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Summary:

T-Mobile is debuting the Dell Streak 7 Android tablet this week, the first 4G tablet available on the carrier’s data network. While the 21 Mbps radio shines, some design and hardware choices may hamper the Streak 7 from being a contender in the upcoming tablet wars.

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T-Mobile is about to offer the Dell Streak 7, the first Android tablet that can take full advantage of the carrier’s 21 Mbps HSPA+ data network. The Streak 7 arrives in stores this Wednesday, Feb. 2, for $199 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year data contract or $450 sans contract. The speedy network access is a plus, but the Streak 7 is lacking in many other areas as compared the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which T-Mobile currently sells for $50 more.

I’ve been using a loaner Streak 7 for a very short amount of time: T-Mobile provided one this past weekend, along with the cellular data service. Normally, I like to live with a device for several weeks before passing judgment, but the Streak goes on sale shortly, so here are my first impressions. I plan to follow up with a more detailed post after using the Streak 7 for at least another week.

Hardware Has Hits and Misses

Much like the Samsung Galaxy Tab I purchased out of my own pocket, the Streak 7 is a relatively thin and light 7-inch tablet. Like so many other hardware vendors, Dell has opted to power its mobile device with a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. This choice of chip generally enables high-quality graphics that render fast, 1080p video recording and peppy performance. Unfortunately, the potential of the Tegra 2 is almost wasted on the Streak 7.

The key issue is the display. While a 7-inch tablet enables a greater level of mobility — the key reason I dumped the larger iPad for my Galaxy Tab — Dell chose a screen with 800×480 resolution for the Streak 7. As a result, the graphical benefits of the Nvidia chip can’t be seen because games are more blocky and less detailed than they could be, as shown in the image gallery below. Essentially, Dell took the same display resolution used on smartphones in the 3.7- to 4.3-inch range and repurposed it on a larger screen, making for a mediocre visual experience at best. Given that users look at the display whenever using the Streak 7, they’ll constantly be reminded of this poor design choice.

I’m also unsure of a few other decisions Dell made when it comes to the hardware of the Streak 7. The battery capacity is only 2780 mAh as compared to the Galaxy Tab’s 4000 mAh unit. A true battery test requires more testing time, so I’ll revisit this aspect, but the Streak 7 seems to gulp power. Using it in limited fashion, I’ve seen the battery indicator drop by 10 percent in as little as 30 minutes, for example. Gone too is a dedicated search button on the bezel. And although the device is advertised to record 1080p video, I only see an option for 720p. Testing it yielded a sub-par video, which is disappointing since the Tegra chip is capable of so much more.

On the plus side, the screen is responsive, as are the capacitive touch buttons. Music sounds relatively good from the two stereo speakers located on the left and right sides of the Streak 7. And of course, the real strength of the device lies in the 21 Mbps radio, which can take full advantage of T-Mobile’s 4G network within proper coverage areas. I took a short trip from my home office to pick up a 4G signal to test the Streak 7 and ran a few speed tests. Every aspect tested was better than what I see on my 3G Galaxy Tab, which also uses T-Mobile’s network.

Average latency for the Streak 7 hovered around 70 milliseconds; download speeds averaged 5.5 Mbps, while uploads were in the 1.5 Mbps range. For a frame of reference, I tested the 3G Galaxy Tab at the same location; latency was around 90 milliseconds, while downloads and uploads were 3.8 Mbps and 1.3 Mbps, respectively. Since coverage and network performance varies based on many factors, I’m sure both devices could have seen faster or slower speeds depending on the variables. But I’m also comfortable saying that the Streak 7 will likely always have a faster data connection.

Software Could Have Shone but Is Marginal

Just like the choice to use a smartphone resolution, much of the software choices are smartphone-like for the Streak 7. Unlike Samsung, which optimized core apps for the Galaxy Tab, Dell uses the same Google apps as any standard Android smartphone, which is a missed opportunity. Granted, it’s also one that can be corrected with a software update, but when buying a device, consumers are evaluating the device in its current state, not a potential, future state.

Dell did spend time creating a customer interface called Stage. This brings some clarity to five of the seven home screens on the Streak 7: two are left empty. Stage groups apps and services by screen: Music, Social, Home (showing weather and nine recently used apps), Web, and Email. For people not familiar with Android or those  who don’t like the stock Android interface, Stage will be welcome, but not necessarily impressive.

T-Mobile also included services and software that may appeal to some. Included is an option to download the T-Mobile TV service which offers a handful of free programming or can be upgraded to premium offerings for $8.99 per month. There’s also a Blockbuster application to rent movies, Amazon’s Kindle app and the Zinio magazine reader software. By and large, most of these apps can be found on other Android devices or will be coming to them in the future, so I don’t consider these to be a major differentiator from other Android devices.

Of course, there are trial games on the Streak 7 as well as many available in the Android Market. They run well but are hobbled by the display resolution, making for a marginal experience that could have been a great one with a better screen. I played the Asphalt driving game and Let’s Golf, but almost felt like I was using a last generation Nintendo DS after playing with a modern one in a store.

This Way or That Way?

