Dell Streak 5 – The Hardware
I’m using the Dell Streak as a sort of mini-tablet, which is I think what Dell was going after. I haven’t enabled a voice or text plan on this thing so it’s strictly data. Shout-out to B at the local Rogers store for helping me set that up when the people at Rogers HQ said it was not possible. You da man!
Performance and Battery
The Streak kind of surprised me after I got Froyo running on it. The 1GHz Snapdragon processor (source: streaksmart) feels pretty responsive. With 512MB of RAM, there’s a lot of room for applications. The UI (with LauncherPro) is snappy.
Running the benchmarking app Quadrant, with DJ_Steve’s StreakDroid 1.8.1, I was able to get a score of 1267 which I hear is pretty good. I certainly have no complaints about the speed of applications running on the Streak.
The battery feels a little weak under use. Having a 30 minute Skype conversation while connected to 3G almost killed my charge (after running a day on standby). I tend to nurse the battery by keeping the Streak in airplane mode most of the time and only turning on wifi or 3G when I need to connect to something. If I were using this as a phone, that’d be a royal pain. The battery’s replaceable in this, so you could have a backup, but with the annoyance of pulling the back plate off, that’d feel like a pretty big failure.
The charging cable’s a proprietary 30pin edge connector similar to an iPhone dock plug. I assume they did this for connection to the AV Dock accessory, but it’s a real pain in the ass as the Streak only comes with one (short) cable in the box. With a battery like this, I’d want to stow chargers in my vehicles and carry one in my laptop bag. If you’re planning on taking this on a long trip and expect to be able to read a book, listen to music, watch a video and do some communications with it, you’d better bring some extra batteries, a cable and a power-source.
For starters, it’s the first touch-screen device I’ve used that’s comfortable to thumb type on in portrait mode. The iPad is too wide for this, and I usually turn it to landscape for finger typing. The iPhone is too small to comfortably type on in portrait mode, though I keep trying to do it and botching it. I find the iPhone uncomfortable in landscape. The 5″ screen of the Dell Streak actually works really well, especially after disabling Swype.
The soft buttons on the Streak are stuck in landscape mode, suggesting the device is meant to be used in that orientation most of the time. This is weird. For reading web pages and viewing text, portrait is so much more comfortable. The lockscreen even defaults to landscape and won’t reorient into portrait if you’re holding it that way so you end up reading the clock sideways all the time. That’s annoying and feels kind of silly. Also, the Streak is possibly the only Android device without a search button. I have to say, I think the search button is unnecessary so I don’t mind its omission.
The case is predominantly hard black plastic with a removable metal plate on the back housing the SIM, microSD slot and battery. Removal is awkward but reseating the little metal tabs back into their slots is even trickier. There is no indication that the plate is fully-seated. It just sort of slides into place with no click to let you know it’s all the way in. I think I’ve already bent at least one of the tabs that hold it in during the many times I had to pull the battery during my firmware upgrade trials.
Still, fully assembled, the Streak actually looks pretty good. I got no shortage of oohs and ahhs when I pulled it out at my local bar and passed it around. People asked if it was a phone. If it was for reading books. If it was a little computer. I even ended up in a conversation about Android with a non-techie friend who showed me her phone when she recognized I was running the same OS and Launcher as her. Even some of the tech-jaded people in California on a recent visit would take a look and ask about it and give it a whirl.
It’s weird, but I actually think the Streak was a bigger hit than my iPhone 4 which, from a hardware angle, is decidedly sexier, in my opinion. The build quality is certainly an order of magnitude higher and I can buy a decent case for the iPhone.
The Streak has a capable GSM/HSDPA Qualcomm radio in it. It’ll operate in quad-band GSM or in one of two 3G HSDPA modes (source: gsmarena) depending on your carrier and firmware. Speedtest.net’s application gave between 1000 and 2500kbps download and 50-250kbps up on Rogers. Having used some terminal clients remotely, I can say that the connection is perfectly acceptable. With Froyo, the Streak works as a wifi hotspot as well so you can use it to power a portable personal network.
The Wifi radios are not exactly state-of-the-art though. The best the Streak can manage is 802.11g and it seems to have a hard time staying connected for more than about an hour on a WPA connection. I had to open an 802.11g network in my house to support it since everything I use now has 802.11n. Range appears to be adequate though.
A funny thing happened the first time I turned on Bluetooth on the streak to pair a headset. It was sitting on my desk and I powered on the radio. I have a bunch of bluetooth and wifi devices on my work desk, keyboards, mice, trackpads and my main computer, a Mac Pro uses bluetooth for its keyboard and trackpad. When I turned on bluetooth on the streak, the bluetooth radio in my Mac stopped working and flashed an error in the little bluetooth indicator in the menu bar. I had to reboot the computer to get bluetooth working again. That’s some radio! Presumably it works fine if you keep it away from your computers.
It has been maligned across the web as being too hard to view from an angle. Honestly, I don’t find the 5″ TFT gorilla glass LCD that bad. How often do you look at these things off-axis? My one beef is that the screen’s resolution should be higher. Not sure if it’s a limitation of the original operating system it shipped with or if it was to keep the price down but it should really have more pixels. Touch controls feel precise and colors are reasonably vibrant even if the temperature is a tad cool.
The sound hardware in the Streak was pretty disappointing the first time I plugged in the provided in-ear headphones that came with it. Powering up Winamp or Songbird, when you first hit play on a song with any quiet passage, you can hear the audio hardware come online with a noticeable hiss. Signal-to-noise must be extremely low as the white-noise of the audio circuitry is easy to hear in the background of all but the loudest music. It’s less annoying when using it for Skype or watching Youtube video, but that’s hardly demanding. I will say that the built-in speaker can crank out some volume which is nice if you’re showing off a youtube video in a room. Not much else I can say about that, other than if you like quality sound, this is probably not going to make you happy.
The Dell Streak has both a front-facing and a rear camera. The rear camera is a 5 megapixel shooter with two LED flashes mounted next to it. It’s a pretty decent sensor and lens combination and I do like the pictures that come out of it… when I can get the camera to fire on time. The dual-position shutter button is very slow, sometimes taking a second or two to fire the shutter after focusing. The button itself requires a pretty firm press to push in shutter release mode which often means anything you’re shooting in low-light will come out looking blurry. I’m not a fan of LED flashes, but the ones on the Streak are powerful enough to light a subject up to a good 20ft away, based on some test shots. I’d put the camera roughly on par with the iPhone’s in terms of quality of image, but due to the lack of responsiveness, it’s going to lose points.
The front-facing camera is your typical 640×480 VGA chat cam. Not HD. Noisy.
After the painful process of ordering and receiving the Streak, I was all set to dislike this thing. The reviews I read during the long wait didn’t make me terribly excited to actually get my hands on it. Despite some of the limitations though, I do really like this thing. I’d feel a little silly using it as a phone (sidetalkin’!) without a headset, but as a datapad, it works really well. This is my first Android device and though lots of it feels a bit fiddly at times and upgrading different devices is a total crap-shoot, they’ve done some nice things with the operating system. It’s customizable to a fault. Picking up someone else’s Android device, there’s a big chance it’ll take you awhile to figure out what’s going on. Desktop widgets are a great feature that I wish iOS had. The back button is a very sticky interface element that I find myself trying to hit on my iPhone. I notice that I have to look for the back button on an iPhone now because they’re not really in a consistent place. Some of the apps available on Android are very nice and will give their iOS counterparts a strong run.
I think when we get some real video players on these things we’ll finally have a worthy alternative to iOS. This is a very good thing.