Dell Streak in-depth review -

Look and feel

With a five-inch touch-screen, the Streak is pretty large for a phone, but as a portable media player it’s just perfect – and it makes phone calls. Just 10mm thick, it’s wider than a palm, with sleek, minimalist black curves.

Ease of use

The Android 1.6 OS is intuitive and easy to personalize, and and we like the addition of Dell’s interface which places a multitasking toolbar in every program for easy access to any function. Like most Android devices, there’s a certain amount of techie tweaking required to make the most of features like video calling.

Features

With Wi-Fi and 3G, A-GPS, a five-megapixel camera and an incredibly slick, responsive touch-screen, the Streak is a powerful tablet-phone that can run several programs with zero lag. GPS is fast and accurate, and the digital compass reorients quickly to show which way you’re going.

Performance

Excellent internet and media features, though it’s only the most basic of ereaders – partly due to the comparatively small screen. Android 1.6 also limits its navigation features, as it doesn't support Google's voice navigation, or multi-touch in the maps. However, multi-touch works marvelously in the browser and gallery, and the virtual keyboard is fast and responsive.

Battery life

The battery easily lasted a full day with constant push notifications, Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS.

 Dell Streak Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:58:31 PM

8

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Excellent navigation and internet features, great touch-screen and keyboard, five-inch screen is a pleasure to use for movies, internet and navigation.

Cons:

Too large for many pockets and feels unwieldy in portrait orientation, no native video calling, runs on old version of Android which limits some features

Bigger is better, if the recent spat of increasingly gigantic smartphones is to be believed. The Dell Streak is one that’s attempting to straddle the fence between phone and tablet territory, with 3G, Wi-Fi and a five-inch touch-screen. It could be the ultimate internet and media ‘phone’, but is it too much of an in-between device to really make its mark?

Hold me

At first, the Streak feels gigantic in the hand. Its five-inch touch-screen is set in a glossy black chassis wider than the palm, but just 10mm thick. Trying to use it in portrait orientation is unwieldy, but once you get it in landscape, it feels just right. And in fact, the home screens are landscape only. There’s an accelerometer, but it doesn’t work in many menus – for example, most settings menus are only in portrait. On the flip side, when it does work, it can be a bit over sensitive. We would have appreciated a rotation lock.
 
The touch-screen is capacitive and very responsive, spanning almost the entire length of the device with just three touch-sensitive areas below for home, menu and back options.


On its back is a five-megapixel lens with auto-focus and a slide-off back cover. There’s also a dedicated camera button, volume control and lock button. Instead of the increasingly universal microUSB charger slot, the Streak has an iPad-esque wide one. Luckily you can beef up its 16GB memory via the microSD slot.
 
Unlike all other Android devices, there’s no dedicated search button, with each app instead having its own on-screen option, sometimes tucked away in a menu. Unless you’re an existing Android user, this won’t really bother you, though we do think it would’ve added a touch of efficiency.

The Streak runs on the rather ancient Android 1.6, but will be upgradable to 2.2 - whenever that’s released. Dell has also overlaid a simple, intuitive interface with a row of tabs along the top of each homescreen – one for battery and network coverage, the time and date, and one for notifications of calls, texts, and other alerts. There’s also a small tab to view a customisable row of your favourite programs; tap again to see all programs. All this is accessible from any menu, so you can easily switch between programs and view alerts. As with all Android devices, opened programs just keep running and there’s no way to stop any until you download a specific task manager app – but thanks to the 1Ghz Snapdragon processor and 512 RAM, we noticed no lags at all. The battery life is also impressive, lasting two full days of light use, and easily a day with Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS running.

You can add shortcuts to up to six home screens, as well as Android and Dell widgets, which includes two plain but serviceable ones for Facebook and Twitter status updates. We’re not fans of the way you delete shortcuts though – instead of dragging and dropping to a trash can icon, you have to long-press, then hit the menu button, then hit ‘delete’.

Make the call

The Dell Streak is exclusive to O2 for free on contract but you can buy it for £399 SIM-free for use on other networks. When used as a phone, the Streak definitely feels too big – but then again, seeing as O2 is selling it with a data only plan as well as voice/data, it’s marketed as much as a tablet as it is a big phone. The dialer itself isn’t as optimised for making phone calls – you can’t just type the first few letters of a person’s name and instead have to dial the number or scroll through the phonebook. A good solution is to create folders of favourite contacts or contacts with phone numbers for easy access on the home screen.

