Friday, May 6, 2011

Little Story About Dell Streak 7 Android Tablet

The first half of 2011 is shaping up to be all about tablets. Truly, the tablet mania that everyone was so adamant about last year is finally here. While dozens of tablets were announced and shown off at CES in January, most of them won't be arriving until later this month or the March time frame at the earliest. The main reason for the delay is because most manufacturers are stuck waiting for Google to release Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, the first version of Android to be configured specifically for use on tablets. Motorola has the honor of releasing the first Honeycomb device, the Xoom. Of the tablets announced at this year's CES though, one of the first to be released is Dell's new Streak 7.

Part of Dell's Streak family, the Streak 7 was able to beat most of the tablets seen at CES to market, because Dell has made the decision to launch it with Android 2.2, also known as Froyo. This means that the Streak 7, like the Streak 5 before it, won't be released with a version of Android designed specifically for tablets, but rather a recent version of what is largely considered a handset OS.

The Dell Streak 7 is powered by NVIDIA's dual-core Tegra 2 SoC, putting it on par with some of the more powerful upcoming tablets like the Motorola Xoom as well as the Viewsonic gTablet which we recently reviewed. The Streak 7 is also the first dual-core seven inch tablet, but it certainly won't be the last. The rest of its specifications are in line with what you would expect from a high-end Android tablet, with the exception of the screen which only sports a resolution of 800x480, a bit lower than most other high-end tablets. Dell doesn't advertise the amount of RAM the Streak 7 has but judging from system information on memory usage it seems the Streak 7 is packing about 512MB (360MB was available according the Linux Kernel, we're still waiting for an official actual number from Dell).

NVIDIA Tegra 2 System on a Chip

 Dell Streak 7 Specifications
 Specifications & Features
Processor  1GHz NVIDIA Tegra T20 (dual-core)
Operating System Android 2.2 (Froyo) with Over the Air Upgrade Capability
Memory 512MB RAM
Storage 16GB of Internal Storage with support for up to 32GB additional storage using the user accessible SD, MMC, SDHC memory card slot
Dimensions 7.87 x 4.72 x 0.49 inches; 199.9 x 119.8 x 12.4 mm
Weight 15.87 ounces; 450 grams
Display 7” WVGA 800x480 Capacitive Multi-Touch Screen with Corning Gorilla Glass
Network T-Mobile: HSPA + @ 2100/1900/AWS/850
Messaging Email, IM and Video Chat on all models

SMS & MMS on 3G models only
GPS Internal GPS antenna
Sensors Ambient Light Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Accelerometer, e-compass, Capacitive sensor keys
Connectivity WLAN 802.11b/g; Bluetooth  2.1 with EDR; 3.5mm stereo audio jack; proprietary 30-pin interface/charging port
Camera Rear-facing, 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash

Front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera with fixed focus
Audio Formats MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR, MIDI, WAV
Video Formats H.263 / H.264, .3GP, MPEG4, WMV
Battery Rechargeable 2,780 mAh Lithium-ion

$199.99 with two-year T-Mobile contract; $449.99 without contract

Whether or not the Streak 7 will receive an update to Honeycomb when it becomes available in the next few months is uncertain. Dell hasn't made any promises. However, Dell is emphasizing the Streak 7's ability to receive updates, like all Android devices, so it certainly isn't out of the question. We wouldn't be surprised if Dell released the Streak 7 early and without Honeycomb just to beat the rest of the pack to market and has plans to upgrade the device later, though this is pure speculation. 

Update 2/11/2011 - We contacted Dell with respect to the possibility of a Honeycomb update and they did confirm the path is there.  "For the Honeycomb upgrade path, Dell designed the device to accommodate an upgrade and will keep people updated on upgrades on D2D as they did with Streak 5’s upgrade to 2.2."

In any case, Honeycomb or not, the Streak 7 is here and it's a shiny seven inch slab of tablet goodness with an impressive résumé. We've had one in the HotHardware labs for a week and we've written up a full analysis of this bad boy, so read on for all the gory details.

It should be no surprise that the Dell Streak 7 resembles the Streak 5 in nearly every way but its size. From the front, the Streak 7 is essentially the same device as a Streak 5, except with two extra inches of screen real estate. Both devices feature the same black screen bezel that's curved to either side. Closer inspection reveals that the Streak 7 features a front camera located above the screen and the series of buttons off to the side are of a different arrangement than those on the Streak 5.

