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Dell Streak: A little tablet that wouldn’t

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The Dell 5‚ Streak is not quite sure if it wants to be called a tablet or a smartphone. SEAN BACHER puts it through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test and finds that it is neither.

When you first see the Dell 5‚ Streak tablet, you’ll probably immediately ask yourself: ‚Is it a phone or is it a tablet?‚ As the name suggests, the Streak uses a 5‚ screen, one of the smallest you would find on a tablet anywhere. It also has a microphone and speaker which, when coupled with the virtual dial-pad, turns it into a cell phone.

So which is it? A miniature tablet, or an oversized cell phone?

We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test in an attempt to find out.

1. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)

Holding the Dell Streak in one hand is a pleasure. Its small form factor means that you can comfortably wrap a hand around it, both in landscape and portrait mode, while tapping the keys with the other hand. In fact, when in portrait mode the device can be operated with just one hand ‚ your thumb operating the device while it is cradled in your palm.

Thanks to the 5‚ screen, the Streak will fit in most suit pockets and handbags. It’s a great size to whip out while on the move and type on the go.

Unfortunately, the small screen size does come at a cost. The buttons are far too small and too close together for accurate typing at speed. Often, you will find yourself hitting the Enter button instead of Backspace, as the buttons are practically on top of each other.

Even though the Dell is very comfortable to hold, its small screen makes many simple tasks infuriatingly difficult.

Score: 5/10.

2. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

Under the hood lurks a SnapDragon processor running at 1Ghz, but only 512Mb of RAM. Although the processor has the same power as many of the other tablets we have tested, the RAM is half the norm ‚ and it shows.

There is a continual lag when swiping from screen to screen (the Streak offers seven Home screens) and an even longer delay when switching the device from portrait to landscape mode or vice-versa. It is instantaneous on most other tablets.

The lack of RAM also showed itself in the Angry Birds test. Although the game launched perfectly, when catapulting the birds through the air there is a slight freeze during flight ‚ making it look very unnatural. There was also a problem running Lane Splitter, which tests the accuracy of the accelerometers. The Dell only uses a three-way accelerometer, which enables it to switch from portrait to landscape. Other tablets use a four-way accelerometer, ultimately allowing the screen to appear the correct way up no matter in which position the device is held The lack of a four-way accelerometer meant that Lane Splitter cannot work, as the bike cannot be manoeuvred left and right through the traffic.

The Dell Streak runs Android 2.2, which is a fairly old Android operating system but does the job okay on most 7‚ tablets. On the Streak it falls down. Often, the device puts itself into sleep mode and then freeze. The only way to reset it is to disconnect the battery.

The Streak also does not reset to the factory settings using the ‚Restore Factory Settings‚ option under the Privacy tab of the settings menu. I ended up having to hard reset the device through a complex string of button presses.

Overall, the Dell disappointed a great deal in this department.

Score: 4/10

3. The tablet gender test (Can it multi-task? Hint: males can’t.)

Multitasking is not a problem for the Dell Streak. It handled application after application without a problem. Most apps did not show signs of slowing down once there were a few dozen apps open on the Streak.

Switching from app to app was pretty seamless too. The Home button needs to be held down to switch from app to app. However, there is no way to easily quit an application unless you manually go to it and exit from its menu. You can, however, kill any applications using the Manage Application option under the Android settings menu.

Although the Dell can multitask, it offers no additional features that make the task more elegant or easier to perform.

Score: 6/10

4. Testing by the book (Can it replace novels and textbooks?)

The Dell Streak includes Amazon’s Kindle e-reader software ‚ exactly the same one that can be downloaded from the Android Market. It is a stock standard reader with no special features (such reading the book aloud to you).

Dell also include the Zinio reader app that lets you download and read magazines, newspapers and novels from a variety of its partners. It’s a very basic reader, which does not enhance your reading experience.

Score: 5/10

5. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

According to Dell, the 1530 mAh Li-Ion battery included with the Streak is supposed to last up to 400 hours in standby time, and give you 9 hours of talk time.

At a push, the battery lasted for a full workday. That is when using the device to compose a few e-mails and Tweets, check on Facebook every now and then and make and receive a few telephone calls.

