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Dell Streak Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £449.00

To our minds, the Dell Streak is one of the most fascinating devices that has been released this year. It certainly generated a healthy debate in our recent podcast, where we discussed its merits as a smartphone, a tablet, a sat-nav, and a portable media player, and it’s this potential flexibility that’s the draw. History tells us, however, that a lack of identity and focus has been the downfall of many a promising device in the past. Is this the case with the Streak?


Before we delve into such philosophical meanderings, however, we need to know what exactly the Streak has to offer. With a SIM free price of £429 and available on the O2 network on various deals, including free on a 24 month data only tariff that includes 3GB of mobile data, the Streak’s main selling point is simply its size. Its 5-inch LCD screen, which has a roomy 800 x 480 resolution, makes it considerably larger than any competing smartphone – so much so that Dell classifies it as tablet, as well as a smartphone.


Under the hood it uses one of Qualcomm’s much lauded 1GHz Snapdragon processors, and has 512MB of RAM and 2GB of internal storage to draw upon. Also included in the box is a 16GB microSDHC memory card, and up to 32GB cards are supported should you need more. There’s a front-facing VGA camera for Skype and video calls, and an auto-focusing 5-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash for photography. However, unlike many of the new handsets now available – e.g. the iPhone 4 or the Samsung Galaxy S (review coming soon) – video recording is only of VGA (640 x 480) quality.


Another potential stumbling block for the Streak is that it runs Android 1.6, not 2.1 or the most recent 2.2 (Froyo) release. An update is promised later in the year, but with so many already updated handsets available or soon to be released, 1.6’s limitations – which include no pinch to zoom in maps, Microsoft Exchange support, or Adobe Flash support – are bound to become more pressing. Still, 1.6 is a proven and stable release and you still benefit from most of Android’s best features, such as the excellent free Google Navigation app and burgeoning Android Marketplace.


Moreover, it would be wrong to focus too heavily on such niggling deficiencies, as the Streak’s positives far outweigh its negatives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the handset’s design, which belies Dell’s relative inexperience in this market. It might be large, but the Streak is a svelte 9.9mm thick and weighs a reasonable 220 grams. Our model has a smart, carbon black back, and when not in use the jet black front fascia gives the Streak a monolithic appearance that oozes class.


Such sleekness is accentuated by the tapered ends, at one end of which sits a trio of capacitive touch buttons. Two function as Android’s standard ‘Home’ and ‘Back’ buttons, while the one in the middle is a context sensitive menu button. These work extremely well and presses are greeted by haptic vibrations.


As for physical connections, on the top edge (when held in landscape as intended), you’ll find a headphone jack, volume controls, the power and lock button, and the two-level camera capture button. On the under-edge, meanwhile, is the docking and charging port for which a multimedia dock with HDMI output is available. Included in the box is a USB data and charging cable, AC adapter and reasonable in-ear headset with in-line microphone.

As is normally the case with Android devices, Dell has seen fit to tweak the interface to suit its needs. Its changes aren’t too radical, but they prove reasonably effective. Most evident is the basic home screen design is in landscape, and doesn’t re-orientate itself to portrait if you rotate it. Other applications will work in portrait mode, but by design the Streak is intended to be used in landscape.


By default there are three pages of shortcuts and widgets. These three pages include one with two separate widgets for Facebook and Twitter, which serve their purpose for getting a quick glance but are quite limited in functionality.


Tucked away in the top left corner is the application drop-down that defaults to a minimised, single-row view but can be expanded to show all of them. None of this quite has the polish and attention to detail seen in HTC’s Sense UI, but at least Dell hasn’t over stretched itself and in a sense this is a great blank canvas for tinkerers to play with.


Navigating this interface is made all the easier by the superb capacitive touchscreen. It responds quickly and to the lightest of touches, and has a ‘gorilla glass’ surface that’s renowned for its strength and durability. Not only will it not scratch like a plastic facing, it’s also more resistant to cracking when dropped than you might expect.


It’s not just the touch element of the screen that impresses; its general performance is also good. Being LCD based, as opposed to AMOLED, the Streak’s screen copes much better in bright sunlight than many of the latest phones.


This is a good thing, obviously, and the Streak’s screen also has a more natural hue than the OLED clad Samsung Wave or Galaxy S. It can’t quite match the iPhone 4 – or the iPad for that matter – in either sharpness or fidelity, but it does a fine job nonetheless. It’s also the perfect size and resolution for in-car navigation, making it a great option for anyone wanting to use the free Google Navigation app or any other mobile sat-nav app for that matter.


By contrast the mono speaker on the Streak is somewhat disappointing. It’s no better or worse than the speakers on most smartphones, and still manages reasonable volumes and clarity. However, considering its size and suitability for GPS and portable media player duties, a more powerful speaker or stereo setup would’ve been extremely beneficial. This slight weakness doesn’t prevent the Streak from being a great sat-nav alternative, but it’s worth investigating ways to amplify the audio – if only Dell had added an FM transmitter!

We’ve already covered the Streak’s suitability as a sat-nav device, but its large screen and ability to play 720p video ought to make it an excellent portable media player as well. It’s not without competition in this arena, however. If you’re interested in an Android-based PMP, the Archos 5 Internet Tablet offers stiff competition and is very competitively priced these days. It might be a more limited device, of course, but it’s a specialist.


