With the Galaxy Tab, Samsung proved that there's a sizable market for 7-inch Android tablets. Now, Dell, which released the 5-inch Streak back in June, is getting into the 7-inch Android game. The Dell Streak 7 is the first tablet to ride on T-Mobile's high-speed 4G HSPA+ network and promises a slew of goodies, including a Tegra 2 CPU and free Wi-Fi tethering. This slate is even $50 cheaper than the Galaxy Tab, costing $199 with a two-year contract and $449 without. But how does Dell's device stack up to the competition?
The Streak 7 is a pretty straightforward slab. The glossy black front panel slopes downward on the left and right sides to improve gripability. The sides and back are made of a dark charcoal plastic, with the back carrying a subtle diamond pattern emblazoned with a silver Dell logo.
At 7.9 x 4.7 x 0.5 inches and weighing 1 pound, the Streak 7 is a little larger and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab ( 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.5 inches, 13.4 ounces) and the Viewsonic ViewPad 7 (7.1 x 4.3 x 0.45 inches, 13.2 ounces). The slate felt light but solid in our hands and didn't creak when we pressed on it, as some cheaper tablets do.
Like the original 5-inch Dell Streak, the chassis was designed with landscape-oriented use in mind. Unlike the Galaxy Tab, the front-facing webcam is on top when the tablet is in landscape mode. A volume rocker and the power button sit at the top of the chassis. On the left side are a speaker and 3.5-inch headphone jack. A full-size SD Card slot and a SIM card slot sit underneath a flip-out door on the right of the unit.
Like many tablets today--including the Samsung Galaxy Tab--the Dell Streak 7 uses a proprietary docking port to charge or connect to your PC. The device comes with a single docking-port-to-USB wire and a USB AC adapter for charging. Unfortunately, though you can copy files to or from its internal memory, you cannot charge the Streak by connecting it via USB; it can only get power from the wall.
The 7-inch 800 x 480 glossy screen has strong viewing angles both from extreme left-right and titled positions. However, the glossy surface, which is made of durable Corning Gorilla Glass, is a fingerprint magnet and shows lots of imprints when held up to a light source. Colors look true, but are not nearly as vivid as those produced by the Galaxy Tab.
Unfortunately, the 800 x 480-pixel screen resolution is a huge disadvantage for the Streak 7, particularly when compared to the Galaxy Tab's 1024 x 600 display. When you consider that most Android phones have the same resolution, the Streak 7 lacks one of the most important benefits slates have over handsets. This paltry amount of screen real estate effectively prevents the Streak 7 from having dual-paneled apps such as the Galaxy Tab's Calendar, or from showing most web pages at full width without zooming out.
Also, because it fits fewer pixels into its 7-inch panel, each dot is larger. Graphics in games such as Angry Birds and Asphalt looked much less sharp than they did on the Galaxy Tab.
Like all but the cheapest tablets, the Dell Streak 7 uses a capacitive digitizer that supports multitouch gestures. In our testing, the device was responsive to our taps and pinch-to-zoom was extremely smooth in all applications, particularly the browser.
The Streak 7's 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU insures that it can play any kind of video you throw at it. In our tests, downloaded videos, including a 1080p Quicktime trailer of Iron Man 2 and a 1080p WMV file of Coral Reef Adventure, were completely smooth and sharp. However, the Streak 7 does not come with a pre-loaded video app, so in order to play Quicktime and WMV files, we had to install third-party applications such as Act 1 or Vplayer. However, the Streak was able to natively play 720p videos we recorded with its built-in camera.
We were particularly impressed with the Streak 7's ability to play online Flash videos. When we were connected to T-Mobile's 4G network, we streamed both a 720p clip of Glee from Fox.com and a Flash Green Hornet trailer from Sony.com. Amazingly, both videos started almost immediately and streamed smoothly, though we noticed a little blockiness in the picture.
