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Is it a phone? is it a tablet?, it's a phablet

Dell's Streak phablet: horses for courses

Posted By TelecomTV One , 01 June 2010 | 0 Comments | (0)
Tags: dell Android tablet ipad

The reaction to Dell's Streak phone has been at least as interesting as the device itself. What is it about these gadgets that inspires such partisanship? And how can telecom marketeers bottle it for other things? By Ian Scales.

Dell's new 'device' is in fact just a large Android phone (it's actually a Dell Mini with Google's OS and Qualcomm's beefy Snapdragon processor under the hood). See TelecomTV's hands-on with the device by Leila Makki below.

In fact it seems to be a good phone as these things go (early days). It has a 5 megapixel camera (and another facing back at the user) a toughened touch-sensitive screen, lots of memory and Dell says it's a phone for the user who interacts with the data apps more than voice services.

To that end, being a big phone it has a big screen (5 inches) and for some users that might be a real bonus. It means that anything visual becomes more usable, so turn-by-turn navigation, watching movies and (in particular) native web browsing might simply become a better experience.

That's if you're prepared to put up with the larger size, and an unknown proportion of users (especially men with big jacket pockets) probably will. Simple.

But Dell went one further than this. Instead of just saying, here's a big phone: for some users it might be preferable (or indeed a sometime alternative) to having a phone AND a tablet; it decided to market the thing as 'almost' a tablet.

The mere suggestion that the Streak might be preferable to the iPad for many and will therefore provide a much-needed dose of competition to the rather under-featured and over-hyped slab from Cupertino, has been enough to set some Apple fans foaming and the comments pages of blogs and online review sites on fire.

This misses the mark somewhat. The ability to develop lots of different 'form-factors' is the whole point of Android. Android is a platform across which users can ply their data to a cloud services environment - the device is just the conduit not the destination.


So as expected, Android vendors have not only produced gadgets which roughly copied the iPhone (we now have at least a dozen of those) they are now hunting for new niches and form factors - notebook computers, tablets, set-top boxes, you name it - across which users might (in some circumstances) get to the cloud.

So Android's multiple approaches and differentiated gadgets is not a weakness, or a sign of confusion - it's the whole point.

Furthermore, if the Streak does well and sells in droves it doesn't invalidate the iPad any more than a rise in trouser sales undermines the shirt market.

Personally, I've long bemoaned the cult of the ridiculously small in phones. Just because you CAN make the things smaller doesn't mean you should because all sorts of things drop out on the way. Battery life, usability (the buttons are too small), visibility (who wants to watch a film on a 3 inch screen?) and so on. In short, as the data services become the prime use, the screen becomes the overriding feature, so it was really only a matter of time before phone sizes began creeping back up again (as I think they were doing anyway, even before the Streak).

So if the device is a conduit (not a destination) then it stands to reason that I might consider having several of them to use in different circumstances.

As things currently stand the Streak (or something like it) might be better tuned to my life- and work-style (and my inside jacket pockets) than the tiny end of the smartphone market, but using a streak will in no way prevent me from buying a tablet as well, probably to use around the home. Oh,.. and if, on occasions, I want to take a phone with me but I balk at the bulk of my Streak, then I could no doubt have a little phone as well. Horses for courses.

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Press/Play: The Dell Streak