And, were one to compare the two directly, the Archos would come out on top quite comfortably. That the Streak has the potential to be an excellent media player is without doubt, but out of the box it falls a little short. As a music player it’s adequate, and the music player’s interface makes good use of the screen’s size and resolution. However, it lacks support for some popular codecs (e.g. FLAC and OGG), and its audio quality is merely average, lacking the pop and fizz of a dedicated player or even some better phones.


It’s really the video codec support that disappoints, though. A lack of MKV wrapper support is forgiveable, but out of the box it doesn’t even support AVI files or DivX encoded videos. You’re consequently limited to WMV, 3GP and MP4 containers, and h.263, h.264 and MPEG-4 codecs, which leaves you to either re-encode files you want to use or explore alternative players. All this said, give it a file it likes and Streak performs just fine. We had no problems playing a 720p WMV video, and though darker parts of videos can lack a little detail, on the whole image quality is very good.


That’s not a quality that can be attributed to the camera. On paper it sounds good: five megapixels, auto-focusing, dual-LED flash – what’s not to like? Aside from the usual limitations of phone cameras, such as blown-out highlights and chromatic aberration issues, the Streak has a nasty penchant for over-sharpening and over saturating. In the right conditions it does a decent job, and there are plenty of options to play with, but the end results are only passable. Another irritation is how close the lens is to the edge of the phone, often causing it to be obscured when in use.


There’s a similar issue at play with the on-screen keyboard, too. For reasons not entirely obvious right now, Dell has decided to add a numeric key pad to it. This means you have to reach over it with your thumb to use the keyboard, which is distinctly uncomfortable. Despite this, it’s a good keyboard and benefits greatly from the responsiveness and accuracy of the keyboard. And, should you choose to do so, installing a different on-screen keyboard will eliminate the numeric key pad.

We’ve covered many aspects of the Streak’s performance already, but there are still one or two things to think of. From a general perspective it’s every bit as fast as any other Snapdragon-based handset, which is good news for all concerned. Web pages render very quickly, and the screen’s resolution and sharpness produces clean, readable text.


Though the Streak lacks active noise cancelling, we had no cause for complaints with the call quality – we suspect software cancelling at work. No doubt its size will rule it out for many people, but get over that and the Streak is a good phone. It’s not so large that you can’t hold it comfortably, and Bluetooth means you’re only a headset away from keeping it permanently stowed in your pocket when making calls.


Battery life on the Streak varies quite considerably depending on use. If left on standby with Wi-Fi and 3G enabled, it’s liable to last around 36 hours before the low battery warning pops up. This is okay, but does mean you’re likely to run out of juice if you forget to charge it one night. Even with heavy use, however, it got a working day in quite comfortably, and the battery is replaceable so you can purchase spares in case of an emergency.


We’re nearing the end of our Streak review now, so now’s about the right time to return to the debate started at the beginning of the review. First and foremost, any meaningful comparisons with the iPad should be banished: they’re fundamentally different. As to the Streak’s lack of focus, it does enough things very well for any rough edges to be forgiven, if not quite forgotten. Hopefully some of these issues, such as the codec support, can be dealt with in software updates. On a basic level, it’s a success.


Mention must also be made of the competitive tariffs it’s available on. If, for example, you’ve got a simple pay as you go phone already and are happy with it, the two-year, £25 per month data only tariff looks particularly enticing. You get a plentiful 3GB of mobile data, and free Wi-Fi hotspot access, and the Streak comes free. It’s just a shame so many of O2’s voice and data plans are now limited to 500MB of data, including the £35 per month, 24 month plan on which the Streak comes free with 600 minutes.

Verdict


There’s a great deal to like about the Dell Streak, particularly if you’re looking for a device that serves many purposes at once. It’s certainly the best phone for in-car navigation around, and its size gives it an edge for web browsing and portable media. It has one or two issues that need ironing out, and its size will rule it out for many, but the Streak is far from the disaster it could have been.


(centre)Using the LED flash indoors produces okay results(/centre)

(centre)In outdoors shots, however, the sky is often over-saturated and the whole photo is over-sharp.(/centre)

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Performance 8
  • Design 9
  • Value 8
  • Features 8

General

Operating System Android OS
Height (Millimeter) 152.9mm
Width (Millimeter) 79.1mm
Depth (Millimeter) 10mm
Weight (Gram) 220g
Available Colours Black

Display

Screen Size (inches) (Inch) 5in
Screen Resolution 480x800
Touchscreen Yes

Battery

Talk Time (Minute) 582m
Standby Time (Hour) 400hr

Storage

Internal Storage (Gigabyte) 16GB
Camera (Megapixel) 5 Megapixel
Front Facing Camera (Megapixel) Yes Megapixel
Camera Flash Dual-LED

Connectivity

Bluetooth Yes
WiFi Yes
3G/4G Yes
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes
Charging/Computer Connection MicroUSB

Processor and Internal Specs

CPU 1GHz Scorpion

Misc

App Store Android Market
GPS Yes

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