For a 7-inch slate, the Streak offers really strong audio playback. When we tried playing both the bass-heavy R&B tune "Forget Me Nots" and the guitar-dominated "Back in Black," sound was clear if not overly rich. At maximum volume, the music was quieter than most netbooks we've tested, though loud enough to fill our small living room.
Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and many other devices, the Dell Streak 7 comes with the Swype keyboard pre-installed; this lets you draw a continuous line between letters to form a word. If you don't like drawing lines or find it difficult to pick up, you can just tap the individual letters as normal. However, if you start tapping too quickly, Swype will think you are drawing a line and start connecting the keys.
On most tablets and phones, users who don't like Swype can disable the software in the settings menu and get a standard Android keyboard instead. Unfortunately, we were unable to turn Swype off until we installed Better Keyboard (a third-party app).
Overall, we were able to type effectively with one or two fingers. Because the keys are so large in landscape mode, we only rarely hit the wrong letter. A blue glow appears around each key as you hit it, which lets you know your tap was registered. The Dell Streak 7 also has haptic feedback, which gives you a small vibration when you hit each key. You can turn this feature off in the settings menu, but we found that having it on made it even easier to tell that we'd hit the right key.
The Streak 7 runs Android 2.2 with some nice custom widgets on its seven desktop screens. Known as Dell Stage Widgets, these include a Contacts, E-mail, Gallery, Music, Social Media, and Web Bookmarks.
By default, the middle home screen has the Home widget, which shows your nine most recently opened apps and a local weather report. The first screen to the left contains the social media widget that shows the latest Facebook or Twitter updates from your friends. Keep going left and you'll find the music widget that displays shortcuts to albums and songs you've stored locally. One more swipe left brings you to a widget with buttons that allow you to quickly turn on or off the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, automatic brightness, GPS, and background data.
The first desktop to the right of center houses the Web widget, which contains a search box, shortcuts to five of your web bookmarks, and a button that takes you to your bookmarks menu. Two desktops to the right sits the e-mail widget, which shows the four most recent messages from your inbox and also has a compose button that opens a new e-mail message. Unfortunately, for an Android device, the e-mail widget only works with POP, Exchange, or IMAP mail, and not natively with Gmail accounts. You can configure Gmail with this client, but to us it's not worth the trouble.
The third desktop to the right is blank by default.
As with all Android widgets, you can remove any Dell Stage widget by tapping and holding it and then dragging it in the garbage can which appears on-screen. If you have empty desktop space, you can also add any Dell Stage widget by tapping and holding on the desktop and then selecting the widget of your choice.
At the bottom of the desktop are typical Android 2.2 shortcuts for E-mail (which goes to the POP e-mail client), apps menu, and Web browser. If you tap and hold the bottom of the screen, icons representing all seven desktop screens appear in place of the three shortcuts. Any of the desktops that have Dell Stage widgets are represented by an icon for that widget (ex: a CD icon for the desktop with the music widget) while desktops that don't have Dell Stage widgets are simply represented by an Android icon. Tapping any of these icons will take you to its desktop.
In addition to the Dell Stage software, Dell and T-Mobile bundle the Streak 7 with a handful of kid-friendly apps. Zoodles offers a series of games for very young children, and it allows you to lock device into kid mode. In other words, children cannot hit the home button and get to the menus and other apps.
Brainpop is a shortcut that takes you to a special T-Mobile branded area of Brainpop.com, a site that has lots of fun educational animations and other tools for kids. For example, we tapped on the Harlem Renaissance icon under the Arts & Music category and were treated to a fun cartoon about that historical period. However, to get all the content on Brainpop even with T-Mobile, you need to subscribe, with family subscription plans starting at $7.95 a month.
Trial apps of Asphalt 5, an attractive racing game, and Let's Golf come pre-loaded and offer a fun experience, even if you don't buy the full versions. However, we noticed that images of our car and the road in Asphalt 5 were not as sharp as on the higher-resolution Samsung Galaxy Tab.