The device doesn’t give you much warning time when its running out of juice, as you have just a few minutes to find the charger and plug the device in before it dies altogether.

The Dell Streak presents another astonishing problem when it is charging: there is no indicator light to let you know what it is doing. When you plug it in, the screen lights up with a battery showing it is charging, which then switches off. Once it is off, there is no red light to indicate it is charging or even when it is fully charged.

Score: 5/10

6. It’s all about You(Tube) (How well does it handle online video sites?)

The Dell Streak has the obligatory YouTube app pre-installed on it, which lets you browse for videos without first accessing the site. As with all Android devices, this one also supports Flash. However, you first need to download and install the Adobe Flash player before you can view any sites using Flash.

Even though the 5MP camera lets you record a video, there is no dedicated video player pre-installed that lets you browse and watch videos on the device. Both your photos and video are displayed in the same view, with the videos having a play button on them to indicate that they are in fact videos and not pictures.

Dell needs to re-look the way the Streak handles video. The device is capable of it when it comes to hardware, sporting 16GB of internal memory, upgradeable to 32GB via microSD. They cannot blame this shortcoming on the lack of software either, as there are hundreds of video players on the market, some free and some for a small price, that will handle the videos far better than Dell’s proprietary software.

Score: 4/10

7. The retro test (Can it replace your radio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)

TuneIn Radio comes preinstalled on the device. Launch it, choose the broadcast you want to stream from and you are set.

A music player on the device lets you create playlists and manage your songs and albums. It works much like any other music player out there and doesn’t offer anything extra.

The Streak features one speaker ‚ and a rather cheap one at that. Sound produced by the speaker is very thin, with no good bass coming through to provide a bit of oomph.

The Dell includes the obligatory headphone jack and offers Bluetooth connectivity.

Score: 6/10

8. On target (Is the on/off switch easy to find and use in the dark?)

The Power button is located on the right of the unit. It protrudes quite a bit so running your fingers around the edges will reveal it easily enough. Only problem, though, is that Dell has installed the Camera button right next to the Power button ‚ and it’s exactly the same size.

Things are further complicated by the Volume control buttons. There are four physical buttons on the device and Dell has included all four buttons on the same side. The device has three other sides on which buttons could have been placed. This would have made things much easier when operating the device ‚blind‚ .

Score: 5/10

9. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons ‚ hardware and software?)

Three hard buttons light up when the device is switched on: a Home button that takes you to the home screen if tapped, or brings up a list of open applications if held down; a Menu button that brings up various menu options, dictated by the application you are using; and a Back button.

These are located on the bezel just below the screen when in portrait mode. A great advantage is that they don’t take up any of the active screen’s real estate. And they are always in the same place, regardless of which application you are running.

However, a virtual drop-down screen that shows you new notifications such as new tweets or e-mails is a huge disappointment. Many other devices include the ability to make minor adjustments to the device, such as muting the volume or turning down the screen brightness to save battery power. The Dell offers none of this. You simply get your most recent e-mails, tweets and progress on your most recent downloads. Minor or major settings need to be made by first accessing the Settings option from the home screen.

Score: 5/10

10. The iPrice Test (Is it competitively priced? And we all know which device we’re comparing.)

At a recommended retail price of R6 999 at the time of launch in March 2011 in South Africa, Dell has well out-priced itself. The most basic iPad starts at R4 499, and with the R2 000 saving you can get yourself a decent smartphone. Which this is not.nn

Score: 3/10

The bottom line

Dell’s idea of trying to bridge the gap between a tablet and a smartphone is an utter failure with the Streak 5‚. The device fails to impress in all departments and, on top of that, is more expensive than most other tablets available.

Not only does it fail as a tablet, but it also fails as a phone ‚ purely because of it size and shoddy battery life. People want to carry a smartphone around that is small, compact and light. The Streak is none of these.

Rumour has it that Dell will soon be announcing 7‚ and 10‚ variants of the Streak. It is hoped they will have noted the major flaws in the Streak 5‚ .

Overall score: 48/100 (the lowest scoring tablet)

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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