One last important note on the Streak 7: It’s really meant to be a landscape device, which I find a challenge because I use my tablet in portrait mode more often than not. The front camera and microphone are on a horizontal bezel, while the touch buttons are on the side, as are the speakers. That may not be a problem for most, but it’s a different approach from the iPad and Galaxy Tab.

 

Conclusion

Folks looking for a low-cost, fairly basic Android tablet that can overlook the screen resolution could be happy with the Streak 7. It all depends on if the 4G radio is worth the purchase, because the Galaxy Tab for $50 more offers many better features. Regardless of the fast data connection, the screen is a deal-breaker for me personally, simply because it’s the function most used.

Again, I’ve only had a few days with the Streak 7, so I’ll incorporate into my daily routine and substitute it for my Galaxy Tab to see if I feel differently in a week or so. Perhaps its unfair to compare the Streak 7 to the Galaxy Tab, but both devices are offered by T-Mobile, so customers will certainly be making that same comparison.

Also worth noting are the data plan prices for the Streak 7. Current T-Mobile customers can pay $40 per month for unlimited data (with a 5 GB soft-cap) or $25 per month for 200 MB. New customers will pay $10 more a month for the unlimited plan or $5 more each month for the smaller data plan.

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  1. perhaps just like with laptops(especially business targeted ones) these could be offered with different optional screen resolutions.

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    1. In theory it sounds nice, but its not yet practical. If it was, we might already have the option for phones. ;) Hardware makers do big production runs and then sell boatloads of products (or commit to building and delivering them) to carriers who then sell them direct. Too many cogs in the wheel, especially when we’re seeing component shortages already.

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  2. [...] Dell Streak 7 Review (JK On The Run) [...]

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  3. It is clear that they have limited the resolution of the screen, because they do not have a battery with the sufficient capacity, to bear the yield of graphs of this graphic card. I believe that we have come to a point in which the hardware is being limited by the capacity of the batteries. Area needs major investigation in this one. Because if we do not go away to remain much suspended to design this type of hardware mobile.

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    1. Perhaps, but I’ll call poor internal design another potential issue. The Galaxy Tab is the same physical size, yet Samsung was able to fit a battery with 50% more capacity. And I sort of agree with your comment: “we have come to a point in which the hardware is being limited by the capacity of the batteries.”

      I’ve long said that battery power is one of the most limiting factors of most mobile devices. It has been for several years and without any disruptive new battery technology on the horizon, we’re turning to more power efficient components to compensate.

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  4. Because I detest Apple so much, I have held off on purchasing a tablet until a credible alternative to the iPad has launched. And because I don’t need or want additional cell service or a bill for that matter (Wi-fi Only will suffice) the Galaxy Tab Ver. 1 is not on my radar. I had high hopes for the Streak 7, but no HDMI out or other non-proprietary ports such as USB in addition to the puny resolution is a deal killer. The XOOM will be too expensive relative to Apple. The Adam Ink has no price point. So, it appears that the RIM Playbook will be my target device. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Fair criticism: not everyone wants a tablet that can be connected nearly anywhere. Actually, the better way to put it: not everyone wants the monthly bill that comes with that. ;)

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      1. exactly. my opinion is that the prices have been inflated on these android tablets to help the carriers sell the subsidized/contract versions.

        i would like to see these hit the market with built in 3G/4G modems but no service bundle. instead consumers could shop for a SIM if they want one, and the carriers could compete against each other based on price, coverage, data speeds, reliability, etc.

        i bet we would have some drastically improved networks and lower pricing really fast if the hardware vendors were willing to take a bet on the model.

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    2. You should look into the dell streak 7 dock which is now available….hdmi….usb…audio…you may change you mind…i think the rim os will be its deal dreaker since it will be going up against honeycomb…soon to be updated to the streak 7….

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  5. [...] “The key issue is the display. While a 7-inch tablet enables a greater level of mobility…Dell chose a screen with 800×480 resolution for the Streak 7. As a result, the graphical benefits of the Nvidia chip can’t be seen because games are more blocky and less detailed than they could be…”—GigaOM [...]

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  6. [...] version isn’t yet in the Market. Zinio says it’s coming soon to the Market and is pre-installed on the Dell Streak 7 I just reviewed as well as certain Samsung Galaxy Tab devices. My T-Mobile Tab isn’t one of those devices but [...]

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  7. [...] size of the G-Slate puts it squarely in the space between smaller 7-inch tablets like the Dell Streak 7 and Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad. That means it will be too big to fit in most pockets, but could [...]

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  8. [...] You can read the full review on GigaOm. [...]

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  9. [...] After a short time with the Dell Streak 7 earlier this week, I posted my immediate impressions, which had more negatives than positives. With a few more days of use under my belt, I can definitely appreciate the speed of the device thanks to T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network and the Nvidia Tegra 2 chip that powers the tablet. But even at $199 with contract, I’m still stuck on Dell’s choice to use an 800×480 resolution display on the Streak 7. [...]

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  10. [...] in Android 2.2, dal layout dei pulsanti fisici e dall’impossibilità di effettuare telefonate.JkOnTheRun ci fa sapere che è difficile sfruttare la potenza grafica di Nvidia Tegra 2 quando si ha uno [...]

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