T-Mobile TV, Blockbuster, and Other Media Services
Dell and T-Mobile also bundle the Streak with a number of non-exclusive pre-loaded apps to help you buy or rent multimedia content: The Blockbuster app provides on-demand video rentals; Amazon Kindle for Android lets you buy and read eBooks; Zinio Reader lets you preview magazines and subscribe to or buy individual issues in digital format. At review time, we saw only 11 titles available for purchase and most of them were either obscure (ex: Metro Home & Entertaining) or not in English (ex: GQ Russia). Each magazine issue had a couple of sample pages visible and these looked like nothing more than scans of print pages, with no interactive elements.
T-Mobile TV provides on-demand streams of certain shows and live streams of a few channels, but unfortunately content is extremely limited and, after a 30-day trial, the Entertainment Pack costs $9.99 a month. For that price, you get to watch live streams of a handful of channels, including Fox Business, Fox News, Saturday Morning Cartoons, the Weather Channel, and a few music video channels. You also get on-demand episodes of some shows from the A&E, History Channel, the Learning Channel, and a few others. T-Mobile says it has other premium packages available with more content, but the only one listed on our Streak was a channel called Crackle Movies that had mostly older titles for an additional $5.95 per month.
Like most other 3G/4G devices these days, the Dell Streak 7 has built-in GPS. It also features Google Maps to help you look around your location and Google Navigation to give you driving or walking directions. While the GPS detector couldn't detect our location indoors, it pinpointed us precisely once we stepped outside. From there we were able to get accurate directions from home to work in midtown Manhattan.
E-mail and Messaging
On the Streak 7, Dell uses the stock Android 2.2 Gmail and e-mail apps, though only the e-mail app shows its messages in the Dell Stage mail widget. As with other Android devices, the Gmail application accesses your Gmail or Google Apps accounts, and the e-mail client is for your POP, IMAP, or Exchange mail. The only real differentiator here is the Dell Stage mail widget, which shows the five most recent e-mail messages on one of your desktops. Considering that Samsung bundles the Galaxy Tab with an attractive dual-paned e-mail client that supports Gmail along with POP, IMAP, and Exchange accounts, Dell is at a distinct disadvantage here.
With either of its post-paid plans, T-Mobile includes unlimited text messaging. You can send all those SMS messages via the standard Android text messaging app on the Streak 7.
T-Mobile pre-loads a copy of Qik that lets you make video calls both over 4G and Wi-Fi. When we called another Qik user and both of us were connected via T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network, images were blocky and the video and sound frequently froze, making a conversation difficult, if not impossible. When one of us was using Wi-Fi and the other was using 4G, we were able to have a full conversation, although the picture was blocky and the video was jerky. When both users were on Wi-Fi, the picture quality improved slightly, but was still awful.
The Streak 7 uses Android 2.2's stock web browser without the UI enhancements we saw on the Galaxy Tab's browser, such as a light blue toolbar. Despite Streak 7's low-res 800 x 480 screen, the browser displayed even 1000-pixel wide web pages such as Laptopmag.com at their full width, due to its automatic zooming feature. Still, there's no doubt that text and images on these wider websites look much sharper on the Galaxy Tab's 1024 x 600 screen.
With its 4G HSPA+ connectivity, the Streak 7 offers faster uploads and downloads than previous tablets we've tested. In our New York City apartment, the Streak 7 provided an average download speed of 1.62 Mbps (high of 1.9 Mbps) and an upload speed of 1.11 Mbps as measured by Speedtest.net. Those numbers compare favorably to both the 3G T-Mobile Galaxy Tab (1.31/1.02) but the download speed falls a bit short of the 3G Verizon Galaxy Tab (2.2/0.58 Mbps).
Four websites--CNN, ESPN, Laptopmag.com, and NYTimes--downloaded in a reasonable but unimpressive average of 12 seconds.
