Dell has just introduced the Dell Streak 7, a tablet that is marketed as a potent product to work, but also to play, watch video and “be watched” in video calls. The Streak 7 is also presented as an accomplished eReader and an overall multimedia device to consume music, photo and the web. Dell has always recognized that the smaller Streak 5 is an “experiment” in terms of form factor and usage model (you can make calls with it), but the 7” version goes head to head with the iPad, the Galaxy Tab and other tablets. So – how is it, and how does it compare with other alternatives? Let’s check.
We all perceive the usefulness of these devices differently depending on our lifestyle, so let me tell you where I come from: I spend most of my time using a powerful desktop computer (a PC) with multiple displays. If I need to get some work done outside of the office, I use a laptop (Sony Vaio, Macbook Pro or Macbook Air). On the go, I keep track of emails with a smartphone, but I tend to reply only moderately from a small tablet because typing long emails is still slower (when compared to a laptop). I check news websites a lot, and I often use a laptop or a tablet on my couch.
The Dell Streak 7 has a clean design. It is plain and feels a bit “plastic” (especially in the back), more so than the Samsung Galaxy Tab for instance. Unlike other devices, this one has only three Android buttons: Home, Menu and Back. The Search button that Google loves so much is missing, we’re not sure why. At the top of the screen, the front camera and the microphone are visible.
At the bottom, you can find a connecting port that can be used with a Dell USB cable, or with a dock. The port looks like the Apple 30-pin connector, although they are different at the pin-level. Other tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab have similar (but yet different) connectors. On the right, there are two covered ports for the SIM card and the SD card. There’s also one speaker. The other speaker is on the left side, along with a standard 3.5mm jack. Finally in the back, there is a 5 Megapixel camera with a LED flash. The back has a light texture that improves the grip, but not by much.
The Android buttons are odly placed if you use the Tablet right-handed and horizontally: your thumb lands right where the buttons are and it’s actually easier to simply rotate it by 180 degrees and hold it from the opposite side. It works great, maybe except if you use the webcam. Even then, I tend to find the Streak 7 to be a two-hands device, despite its relatively small size (when compared to the iPad). With a single hand, it feels heavier than it looks, so keep this in mind. You might be surprised.
Display (not good enough)
The Dell Streak 7 display size, is decent, but if you have been playing with smartphones and tablets, you will see right away that the resolution is relatively low for a 7” screen. At 800×480, you basically get the same resolution than most (recent) 3.5”/4.3” smartphones, except that the image is now 7” big!
This is a big issue in my opinon, and one that nearly everyone can be sensitive to. It’s true that the sheer size makes user experience more “productive” relative to a smartphone, but the low resolution also affects the readability in a noticeable way.
Another thing that I have noticed is that the display has a poor viewing angle. If I put the Streak 7 on my desk, the bright image that I’m looking at becomes barely visible, and all but the brightest parts of the image went dark.
In a outdoor setting, things get really tough. Unlike e-paper, any backlit screen (LCD, OLED…) is hard to read in direct sunlight, but this one is particularly hard to read in such conditions. If you plan to use it outdoors, or in a very bright place, this could make things very difficult.
The question is: will the low-resolution, low-view angle display bother most people, or just those who have more experience with smartphones and devices? In simple terms: it is “good enough”? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure how most potential customers would react. At the very least, I would advise you to compare it with against potential competitors like the Galaxy Tab or the iPad.
If you hold it vertically, the Streak 7 has a user interface that is very close to most Android smartphones that you might have played with. There’s not much news on that side. Because the Streak 7 uses the Tegra 2 “system on a chip” (SoC)s from NVIDIA, I was expecting a very fluid user experience, but the streak 7 doesn’t feel faster than most Android devices that came out in the past 12 months.
When used horizonally, the Streak 7 displays bits of informations on the left+right sides, but you can’t interact with that content without scrolling to either side. It would have been nice to get the equivalent of two more icon columns on either side. I’ll survive though.
Tablets are supposed to be excellent media consumption devices, so I did a few things like reading books/news, watch video and listen to music. The results are mixed and you can have different views depending on what you care the most: absolute quality or mobility. The absolute media consumption quality is definitely not as good as on an iPad. Videos are not as sharp, neither are the eBooks. Of course, the Dell Streak 7 is smaller.
Books: thanks to the larger display size, reading on the Streak is much nicer than doing to on a smartphone. I typically use the Kindle application, but you have many choices, including the Nook app from B&N, and others. Overall, I found the experience to be good, although not the best.
News: Just like reading books, news can be consumed with ease, thanks to the many news apps, and news sites out there. In landscape more, you can even visit full-size sites like Yahoo, without having to to zoom-in to read the text. This is something that is just impossible on a 4” smartphone with the same resolution where things would simply be too small.
Videos: Videos also benefit from a larger screen (when coming from a 4” smartphone). Things look good, but even over WIFI, videos look more compressed than they are on the iPad. While the Dell Streak 7 hardware is capable of handling much higher quality files, so I suspect that YouTube treats the device like a smartphone.
Music: Music playback is no problem. The Streak 7 can handle local music playback or web services without sweating. There’s nothing special to report on this front.
