Dell’s Streak: Is It a Huge Smartphone or a Tiny Computer?

By  |  Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

The time I’ve spent with Verizon Wireless’s Droid X has made one thing clear to me: I like great big smartphone screens. As impressively elegant as the iPhone 4′s 3.5″ retina display is, the X’s 4.3″ superscreen makes for larger type and easier tapping. It’s like the difference between a highly refined sportscar and a roomy SUV. I hope phones in both sizes flourish.

And then there’s Dell’s Streak…which makes the Droid X look like a pipsqueak. At five inches, its screen is so expansive that it’s not clear upon first glance whether this device is a phone. It is. Or at least it can be one: The Dell executive I spoke with at a demo yesterday described the Streak as being “capable of making phone calls.” In other words, Dell sees it as a data device that does voice rather than a phone that does data.

The Streak is currently available in the UK from wireless carrier O2; consumers who sign up for two years of data-only or data/voice service can get it for free, and it costs about $500 without a contract. Dell intends to bring it to the states later this summer, but hasn’t announced any specifics about pricing or or carrier partnerships.

If nothing else, the company deserves credit for being gutsy enough to enter a market with an exceptionally checkered past. The OQO and FlipStart PC flopped, as did Microsoft’s UMPC. Intel’s Mobile Internet Device platform doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, either. Sony’s UX series is history. Archos continues to build mini-tablets that run Windows and Android, but it caters to gadget nerds, not the masses.

Basically, there’s never been much evidence that anyone other than a few geeks wants a computing gadget that’s bigger than a smartphone and smaller than a netbook. (The iPad is a lot thinner than a netbook, but its screen size–9.7 inches–is similar.)

And yet the Streak is pretty interesting. I’m used to hands-on time with tiny computers leaving me less interested in them, not more so, but the Streak is more impressive in person than it is in theory. Dell did something that almost nobody who builds these kinds of gizmos ever bothers with: It built a user interface designed with the device in mind. The Streak runs Android, but Dell has does some serious customization. It gave the device a new keyboard; it moved the app tray to the top of the screen and created a special row for favorite apps; it reworked the alert pane to make it easier to read.

You usually use more typical smartphones in portrait orientation, but Dell says that it found that people are more likely to hold a device as large as the Streak in landscape mode. So it optimized the interface with that assumption. I found myself holding it in one hand and tapping around the interface with the other one.

Apart from the screen size, the Streak is reminiscent of more typical “superphones” such as the Nexus One and EVO 4G. It has a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of storage space, a five-megapixel camera on the back plus another camera on the front for video conferencing, GSM and UTMS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Even though the multitouch screen is humongous, the resolution is 480 by 800–the same as the Nexus and EVO, and less than that of the iPhone 4. Dell says it’ll run for about ten hours on a charge, a finding confirmed by Engadget’s review.

Like many another Android device, the Streak suffers from day-old bread syndrome–the problem which we’re not supposed to call fragmentation. Dell’s customized operating system is built on top of Android 1.6, an OS which has since been superseded by Android 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2. Dell says that its version of 1.6 includes tweaks that replicate some of the functionality of more recent Android versions, and that it plans to update the Streak to 2.2 at some point.

A few photos I snapped at my briefing yesterday:

How big is the Streak’s display? It’s so spacious that it has a roomy onscreen keyboard…that includes a numeric keypad:

Looking at the Streak for the first time, my instinctive assumption was that it was too portly to put in a pocket, and therefore more like a notebook or iPad than an effortlessly portable smartphone. Not quite true. It fits in a shirt pocket, as long as you can live with it peering out from the top.

Is there room in the market for the Streak, which Dell says has been a hit in the UK? I think that depends in part on what consumers think it is, and whether they see it replacing an existing category of gadget. Dell isn’t calling the Streak a smartphone, but it’s hard to imagine anyone toting a smartphone and a Streak. Maybe there are folks who happily carry more phonelike non-smartphones who’d like the Streak. Or ones who like the idea of using the Web on a fairly sizable screen but think the iPad and netbooks are too cumbersome.