For no added cost, you can tether five devices wirelessly to the Dell Streak via Wi-Fi. In our New York apartment, a Lenovo ThinkPad X301 tethered to the Streak 7 averaged 1.7 Mbps down and 1.06 Mbps up on Speedtest.net. The notebook downloaded full desktop versions of the four websites in a modest average of 21.3 seconds.
In addition to the front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chats, the Streak 7 has a rear-facing 5-MP camera for capturing stills or shooting videos. Though our location was covered in shadow, stills of a Manhattan street came out dark and colors of bright objects also seemed muted.
The 720p video we shot of cars rolling down the street showed inconsistent exposure, as the picture changed from light to dark and back to light again several times within the course of 30 seconds, sometimes having a slight purplish tint. However, objects in the video were sharp and motion was smooth.
With a powerful, dual-core, 1-GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor inside, the Dell Streak 7 had enough muscle to ace every test we threw at it. From gaming to playing HD videos to simply switching between apps, the tablet handled everything with great speed and absolutely no lag.
On synthetic benchmarks, the Dell Streak kicked butt. In Linpack for Android, the Streak 7 scored a whopping 36.92--way better than the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Tab (13.99), the Viewsonic ViewPad 7 (7.5), and the Android tablet average of 17.4. However, the Viewsonic G Tablet, which has the same Tegra 2 CPU, scored a similar 36.14. On An3DBench, the Streak 7 scored 7,644, the best we've seen from a tablet yet and stronger than the 7075 turned in by the Galaxy Tab, the 6,306 offered by the Viewsonic G Tablet, and the 6,092 Android tablet average.
The Dell Streak 7's battery life is its biggest weakness. With 4G mobile broadband enabled, the Streak 7 lasted just 3 hours and 48 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing. When we disabled mobile broadband and switched to Wi-Fi, the endurance increased to a still-poor 4:13. Both times fall well short of the tablet category average of 6:19 and provide less than half the endurance of the 8:30 the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Tab lasted on 3G or the 9 plus hours it lasted over Wi-Fi.
Considering that the LAPTOP Battery test just involves web surfing at 40-percent brightness, watching movies or playing games on this tablet continuously would zap the endurance even more quickly. Even consumers who plan on using this slate mostly at home will likely be frustrated by its short runtime.
Plans and Value
The Dell Streak 7 is available from T-Mobile for $199 with a two-year contract and $449 without a contract. Those prices compare favorably to the $249/$599 cost of the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Tab, though the $599 non-contract price of the Tab is rumored to be dropping down to a more reasonable $499. That would leave a $50 price delta between Samsung's slate and the Streak.
With the contract, you can choose between 200MB and a 5GB plans. According to Dell, new T-Mobile customers will pay $49.99 per month for the 5GB plan, while existing customers get the same bandwidth for only $39.99. The 200MB plan, which we don't recommend because it's far too little, costs $29.99 per month for new customers or $24.99 for existing customers, with a $0.10 per MB overage fee once you pass the 200MB cap. Both plans come with mobile hotspot service and unlimited SMS messaging.
Despite its speedy processor and competitive pricing, the Streak 7 is one Android tablet we simply can't recommend. Because of its unacceptably short battery life, this slate is far less portable than even the weakest smart phone and has less than half the endurance of its chief rival. Currently, the Samsung Galaxy Tab offers the most important features that the Streak lacks: all-day battery life, a 1024 x 600 display that makes the most of its 7-inch size, and compelling custom apps with dual-pane views. While an upgrade to Android 3.0 could help the Streak 7, it probably won't last long enough on a charge for you to enjoy it. We say get the Galaxy Tab (or its successor) or wait for the LG G-Slate or Motorola Xoom.
To get a closer look at the Dell Streak 7, check out our two-part video review below. The first video explores the Streak's 7 hardware while part dives into the software.