When we first reviewed the Dell Streak we had some reservations, largely due to shipping with Android 1.6. In December 2010, however, Dell finally updated the software to Android 2.2, and we’ve been using it on a day-to-day basis for the past month.
Perhaps surprisingly, the change in underlying OS makes a big difference in a number of ways. In the main the changes are for the good – it’s now a much faster machine – but we do have some reservations about the impact on battery life. It’s enough to earn the device a recommendation, but note its weaknesses before you blow your cash.
There are four key areas that see a change: performance, battery life, the user interface and the keyboard.
If you want one simple reason why the Streak is now much better, just try loading Angry Birds. Under 1.6 it was usable but jerky; with the speed boost on offer from the upgrade to Android 2.2, which seems to fully unleash the power of Qualcomm’s 1GHz Snapdragon 8250 processor, it’s just as smooth as on an iPhone.
The key, though, is that we never felt frustrated by the Streak’s speed under Android 2.2. It was more than fast enough for any app that we threw at it.
If only we could be so positive about battery life. This is the Achilles’ heel of the Streak with 2.2 installed.
In real-world-use, you’ll be recharging it far too often, especially if you use background services. For example, we used both the Twitter and Facebook apps that sit on one of the home screens, and it was quite normal for the charge to drop from around 40% to almost nothing (or sometimes, nothing) overnight.
We have mixed feelings about the new user interface. The original didn’t have a huge number of differences compared to a “raw” Android installation, but the minor enhancements worked. For instance, you could click an always-present dropdown to quickly jump into settings or to access all the applications.
With 2.2, Dell has made more of its own mark, courtesy of the Stage interface. This translates into seven different homepages, each with its own theme: Web, for instance, shows five recently visited websites and offers a Google search box; Music includes thumbnails of the ten previous albums you listened to, and includes shortcuts to playlists and albums.
One big improvement is the keyboard, courtesy of Swype. In its first incarnation of the Streak, Dell used its own cramped onscreen keyboard with a number pad on the right. That could be convenient, but it also meant the keys were very small. As a result, text entry was quite slow except for the most nimble-fingered.
With this updated version Swype makes things much easier. While you can use the Swype keyboard in the time-honoured prod-each-key manner, it’s far quicker to swipe your fingers over the keys. So if you were typing “typist”, you’d start at t, head right to y (keeping your finger on the keyboard), keep on going to p, head back to i, drop down to s and then back to t. It sounds confusing, but it works, especially if you put a little effort into working out its tricks – for example, looping on a letter shows that you mean to tap it twice (such as in the word “letter”).
Overall, then, this is a positive update.
However, if you’re willing to put up with the niggles we’ve already identified – our primary concern is its battery life – then it’s well worth buying as a super-charged smartphone with the capability to step up to tablet status when you need it.