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.
The Streak 7 is the tablet we've been waiting for Dell to make. It's a device that's worthy of the company. It couples solid, refined hardware with a creative spin on Android 2.2. Granted, we've seen similar 7-inch Android tablets come and go, but this time around Dell is raising the stakes by making the first 4G-compatible tablet (courtesy of T-Mobile), priced at a tantalizing $199 with a two-year contract ($450 without).
Powered off, the Streak 7 looks nearly identical to Samsung's Galaxy Tab. The construction is mostly plastic, with a glass-covered screen, and a sleek (if smudgy) design that tapers around the edges and feels sturdy in your hand. The Streak is longer than the Tab by a half-inch, measuring 7.75 inches long, 4.6 inches wide, and a hair under a half-inch thick.
Because tablets measure their screen size on the diagonal, you may be surprised to realize that the Streak's 7-inch screen is about half the size of Apple's 9.7-inch iPad display. In our experience, 7-inch tablets offer a more convenient portable design than 10-inch designs, but can't quite offer the laptop-like Web-browsing experience of the larger models.
We've also found that without extensive design help, many apps made for the smaller screens of Android smartphones can seem out of place or oversized on tablet-size screens. Dell makes an effort to address this with its inventive "Stage" user interface, but doesn't do much for users after they dig past the home screen. By contrast, Samsung's Tab took the same basic Android 2.2 elements, left Google's home-screen design alone, and optimized basic apps such as notes, e-mail, and calendar for a more tablet-friendly, split-screen view. Dell gets points for creativity, but compared with Samsung's practical tweaks, the Stage interface is just window dressing.
One of the small design details that distinguishes Dell's hardware from Samsung's is a decision to tailor the hardware and user interface for use in landscape orientation, rather than the smartphone-centric portrait mode. To this end, the tactile buttons for home, back, and menu are located on the right side of the screen, gathered together to make them easy to navigate with your thumb. It's a thoughtful design choice, and one we prefer over the Galaxy Tab's giant smartphone layout.
The Streak 7 offers most of the features we'd expect from a high-end tablet. You get a 5-megapixel camera on the back (with flash) that can shoot photos and 720p videos. A camera (with microphone) also sits on the front, offering a 1.3-megapixel quality that's just fine for self-portraits and video chat. In fact, Qik video chat software comes preinstalled and T-Mobile is quick to point out that users are free to use the service over their cellular connection, though it's a surefire way to burn through your data plan.
Other basic features such as 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth audio and data connections are here, though we wouldn't mind having an 802.11 n setting. There's a standard headphone jack on the left side, smartly placed above where your hand would naturally grip the device. Similarly, a pair of stereo speakers sit in the topmost corners of each side, delivering decent volume, though understandably thin acoustics (fortunately, earbuds come included).
The right edge of the Dell Streak 7 has a hinged flap concealing a SIM card slot and a memory card expansion slot for full-size SDHC memory cards, allowing you to expand the storage beyond the integrated 16GB. In our experience, the standard SD cards used by the Streak are much easier to come by than the microSD cards used by so many others--not to mention that they are more affordable.
Though the SD card slot was a nice gesture toward ease of use, Dell had to go and throw its proprietary 30-pin connector on the bottom, making charging and syncing the device a bit of a hassle. Once connected to your computer, the Streak appears as an external USB drive and comes preloaded with DoubleTwist software for syncing and managing media. It's not the elegant plug-and-play of the iPad and iTunes, but it gets you close.