March 6, 2013

DELL STREAK REVIEW


"Bada hai toh behtar hai" (i.e. Bigger is better) was the iconic tag line used in several marketing campaigns of products. When the iPhone came out, a 3.5-inch screen seemed large enough to read stuff clearly, without making the phone awkwardly big and un-pocketable. Then the army of Android phones arrived with specifications that tried to outmatch not only the iPhone, but other phones from their own clan too.

Following the aforesaid mantra, screen sizes on touch-phones increased to 3.7 inches, 4 inches and even 4.3 inches (Note that I am not following chronology here). Then came tablets like the iPad with a Netbook-like 10-inch screen size, only to be followed by a slew of Android based tabs with a screen size of 7 inches.

That's when people at Dell must've thought -- hmm, nobody has really capitalized on the 5-inch space uptil now. So, they decided to release the Dell Streak - an Android-powered 'device' with a 5-inch touchscreen. I use the word 'device' simply because Dell themselves haven't really figured out what to call it (check their website. 

dell streak


The Dell Streak tries to streamline the use-cases of a smartphone and tablet into one device. So, does it really accomplish in bringing together the best of both worlds? Let's find out.



Design and Build

If you're calling the Dell Streak a mobile phone, then it is a HUGE one -- the biggest one I've ever used. The only reason I could carry this phone around in my pocket is because of its 10mm thin frame. But otherwise, in every other aspect, this thing is too big to be a phone. It took some time to get over the ridicule I felt when I pulled it out in front of people. Holding the phone to the ear for more than 10 minutes strained my hand, as my palm stretched to get a good hold on the phone. 

dell streak


Otherwise, it's a decent looking device with its highly-reflective, jet-black shaded front face. The build quality is fairly sturdy, especially Corning's Gorilla Glass used to protect the screen. We tried rubbing a pointed object but the screen didn't give in, the screen remained scratchless as before. The 5-inch screen is a typical LCD panel with an 800 x 480 pixel resolution that's commonly seen on Androids with displays an inch smaller. Thus app incompatibility due to a non-standard resolution (like the 1024 x 600 pixel one on the Galaxy Tab) is not going to be an issue.

Although the image portrayed on the screen isn't as 'exciting' as say a Super AMOLED, the clarity is pretty good. The touch sensitivity was good in most cases.

But a snag, we can't say whether it was software or hardware, would sometimes not register our sliding finger gesture to accept a call or unlock the screen. The brightness too is adequate. However, one problem we had was when the brightness setting was put on 'automatic', it would take a good five seconds for the screen brightness to change according to the change in ambient lighting. For example, if you walk into bright sunlight, you can't see what's on the screen for the first few seconds.

The obvious advantage of the bigger screen is more viewable area, and if you ignore the pocketability of this device, it is good. Applications like Gmail, the Web browser or even Google Maps appear nicer in the bigger screen area. Watching videos too was a pleasant affair, as the screen size is comparable to some of the PMPs. Above the screen is a comparatively tiny ear-piece opening, which sometimes made me realign the phone's position to make it in line with my ear, so that I could hear people clearly. Next to it is a front-facing video-call camera, a rarity in most Android phones sold today. The quality appeared pretty grainy in the camera application, and unlike the Galaxy S, there's no provision to make regular video-calls to other phones on a 3G network (Android 2.2 does not support video-calling by default).

So, we're guessing other than clicking self-portraits, the front-cam can be used by third party apps like Fring for video-calls to other Fring users. Below the screen you've got the home, menu and back key that have to be tapped a little more firmly; they won't respond to the lightest of your touch. Also, Dell is not the first to omit the search key from this group, but holding down the menu key doesn't bring up the search box in all applications, something thoughtfully added in Samsung's Android devices.

