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Dell strikes out with the ‘Streak’

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Well, Dell made it out of the gate with one of the first Android-powered tablets, and the result is a resounding thud.

The Dell "Streak" offers a 5-inch screen, weighs about 8 ounces and has a 5-megapixel camera. It measures 6-by-3 inches, and therein lies its main issue.

What is it?

It's not an iPad, which is clearly like a magazine page. When you hold an iPad, it's not a phone. It's a tablet. It is big. It is not something you'd make a phone call on. It's something you take notes on, or read a book on, or look at a photo on.

The Streak is way too big for a phone, but it's a phone. It's too small for a tablet, but it's a tablet. And at $300 (with a two-year cell contract) it is too expensive for everything.

Let's start with the nice parts of the Streak. It is hefty and feels good in your hands. It feels like a tool, not a toy. The keyboard is easy to use and takes advantage of the Android operating system and the large size of the Streak so it is simple and easy to type on.

Then there is Android itself, which is open and full of avid developers making all kinds of new applications for the OS every week. Android is just fun.

And there is the bad news.

Android. Well, Dell has decided to ship the Streak with version 1.6 of Android when the current version is 2.2, which is inexcusable, lazy and stupid. Not version 2.0, not 2.1 or even the new 2.2. The day you open the Streak you will be running an obsolete operating system. Of course Dell is promising an upgrade to 2.2 this year, but when?

The price. At $300 with a new contract, this is a hundred bucks more than the DroidX, which is a better device. The real bad news is the contract is on AT&T, and frequent readers of this space will know how I feel about that. (The network is overburdened and isn't very good.) If you want to buy one without a contract, it will cost you $500 to $600 for an unlocked version you can use on WiFi only, and for that kind of money you're in iPad land.

So then you have to wonder as you hold this thing in your hand — what is it good for? It's too big and too heavy for a phone and too small and too expensive to be a tablet. This strikes me as a nice try and a good first volley, but other than the novelty factor, it is just not the right form factor to be a big impact on the overall market.

If this thing was $99 and WiFi only it would be pretty interesting (and my gut feeling is that is exactly where the remaining stock will be in the Dell Outlet in about six months). But at this price and heft, I think Dell has taken an uncharacteristic swing and miss with the Streak.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm, and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com.