When it comes to productivity, the central nerve is the (virtual) keyboard, and I have to say that on a bigger screen, Swype rocks! If you are not familiar with Swype, it is a virtual keyboard with which could can “swipe” from one letter to the next instead of tapping. It is more accurate because your finger stays on the screen surface the whole time. With “tapping”, most typos happen because your finger “lands” on the wrong spot – Swype takes that away. It’s not perfect though, as Swype relies heavily on a dictionary, so if you tend to use slang or words that are not in the dictionary, Swype might not help as much.
In my case, I find Swype to be very competitive with the iPad keyboard, which normally would have an advantage because it is bigger in sheer size (that too, reduces the typo rate).
With the keyboard out of the way, things come down to how much surface you have to work on, and there, a larger tablet (with a higher resolution) will win. When editing text, I find things to be a bit cramped on the streak 7.
From a productivity standpoint, the lack of pixel real-estate and decent copy/paste capabilities can be fairly annoying if you use it often. Overall, I see the Dell Streak 7 productivity as being close to a smartphone, except that typing is much faster.
Web Browsing (very good)
Web browsing is very good, just like it is on most recent Android devices. The version 2.2 of Android used the Dell Streak has in-browser support for Flash. You can go to Flash sites (some industries rely heavily on Flash) and even play casual Flash games, although most of them are built for desktop machines and rely on a mouse or a keyboard. In horizontal mode, even small characters are readable (which is not the case on a 4” smartphone display using the same resolution), so that works fairly well if you have a good sight. In vertical mode, you’ll have to zoom in because things get minified.
Gaming (very good)
Playing with the Streak 7 feels good as games are more immersive than on smartphone. Unlike iPad versions of iOS games, these are the exact same than the ones running on Android phones. 3D games run fast, just as fast as other devices equipped with the same Tegra 2 1GHz chip. Don’t expect higher performance because there’s more room for cooling in the tablet format.
Performance (very good)
As the Gaming section indicates, overall performance is among the best that you can get on Android. The Dell Streak 7 runs just a little slower than the LG Optimus 2X, the first dual-core smartphone equipped with the same chip. Overall, the application performance should be very similar, so I don’t expect any trouble.
I was a little surprised to see that the user interface of the Streak 7 is perceptibly slower than the LG Optimus 2X’s. I’m not sure why that would be, but the user interface scrolling feels a little sluggish, and slower than the 2X. That said, the Galaxy Tab doesn’t do that much better in that regards so if you want Android 2.2, that might simply be the price to pay.
The battery life depletion varies a lot depending on what you do, but for example, if you play games, things can go downhill fairly fast: leaving Raging Thunder ( a car racing game) in “demo mode” for 30mn used 19% of the battery, which means that you could play it for about 2.5 hours before you need to plug again – take this as a worst-case scenario. If you just browse the web or read a book, the battery life will be much better, but it won’t reach what you can get on an iPad (about 10 hrs of video, etc…).
What could be better?
Display (!): If there was only one thing that Dell should change, that’s the display. At 480×800, it has the same resolution than a 4.3” smartphone display, but with a 7” diagonal. The 10” iPad has a 768×1024 pixel display and the Galaxy Tab has a 1024×600 resolution. But the number of pixels isn’t the only issue: the image quality isn’t as good as it could be. The vertical and horizontal viewing angle of this LCD screen is definitely not as good as an IPS LCD, a technology used in the iPad, iPhone and the LG Optimus 2X. The result: if I put the tablet on my desk, the image looses most of its brightness and it’s hard to see what’s going on. LCD IPS and AMOLED do much better in the same situation.
Build Quality: The build quality is “OK”, but Dell will have a hard time to compete with the material quality. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a better build, and the iPad beat them both, by a big margin.
Dell has chosen a powerful hardware platform for its latest Tablet offering. This is a good choice, as faster browsing and faster Adobe Flash support make the user experience better. The hardware is also currently the best you can find to play 3D games. However, the user experience lags the competition in two ways: the low-resolution display and the overall use of the extra screen surface. The Dell Streak 7 is less expensive than the Galaxy Tab, but it is still priced just like the WiFi iPad ($499) – which has a sharply better user experience, if you exclude the network. Talking of which, you can get a subsidy from T-Mobile if you get a 2-year contract for their 4G network, but if anything, that will make the total cost of ownership (TCO) higher – it’s up to you.
It comes down to your tolerance to pricing and usage model: If you *really* want an Android Tablet now and if you need a small (7”) 4G Tablet, and if can’t afford the Galaxy Tab, the Dell Streak 7 could be an option to consider — that’s a lot of “if+and”. In case you don’t care about Android and the smaller size, the iPad will provide a much better user experience.
Now, if you want an Android Tablet and you’re still unsure, the smart thing to do is to wait a few weeks as there’s an Android Tablet tsunami about to hit the stores – the iPad 2 should come out soon as well. I hope that this review has helped you figure out what the Dell Streak 7 is about. If you have more questions or remarks, please drop a comment below, and I’ll try to reply ASAP. If you want to hear more from us, join Ubergizmo on Facebook.
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