Dell Streak 7 review: Dell Streak 7

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The Good The Dell Streak 7 tablet offers dual-core processing, 4G network compatibility, Adobe Flash 10.1 support, front and rear cameras, and an inventive reimagining of Android 2.2.

The Bad Dell's Stage interface doesn't make up for the stale operating system. Screen quality and responsiveness are not as good as they could be.

The Bottom Line The Dell Streak 7 polishes Android 2.2 to a tablet-worthy shine, and is the first to deliver 4G compatibility--but it's not enough to distract us from the incoming wave of Android 3.0 tablets.

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5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Streak 7 has been adjusted down from 7 to 5.

The Streak 7 is the tablet we've been waiting for Dell to make. It's a device that's worthy of the company. It couples solid, refined hardware with a creative spin on Android 2.2. Granted, we've seen similar 7-inch Android tablets come and go, but this time around Dell is raising the stakes by making the first 4G-compatible tablet (courtesy of T-Mobile), priced at a tantalizing $199 with a two-year contract ($450 without).

Powered off, the Streak 7 looks nearly identical to Samsung's Galaxy Tab. The construction is mostly plastic, with a glass-covered screen, and a sleek (if smudgy) design that tapers around the edges and feels sturdy in your hand. The Streak is longer than the Tab by a half-inch, measuring 7.75 inches long, 4.6 inches wide, and a hair under a half-inch thick.

Because tablets measure their screen size on the diagonal, you may be surprised to realize that the Streak's 7-inch screen is about half the size of Apple's 9.7-inch iPad display. In our experience, 7-inch tablets offer a more convenient portable design than 10-inch designs, but can't quite offer the laptop-like Web-browsing experience of the larger models.

We've also found that without extensive design help, many apps made for the smaller screens of Android smartphones can seem out of place or oversized on tablet-size screens. Dell makes an effort to address this with its inventive "Stage" user interface, but doesn't do much for users after they dig past the home screen. By contrast, Samsung's Tab took the same basic Android 2.2 elements, left Google's home-screen design alone, and optimized basic apps such as notes, e-mail, and calendar for a more tablet-friendly, split-screen view. Dell gets points for creativity, but compared with Samsung's practical tweaks, the Stage interface is just window dressing.

One of the small design details that distinguishes Dell's hardware from Samsung's is a decision to tailor the hardware and user interface for use in landscape orientation, rather than the smartphone-centric portrait mode. To this end, the tactile buttons for home, back, and menu are located on the right side of the screen, gathered together to make them easy to navigate with your thumb. It's a thoughtful design choice, and one we prefer over the Galaxy Tab's giant smartphone layout.

The Streak 7 offers most of the features we'd expect from a high-end tablet. You get a 5-megapixel camera on the back (with flash) that can shoot photos and 720p videos. A camera (with microphone) also sits on the front, offering a 1.3-megapixel quality that's just fine for self-portraits and video chat. In fact, Qik video chat software comes preinstalled and T-Mobile is quick to point out that users are free to use the service over their cellular connection, though it's a surefire way to burn through your data plan.

Other basic features such as 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth audio and data connections are here, though we wouldn't mind having an 802.11 n setting. There's a standard headphone jack on the left side, smartly placed above where your hand would naturally grip the device. Similarly, a pair of stereo speakers sit in the topmost corners of each side, delivering decent volume, though understandably thin acoustics (fortunately, earbuds come included).

The right edge of the Dell Streak 7 has a hinged flap concealing a SIM card slot and a memory card expansion slot for full-size SDHC memory cards, allowing you to expand the storage beyond the integrated 16GB. In our experience, the standard SD cards used by the Streak are much easier to come by than the microSD cards used by so many others--not to mention that they are more affordable.

Though the SD card slot was a nice gesture toward ease of use, Dell had to go and throw its proprietary 30-pin connector on the bottom, making charging and syncing the device a bit of a hassle. Once connected to your computer, the Streak appears as an external USB drive and comes preloaded with DoubleTwist software for syncing and managing media. It's not the elegant plug-and-play of the iPad and iTunes, but it gets you close.

Of course, the biggest feature the Streak 7 has to offer is compatibility with T-Mobile's 4G wireless network. Because 4G is still in its early rollout phase, coverage will vary from location to location, so check with T-Mobile's 4G coverage map before making the jump. For us, the 4G speed enabled faster loading for YouTube videos, with less frequent dropouts. We'll update this review with test results from the CNET Labs with a more in-depth speed comparison once results are available.

From an app perspective, Dell and T-Mobile throw in a few gems worth your attention, including games (Asphalt 5, Let's Golf), music-streaming services (mSpot, Slacker), e-readers (Kindle, Zinio), and video-streaming apps (Blockbuster, T-Mobile TV, and YouTube). Because the Streak 7 has received Google's blessing, you also get unfettered access to the Android Market, and Goole's suite of mobile apps, including Latitude, Maps, Navigation, Places, and Google Talk.

Unfortunately, app performance is no better on the Streak 7 than it was on the Samsung Galaxy Tab or any other Android 2.2 tablet we've seen. The awkwardness of running smartphone apps on a tablet-size screen is still no easier to accept in 2011 than it was in 2010, and will likely not be solved for Android devices until Android Honeycomb makes its way into the world. At the time of this review, Dell has made no statements assuring that the Dell Streak 7 will be compatible with future versions of Android.

The Streak 7's touch-screen keyboard doesn't dazzle.

Aside from the Streak 7's 4G network compatibility, it isn't particularly swift or responsive when it comes to general tasks, such as navigating, composing e-mail or browsing the Web. Dell promises there's an Nvidia T-20 Tegra chip under the hood, but for the most part, we found the Samsung Galaxy Tab outperformed the Streak 7 in common tasks.

In spite of the aid of haptic feedback and Swype touch-screen keyboard technology, typing on the Streak 7 lagged behind that of the Tab and the iPad, and keypad accuracy was noticeably fickle, requiring longer presses to register input. Linger too long, though, and you may inadvertently kick in the Swype system, which predicts your text when you swipe your finger across groups of letters. In short, the Streak 7 is not a typing champ. We actually found the original 5-inch Streak easier to type with.

Another performance disappointment is screen quality. Sporting an 800x480-pixel resolution screen with only average viewing angles, the Streak 7 appears dull sitting beside the vibrant, smooth 1,024x600-pixel resolution display on the Galaxy Tab.

For Web browsing, putting aside the touch-screen keyboard issues, there's some noticeable system lag when it comes to scrolling though pages. We still haven't seen any tablet that can stand up to the iPad in this regard, on which Web pages seemingly glide across the screen on their own imaginary momentum--but the Streak 7 is no step forward for Android tablets.

Finally there's battery life, which never seems to be a strong suit in 4G devices. The Streak 7 is no exception, requiring frequent recharges during our review process and running down rapidly even while in standby mode. Battery conserving measures, such as switching off 4G, GPS, and Bluetooth, and turning down screen brightness, are all recommended tactics in the device manual. At the time of this review, Dell hasn't published an official battery life rating, but we think it's fair to say that if the company could brag about it, it would. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours) Web site load time (in seconds; lower is better) Maximum brightness (in cd/m2) Default brightness (in cd/m2) Contrast ratio
Dell Streak 7 3.3 7 330 146 868:1