Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? No, it’s the Dell Streak and it’s kind of a bit of both. Dell’s answer to the iPad can make calls as well as offering a nice big 5-inch screen; read on to see how well it fares as a multi-talented device and whether it ends up as a jack of all trades and master of none.
What we like
The Dell Streak looks and feels more like a mini iPad than a phone. The benefits of the large 5-inch screen are obvious; pretty much everything looks better than on a smaller more cramped screen.
Websites are very easy to navigate and browse on the bigger screen and watching YouTube videos is a very pleasant experience, even if some of the lower-quality uploads are still pixellated. News articles and blogs look especially good in landscape format as the full width of the page is displayed with the text still clearly legible.
The Dell Streak comes with 3G and Wi-Fi so web browsing was never a sluggish affair and even over GPRS and EDGE pages loaded pretty quickly.
Pictures taken using the 5-megapixel camera look really good onscreen and message threads extend for longer so you don’t have to keep scrolling up and down conversations and websites are also easy to browse on a bigger screen.
Browsing for apps in the Android Market becomes much easier as you can view up to ten apps at a time on the screen. The size and shap of the Dell Streak make it ideal as a stand-in sat-nav using Google Maps.
E-book apps work particularly well on the Dell Streak. The crisp 5-inch screen makes it easy to read the lines of text, while the handset less unwieldy and more portable than the likes of the iPad and Kindle.
As well as looking pretty good the Dell Streak isn’t bad on the sound front either. It’s easy to move music and playlists over from your computer to the Dell Streak via USB by treating handset’s SD card as a mass storage device; it’s a case of just drag and drop. We also easily created playlists from within the Streak’s own music player with minimum fuss.
The Dell Streak features a 3.5mm jack so you can use pretty much any headphones. That said the headphones which come with the Dell Streak are actually really good. They’re comfortable, aren’t leaky and are a cut above the headphones which usually come bundled with music phones.
Like the HTC Desire and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, the Dell Streak comes with a customised skin in place of the standard Android interface. Not much has really changed here from the native Android UI, so if you’ve used an Android phone before then the general operations of the Dell Streak should become familiar to you pretty quickly. You drag and drop app shortcuts from the app launcher in the top left of the screen and assign apps and widgets by long-clicking on a blank area of a home screen and waiting for the relevant menu to appear.
The Streak comes with three homescreens out of the box, but you can add up to three more if you want extra space for apps and widgets. By tapping on the icon next to the app launcher in the taskbar you can get an overview of all six homescreens, much like the ‘leap mode’ that’s a feature of HTC Sense phones running Android 2.1. This allows to you to easily jump between screens with just a couple of presses as well as giving you a comprehensive overview of how you’ve set everything out on your homescreens.
What we don’t like
Unfortunately, the size of the Dell Streak is going to invite some unwanted Dom Joly comments from the comedically-inclined. Provided you’re thick skinned enough to put up with the endless jibes this isn’t so much of a problem. However, having random passers by yelling ‘HELLO!’ at the back of your head when your on the phone to your mum gets old after the first time.
While we didn’t have a problem fitting the phone into our pockets or holding it in one hand, we appreciate that others might not have the same pocket real estate or handspan. If you’re a little on the small-side, you may want to give the Streak a miss.
The lack of a trackpad or a trackball at the bottom of the screen also makes correcting typos a bit of a bother, as it’s really quite tricky to get the text cursor in the right place using just the touchscreen. The huge size of the screen coupled with the inability to accurately position the cursor between characters make you feel more than a little clumsy.
At times it feels like the Dell Streak takes three left turns when a single right turn would have done the job. For example, deleting items from the homescreen is a bit of a convoluted process. This isn’t the end of the world, but the process is not made immediately clear. Dragging and dropping something into a trashcan/recycle bin icon would be much easier.
Similarly, on the taskbar at the top of the screen there’s a separate icon for the app launcher, one for network notifications and another for signal, Wi-Fi and general settings. While we can see the reason behind all these it feels a bit disjointed and tricky to use. Android can be pretty confusing for the first time smartphone user and the Dell Streak doesn’t exactly make it easy.
The default orientation of all of the homescreens is set to landscape. Landscape mode is perfect for certain activities – browsing websites, watching videos – and most apps, web pages and certain menus reorient themselves to portrait when the accelerometer detects it’s being held in that way. But the homescreens are fixed to landscape no matter what, which we found a bit restrictive. It was particularly frustrating as it forces you to hold the Streak in two hands when you don’t always want to.
Despite coming with a dual LED flash, the Dell Streak’s camera isn’t really that great at taking pictures in low light. Taking pictures at any other time of day is fine but nocturnal shots ended up looking pixellated and blurry.
While you can create new playlists on the Streak using the native music player, you can only add songs that you’re currently playing. It’d be nicer if you could scroll through a list of songs whilst other music is playing and queue songs up.
Perhaps most disappointingly the Dell Streak runs Android 1.6/Donut and it really shows. In places it’s slow to scroll between menus and zooming in on web pages with Flash and Google Maps isn’t always as fast and as slick as we’d like them to be. We’d love to see a Dell Streak running Android 2.1/Eclair as this would provide a faster user experience among other things. With no concrete announcement of a date for any upgrades as of yet it’s hard to say when this will be.
The Dell Streak is great for web browsing, watching videos and social networking but its size means that it won’t necessarily fit into a pocket and will prove a bit of a handful for some. This is accentuated by the homescreen view being locked to landscape forcing to you hold it in two hands. Those looking for something truly portable may want to consider a smaller-screened smartphone instead.