Dell Streak 2.2 4 Stars

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Android has gained plaudits as an operating system, but the speed at which new versions are launched has always been a bit of a problem, as devices are often out of date almost as soon as they are launched. The original Dell Streak was hit by this curse as it had version 1.6 on board when it was launched last year, while handsets released not long after had the benefit of a later version. Now the Dell Streak has reappeared as the 2.2, with the latest version of Android – Froyo – along with its own custom interface, dubbed Stage.

Looking good

This latest incarnation of the Streak has the same hardware as the original, namely a WVGA screen, five-inch capacitive touch-screen, 16 GM memory and a five-megapixel camera. In fact, if you have an original Streak, it is possible to update the handset with the new features over the air.

The handset also has a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can use your own headphones if you wish, although Dell has seen fit to include a decent pair of ear buds in the box.

The body is curved and sleek and comes in a glossy black or red coat. The battery cover, which is metal, slides off a bit too easily – rather annoying because each time it slips off the handset turns off.

Dell has placed the charging port on a long side of the device, so it is possible to place it on a media dock and charge and play video all at the same time. A fully charged battery lasts longer than on its predecessor – even running 3G and Wi-Fi constantly it will last all day.

Back to basics

There are some excellent new features courtesy of Android 2.2 – it is able to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, provides support for Flash online video, and offers native sync to Microsoft Exchange email. It is a pity that the 1GHz processor has trouble coping with the new OS – the touch-screen is a bit slow, and suffers from a bit of a lag as well as the occasional unrecognised input. Mind you, this is not unheard of on Android 2.2 devices, and in general the user experience was smooth enough.

What we did have an issue with is the five-inch display – is it a giant phone or a small tablet? – we just couldn’t tell. The size makes the Streak hard to hold up to your ear to make a call – we decided the handsfree facility was preferable. Also, there is no smart dialling, where the user taps in the first few letters of a contact’s name and gets auto-suggestions.

However, the Streak is good for messaging, and has a good QWERTY keyboard in both landscape and portrait mode. Typing is vastly improved thanks to Swype, which is a clever app we’ve only seen on a couple of Android phones before. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it allows the user to drag their finger across the keys, rather than tap – and offers up excellent auto-suggestions to speed up the whole process.

Stage star

It’s not only Android 2.2 that is new on this handset – Dell has also added its own user interface called Stage. This offers you a selection of custom widgets, six home screens in place of the usual five, and an improved setup that allows you to add in Facebook, email and Twitter accounts for a full contact sync. One nifty feature is that you can choose whether to sync all friends or just the ones that are already in your contacts book, for whom you already have a phone number. It is also capable of recalling favourites from other Android devices, and it lets you add on a favourites widget – this means you can text, email, Facebook message or call a contact just by tapping their photo.

The social widget lets you add a Facebook or Twitter account – note that you can’t have both in the same feed. If you wish to see updates for both accounts, you’ll have to have a couple of widgets. A live updating box is a nice feature – this shows your recently used apps, plus a column that displays your regional weather. Widgets for music and video are also there. While you can preview and buy videos using the Dell Video Stage widget, it’s a surprising omission that it doesn’t support the increasingly common DivX format (but it does support WMX, MPG4 and H.264).

When your phone is switched on, you’ll see a default set of widgets on the home screens, but it is possible to add widgets and app shortcuts as you wish. Tap on the base of a home screen and up pops a shortcut toolbar for the browser, dialler and all programs. It is not possible to customise this toolbar.

Navigation and snapper

When we reviewed the original Streak, we really liked its sat nav, which had an excellent display, Google Maps, and fast A-GPS. It was only missing real driving navigation. The good news is that Froyo now offers voice directions and Google Navigational beta. Voice control means it is possible to speak into the device, inputting destinations and search terms.

The camera is also an improvement on the original; its landscape and portrait images were clear, with true colour. You don’t get much in the way of control – there are no sharpness, resolution or scene modes. You can just control white balance and brightness, but this won’t be much of an issue for most users. It also offers 720p video capture, which its predecessor didn’t have. Video quality was reasonable, but the camera could not capture fast motion (a common omission on mobile phone cameras).

The verdict

This new Dell Streak has made big leaps forward from the original. The Stage UI works really well and has some useful features and widgets. It’s just a shame that the handset is so large – it’s too big to be pocket-friendly phone yet not big enough to be a tablet. However, Dell has succeeded in producing a good update that can stand tall among the latest wave of superphones to come to the market.

 

Pros:
Speedy typing comes courtesy of Swype keyboards; the Stage user interface is simple to set up; new widgets; camera produce good images; Google Navigation.
Cons:
big as a phone and too small as a tablet; display is a bit slow; no smart dialling.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 5 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice