Editors' note: Dell has released a larger version of the Streak for T-Mobile, one that is compatible with 4G wireless speeds. It has also pushed out an over-the-air update for the Streak's operating system, bringing the device up to Android 2.2 (Froyo) from 1.6 (Donut) and enabling support for Adobe Flash, Microsoft Exchange, and Swype text input. Still, given the change in the competitive landscape since our original review, we have lowered the rating of this product to better reflect its value.
Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Streak 7 has been adjusted down from 7 to 5.
Everyone is eager to see a serious competitor for the Apple iPad tablet computer. For the moment, the Dell Streak is the strongest contender we've seen, though its pocket-size design and phone capabilities have us wondering if it shouldn't really be judged as a smartphone. However you want to define it, the Streak's features and design quality are simply too tantalizing to ignore, even if its price ($299 with a two-year AT&T contract, $549 without contract) is tough to swallow.
The most notable aspect of the Dell Streak is its design. Chances are, you already know what Google's Android operating system is capable of, and the Streak's phonelike hardware capabilities (camera, touch screen, memory expansion) are nothing we haven't seen before.
When you pick up a Streak for the first time, the first thing you'll notice is its size. At 6 inches wide, 3.2 inches tall, and 0.35 inch thick, the Streak is about the size as a pocket Moleskine notebook. It breaks the norm for smartphone dimensions, yet it's nearly a third the size of Apple's iPad tablet.
The size charts new territory in the middle ground, and potential buyers should be aware that it does not fit naturally as a replacement for your phone or your laptop. That said, if you're having a Goldilocks moment looking for that "just right" compromise between convenience, portability, and features, the Streak should be at the top of your list for consideration.
Putting the issue of size aside, the design quality of the Streak is solid, and befitting of the $500 price range. The 5-inch capacitive touch screen is covered in a seemingly indestructible Gorilla Glass, developed by Corning, though the tapered edges to the left and right of it use a more conventional scratch-resistant plastic. These same edges also conceal three soft keys (back, menu, home), an earpiece, microphone, and a front-facing VGA-resolution camera. We carried the Streak loosely in a messenger bag for weeks, along with keys, loose change, and an iPod, and failed to make a dent or scratch in its finish.
On the flip side of the Streak you'll find a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with an integrated LED flash. The camera is awkwardly placed, so your left hand tends to obscure the lens when holding the Streak in its prescribed landscape orientation. Anyone with common sense will, of course, reposition their hand before snapping a photo or recording video, but the fingerprints left on the lens through regular use do tend to cloud the image quality.
The back of the Streak also includes a small speaker grille at the edge of a large battery cover. Along with a removable, rechargeable battery, the Streak battery compartment also offers access to a SIM card slot and the included 16GB microSD memory card. Both the SIM and microSD cards can be swapped out quickly, but removing the door to the battery compartment will automatically shut down the Streak as a safety measure. A cold boot after removing the battery cover takes about 40 seconds.
Slim buttons for volume, power, and camera mode run across the top edge of the Streak, along with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack (in-ear headphones come included). Our only complaint with the buttons is that the power and camera buttons have an identical shape and are place directly next to one another, making it easy to confuse them.
Finally, the bottom of the Streak offers a 30-pin connection, which is similar to (but not compatible with) the iPad's. A USB cable compatible with the connection comes included, along with a wall-charging adapter. The 30-pin connection is also compatible with Dell's AV dock accessory, which is sold separately and includes connections for HDMI, mini-USB, and audio line-out.
The Dell Streak fits right in with today's superbly specced Android smartphones. It ships with Android 2.2 installed (or available as an over-the-air update), supporting what we now consider must-have Android features, including Adobe Flash compatibility, native Exchange sync, and multitouch gesture support.