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Tech Report – Dell Streak

By Paul O’Reilly

We know the iPhone is a smartphone and we know that the iPad is a tablet computer. But what are we to call the Streak, Dell’s terrific new multi-purpose device which goes on sale tomorrow?

Tech review site CNET starts off by referring to the Streak as “the first Android tablet worth taking seriously” but ends up admitting that the Streak’s size puts it on the fence between a tablet and a smartphone. Other reviewers also refer to the Streak as a tablet but the majority of discussion boards beg to differ, claiming that its 5-inch screen is far too small to warrant the tablet label.

Dell’s own web site offers little help. It religiously avoids any mention of a tablet or smartphone, as it proudly promotes its new baby, preferring to describe it simply as a “device”. Whether the absence of a clear product label will matter to the man or woman in the street remains to be seen, but I can’t help feeling that the confusion exhibited in the early press coverage could well translate to similar confusion among consumers.

If that’s the case, it would be a shame, as the Streak offers a blend of power, flexibility, screen size and affordability that is currently unmatched anywhere else in the marketplace.

First, its size – and the reason for all the debate. The 5-inch screen is significantly larger than all the smartphones currently on the market, dwarfing the 3.5-inch iPhone and bigger even than the 4.3-inch Motorola Droid X. However, it doesn’t approach the 9.7-inch screen of the iPad, hence the anti-tablet rumblings. At 6-inches wide x 3.2-inches tall, the Streak is still small enough to slip into a coat pocket, which could be a significant advantage over the awkwardly-sized iPad.

The overall design of the Streak is excellent, combining a sleek look with a robust, hard-wearing finish. On the front there are three soft control buttons ( home, menu, back), together with a VGA-resolution camera. On the reverse side, there is a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with an integrated LED flash, a small speaker grille, and the cover for the removable, rechargeable battery. On the bottom edge of the Streak is a USB port, which can also connect with a separate Dell AV dock for HDMI output.

The Android platform provides the Streak with all the features of top-of-the-line Android smartphones. There is access to tens of thousands of apps through the Android market and Web browsing, e-mail, downloads, and refresh speeds are all incredibly fast. Individual and swappable 32GB memory cards act as almost limitless multi-media libraries, each holding up to 16,000 songs, 32,000 photos or 42 full-length movies.

The Streak is a full-function 3G phone, with Wi-Fi and built-in Bluetooth. There is video calling capability, as well as real-time maps and integrated GPS functionality. Unlike the iPhone or iPad, users can swap effortlessly from one task to another without shutting down or interrupting current applications.

The one major reported problem with the Streak appears to be battery life, which is becoming a bit of an Achilles heel for Android devices. Although the Streak allows over 8 hours of talk time when used as a conventional phone, that figure drops dramatically when running multi-media applications or when screen brightness is increased for outdoor use.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that people can’t agree on the Streak’s classification as a tablet or a smartphone. By combining style, power and portability, it attempts to satisfy fans of both devices. The fact that it succeeds so well suddenly makes Dell an important player in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The Streak costs $299 with a two-year AT&T contract or $549 without a contract. It will be available directly from Dell from this Friday.

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