I call this the Hybrid Device…..

Dell Streak tablet review

Well, it is pretty clear that the tablets are here, and are here to stay. Their arrival has been sudden and unexpected. Whether they hurt the high end smartphones, or even the netbooks, is something which time will tell.

But the fact of the matter is- the tablets offer the complete smartphone on a bigger screen. Some people find it inconvenient, while others like the idea. But like it is with all things, there are the pros and the cons to the bigger screen.

One positive which I can think straightaway is that losing a tablet may not be as easy as losing a smartphone. And am saying this because a friend has managed to lose not one but two phones yesterday morning! I assume it will be harder to misplace a device which is slightly bigger!

Anyway, I have the Dell Streak with me, and lets find out if this device is actually a tablet, as Dell like to call it, or a big smartphone.

Packaging and Contents

The box pack includes the Streak, the iPhone-esque charger, a handsfree and some manuals. I didn’t spend much time rummaging around the box because I was too eager to switch on the device.

First Impression

Straight out of the box, the Dell Streak made me go “wow”! The device looks classy, and worth the Rs 36000 price tag. The 5 inch screen (800×480 resolution) is of the Gorilla Glass type (as seen on the Nokia N8 as well), which makes it scratch proof. The front is all glossy black. There is one available in red color as well. The panel below the screen has 3 touch controls- Home, Options and Back.

The area around the screen is very glossy, which makes this a fingerprint magnet. The rear panel has a matte finish, however. The new slide out type battery cover which Dell have introduced with the Streak oozes class. No more using your nails to open the panel!

There is a 5MP camera at the back, and a VGA camera in the front. The power and the volume buttons are on one side panel, while the charging port is on the other side.

Performance

At a first look, the Dell Streak undoubtedlly looks like a bigger smartphone. The 5 inch screen offers lots of real estate, which means there will be a bigger keyboard, videos will be more fun to watch and apps will be able to offer more on one screen than they would on a traditional smartphone.

Switch it on, and you will be greated by the familiar Dell logo. Somehow, seeing that immediately makes me visualize a Dell laptop, momentarily, for reasons unknown!

The Streak is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 8520 processor, with 2GB memory for system and application related files only. The user memory is separate from this, and can be extended up to 48GB via the microSD card route. It’s a win-win situation both ways, since the bigger internal memory will help users install more apps without getting the “out of memory” message.

The device has three touch controls next to the screen- Home, Options and Back, which are designed in such a way that it seems Dell wants you to use the Streak in the landscape mode. Also, the Homescreens do not change to portrait mode.

Slot in a sim card, put in the battery and close the rear panel (yes, the phone will not start if this is open!). The call quality offered is crystal clear. Even in a noisy situation, the in-ear speaker is loud enough to get the other person’s point across. The handsfree speaker, which is quite clearly visible on the rear panel, is extremely loud. This makes it useful for calls and even for multimedia use.

The on screen keypad and numberpad has some really big keys and equally big font sizes! Be assured, you will not be pressing the number 4 when you actually wanted to press the numbet 5!

The fact that this device has a 5 inch screen means that the extra real estate in terms of screen space allows for a spaced out keyboard. Typing out messages and mails (even while using both hands) will be very comfortable, even in the portrait mode, because the keys are well spaced out. In the landscape mode however, you will need to hold the Streak with one hand and type with the other. This is because if you try to type with the same hand with which you are holding the phone, the typing finger may not even reach some of the keys! But all in all, typing out messages and emails will be a delight. And for those of you who live on the daily dose of Google Talk, Facebook and Twitter, the built-in apps will have a similarly well spaced out keyboard!

While discussing the delightfully big screen, I must mention that the Streak offers a different web browsing experience. We are all used to the smartphone web browsers, but the Webkit browser pre-loaded in the Streak does a good job of offering a good web browsing experience. However, I was not able to download Flash on the device yet, and will have to wait for the Android 2.2 update before Flash comes on board. However, websites render well on the 5 inch screen, and the multitouch screen lets you zoom in and zoom out on any specific part of the webpage. But, since this is a bigger screne than normal smartphones, the need to zoom in to read something will be minimal.

The browser’s webpage rendering speeds are dependent on the network you are accessing at that time. If it is the GPRS/EDGE network, speeds will be quite slow. However, connect to a Wi-Fi network and the watch the browser come into its own. Webpages render quickly and resize well. However, on certain graphics heavy pages, there will be a bit of a lag while scrolling up and down the page.