Or maybe there’s a critical mass of people who are willing to make the Streak their only smartphone–and maybe even to take calls in public with this slablike behemoth pressed to their ears. (It’ll also work with a Bluetooth headset.)

Are you intrigued at all?

 
22 Comments


Read more: , , ,

10 Comments For This Post

  1. ckchan Says:

    I'll buy one as soon as it is available in the States.

  2. Con_Valian Says:

    Really want one! Hope Dell or AT&T announce the release date soon! Supposedly it's the 14th of July…

  3. TracyT Says:

    I want to hold it before I commit. But I *think* I want one. If not that, then probably the Samsung Captivate on July 18th.

  4. EvologyNow Says:

    I'm definitely intrigued! I probably wouldn't want to carry this and my phone though so the real concern is whether or not to actually replace my phone with this. I agree with TracyT, I'd want to hold it before I say either way and hear what more people think of it.

  5. MaybeOnce Says:

    Ditto with the other comments. I’ll have to hold it and see it in different lights. To replace my Tilt, it will have to do BT voice commands while on the road and tethering when in hotels and customer’s sites. I’d rather not root ‘n rom it, but nice to know I can.

  6. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    The interesting thing about Dell Streak to me is that it appears to be a much better device than anything Microsoft has done in mobile so far. So even though mobiles are even more about the software than PC's, Dell the hardware maker looks to have done a better device than their traditional software partner. Granted, Microsoft's mobile strategy is bleeding from the jugular, but there simply seems to be more thoughtfulness put into Dell Streak than anything Microsoft has ever done.

    The photo of it peeking out of a shirt pocket made me think of pocket protectors, which is probably the same demographic. When the Dell guy put Streak to his head at D8 conference, the audience of nerds laughed out loud.

    I was reading a report from a PC I-T conference the other day and the guy said "oh, so this is who is still buying the Windows Mobile phones." Dell Streak should at least be interesting to users of Windows Mobile 6.5 who are I-T types. If you have PC nostalgia the Dell brand may be comforting.

    Me, I would buy an iPhone 4 a thousand times over before a Dell Streak. iPhone 4 has a smaller screen, but more pixels, you just hold it closer if you need to, yet still fit it into jeans pocket or put it to your ear comfortably. And I would buy iPad 3G 16GB for $629 another thousand times over before a Dell Streak for $500. iPad is just crazy good, even running iOS v3.2 and it will only be that much better running v4.1 in the fall. And on a tablet, you need plus de apps, and Apple did the work to make that happen, with native C apps and a functioning app store. Also, I would never buy anything with the Dell brand on it anyway, due to their reputation.

    But you could certainly give Dell Streak the "most improved" award.

  7. Sarah999 Says:

    I think that the Dell Streak the PERFECT size! Finally! The cell phones were too tiny and the tablets were too big.

  8. pond Says:

    I wish it had a higher-res screen. But your pix make the screen look very good; maybe the low-res is not a problem. It is after all higher resolution than the old 15″ 480×640 amber monitors.

    Seeing it fit into the shirt pocket is neat, too. So it would fit in a handbag or a jacket pocket as well.

    The biggest problem your review points out is Android fragmentation and the need, apparently, for everybody making an Android device that is not Nexus-One size, to redesign and customize the interface. I sure hope that Android 3.0 solves that problem and includes enough scale to address bigger-screen devices like tablets — if not, then the iPad will remain the only viable tablet. And a little competition would be a good thing.

  9. Andrew Says:

    I was a little tempted when I saw one, but in the UK they're locked to one phone company – so I couldn't use foreign SIMs when abroad without unlocking it.

    More worrying is they use a proprietary connector (I'm sure it's *much* better than a standard USB socket). Apparently, you can't buy spare leads to connect the Streak to your PC – as someone has pointed out, if you break the cable you have to buy a new Dell Streak to get a replacement.

  10. Steve Says:

    AT&T?
    Forget it

12 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. More Dell Streak Details Says:

    [...] 12:27 pm on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Dell still isn’t saying precisely when it’ll ship its Streak 5″ tablet, but it’s about to start taking preorders, and has released a few additional tidbits: The [...]

