for a Streak with a two-year contract with AT&T Wireless, or $549.99 for an unsubsidized device. Taking a gander at the specs in the table below, the Streak appears to be a robust device that should be able to compete with nearly any other Android device currently available—except for one glaring omission. The Streak currently comes with Android 1.6 (Donut) installed. Most new Android devices come with at least Android 2.1 (Éclair), and many are already upgradeable to Android 2.2 (Froyo). Dell Promises that an Android 2.2 update will be available for the Streak sometime later this year.

Not only does Froyo bring new features, such as Adobe Flash 10.1 support, the ability to install apps directly onto SD cards, and W-FI hotspot support, but it also offers a significant increase in overall performance. But this begs the question, is the Streak still a worthwhile device with only Donut currently installed? That’s we aimed to find out...

 Dell Streak Specifications
 Specifications & Features
Processor  1GHz Qualcomm QSD 8250 Snapdragon ARM SoC
Operating System Android 1.6 (Donut)
Memory 512MB ROM + 512MB SDRAM + 2GB integrated NAND for system & applications files only
Storage 16GB MicroSD card
Dimensions 6.0 x 3.1 x 0.4 inches
Weight 7.7 ounces
Display 5-inch WVGA (800x480) in-cell TFT LCD with multitouch
Network UMTS 2100/1900/850MHz; GSM/EDGE 1900/1800/900/850 MHz; HSDPA/HSUPA:HSDPA 7.2 Mbps / HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
Messaging SMS, MMS, Email, IM
GPS Internal GPS antenna
Sensors Ambient Light Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Accelerometer, e-compass, Capacitive sensor keys
Connectivity WLAN 802.11b/g; Bluetooth  2.0 with EDR; USB 2.0; 3.5mm stereo audio jack; proprietary 30-pin interface/charging port
Camera Rear-facing, 5-megapixel (2592x1944) camera with autofocus and dual-LED flash; front-facing VGA camera
Audio Formats MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR, MIDI, WAV
Video Formats H.263 / H.264, .3GP, MPEG4, WMV
Battery Rechargeable 1,530 mAh Lithium-ion

Price:
$299.99 with two-year AT&T Wireless contract; $549.99 without contract



In size order (left to right): HTC Legend, iPhone 3GS, HTC Incredible, Dell Streak, PSP1000
(Click to Enlarge)
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Design


The Streak has some heft to it, and its large footprint (6.0 x 3.1 inches) gives the illusion that it weighs more than its actual 7.7 ounces. As points of comparison, the HTC Incredible weighs 4.6 ounces and the iPhone 3GS comes in at 4.8 ounces. But at only 0.4-inches thin, the Streak is one of the thinnest Android smartphones we’ve used—it’s thinner than both the Incredible and iPhone 3GS.


Top edge: The camera shutter button, power button, volume rocker, and headphone jack
(Click to enlarge)

Bottom edge: The proprietary 30-pin power/sync connector
(Click to enlarge)

The Streak is essentially a thin black slab with rounded edges. When the display isn’t lit, the dark screen blends in with the rest of the Streak’s black body. The device is meant to be held primarily in landscape mode; this is a marked difference from most Android smartphones, which typically use portrait mode as their default view. When holding the Streak this way, the device’s only physical buttons are located on its top edge, and include (from left to right), the volume rocker, the power switch, and the camera shutter button. Perhaps as a function of the device’s landscape format, we found that we all too often accidentally pushed one of these buttons when we didn’t intend to. It is likely that over time we would get used to the landscape format and not be so clumsy with the controls—but needless to say, it takes some getting used to.

The Home, Menu, and Back buttons
(Click to enlarge)

Another quibble we have with the Streak is that the Android home screen only displays in landscape mode. While numerous apps and settings screens auto-rotate when you switch between landscape and portrait mode, this is not case for the home screen. The trouble is, the Home, Menu, and Back buttons are located on the right edge of the device, which makes using them a bit awkward in landscape mode. It feels far more natural to use these buttons when in portrait mode, when they are located at what then becomes the bottom of the screen. The Home, Menu, and Back buttons are capacitive buttons that light up when the display is active, and cause the phone to vibrate when pressed. The microphone is hidden in a little notch at the bottom of the display, near the Home button.

On the back: The speaker, back cover, and rear-facing camera
(Click to enlarge)

On the left edge of the Streak are a pair of proximity sensors, the phone earpiece, the front-facing camera, and a pair of ambient-light sensors. On the back of the device are the speaker, the rear-facing camera, two LED flashes for the camera, and the back cover. When you remove the cover, the Streak instantly powers off. The removable battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card are all accessible beneath the cover. The Streak comes populated with a 16GB MicroSD card (upgradable to 32GB). On the bottom edge of the Streak is where you’ll find the 30-pin power/sync port. It looks a lot like the iPhone/iPod connector, but it is really a proprietary connector.


