The Dell Streak may look like a smartphone, and you can make phone calls on it, but the Android tablet's form factor means it's a hybrid device that sits somewhere between a largish touchscreen phone like the HTC Desire and Apple's iPad tablet.
The Dell Streak is the first of a promised list of tablet-smartphone hybrid devices from some of the biggest names in the PC industry. Larger than an iPhone and with a similar look to a BlackBerry Storm, the 10mm-thick Dell Streak has a 5in capacitive touchscreen and packs in some powerful features into a shell just shy of 10mm thick.
The slim design is lovely. The tablet (as Dell insists on calling it) is about the length of an adult hand and, at 79mm wide, too wide to comfortably grasp in a fist. Even so, it’s sufficiently small to fit in a large pocket without falling out and easily slips into a handbag.
Unlike larger tablets such as the Apple iPad or the enormous 10in-screened JooJoo Internet Tablet, the Dell Streak’s 3G SIM is used for calls as well as web access. It thus makes a good case for itself as both portable internet access device and smartphone/organiser. We also liked its bright and sharp 800x480-pixel WXGA display and the tough Gorilla Glass front. This limits the likelihood of damage to the device but is also sufficiently touch-sensitive to allow the user to type quickly and efficiently on the onscreen keyboard.
As with other Android devices, it takes approximately four seconds for the Dell Streak to switch on and for the Dell logo to be replaced by the default wallpaper of the O2 Arena in London. Off to the right is a black menu bar indicating the mobile network, time and date and the fact the handset is locked. A discreet arrow and a prompt to press the touch-sensitive Menu button on the righthand side. This Menu icon looks more like a battery status indicator. A horizontal swipe across the screen unlocks it.
If you don’t like the background the simple mechanism of swiping a finger horizontally across the screen brings up alternative home screens. Holding and swiping allows you to change or delete the screen. The multiple screen layout provides access to basic phone, email and web access functions.
The layout of this tablet device differs from that of the Android phones we’ve tried out. A drop-down menu indicator arrow at the top left of the 800-pixel-wide screen is used to bring up a list of all the applications currently installed, while dragging a program to the middle of the Home screen allows you to quick-launch it. We like this approach more than on, say, a Windows PC, where many applications place a shortcut link on the desktop and/or a quick launch button in the Taskbar without asking permission to do so.
Messages and alerts - including the status of any downloads you’ve initiated, are show in a central bar at the top of the screen, while a floating bar in the middle of the desktop shows the strength of any connectivity modes such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
However, the touch-based Back, unlock and Home buttons on the right edge of the Streak only work when the screen is also active. So when the screen goes blank after 30 seconds or a minute in order to preserve the battery, you have to press to Power button followed by the Unlock hardware button.
It’s also a little odd that you can be listening to a track but need to press buttons unrelated to the media player in order to activate the screen and change songs.
Although it runs on the Android mobile operating system, the Streak is a very different proposition from the handsets we tested for this month’s group test. You’ll find yourself using it in landscape mode, for a start, and although it can be used to make phone calls, it’s not something we envisage being one of its primary functions. It’s too unwieldy to be a primary mobile phone. It could, however, work well when paired with a Bluetooth headset so the device-to-ear issue is avoided. The speaker is sufficiently loud for such use in a car, for example, while the large screen and Google Maps could also earn their keep.
Contact management is not as solid as on the newer Android 2.0 handsets (where threaded conversations and contact forms are supported), but it’s straightforward to bring up the keypad to tap in a number or your contacts list to email, text or call someone.
See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?
One of the real strengths of the Streak is as a portable entertainment device or for casual gaming. We downloaded Frogger from the Android Marketplace, for example.
Album art in the media player is displayed by default and we like the simple, clear setup of the Music Library. An iPod Coverflow-like album art carousel makes it easy to get to your chosen tracks. You can shuffle or loop-repeat tracks or albums with a quick click of an onscreen button at the top right. Onscreen volume controls are not provided; you need to use the hardware buttons on the top left of the Streak next to the discreet headphone jack. Even at the max, the volume doesn’t reach uncomfortable heights but using our third-party earphones we found playback on the tinny side.
The 5Mp camera is a real asset, with touchscreen focal point selection relatively accurate thanks to the generous screen size. There’s a separate hardware button on the top of the Dell Streak to bring up the 5Mp camera. This isn’t selectable when you’re using the media player or some other applications. Flash, zoom and a video camera are included, while a second, VGA–resolution, camera allows for video calling and webcam use.
You get a warning if a download or playback requires the Streak to override the screen-off/power down settings - something that of course affects the battery consumption. Unlike a mobile phone, the Streak doesn’t hold a charge for long when not being used, so you’ll probably need to keep a charger handy. Left in standby or screen-off mode overnight, the Streak needs recharging the next morning. This is a drawback given that the Dell Streak is a phone as well as a tablet device. The issue isn’t only if you leave the 3G and/or Wi-Fi on either. With the huge screen and a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor to power, this perhaps isn’t surprising. Usefully, though, you are shown how much charge is available on the screen locked message.