The Dell Streak: more than a smartphone

"Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? An iPad killer? Or what?" These are the questions that stood out to me in much of the online commentary about the Dell Streak, the new mobile device launched by Dell a few months ago. And many people answer such questions by describing it as a smartphone.

Thanks to my friends at Dell, I have a Dell Streak which I’ve been discovering a little this weekend.

You could technically describe the Streak as a smartphone: after all, it does have cellular connectivity, takes a SIM card (although it works perfectly fine without one), has a microphone and phone-dialling functionality, and has a huge range of features that takes it far beyond mobile phone functionality.

I don’t see it as one, though: it’s not a device I’d use as a phone. The cellular connectivity just means that you can get online (ie, data use rather than voice) when there’s isn’t wifi and there is a mobile phone network handy. That means your opportunities to be connected just about anywhere you go are good, certainly here in the UK.

But let’s look at the Wikipedia definition of a smartphone which starts like this:

A smartphone is a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a contemporary basic ‘feature phone‘. Smartphones and feature phones may be thought of as handheld computers integrated within a mobile telephone, but while most feature phones are able to run applications based on platforms such as Java ME, a smartphone allows the user to install and run more advanced applications based on a specific platform. Smartphones run complete operating system software providing a platform for application developers.

Well, the Dell Streak ticks all the boxes in that definition. So, as far as definitions go, it’s a smartphone.

Yet such a rigid in-the-box definition doesn’t do justice to this device. You can apply that definition to an HTC Desire, for instance, which is the primary phone I have. That’s unquestionably a phone, due to its size, portrait-orientation emphasis and focus on phone functionality, and also offers loads of other functionality, ie, what you can do with mobile apps.

I see the Dell Streak more as a "mobile web computer" (is that coining a phrase?) that has landscape-orientation emphasis and also offers you phone functionality if you need to make or receive a call.

Is it a tablet as some ask? Well, it’s bigger than any smartphone I’ve seen, so that qualifies it for that label in my book. But it’s not as big as an iPad, which is unquestionably a tablet (although Wikipedia’s definition of a tablet focuses more on device functionality than size).

I’ll have more commentary posted as I get to know the Dell Streak.

So what is the Dell Streak? Well, as I said, it’s a mobile web computer. Confused? Don’t be – maybe it’s whatever you want it to be.

However you describe it, it’s more than the sum of its parts.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Rob Safuto

    The size of the Dell Streak seems to be the only unique thing at the present time. I don’t have one but at one time considered it before Apple announced the iPhone 4. I have followed the reviews and commentary on the device since it was released in the UK. What I’ve seen has mostly been negative. People have issues with the older build of Android and evidently a recent update to Froyo has gone horribly wrong for many people. Meanwhile, phones like the Evo and Droid X have been released that offer better function and performance in a package that is just a bit smaller. So I think that Dell has entered a fiercely competitive market with what appears to be an inferior product. That’s unfortunate. With the Galaxy Tab from Samsung just around the corner, Dell really needs to make a strong statement with their next iteration of the Streak. If they bump the Android build up to Froyo, up the screen size to seven inches, and sell the device without a contract I think it could be a big seller for them.

    • neville

      I’ve read much of the negative commentary and reporting too, Rob. Some good points, some not. Just like with reviews of any gadget.

      I think if you look at this device as a phone, you’re missing a point. As I mentioned in the post, the thought that immediately occurred to me was that this is device for the mobile web not for making phone calls. So it is perhaps more apt to compare it with the iPad. But, in my view, that’s an apples and oranges comparison.

      I think the Android thing is largely a red herring (although my view might change if I want to do something that requires the latest version). I think they did make a mistake, though, to launch this device with the old 1.6 version so an upgrade to 2.2 soon will be very welcome.

      To your point about contracts, Dell’s already selling the Streak in the UK without one. You can buy one direct from Dell, unlocked, no SIM card, nothing. Then you’re free to choose your mobile provider for connectivity and the terms of how you want to connect, ie, contract or PAYG. I have an O2 SIM in my Streak, PAYG. It was in my iPhone until now :)

      Still, all that said, I agree with you that Dell’s in a fiercely competitive market. Maybe their end goal isn’t the consumer but the enterprise – I can see some big appeals to businesses for a device like this. Take a look at this PC World report on the healthcare industry, for instance: big possibilities for Dell with this device: “Dell Aims Streak at Enterprises.”

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