Remove the back cover to access the battery, SIM card, and MicroSD card
(Click to enlarge)
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User Interface & Quality


Out of the box, the Streak’s main home screen has five icons on it and a Google search box. The icons are for the Browser, Google Maps, Phone dialer, Android Market, and a Getting Started guide. There are three additional home screens accessible by scrolling left or right. The home screen to the left is empty, while the first home screen to the right has icons for Contacts, Messaging, and Gmail. The home screen furthest to right includes a Facebook widget and icons for the Camera, YouTube, Amazon MP3 Store, and the default Music player.

  
Home screens
(click to enlarge)

At the top of all of the home screens is the Status Bar, which includes an Application button, Carrier name area, Notification area, Status area, and Date and time area. Tap the Application button to see all of the installed apps. At the top section of the apps window is a Favorites Bar, where you can add up to seven applications. Tap the Carrier name area to add additional home screens and to see a list of recently run applications. The Notifications area is where all system and app notifications appear, such as missed calls and new e-mails. The Status area displays system status icons, such as battery life and network connection signal strength. Tap the Status area to access the device’s settings. The Date and time area displays exactly what you would expect it to—the date and time. Tapping the Date and time area doesn't do anything.

  
Default apps (left); phone screen (right)
(Click to enlarge)

One benefit to the large-size display is that the buttons on the phone screen are rather large and easy to press. The phone screen automatically switches between landscape and portrait mode, depending on how you hold the device. When you bring the Streak close to your face to make a call, the proximity sensor turns off the display and disables all touch input. The Streak actually felt very comfortable in our hands and cradled against our faces during calls. We also found call quality to be excellent—all parties found the connection to be very clear and natural sounding. That said, we did experience a number of dropped calls; but that was more likely a function of the AT&T service in the New York area.

  
Browser (left); on-screen keyboard in landscape mode (right)
(Click to enlarge)

The large display also makes browsing the Web less of an ordeal than it can often be with devices with small screens—especially when viewing Webpages that have not been optimized for mobile devices. As you can imagine, the large screen also means a large onscreen keyboard. When the Streak is used in landscape mode, the keyboard includes a dedicated numpad; the numpad doesn’t appear when you hold the Streak in portrait mode.

  
Video playback (left); the camera screen (right)
(Click to enlarge)

Video playback also looks great on the Streak’s bright and crisp display—it’s difficult to tell from the screenshot above, but you’ll have to take our word for it. Audio sounds clear and can get surprisingly loud, coming out the speaker on the bottom of the device—even when the Streak is laying flat on a surface. As you would expect from such a small speaker, there is no bass response at all.

  
Sample photo shot by the Streak (left); the Dell PC Suite's Sync Manager (right)
(Click to enlarge; note that that image on the left is the full-size image pulled directly from the camera)

One area where the Streak doesn’t do so well is as a camera. The camera utility is easy enough to use to capture stills and video, but the resulting image quality leaves much to be desired. You might put your expectations in check when considering the quality of images captured by this type of device; but we’ve consistently seen noticeably better-looking images captured by other smartphones.

The Streak comes with the Dell PC Suite (stored on the device’s MicroSD card) for synchronizing the Streak with Windows PCs and for backing up the Streak. You can synchronize contacts, calendar entries, tasks, and notes between the Streak and Outlook. You can set conflict and delete policies, and even set the Streak to automatically sync whenever it attaches to your PC.
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Performance Testing Overview


 Performance testing overview
 Android testing

In everyday use, the Streak didn't feel overly sluggish or zippy either way; but when compared against the responsiveness of other recent Android devices, the Streak didn't quite measure up on occasion. Perhaps most disconcerting is that we experienced a noticeable delay when launching some apps. We can’t help wondering (and hoping) how much Froyo will speed up the Streak.

Depending on what we used the Streak for, we found that its battery lasted between six and eight hours of usage between charges. This should be more than enough to last an entire day—unless you use the device nonstop.


We also conducted some formal performance testing, to see how the Streak fared against a number of other smartphones. We compared the Streak to an HTC Incredible, a Samsung Epic 4G (Galaxy S), and an iPhone 3GS. The HTC Incredible didn’t have network access, so we only tested its Wi-Fi connection on our throughput testing. The Epic 4G is a brand new phone, and we will be posting a full review it shortly. Many of the tests we ran were based on Android apps, so we were fairly limited in terms of which tests we could also use to benchmark the iPhone.

For our testing, we took a “kitchen sink” approach here. This means that we ran nearly every mobile benchmark we could easily get our hands on. Admittedly, some of these tests—especially some of the Android app-based benchmarks—are from sources completely unknown to us, so we can’t necessarily vouch for the reliability of all the tests here. As we continue to refine our smartphone performance testing, we’ll better hone our methodology. Therefore, take the results presented here with a few grains of salt.
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Throughput Testing


We used an AT&T Wireless 3G MicroCell signal booster, so both the Streak and the iPhone 3GS were tested with very strong signals (full bars). The Epic 4G is on the Sprint network and we did not have a comparable device. (We also didn’t get a 4G signal at our location, so the Epic 4G was tested with a 3G connection.) This means that the network throughput results below are admittedly unfair. That said, you are always going to be limited by the signal strength at whatever location you happen to be in. So as to the network testing, you can regard the results below as what you would experience if you happened to be in the exact location we did our testing. All the Wi-Fi testing, however, was conducted under identical circumstances, such the Wi-Fi results are directly comparable.