The contacts book is great though, with icons for call, text and email next to each friend, depending on the contact details you have. Once you sign into your Facebook account via the Dell widget, the phone will merge your friends lists, so that contacts will display with their Facebook profile picture. You can view custom contact groups as well as Facebook contacts only, and you can manually merge contacts from the screen – say if you have one person in triplicate from Google, Facebook and your SIM card - which isn’t possible on other Android devices.

If it’s your bag, the voice dialling is pretty good at recognising standard names, but it wasn’t able to pick up our friends with non-English names.


There’s a front facing video camera, but video calls aren’t natively possible. You’ll have to download an app like Fring – and the more popular Skype hasn’t released an Android app yet (though it’s tipped to launch at some point this year). It’s the age-old problem with Android – the power is there, but it’s just not configured, and unless you’re of the nerdier persuasion, you might not want to bother.

Internet and beyond

You can add any webmail account, but this version of Android doesn't natively support Microsoft Exchange accounts. Instead, you'll have to use the TouchDown app, which also allows you to sync contacts, calendar and email with Microsoft Outlook accounts that aren’t on the Exchange server. The keyboard is fast and very responsive, but for necessary extras like auto-complete and auto-capitalisation, we had to go hunting in the settings menu. Why isn't it the default option, or at least accessible from the keyboard? For smaller hands, the keyboard feels best in portrait, though the weight of the device is harder to manage. Larger hands will prefer the landscape orientation, and we were also able to type quite quickly with two fingers when the device was laid flat on a table. Both orientations usefully include dedicated number keys.


The screen makes for very comfortable viewing, and the Gmail app looks just like it is on the desktop with access to all custom folders and the ability to search your mail. Other email accounts such as Hotmail conform to a standard layout, but still allow access to custom folders.

The browser is a full HTML browser that was able to load non-mobile sites in about five seconds – half the time taken by most smartphones. You can use multi-touch to zoom in and out of websites, and it’s easy to hit the right link. Even when zoomed all the way in, text looks clear and it’s autofit so it never runs off the screen. You can add bookmarks, view your browsing history and most visited sites, plus share any webpage via email or social networks – so just about everything you’d want to do online. We would’ve liked to see the addition of tabbed browsing for such a dedicated internet device though.

Because the Streak runs on Android 1.6, it actually doesn’t support Flash player – something that has been a big issue with Apple products. We couldn’t play any videos embedded in the BBC or Guardian websites, though we could play YouTube videos, which are coded differently. Videos streamed smoothly and we were able to skip ahead with a lag of only a few seconds. Again, you're going to have to wait till the Streak is updated to Android 2.2, when it will then support Flash Player 10.1 and have access to the entire multimedia web.

Though we liked the size of the display for downloaded movies, YouTube videos and Facebook photos seemed to suffer a little, stretched out over a bigger screen. The brightness and clarity of the TFT screen is less than that of phones with AMOLED screens – and lags far behind super AMOLED phones like the Samsung Wave.

Books, camera, action

The large screen comes into its own when used for navigation though. Google Maps is preloaded, and offers routing and a places of interest feature. Unfortunately, the Streak's dated OS doesn't support Google's voice navigation feature or multi-touch in Maps, so you’ll have to zoom using the on-screen buttons. The GPS fix was fast and accurate, and was able to track us from London to Dorset without missing a beat. In fact, the 3G was the limiting factor – maps sometimes didn’t download, even as the blue arrow representing our car zipped across the display. We also loved the digital compass, which was sensitive enough to immediately swivel the arrow on the map when we turned, even as pedestrians in Central London.

A lesser known fact is that Android devices can double as ereaders, with an increasing number of ebook apps landing in the Android Market, many for free. We tested a couple, and found them quite basic. Some allow you to read in landscape as well as portrait orientation, but the display often shows only a single page at a time, so it’s like reading a text only webpage, except you swipe sideways not down. Kobo is a recently launched free app that also gives you access to an eBook store with some free, some paid for books.
 
One less highlighted feature of the Streak is its five-megapixel camera, which took average photos in daylight. Because of its bulk, it’s not very easy to operate with one hand – so spontaneous shots of yourself are likely to end up blurry. The shutter release also required more pressure than we expected to take a photo, and you have to be sure to hold it still for a second afterwards thanks to a slightly sluggish shutter speed. It’s fine when taken purely as a vehicle with which to snap and upload shots to Facebook and Twitter.

Conclusion

If you view it as a phone, the Streak is far too big. It wouldn’t fit in many pockets and as such could struggle to find its niche in market – is it a tablet or a phone, and would you need a second phone to take out at night? But as a portable media player you can make phone calls with, this is a powerful device that’s also simple to use. It’s a little frustrating that Dell has released the Streak on such an old version of Android, and some of its top features will only be maximised when it gets the update to 2.2.

Natasha Stokes