Our hands-on review of Dell’s Android Streak tablet which may soon be headed for Aussie release. Could this five inch smartphone ‘mini-slate’ replace both an iPhone and an iPad?
Let’s get something out of the way. Dell has not announced any plans to release its Streak tablet onto the Australian market. No promises, no pricing, no dates to circle in your diary.
But that hasn’t stopped Dell from showing the sleek Android slate to 3G carriers and a handful of local tech media.
It’s a bit of a tease which we have no doubt will be followed by an Aussie launch of the five inch mini-tablet, with its initial debut in the hands of an exclusive 3G partner on contract and, shortly afterwards, outright sale through Dell.
But that’s just our guess. One thing we do know for sure is that this smartphone-slate combo could become Dell’s hit product of 2010 and define the middle ground – the mobility sweet spot – between smartphones and slates.
(This is also tipped to be the first in a family of Streak products – according to a leaked roadmap the five incher will be followed by 7 inch and 10 inch models.)
If you’re in the market for a smartphone and a tablet, the Streak should satisfy just about all your needs in a single and surprisingly pocket-sized slab.
The Streak looks more slate than smartphone, with the buttons on the front panel oriented towards use in landscape rather than an upright ‘portrait’ mode.
The interface is also geared to use in the same widescreen orientation, which strikes us as a smart move because this maximises the real estate of the five inch panel.
The only time you’d really be likely to hold the Streak vertically, like a phone, would be when you’re using it as a phone – and even then you might be better off using it with a Bluetooth earpiece.
Not that the Streak is unusable, unwieldy or even uncomfortable as a mobile phone. It’s just longer and wider than you’re used to, and it does look odd to be holding this little black slab up against your ear.
Most of the time the Streak will be in your hands as a slate, where it sits with a delightfully natural feel, or tucked away in your bag or your pocket.
Yes, in your pocket. Despite the 15.3cm x 7.9cm footprint, which makes it as long as a $50 bill but a bit wider, the Streak is a skinny 1cm in profile and weighs a mere 220 grams.
This means there’s minimal bulk in your jacket or jeans pocket. Shirt pockets? We tried three (a Brooks Brothers business shirt plus casual shirts from Thomas Pink and Rodd & Gunn) and the Streak slid straight into each of them, although a jacket or pants pocket would still be our preference.
Dell will also offer an optional desktop dock which makes for a sexy bedside clock or can pump 720p HD video from the Streak onto your big-screen telly via HDMI.
The 5 inch 480 x 800 touchscreen is protected by toughened glass and is a delight for browsing the Web and watching 720p HD videos.
But you’ll want to store your videos, music and other content on a microSD card as there’s only 2GB of internal storage and that’s available only for the OS and applications (plus 512MB each of RAM and ROM). Dell bundles a 16GB card with the device in the UK and the card slot can cater for up to 32GB.
Android & Bender
The Streak runs on Android 1.6, which rules out a lot of the features you’ll find in the latest generation of Android 2.x devices.
While the Streak can easily be upgraded, Dell ANZ spokesman Matthew Telfer told APC that the company will “most likely” skip over the current Android 2.0/2.1 ‘Eclair’ editions and move straight to Android 2.2 ‘Froyo’ to deliver a wide range of goodness ranging from Flash support to Microsoft Exchange compatibility.
That upgrade will depend on the timing of the Streak’s local release – which, please remember, has not even been confirmed at this stage – as well as the release of Froyo and the upgrading of Dell’s add-on software. Telfer considers “an over-the-air upgrade is one possible solution”.
Atop Android 1.6 sits Dell’s own tablet-friendly interface to Android – a skin codenamed Bender, after the robot in Futurama.
While Bender isn’t the dramatic overhaul of HTC’s Sense UI, it’s more like a hundred smart tweaks plus a hundred more you’ll almost never notice (including gentle rounding of icons to suit the large display).
Front and centre is Dell’s multiple ‘home screen’ desktops, which it calls Rooms.
The second and third ‘rooms’ on our Streak – note the small red dot on the taskbar,
which shows how many rooms you have and which you are currently viewing.
Each desktop can be loaded up with live widgets, app icons, shortcuts to folders and quick-action icons (such as calling a person in your contact book) plus individual wallpaper.
The Streak comes preloaded with three rooms but three more are easily added and optioned up.
Add a new room to your Streak…
… then choose the widgets, shortcuts and other stuff you want it to display.
To shift between screens, give the Streak a good swipe in either direction or tap the taskbar icon at the top of the screen (or hold down the Home button) to see and select from thumbnails of all rooms.
In any room, tapping the arrow button at top-left of the menu shows a strip of six pre-selected favourite apps.
Another tap reveals the full set of Android apps.
There’s also a convenient drop-down box with settings for wireless, alarms, battery power and screen brightness – the sort of controls you’re often diving in and out of during the course of a day.
Another of Bender’s best attributes is the on-screen keyboard, which has been extended to make best use of the five inch display by including a numeric keypad at the right side of the QWERTY keys. This is a huge time-saver.
The Streak is delightfully smooth when moving between each screen, as well as opening apps, thanks no doubt to the punchy 1GHz Snapdragon processor.
It’s just the sort of response you want on a tablet rather than just a smartphone, especially when there’s 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity on tap. That big screen and the even bigger Internet are just begging to be put to use.
Our Streak demo unit was fitted with a SIM (standard-sized, not microSIM) for Telstra’s Next G network at up to 7.2Mbps HSDPA.
The Streak is available for all three of the 3G bands used in Australia – Next G’s 850MHz as well as the 2100MHz and 900MHz 3G bands used by Optus and VHA.
The Streak’s large landscape screen is pretty much built for browsing but should also make GPS truly usable for a smartphone, especially through the combination of Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation plus the Streak’s inbuilt compass.
Flip the Streak into portrait mode and it’s just as good for reading column-based pages such as blogs or newspaper stories. Add an ebook reader app from Android Market and you’d really start to question the need to buy a larger slate.
In short, the Streak has got us pretty well stoked. Being several degrees bigger than the average smartphone but also smaller than a 7-10 inch tablet, but packing the features and functionality of both, could make the Streak into the perfect device for mobile mavens as well as mainstream users.
Now we just need Dell to get this onto the Aussie market, and stat…