The capacitive touchscreen response is consistent and has a sureity about it. However, I suggest you don’t press the screen too hard, lest that will definitely damage the display. To test, press the screen hard and you will see the display get a “ripple in water” effect.

The Streak was launched with Android 1.6, but has now been upgraded to Android 2.1 with a promised upgrade to 2.2 in the near future. Dell have put a wrapper on the Android OS, just like HTC or Samsung do, for example, for added functionality and unique customization. Since the homescreens remain in the landscape mode, it is fun to set a widescreen image as a wallpaper. It was the yellow (with that amazing white stripe) Lamborghini Gallardo Valentino Balboni edition, which always makes me stop and gawk at it. But thats not the point! The point is that the image I put as the wallpaper was an HD image, but at some places, the yellow and the whites were getting a bit pixelated. Tried a few more images, but the same problem there too.

The Gorilla Glass touchscreen is a great addition since it keeps away scratches, which has been a problem for all touchscreen phones who don’t have the screen protector. But with the Gorilla Glass, there is no need for a screen protector.

Video playback experience was something which I was looking forward to checking out. Transferring video files to the Streak was simple- no need for the Dell PC Suite. Just plug in, select “Mount SD Card” on the streak’s menu and get the ‘drag and drop’ capability. The video playback on the device was a mixed bag, with the entire experience bordering on disappointment. Though the Standard Definition AVI files played very smoothly, there was a huge problem when it came to the 720p High Definition files. The HD files, and this was very very surprising, stuttered a lot. After some seconds, the stutter forced the audio and video to go out of sync. This was a definite disappointment, for someone who will have just shelled out Rs 36000 for this device.

The built-in media player app displays albums and songs in a very well sorted manner. Finding albums and songs will not be an issue at all. However, I missed the equalizer capability. The sound from the Streak, particularly when conencted to an external audio system, sounds flat. And there is nothing you can do about it. Maybe download another music player from the Android Market- I would suggest Rockplayer or Double Twist.

The 5MP camera at the back does a decent job of snapping images, but be assured that this one will not want you to get rid of the dedicated camera anytime soon. The camera at the front is the VGA spec one, good enough only for video chats.

Dell have done away with the MicroUSB port completely and introduced a proprietory charger, something on the lines of the iPhone. The 3.5mm jack however remains as it is, which means you can use any earphones or headphones to listen to audio, as well as connect it to any external audio source- home music system, car audio system etc.

In terms of battery life, the Streak is no better, or worse, than any other Android smartphone. The battery, from full charge to full discharge, will last anywhere between a day and a day and a half. This with the data services switched on and synching updates for apps in the background.

Verdict

Is it a phone? or is it a tablet? Well, it is actually a hybrid device- a first of it’s kind- which is a for those who want the experience of a tablet in the form factor relatively similar to a smartphone. And this does a very good job of being that hybrid device, since it offers all the features.

The Streak is too big to be considered a smartphone, and is not big enough to be considered a full fledged tablet. The Apple iPad, the Olive Pad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab are all bigger than the Streak- making them full fledged tablets.

What the Streak offers is the best of both worlds. If you will not feel akward using a phone which seems a little too big when pressed against your ear (circa 1998, when the first mobile phones we laid our hands on were as big as the Streak!), then this will look like a good deal for you. Also, if you think the Galaxy Tab and the iPad are too big for you, then this is the best alternative. However, if you want the actual tablet experience on a 7-inch screen, then buy a full fledged tablet. Otherwise the Streak is ready to fill the void between your smartphone and your laptop!

Price- Rs 36000

Specs:

Quad Band GSM/UMTS dual band network
3G capable
Android 2.1 (future upgrade to 2.2)
5 inch Gorilla Glass touchscreen (800×480 resolution)
2GB dedicated memory for apps
Expandable memory up to 48GB via microSD
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
5MP camera at the back and VGA camera for video chats
Webkit web browser
Lithium ion battery

Pros:

Superb build quality
Gorilla Glass prevents scratches on the screen
5 inch screen makes the keyboard usage seem more comfortable

Cons:

Too big to be “just a phone” and too small to be a tablet
Stuttering playback of HD videos

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About Vishal Mathur

Geek by day, heavy sleeper by night!

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