Dell Streak blurs line between tablet, smartphone

Is the Android-powered Dell Streak, coming this summer, a tablet or a smartphone? The answer depends on who you ask.

Dell Inc. calls it a tablet, but with a five-inch screen it's nearly half the size of Apple's 9.7-inch iPad.

Blurring the lines even further, it also has a GSM radio for making calls, something not often seen in tablets and certainly not in the iPad.

While it's basically a large pocket-size device, the Streak is small enough to hold up to your ear to make a call, or it can be connected to a wired or wireless headset.

Dell actually hasn't officially announced the dimensions of the full device, just the size of the screen, says Dell spokesman Matthew Parretta. "It doesn't look goofy holding it up to your head to talk," he said, noting he's been using the Streak for eight months as a phone and tablet and loves it.

Dell calls the Streak a tablet and not something else, because it's expected to be used as primarily a data-centric device, Parretta said.

In full landscape mode, a user can download Web pages and see them in full width, rather than having to move back and forth like one would with a smartphone. Moreover, the Streak can be used as a GPS device with Google Maps and Google Voice, he said.

But Dell executives have also recognized that the Streak falls between a smartphone and a tablet. Ron Garriques, president of the Dell Communication Solutions Group, said in a statement that the device "hits the sweet spot between traditional smartphones and larger-screen tablets. Its unique size provides people new ways to enjoy, connect and navigate their lives."

Other Dell representatives have described what the Streak is in a blog post and a video. "It is in a class of device that fits between a smartphone and a full netbook or notebook," said Kevin Andrew, who is on the Streak's development team, in the video.

What's in a name, anyway?

Why does it matter whether you call the Streak a smartphone or a tablet? It probably doesn't matter that much, except that something with a little of both is hard for some people to digest, including analysts such as Gartner Inc.'s Ken Dulaney.

"I find this product is in an odd size category that I do not believe will produce significant volume," Dulaney said via e-mail. "It is definitely not a smartphone, and the screen is only half the diagonal of the iPad, which is obviously successful."

Apple sold 1 million iPads in a little more than a month.

Dulaney said that Intel Corp. had called such "tweener" devices MIDs, for mobile Internet devices, but the concept basically fell flat. "Intel got many manufacturers to make such devices with little success," Dulaney said.

"So Dell has to convince the market that this product has some significant feature set over the iPad and that it's not a fourth computer [category]," he said.

Dulaney said the software in the Streak is also going to have to be competitive with the iPad's offerings.

Dell has said it will be possible to upgrade the Streak to the Android 2.2 operating system later this year, enabling it to support Flash 10.1 and video chat, among other features. The Streak's fast 1-GHz Snapdragon processor and its two cameras, front and rear, would make video chat possible.

PC Magazine's Lance Ulanoff declared the Streak was not a tablet and more like a phone.

Meanwhile, independent IT industry analyst Rob Enderle noted in a column at TGDaily on Wednesday that he had carried the Streak around for months and had found that it was better than both the iPad and the iPhone.

"It is both small enough to be a phone and big enough to do a number of things the iPad does acceptably well," Enderle wrote.

A major factor in Streak's favor, Enderle noted, is that it runs on Android. Android-based devices are close to matching the iPhone's success, he said, and Android could actually attract more developers than iPhone OS.

However, Enderle noted that "there may never really be a one-size-fits-all market." The Streak, he said, is "just the beginning of what we want in a tablet/smartphone, and it may be years until the right size and combination of technologies come to market."

Enderle said he bets there will be other devices in the class of the Streak coming shortly.

Putting aside questions about whether the Streak is a tablet or a smartphone, some analysts have said the device's success will depend on other factors, including Dell's strong brand and reputation and superior ability to market and sell products.

Analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates LLC said on Tuesday that the Streak will do well in the short term, partly because Dell's brand recognition could help differentiate the device from dozens of other upcoming Android devices.

While some bloggers theorized AT&T will carry the Streak in the U.S., Dell has not commented officially on U.S. carriers, nor has it announced pricing or a release date -- except to say that the Streak would arrive "later this summer."

The Dell Streak will first appear in early June in the U.K. at 02 stores and at online retail sites, including Dell's U.K. site later in June.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

This story, "Dell Streak blurs line between tablet, smartphone" was originally published by Computerworld.

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