Review: Dell Streak

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Short Version
If Charlie the Unicorn has taught us anything it’s that the road to success is fraught with setbacks and, if you’re not careful, your best friends will cut out your kidneys. It is with these life-lessons in mind that we examine the Dell Streak, a 5-inch Android 1.6 tablet that shows much promise but is hobbled by Android OS fracturing.

Features:

  • 5-inch 800×480 pixel screen
  • 3G WLAN support
  • Wi-Fi
  • Android Tablet
  • MSRP: $299 with contract, $549 without

Pros:

  • Speedy processor
  • Upgradeable storage
  • 3G support

Cons:

  • Slow Android updates
  • A little too big
  • Weak battery cover

Review
The Dell Streak is an odd duck. While I don’t doubt that it is the future, I still have some doubts that this wee tablet with its 5-inch screen and Android kernel is exactly what the world is looking for, devices like this will soon fill the gap between smartphones and laptops and, most important, offer powerful competition to the iPad. In short, the Streak is a good idea.

The device, when off, is a featureless black slab. When you turn it on, however, three buttons light up on the right edge and the screen really shines. The 800×480 resolution is quite good and there is plenty of room for almost every Android UI element.

The device has Wi-Fi and a 3G modem as well as a 5 megapixel camera and replaceable microSD memory. The Streak is a little bit heavy and the battery is hidden behind a large removable panel that, if you’re not careful, can pop off accidentally.

The Streak doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you install the Kindle app, it’s an ereader. If you turn on Google Maps it’s a GPS unit. If you play a video that you’ve copied over via side-loading, it’s a media machine. Finally, if you tap the phone button, you’ve basically got a comically large cellphone. These multiple personalities are, in reality, quite a bit of fun and it’s exciting to see the Jack of All Trades come back into the technology space.

The Good
The Streak is running a 1GHz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, making it one of the fastest tablets I’ve seen. You can get quite a bit done on this hunk of computing power including some minor text editing. However, unlike the iPad, it’s a bit too small for real word processing or spreadsheet editing.

The device is handsome, portable, and powerful. It’s an exciting step in the future direction of tablets and, even if it doesn’t appeal to you right now, it’s a harbinger of things to come. The Streak is a fascinating device and it does everything as advertised. Maps pop up quickly and easily, web browsing offers a complete WebKit compatible experience, and media playback. The Streak supports H.263/H.264, MPEG4, and WMV videos and most audio formats.


The Bad
It’s a bit too big to be a phone and a bit too small to be a tablet. It is usable for ebook reading and video viewing, but it isn’t ideal for either of those purposes. In fact, I’m loathe to recommend it as an ebook reader simply because the screen is a tad too small.

The device also suffers from Android refraction. Because it’s running 1.6 – with an expectation that Dell will roll out 2.2 in the next few months – you’re essentially using an ancient version of Android until, well, you’re not.

Also, 1.6 doesn’t support Flash or tethering. Feel free to express your outrage by screaming into a Japanese stress jar.

I also had some issues with the rear panel. This panel slides off to reveal the battery, SIM card slot, and storage. If you don’t put the panel on just so, it won’t stick and it will fall off. I actually knocked of a little piece of the back panel while trying to install it, although, admittedly, the part wasn’t important. For something so well-made it’s surprising that Dell overlooked this fairly major part.

Bottom Line
The Dell Streak is really cool. It’s a small, strange device with a great screen and points to future devices in the same vein. Is this device perfect? Not quite, especially for the non-subsidized $549 price tag. I’m excited to see where devices like the Streak are headed and I think this thing, in a way, is giving Apple a run for their money.

Again, Dell is hobbled here by the version of Android they decided to install. The Android nerds out there will complain that this isn’t Froyo or Yoyo or Miracle Gro, but 1.6 seems stable and strong enough to be quite usable.

In short, if you’re looking for a very powerful, very compact Android tablet, this is probably your best and safest bet.

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