The Dell Streak 5 Revisited – Return of the Phablet

The Dell Streak 5 was released in June 2010. Here was a device that aimed to sit in both the tablet and the cell ‘phone camps, offering a blend of high performance and (at the time) an outrageous 5″ screen. The Streak was available with either 16 GB or 32 GB of memory, which could easily be changed by replacing an accessible MicroSD card. It has a 5 Mpixel rear camera with a dual LED flash, Bluetooth plus 3G. It was originally released running Android 1.6 but was upgraded first to 2.1 and then to 2.2, which is where my carrier stopped updating. It’s reported that some Dell Streak handsets were officially updated to Android 2.3.

I should put Dell’s Streak 5 into context because it was the first Android device to capture my imagination. It showed the potential of Android to be more than just for relatively small screen smartphones. Here was a device that I could use to connect with a wireless keyboard with enough space to easily edit documents, but later on use it to handle calls and text messages.

A large handset or a small tabletThe Streak’s metal chassis is surprisingly thin but necessarily large to accommodate that 5.0″ LCD, but this means the Streak is a good choice for Web browsing or viewing documents. The battery capacity is small by modern standards, at 1,530 mAh, but the Dell has solid battery life despite the huge screen. I do give it a black mark for using an own design 30-pin charger block so you can’t use your existing MicroUSB cables with the Streak. Dell say that the reason for their own design is because it needs HDMI output, which is shared amongst their complete range of tablets. I’d still it rather used the standard MicroUSB.

Let’s see how the device shapes up almost three years after it was released, especially seeing as Samsung rebooted the phablet idea in late 2011 with the Galaxy Note. By way of background and unfortunately for Dell, the Streak 5 (also known as the Streak Mini 5) was not a runaway success. Part of the reason is that the device is set up more for landscape rather than portrait mode: it was sold as a tablet that could make calls, rather than a large screen cell ‘phone. Dell appear to have recognized this as later software builds work much better in portrait mode.

First, I will write a little bit more about the Streak’s design. As I’ve written, it’s a metal slab, dominated by the large screen and with capacitive buttons along the bottom or the right hand side (if you hold it in landscape mode). You’ll find the forward facing camera at the top on the left hand side of the screen and turning it over, there’s the 5 Mpixel camera plus dual LED flash units. The battery door is metal. You slide it along to unhook it, then it comes off revealing the SIM, MicroSD slot and battery. The Streak is just 10mm thick and it’s quite a bit larger than the 5.0″ screen (it’s very close to the size of the Galaxy Note II, which has a 5.5″ screen). I find it too big to use the keyboard with one hand as the keys on the opposite site to my hand are quite the stretch away.

IMAG0202_BURST002-1Under the skin, the Streak uses the same 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor as you’ll find inside the HTC Desire, another 2010 vintage handset. This is backed up by 512 MB of RAM and 2 GB of app storage space. The WiFi, Bluetooth and modem are all from 2010 so the Streak is slower, less capable and efficient compared with modern smartphones. The biggest difference here is that the older Bluetooth standards use noticeably more power than later versions. The screen is a 480 by 800 pixel LCD and is nothing special in terms of color and brightness, but it’s reasonably responsive and power efficient.

When it comes to the software, Dell have given the Streak what is called Stage UI. It is quite close to vanilla Android and it’s relatively fast and fluid. You also get a few extra features, including some dedicated Stage widgets, the Swype keyboard, an onboard backup and restore application plus a HID (Human Interface Device) Bluetooth driver, so the Streak will work with your choice of compatible Bluetooth wireless keyboards . The Streak also has plenty of memory for third party applications and although Android 2.2 is now obsolete, the device is capable of running most of today’s applications, which includes Google Play Music (this is only compatible with a limited number of devices running Android 2.2).

This brings me to how useful the device is from a productivity perspective. The Streak handles email, personal information management, Dropbox and documents well. It’s easier to view and edit documents on the Streak compared with the much newer HTC Desire C for example. It isn’t all roses, though, as the Streak cannot run Google Chrome and so the standard browser cannot synchronize bookmarks, usernames and passwords between desktop and mobile. Also, whilst the handset runs a relatively clean version of Android on what was a powerful device, it is noticeably slower in use than the current high end devices. Launching applications is smooth but takes a moment and sometimes the device hesitates. It is noticeably less smooth when multitasking, which is exactly what I would expect with a single core processor. Overall, the Streak is not a slow handset and I am mindful that I am used to much quicker Android devices.

It’s important to not forget that the Streak is also a cell ‘phone. It’s surprisingly capable at handling calls either when held up to your face or in speakerphone mode, in lacks a secondary microphone but audio quality is respectable.

Putting it together, if you look past the dated look and feel of the software, the Streak still makes a creditable device for productivity purposes if the user is comfortable with the large physical size. As I’ve already mentioned, I find the device a little bit too big to comfortably use with one hand, so tapping out an email or editing a document requires both hands. I don’t find this to be too big a disadvantage: if you are on a tight budget and you are wanting a large device for ease of use, working with documents or web browsing, you could do a lot worse than a second hand Streak.

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