It is only from the back that the Streak 7 becomes clearly distinguishable from the Streak 5 in appearance. Instead of the segmented design of the Streak 5, the Streak 7 has a uniform textured back, broken only by the inset metallic Dell logo, printed T-Mobile label and the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash.

The Streak 7 feels very good in the hand, it feels sturdy and well sorted. The fit and finish is great and it has a comforting weight to it that feels substantial but not heavy. The front is dominated by the seven inch screen which is covered by a slab of Corning Gorilla Glass. The glass extends past the screen to the bezel, from the top edge to the bottom. However, the rounded sides are made of plastic. The back of the unit is made of a sturdy plastic with a light texture that makes it easy to grip. Our review unit has a grey back but other colors are also available.

The somewhat extended rounded side edges make the Streak 7 a bit longer than the Samsung Galaxy Tab. We initially viewed this to be a disadvantage but quickly found that the rounded sides act as hand grips, making the Streak 7 very easy and comfortable to hold in a landscape position. A speaker is positioned on either edge of the Streak 7, allowing for acceptable stereo sound. The headphone port is located on the left while a tab reveals the SIM slot and SDHC slot on the right side. The entire design of the Streak 7 seems tailored to a landscape orientation.

The Streak 7 lacks the usual search button, which we frankly don't miss much. The remaining three buttons are placed along the right edge in landscape view, near the top of the tablet. This puts them in a perfect position when gripping the tablet on either side, on the rounded edge. The front camera is centered on the screen on the "top" of the tablet when held in a landscape view while the rear camera is located in the top corner, under the area where the buttons are located. Overall the Streak 7 is clearly designed for landscape use, although there is nothing stopping you from using it in a portrait orientation of course.

While the Android soft buttons are well located for landscape use, the hardware volume and power buttons are lined along the top edge. This makes them a little awkward to reach as you'll likely have to either release your grip on one side of the tablet to reach them or slide your hand along the edge to the top.

The Streak 7 is well packaged in a neat box just barely larger than the tablet itself. The device comes bundled with the usual set of accessories including the AC-USB wall charger, a Dell 30-pin docking port to USB cable, and an in-ear wired headset.

Like the original Streak handset, the Streak 7 has a 30-pin charging port that is USB compatible when used with an adapter like the bundled cable. When connected to the included USB wall charger, the tablet charged as expected. However when connected to a laptop or desktop via USB, the Streak 7 only charged when turned off. If the Streak 7 was on, even if in standby mode, the unit would not charge. This is an issue we've noticed on some other Android tablets as well, though the same issue does not effect Android handsets

The Streak 7 is equipped with both front and rear facing cameras. The rear camera is a 5 megapixel unit (2592x1944) with a single LED flash and autofocus. The front camera is a 1.3 megapixel (1280x960) fixed focus unit without flash. Both cameras can be used to capture stills and video. The Streak 7 uses the regular Android camera app and switching between the cameras is done with a single click in the camera app's menu.


Daylight: 1.3MP front-camera picture sample

Daylight: 5MP rear-camera picture sample

In a well-lit room, the camera is very responsive and smooth with excellent white balance. The two sample pictures above were taken in direct sunlight. The camera was smooth and the shutter was fast. Unfortunately the exposure metering algorithm made the pictures a bit on the dark side, despite it being a very bright scene.

In lower light levels the digital viewfinder is a bit jerky and pictures display noticeable artifacts. The two sample images below were captured in a dark room with a single light source (60W-equivalent fluorescent bulb). The camera took a bit longer to process the image, but the shutter was still acceptably quick. The exposure metering algorithm actually worked better here as these pictures look much brighter than the scene actually was.

Video capture quality was acceptable although the on-the-fly white balance and exposure metering left something to be desired. Video was often a bit on the dark side, as if the world was tinted.


Low-light: 1.3MP front-camera picture sample

Low-light: 5MP rear-camera picture sample

While the Streak 7's build quality is excellent and the camera is decent, the same cannot be said about its screen. The Dell Streak 7 has a conventional Twisted Nematic (TN) LCD panel and it's not a particularly good one. While the backlight is plenty bright, the viewing angles simply aren't up to par, even when compared to other TN panels. The screen really only looks uniform and correct when the Streak 7 is held in a landscape orientation. In a portrait orientation, the viewing angle issues become quite noticeable.