 Throughput testing
  Android and iPhone throughput testing









On all but one of the throughput tests, the Dell Streak had the second fastest Wi-Fi download speeds. However, it consistently lagged behind the Epic 4G on all the tests. As to network testing, the Streak had the fastest download speeds on all of the tests—even faster than the iPhone 3GS (at least on the two tests that we have iPhone 3GS results for). But we need to point out that because of the 3G MicroCell, the AT&T-based devices (the Streak and the iPhone 3GS) had an unfair advantage.
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CPU Testing


All four tests below are based on Android apps, so we weren’t able to include the iPhone 3GS in any of the comparisons.

 CPU testing
 Android CPU testing











On all the tests but one, the Streak came in dead last on the CPU tests by a sizeable margin. Considering that all three devices have 1GHz processors (though they are all different CPU models), we can’t help wondering how much of a difference the older Android OS is hampering the Streak. The Streak’s Froyo update can’t come soon enough.
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Graphics Testing


As we experienced with the CPU testing, the two tests here were done using Android apps, so there are no iPhone 3GS comparisons for these tests.

 Graphics testing
 Android graphics testing






It’s difficult to draw a definitive conclusion about the Streak’s graphics performance based on the results of these two tests. It brought up the rear on one of the tests, and occupied the middle spot on the other. As to the test where the Streak came in second, the third place device, the Incredible, was not far behind it.
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JavaScript Testing


The final three tests focus exclusively on JavaScript performance, which is very much a processor-intensive tasks. Two of the tests were run from Websites; but only one of them was able to also successfully run to completion on the iPhone 3GS.

 JavaScript testing
 JavaScript Android and iPhone testing









As we saw with most of the CPU tests, the Streak is far from the speediest device here. In this case, the Streak brought up the rear on all three tests.
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Conclusion


The Dell Streak is a device that doesn’t quite live up to its specs. Other than decent battery life and very good throughput performance, everything else (CPU, graphics, and JavaScript performance) pretty much lagged behind other comparable devices.  That said, these performance shortcomings may be addressed by a simple update of the Streak's aging Android 1.6 OS.  Android 2.2 (Froyo) could allow the Streak to really stretch its legs.  And of course, we use the words “comparable devices” loosely, as there really aren’t any other full-featured, 5-inch Android phones or tablets on the market. With its 5-inch screen, the Streak straddles the fence between phone and tablet—never really landing squarely in one camp or the other. It’s a fully functional phone, but its size and weight don’t lend it well to easy portability. Its larger-than-other-smartphone screens gives it the advantage when it comes to screen real estate; but it still can’t compete against the current heavy-weight tablet contender, the Apple iPad. Finally, its nearly $300 subsidized price tag is certainly higher than what you’d pay for nearly any other Android smartphone right now—even the Samsung Epic 4G will sell for $249.99 (after a $100 mail-in rebate).



Conversely, there are a lot of things to like about the Streak. The screen and speakers are perfect for watching movies and listening to music. The front-facing camera is a nice touch, and will prove useful once more apps (besides fring) become available that can take advantage of it. The large-size onscreen keyboard is also a convenience that will make keyboard mashers everywhere happy. The bundled Windows sync and backup software makes it super-easy to make sure that all your data stays synchronized. We were also very happy to see a generous 16GB MicoSD included with the Streak.

There’s something bittersweet about the 16GB MicroSD card, however. Yes, you can load it up with movies and music. But knowing that Froyo and its ability to install (compatible) apps directly onto the SD card is waiting somewhere in the wings, feels almost like a taunt. In our daily grind as tech journalists, we frequently fill up the internal memory on our Android smartphones and have to perform app triage in order to decide what can get tossed so as to make room for the next app we want to install and evaluate.

We might be in the minority for that complaint—not everyone is an app-hoarder like we are. But what Froyo also promises to bring is the performance jumpstart that the Streak desperately needs—not to mention Flash support for that gorgeous 5-inch screen. Until Froyo is available for the Streak, we find it difficult to recommend it currently—especially when we know there are less-expensive, comparable Android devices available... Though none of them have jumbo five-inch screens.  Should Dell release their promised Android 2.2 update in the near future, our view of the device could change dramatically.



     
  • Great-looking 5-inch (800x480) touchscreen
  • Speakers produce crisp-sounding and loud audio
  • Comes with a 16GB MicroSD card
  • Front-facing camera
  • Large-size onscreen keyboard with numpad
  • Android 1.6 (Donut)
  • Expensive
  • Disappointing CPU, graphics, and JavaScript performance (likely due to Android 1.6)
  • Lackluster camera image quality


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