How the Dell Streak Tablets Work

The Dell Streak 7 tablet, outfitted with Android 2.2 (Froyo).
Image courtesy of Dell Inc.

It is almost impossible to have a conversation about mobile computing that doesn't mention tablets. Lighter than a laptop, more powerful than a smartphone, these touchscreen-interface devices have quickly become the darlings of the compute-on-the-move crowd, thanks in no small part to the growing number of devices on the market.

Tablets fill a sort of middle role in the computing world. Some users may look to them as lightweight, long-running replacements for the laptops they once used to surf the Web, take notes in meetings and read ebooks and online documents. Others may see them as a more user-friendly way to check e-mail, watch videos and peruse social media sites than small-screened smartphones. Because of these different user purposes, manufacturers are producing tablets in a range of sizes and offering a variety of features.

Dell aimed more toward the smartphone-replacement side of the tablet market when it released the Streak 5 in November 2010. Reviewers commented about the device's 5-inch (12.7-centimeter) screen size, frequently asking if the device would be more fittingly called a smartphone rather than a tablet [source: King, Lai]. Marketing and publicity snags surrounding the launch disappointed some tech industry commentators, with some articles focusing less on the product itself than on Dell's apparent problems releasing it [source: Newman].

The Streak 5 was joined -- and eventually replaced -- by the Streak 7 in March 2011. The Streak 7, which sports a larger, 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) screen and the Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system preinstalled [Streak 5s could be upgraded to 2.2 from 1.6 (Donut)], is the largest Streak available in the U.S. as of August 2011. A 10-inch version of the tablet went on sale in China in July 2011, but no release date has been announced for the U.S. [source: Crothers].

Where do the Streak tablets fit into the mobile computing marketplace? They offer many of the features associated with other tablets: touchscreen interfaces, audio and video computing power and easy mobile online access. But their size -- especially the smaller Streak 5 -- seems to set them apart from the typical 10-inch (25.4-centimeter) screen tablet devices, such as the iPad. If you're in the market for a mobile device, read on; the Streak's features may be just what you're looking for, or they may steer you toward a different device.

Dell Streak Tablet Specs

The mobile device market is full of smartphones, tablets and netbooks, all aimed at satisfying various consumers' ideal blends of computing power and mobility. Because innovations such as 3G and 4G connectivity -- as well as widely available WiFi access -- are only a few years old, some device design trends include a heavy dose of experimentation. Manufacturers are still figuring out what consumers want, and their offerings reflect this.

Dell isn't immune. The company offers a range of unique devices, such as the Inspiron Duo, a laptop/tablet that uses a pivoting screen to switch between keyboard and touchpad interfaces. One could argue that, given their size, the Streaks fall into the "experimental" category as well: If consumers can have small, high-resolution screens on their smartphones and large touchscreens on their tablets, will they go for a compact tablet? Dell apparently thinks so.

Dell's Streak 7 tablet comes in two versions: a less-expensive model that offers WiFi-only connectivity, and a higher-end version that lets users communicate and surf the Web using the 4G cellular network. The increased versatility and accessibility of 4G will likely win over highly mobile buyers, while cost-conscious consumers may be willing to trade connect-everywhere mobility for a lower price.

Both versions of the device offer the same internal features: An NVIDIA Tegra 2 mobile processor runs the show through the Android 2.2 operating system. While the Streak 7 comes with 16GB of internal storage space, it can be upgraded to up to 32GB using a built-in SD/MMC/SDHC memory card slot.

The Streak 7's 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) display uses capacitive multi-touch technology, which has a series of electrically sensitive layers to distinguish a fingertip touch from, say, a pen bumping the screen. The display also recognizes multiple touches at once, allowing the user to pinch, drag and twist on-screen items. It employs Gorilla Glass, a chemically strengthened glass from Corning that can stop scratches from developing into deep, display-killing scuff marks [source: Corning]. The Streak's half-inch-thick chassis also features a rear-mounted 5-megapixel autofocus camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera [source: Dell].

A 2780 mAh battery powers the 1-pound device, and has earned it a number of criticisms from reviewers. Several have complained that the Streak 7 has a roughly 3-hour battery life, compared to the 10 hours some users claim to obtain using iPads [source: Lanier].

As of late summer 2011, the 4G Streak is only available in the U.S. with service plans from cellular provider T-Mobile. As is common practice among providers, purchasing a multi-year service plan can drop the price of the Streak by about 40 percent.

Streak Accessories

Another mobile option from Dell, the Inspiron Duo: a netbook in disguise. Here you can see it in its netbook and tablet forms, and the transformation in between.
Another mobile option from Dell, the Inspiron Duo: a netbook in disguise. Here you can see it in its netbook and tablet forms, and the transformation in between.
Image courtesy of Dell Inc.

A mobile device's popularity could be estimated by counting the number of accessories available for it. Take, for example, the nearly endless range of accessories available for Apple's iPhone. By this measure, the Dell Streak is far from the most popular kid in the room, but it's not out in the cold.

As is the case for most other mobile device on the market, third-party manufacturers have developed silicone wraps that protect the Streak's exterior from bumps and scratches. For users anticipating harsher encounters with dirt, drops and moisture, both Dell and Otterbox offer heavier-duty cases. Dell also took a note from the iPad's playbook in developing a cover/stand that wraps around the Streak, which protects the screen and allows the user to set the Streak on a table in a number of viewing positions [source: Dell].

Dell also offers a lithium-ion 1530 mAh backup battery, but its capacity -- only about half that of the main battery -- means it is truly an emergency stop-gap until the user can find an electrical outlet [sources: Dell]. Dell does offer an adapter that connects the Streak's 30-pin connector to a standard USB port, from which the device can charge and sync data.

One accessory that may prove extremely popular is the 16GB SDHC card that Dell sells to double the Streak's storage capacity. For users who aren't sure whether they need the added capacity -- and expense -- of the greater built-in memory found in other devices, this flexibility means that giving the Streak enough room for additional data is as simple as inserting the same kind of card used to store photos on a digital camera.

The Streak 7's middle-of-the-range size may narrow the field of consumers eager to pay $300 to $450 (U.S.) for it. Atlthough the Streak 5 fits into the upper end of the big-smartphone niche, the Streak 7 would barely fit in most users' pants pockets, and neither can make phone calls (unless you count Skype, Google Voice and similar phone apps). Likewise, users hoping to carry widescreen movies and large-print e-books with them would most likely prefer a larger screen.

There may be a middle ground of consumers, though, who would see the Streak 7's unique size as a benefit: those who need better portability than larger tablets and small laptops can offer but want a bigger display than even the largest smartphones provide. Dell may take on the larger tablets with the Inspiron Duo and the Streak 10 (if it becomes globally available), but for now it's staking its claim as a contender in the small-tablet niche.

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Sources

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