To the right, is the 3.5mm earphone jack (we like it placed either to the top or bottom), volume controls, power button and camera shutter key. The power button is too recessed into the body, so it's not easy to just feel the button and click without looking at it. And that's bad, as you'll end up using the power button often to get the phone out of standby. To the left, we have a proprietary connector for USB and charging that looks a little too similar to Apple's typical 30-pin connector. Since there's no standardized microUSB port, borrowing one from someone to charge/sync your phone isn't going to work; you'll have to carry your own. 

dell streak side

User Interface

When released, the Dell Streak originally ran the now-relic Android 1.6. Fortunately, by the time it came to the labs, Dell had leaped two versions ahead to Android 2.2 for this device. Like every manufacturer, Dell too customized the default Android UI to add their bit of uniqueness to the device -- and it's called the Stage UI. What you get is seven homescreens that can be quickly navigated across by simply sliding your finger at the bottom of the screen.

They also have a couple of their own widgets, like one that shows weather and recently opened apps. A contacts widget automatically populates the names of people who you talk to the most. The Twitter and Facebook are true to their definition of a widget, as they simply show you your feed and do nothing else, unlike HTC's Peep -- which is actually a Twitter client as well. Not to fret though, official Facebook and Twitter as well as many thrid party ones are available at the app-store. But Dell could have done a better job -- for example, when you click any widget on the tweet, it simply takes you to the user's profile in the Twitter app, instead of bringing up a re-tweet or reply window. The application menu is easily accessible by simply swiping the screen bottom-upwards.

Text input is done via either the stock Android keyboard or Swype. Using the latter method was easy as you have more area to slide your fingers across those characters. But the bigger screen offered a well-sized on-screen QWERTY board, and I enjoyed the regular way of tapping those virtual keys too. Along with the regular bunch of Android apps, Dell has included a few apps like Backup & Restore that lets you snapshot your contacts, call logs, SMSs, browser bookmarks, even system settings and words you added to the keyboard dictionary, to the memory card.

Other than this, the Streak is no different in terms of software to say, a Nexus One running Android 2.2. For a phone that boasts a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, the Streak felt laggy at times, especially with the sliding animations. Other than these, the phone behaved fairly smooth.

GPS latched on in seconds after turning on Google Maps.

Performance

As a phone, other than the hurting hands if you hold it for long, it performs OK. The call clarity was decent, network reception can be deemed as average, as sometimes it would take a long time to get range once you're out of a no-connectivity zone. The speaker-phone is quite loud to hear not just phone-calls but music as well; although listening to music on full-volume distorts the output.

The Streak has a 5 megapixel auto-focusing sensor on its back. I'd deem the overall quality as being above average, as the clarity was simply run-of-the-mill and not as good as some of the other camera shooters we've seen. Plus, there was a slight misrepresentation of colors in certain images; there being an erroneous red coloration to some of the objects. The LED Flash is bright enough to improve visibility of close objects captured in the dark. Video recording, despite capturing at a high 720p HD resolution, weren't pleasing because of the slightly choppy framerate. Not just that, recording those hi-def videos takes up quite an amount of space -- one second roughly took as much as one megabyte.

The bundled in-earphones are average in sound quality. Swapping to a better sounding pair did make an improvement though, suggesting that its the earphones at fault, not the phone.

The Streak is powered by a 1540 mAh Lithium-ion battery. The battery life of this device on active usage of all its features is unsatisfactory -- it lasted just half a day on many occasions. Light use will probably get this phone through for a day at least, hopefully. 



Price and Verdict 
dell streak side


The Dell Streak sells for Rs. 33,250. At that price, we think it fails for many a reasons. First, it is too big to be a phone. The extra inch of screen size may seem lucrative to some, but I'd say that the trade-off of the huge footprint isn't worth it.

If you take the screen away, there's nothing too striking about the Streak to point out. In fact, it is no different in terms of hardware from an HTC Desire, which is currently sold for a good Rs. 10,000 less. And its not like we feel that the 3.7-inches on the Desire is a small screen size.

If you were to use the Streak like a tablet, in that case you could rather get a 7-inch Galaxy Tab that has a higher resolution and bigger battery backup for Rs. 29,000. Then there's always the first iPad that officially launched in India, with the 3G + Wi-fi 16GB model costing Rs. 35,000.

The Streak greatly disproves the phrase 'bigger is better' -- in some cases, it just isn't. It's just a case of mistaken identity.

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