To make things worse, the Streak 7's screen has a rather sub-par 800x480 resolution. This isn't immediately noticeable and doesn't have nearly the same impact as the viewing angle issue. When viewing videos or browsing the web, the lower resolution becomes a notable disadvantage. Compare the Streak 7's resolution to the Apple iPad's 1024x768 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab's 1024x600 resolution. Next to the iPad's IPS panel, the Streak 7's screen is downright disappointing.

The Dell Streak 7 runs Android 2.2, commonly known as "Froyo." Unlike the upcoming Android 3.0, also known as "Honeycomb", Froyo isn't a tablet oriented OS. However, Dell has tried to overcome this issue by skinning it with their own Stage UI. Both Froyo and Stage can also both be found on the Streak 5 and remains largely unchanged for the Streak 7.

Dell Streak 7 Stage UI

The Stage UI is comprised primarily of a series of Stage widgets. These widgets are large and each have an individual purpose such as displaying your emails or music, with the notable exception of the Home widget which displays a combination of recently used apps and the weather. Another interesting feature of the Stage UI is the way it displays the edge of widgets on neighboring home screens. You can see the edges of the widgets and content of the home screens to the left and right of your currently active home screen.

Overall the Stage UI isn't bad, it certainly never felt like it got in the way. We liked the design of the Stage widgets and found some of them to be quite useful. However there is no avoiding the fact that the Stage UI simply isn't a very fast Android launcher. It's actually a bit more sluggish than the stock Froyo launcher. Transitions between screens simply weren't as smooth as they could be and it made the Streak 7 seem slower than it needed to be, especially when compared to something like the iPad. Luckily installing a 3rd party launcher like ADW or LauncherPro speeds things up dramatically. We installed LauncherPro and scrolling between screens was buttery smooth.

It's worth noting that the performance of the launcher does not effect the rest of the device, nor does it interfere with the performance of apps. It's just unfortunate that the Stage UI makes the Dell Streak 7 seem a little slower and less powerful than it really is.

Dell Streak 7 Stage UI App Drawer (default apps)

The Dell Streak 7 comes loaded with a number of apps, other than the usual set of official Google apps like the Market and Gmail. Pre-installed on the Streak 7 is the weather app, Quickoffice productivity app, Qik video chat, the Kindle app, Zinio Reader app, Slacker radio, and the Blockbuster app.

Also included are several T-Mobile applications like T-Mobile TV, T-Mobile Start Up and T-Mobile My Device. These apps let you set up and manage aspects of your T-Mobile account as well as access the T-Movile TV streaming service. T-Mobile has also included a Wi-Fi hotspot app for setting up a hotspot on the Streak 7 and Dell has included a Welcome app which displays a quick tutorial on using the device.

For entertainment, GameLoft's popular premium 3D racing game Asphalt 5 and golfing game Let's Golf are included. The Zoodles kids portal app also comes pre-installed and it offers a game and apps portal specifically tailored for young children. Lookout Mobile Security's app is included, though the user will need to set up an account before it can protect your device against malware and theft.

Dell Streak 7 Web Browser (landscape & portrait)

The Dell Streak 7 uses the stock Android browser which is Webkit-based and works well. The browser felt snappy on the Streak and all the usual multi-touch functions were present and available. Zooming was smooth and pages load very quickly for a mobile device.

Overall the Dell Streak 7 is a pleasant device to use. It functioned as well as any Froyo device and although the Stage UI isn't the smoothest, it never seemed to hold us back that much. However, don't let the Stage UI fool you, the Streak 7 is a very powerful device, as we're about to find out in the benchmarks on the next few pages.

We put the Dell Streak 7 through its paces using a few of the more popular Android benchmarks. All of the tests we use can be found for free on the Android Market. The tests were run with the Streak 7 un-rooted and in a like-stock condition.

Benchmarking The Dell Streak 7 - CPU and Web
1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (T20) Dual-Core Performance

Linpack is a popular CPU benchmark which tests floating point performance. It involves solving a complex system of linear equations and the results are presented in units of MFLOPS. The benchmark runs at the Java layer and is greatly dependent on the Java virtual machine implementation (ie. the Android Dalvik VM). The Dalvik VM is not multi-core capable in Froyo and the Streak 7 isn't able to realize its dual-core advantage as a result. Despite this, the Streak 7 still manages an impressive showing, beating out the rest of the pack to come out on top.