  2. Why Can’t US Dell Streak Buyers Pay Like UK Dell Streak Buyers? Says:

    [...] a data plan that costs 35 pounds a month–that’s about $55 to us yanks–you can get Dell’s Streak superphone/tiny tablet for free. (The wireless carrier is O2, which seems to specialize in free phones: It’ll even give you [...]

  3. iPadversaries! 32 Tablets, Slates, Pads, and More Says:

    [...] Availability: Now (as of August 12th) OS: Android 1.6 at first; 2.2 later this year Screen size: 5″ Price: $249.99 with a two-year AT&T contract; $549.99 a la carte What else: You could make the case that the Streak is an iPhone alternative, not an iPad rival–with its 5″ screen, it’s (barely) pocketable, and it has built-in 3G voice capability. But Dell is pitching it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. [...]

  4. iPadversaries! 32 Tablets, Slates, Pads, and More « Interracial Page Says:

    [...] Availability: Now (as of August 12th) OS: Android 1.6 at first; 2.2 later this year Screen size: 5″ Price: $249.99 with a two-year AT&T contract; $549.99 a la carte What else: You could make the case that the Streak is an iPhone alternative, not an iPad rival–with its 5″ screen, it’s (barely) pocketable, and it has built-in 3G voice capability. But Dell is pitching it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. [...]

  5. AllTheTablets » 32 Tablets, Slates, Pads and More Says:

    [...] Availability: Now (as of August 12th) OS: Android 1.6 at first; 2.2 later this year Screen size: 5″ Price: $249.99 with a two-year AT&T contract; $549.99 a la carte What else: You could make the case that the Streak is an iPhone alternative, not an iPad rival–with its 5″ screen, it’s (barely) pocketable, and it has built-in 3G voice capability. But Dell is pitching it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. [...]

  6. Binnenkort 32 iPad-killers op de markt « Multidevos Says:

    [...] Availability: Now (as of August 12th) OS: Android 1.6 at first; 2.2 later this year Screen size: 5″ Price: $249.99 with a two-year AT&T contract; $549.99 a la carte What else: You could make the case that the Streak is an iPhone alternative, not an iPad rival–with its 5″ screen, it’s (barely) pocketable, and it has built-in 3G voice capability. But Dell is pitching it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. [...]

  7. Attack of the ‘iPad-Killers’ — 32 Tablets, Slates, Pads and More: by Harry McCracken | The Stink Grenade | Always something interesting Says:

    [...] Availability: Now (as of August 12th) OS: Android 1.6 at first; 2.2 later this year Screen size: 5? Price: $249.99 with a two-year AT&T contract; $549.99 a la carte What else: You could make the case that the Streak is an iPhone alternative, not an iPad rival–with its 5? screen, it’s (barely) pocketable, and it has built-in 3G voice capability. But Dell is pitching it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. [...]

  8. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is Official Says:

    [...] (for video chat) and back (for snapping photos and apps such as augmented reality). And like the 5″ Dell Streak, it’s not only a 3G data device but a 3G device that can make phone [...]

  9. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is Official « gamestopmafia.com Says:

    [...] (for video chat) and back (for snapping photos and apps such as augmented reality). And like the 5″ Dell Streak, it’s not only a 3G data device but a 3G device that can make phone [...]

  10. Osborne! Says:

    [...] by 1981 standards, the Osborne 1′s 5″ monochrome CRT was puny; today, there are smartphones with displays as big. It could display only 52 columns of text at a time–less than the eighty [...]

  11. Samsung’s Galaxy Note: The Return of the PDA Says:

    [...] the late Dell Streak, the Note is about as huge as a phone can gget and still fit in a shirt pocket. It’s got a [...]

  12. Whatever Happened to the iPad Rivals of 2010? Says:

    [...] it as a data device you can make phone calls on, not a phone you can do data on. More info: I find it kind of intriguing. Whatever happened to the Streak? The 5″ mode hung around for a year, then went bye-bye. Dell [...]