The Dell Streak isn’t the first five inch Android tablet we’ve seen – but it is the first that makes calls and surfs the web over 3G. How does the Android 1.6 Donut bake it’s running work in this new blower screen size? Read on and find out in this part of our Dell Streak review.
The good news first: the Dell Streak is the best Android 1.6 device on the market. Forget about the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10: it may share the same Donut core and 1GHz processor, but the Dell Streak is much faster, with no laggy Timescape software slowing things down.
The Dell Streak doesn’t run the vanilla Android Google released into the wild however, but a skinned version, with some very savvy tweaks to make it work better on a five inch screen designed to be held in landscape mode (In fact, the homescreen can only be viewed in landscape orientation – and it’s for the better). While Dell’s Facebook widget works fine, what’s much more useful is the tabbed control bar along the top.
On most Android phones, this is just one bar you can pull down to get notifications. That’s still present on the Dell Streak, but alongside it is the menu button usually summoned from the bottom of the homescreen, which can show your favourite apps in a single row, or the whole shebang. Another button along it lets you open recent apps and add or adjust up to six homescreens, while the most useful one shows you connectivity settings in a drop down pane (Not dissimilar to the embedded panes that pop up in iPhone OS on the iPad). This is a godsend for anyone used to placing widgets on the homescreen to toggle Wi-Fi on and off – you don’t have to jump back out of the browser if you need to turn it on, or turn data off to save battery.
Pinch to zoom meanwhile works fine on webpages and pictures (Not Google Maps), although there’s strangely no option to fit a column of text to screen with a doubletap with the Dell Streak – no real biggie. And Google voice search works a treat, even with our British accent, transcribing even whole sentences perfectly (though sometimes bizarrely too).
And now the bad news: the Dell Streak is the best Android 1.6 device on the market. That means you miss out on all the extra features, bug fixes and speed boosts that Android 2.1 gizmos like the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S enjoy, never mind the Android 2.2 Google Nexus One, with turbo fast speeds and Flash support. Unless you’re prepared to tinker when the Dell Streak inevitably gets rooted, you’ll likely be stuck with it for some time too, as the nature of Android skins means you’ll be left waiting while Dell updates its software plastered on top to the latest version – and Dell hasn’t said it’s doing that, officially.
Truth be told, unless you badly need multiple Google account support – or want to play Farmville or other Flash games on your phone – Android 1.6 isn’t such an issue. The video codec support (H.263/H.264, 3GP, MPEG4, WMV) is feeble compared to the Samsung Galaxy S, but in the right format, clips still look fantastic. The Dell Streak is still blazingly fast, serves up multiple contact icons in the address book, sucks in Facebook profile pics, and has free navigation with voice read out if you update Google Maps. Navigation works an absolute treat on the Dell Streak’s lavish display – in fact, we’d go so far as to say that this is the best satnav phone on the market right now, period.
But as we touched on in our full Dell Streak review, the keyboard is a major problem. It’s certainly the worst we’ve ever tried on a Android smartphone with a capacitive screen. To be clear, the blame lies entirely at the door of the Dell developers who created the skin, as the screen is epic, responsive and eerily scratch resistant. But the keyboard has tiny keys, a baffling number pad on the right hand side crushing things up, and auto correction turned off by default. It’s hard to see how Dell didn’t notice these issues during the Streak’s extensive gestation.
You could download Better Keyboard from the Android Market, but it’s a paid for app, and while it removes a lot of headaches, the trade off is you’ll have to wait a few seconds for the keyboard to appear – we tested it out on the Dell Streak, and it’s far from instant, crashed now and again, and mucked up voice transcription. That it’s still the sensible thing to install speaks volumes.
Still, if you don’t yearn for the simplicity of an iPhone, can cope with Android 1.6’s feature set and the odd pause while you summon the keyboard, you’ll adore the Dell Streak. What you’re left with is a solid Android device, with an epic screen and new form factor that a small band of open source and spec fans will go absolutely gaga for – and make much, much better.