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Dell Streak: iPad Competition or Design Blunder?

While some of the earliest contenders to the iPad’s throne seem like they won’t be contending at all (the HP (s hpq) Slate, Microsoft’s (s msft) Courier), other major personal electronics players are stepping forward to challenge Apple (s aapl) on the tablet front. Including Dell (s dell), who recently unveiled the Streak, an Android-based touchscreen device.

But there are number of things off about the Dell Streak. First, it’s quite a small device. With a screen only half the size of the iPad’s, and only slightly bigger than most modern smartphones at 5-inches, it seems somewhat awkwardly sized. Second, it can act as a smartphone, making calls, texting, etc. It doesn’t really blur the line between smartphone and tablet so much as sit completely on the smartphone side of said line.

While both the Streak and the iPad run operating systems designed originally for smartphones, the iPad clearly isn’t one. It’s too large to comfortably hold up to your face, and, more importantly, it lacks the internals and software necessary to process phone calls. The iPad’s role in the digital ecosystem may not be entirely clear, but it knows what it isn’t, and that’s a phone.

The Dell Streak is a phone, whatever its marketing department may want you to believe. And that may be its strongest aspect in terms of going toe to toe with the iPad, in that it only does so in a broad sense, fighting generally for consumer electronic dollars without really encroaching on the super-specific niche Apple has carved out.

Dell’s Streak seems like the punchline to an old joke about the iPad: It’s like the iPad except it fits in your pocket, has a camera and makes phone calls. And it stands a chance of competing with the device in terms of sales, but not with the iPhone, the next revision of which will undoubtedly blow it out of the water. But saying you’re making an iPhone killer is so passé at this point, and it’s a claim many smartphone makers have found themselves regretting. Pitting the Streak against the iPad instead avoids both of those pitfalls.

Bottom line, it may be a clever marketing maneuver, but it isn’t a tablet. I doubt very much the Streak will be leeching any customers away from Apple’s devices, be they tablets or the next generation iPhone. Dell’s effort makes the mistake of trying to be everything to everybody and missing the mark entirely. A larger tablet dubbed the Looking Glass seems to be in the cards for the near future from Dell, though, so we’ll see if it learns any lessons for that effort.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

14 Responses to “Dell Streak: iPad Competition or Design Blunder?”

  1. I have one computer. A netbook. I am a full-time web developer and I also use my netbook for all of my entertainment. What I want is a version of my netbook that I can fit in my pocket. It needs to have the ability to hook it up to a vga or hdmi monitor or tv and a full size keyboard and mouse in case I need to get some serious work done i.e. docking. I don’t know what the specs on this are, but basically I want only one device in my life. One computer. I want it to run an OS I can trust like Ubuntu or Android or even Windows. I don’t want to feel like something that is so important to me is being watched by a man in a turtle neck. That is why we have open source because there is so much room for hanky panky and no good in software and I for one believe that Steve Jobs takes advantage of that too much. I want to know what is happening in my device. And frankly it should be legislated that personal information cannot be taken from you without your consent.

    Also I can take apart my tv and modify it if I want. Why can’t I take apart my phone software. It does belong to me right? What are you hiding Steve? Any company with such closed doors and security is not a ‘good’ company and I will NOT carry them in my pocket.

    Go open source or don’t go at all. Good people in the world like Linus Torvalds know that not only does carrying products like Mac OS mean keeping one man’s secret in your pocket, but they also hamper communication and forward progress as a species. You wouldn’t buy a car that had a big question mark under the hood and you shouldn’t buy apple.

    Microsoft isn’t much better, but I’ve been monitoring my connections and I’m 95% sure they aren’t taking my private information.

    -Nick

  2. I have had a Dell Streak for about a week and I am very impressed with it.
    I find the size to be just about right, it does fit in my pockets with no problem and I find the size to be big enough for interbet use etc. It is big enough to watch Utube videos, films etc. plus it works well as a phone and I have not found it too big to hold to the ear, but having said that I used to manage with a Motorola brick many years ago and this is much more user friendly.
    I find the Streak to be fast and reliable and would recomend it to anyone who wants a phone that can really do things that other phones say they can do, if you could only see what was happening on the screen.

  3. JayBee

    Well I just got myself a Dell Streak a week ago and I haven’t touched my crappy old iPhone 3GS since… Yes, there’s more high quality apps in the iPhone app store, but otherwise it seems to me a drastically inferior device. The only thing I’m missing is the quality of the mic in the iPhone. But my browsig is faster, I can view all flash vids using the skyfire browser, i love the homescreen widgets too. Dell has done a lovely job with some RSS reader widgets too, so I don’t actually need to open apps that often. If only the development community would realise that Apple is not the be all and end all, just the company whose marketing department have the deepest pockets.

  4. It is humorous to read all the articles about whether the Dell Streak is a “tablet” or not. If you are comparing it with the iPad, then the better question is whether it is a device you would rather have than an iPad. The answer for me is yes.

    The problem I have with my iPad is that it replaces neither my smartphone nor my notebook. It is fine as an entertainment device, but it does not provide enough value to lug it around on a real trip — therefore, it’s usefulness as a mobile device is limited for me.

    The Dell Streak is a nearly perfect compromise. It not only replaces my smartphone, but also offers the features that I like best about my iPad. So I suspect that I will be selling my iPad or leaving it at home while I carry my Streak with me everywhere.

  5. Michael Perry: You’re the kind of customer that might like a device like
    Streak.

    The screen size coupled with the 800 x 480 screen resolution is what makes this unique. It’s not much bigger than a phone, but for browsing the web and watching video, it makes a difference. Much less scrolling and panning on web pages. The extra screen real estate allows us to build on core features in the Android platform.

    Is a 5-inch mobile device right for everyone? No. But there are some who will opt for it.

  6. Greg Patterson

    It will be hard to challenge the iPad. And we wont see a good contender for longer than a year. And anyone who tries has only one real OS choice and that is Android. So it will take some time before a good hardware provider figures out how to make and iPad that is not an iPad.

  7. I like the Streak’s size. My iPod touch is a bit smaller than I’d like for an on-the-go productivity device. The Streak seems close to the ideal size, thin and just small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Toss in a mini-Bluetooth keyboard, and work on the go is possible.

    On the other hand, the iPad is too big for any pocket and all my efforts to convince myself I need one have come to naught. It requires a carrying case and, if I’m lugging one about, I might as well carry the MacBook I already have. The few pounds extra aren’t going to kill me.

    I can’t even justify an iPad for reading. The current ePub standard is inadequate for displaying anything other than novels. Until that improves, both Apple and Amazon should be distributing books in a PDF page size that fits well on the screens of Kindles and iPads. It’d be trivial to tweak the PDFs that drove the printers for most recently printed books to fit on either device.

  8. Larry

    Its only a matter of time before the iPad is challanged. The iPad wont enjoy the same long period of no challagers that the iPhone had.

    This time next year there will be some good stuff out to challange the 1.0 version of the iPad (as in the second round of iPad).

    Any Android device, just the like the iPad is helped by existing Android apps.

  9. @r0bErT4u

    Only time will tell if that smaller tablet form factor will succeed … this time around.

    Others have tried that form factor, like OQO, Archos, HTC, FlyBook, FlipBook, Apple’s Newton, etc.