BenchmarkPi is one of several benchmarks available on Android based around the calculation of Pi. This benchmark is a better indicator of raw CPU calculation power. We can see from our results that it also takes advantage of multi-core processors. The Dell Streak 7 and Viewsonic gTablet have a significant lead over the rest of the pack thanks to their usage of the NVIDIA Tegra T20 processor. The Dell Streak 7 managed to edge out the Viewsonic gTablet, but overall their results are very similar, as you would expect given the hardware similarities.

SunSpider is a JavaScript benchmark which tests a web browser's JavaScript performance. This test is not necessarily a good indicator of overall browser performance as it only tests the browser's JavaScript implementation. However, the overall speed of the device does effect the results. SunSpider is also OS agnostic and will run on any browser which supports JavaScript, allowing us to directly compare Android and iOS browser implementations.  We can see that the Streak 7 significantly outperforms the rest of the pack, averaging just under 4 seconds to run the full test. For some perspective, the desktop FireFox browser on a Windows 7 machine with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core i3 processor completes the SunSpider test in about 1000 milliseconds, or 1 second.

In addition to the CPU and web tests on the previous page, we also ran a few graphics benchmarks. Just like the benchmarks from the previous page, the graphics benchmarks are all available for free on the Android market.

Benchmarking The Dell Streak 7 - Graphics
1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (T20) Dual-Core Performance

The Streak's Tegra 2 processor has some serious graphics power, as you might expect from an NVIDIA product. However, Samsung's Hummingbird is no slouch either. The Hummingbird has made a bit of a name for itself for its excellent graphics capability and it shows in this benchmark, with the Samsung Galaxy Tab edging out the Streak 7. It's interesting to see that the Tegra 2 powered Viewsonic gTablet performed significantly worse than the Streak 7, despite having similar hardware. This is likely the result of software differences between the tablets.

Neocore is a graphics benchmark and tech demo developed by Qualcomm to show off its Adreno 130 graphics processor. This is a native OpenGL benchmark that uses OpenGL ES 1.0. The Streak 7 performs very well here and claims the top spot. Unfortunately, we do not have Neocore benchmark results for the Samsung Galaxy Tab at this time (our Tab had to head back to Samsung unfortunately) but we've seen scores in the mid 50s as well on the device.

Streak 7 Performance Summary:  The Dell Streak 7 delivers excellent performance. In our benchmarks, the Streak 7 was able to take the top spot in most tests. NVIDIA's Tegra 2 chip continues to prove itself very competent in both general processing and graphics intensive applications and games. Unfortunately, many benchmarks cannot currently take advantage of the Tegra 2's second core and the same can be said about most Android apps. However, we'll see better performance in the future as multi-core support becomes the norm on Android.

The Dell Streak 7 is a competent tablet, especially with respect to performance and hardware. The NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoC lends the Streak 7 some serious computing power for both work and play. The Streak 7 packs front and rear cameras which are well calibrated and take good pictures. It also has a good design with great build quality. Unfortunately the Streak 7's less than impressive screen takes it down a few notches. Both the screen's mediocre 800x480 resolution and its below average viewing angles makes using what is an otherwise fantastic device occasionally lackluster.

It's really unfortunate that Dell decided to use a lower-end LCD panel for their new 7-inch tablet. The Streak 7 should be very competitive with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and, given a Honeycomb update, could also compete well with upcoming tablets like the Motorola Xoom. Unfortunately, the screen's 800x480 resolution and below average viewing angles are going to limit the tablet amongst power users who are looking at such details.  Perhaps the average mainstream consumer might not care so much but, these are differences that can be noticed in a side-by-side comparison.

Battery life isn't in the same league as the iPad or Galaxy Tab either. We were able to get a solid 6 hours from a single charge through sporadic use where the Streak 7 was connected to Wi-Fi and screen brightness was set to 1/3. The Streak 7 spent about as much time in standby as it did in a combination of light and heavy usage scenarios ranging from web browsing to viewing video and running benchmarks. While our usage pattern is likely to reflect average real-world usage, and 6 hours is respectable, other tablets like the Galaxy Tab can manage to stay running for much longer. This is a result of the Streak 7's relatively small 2,780 mAh battery, compared to the Tab's beefier 4000 mAh unit.

Other than the lackluster screen and mediocre battery life, the Dell Streak 7 is an excellent tablet. The 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 makes it one of the most powerful tablets around and it should have a long shelf life, especially if Dell does a good job of supporting the device with Android OS updates, starting with Honeycomb. Overall, the Dell Streak 7 has the potential to be a relevant tablet for quite some time and assuming it receives an update to Honeycomb, will remain competitive well through the summer.

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