The battle between Android and iPhone is becoming legendary, especially lately. Until the Motorola Backflip came out earlier this year, the iPhone’s sole US cellular provider, AT&T, had no Android devices. Since then, there have been rumors floating around that the carrier could hold up to 5-6 Google-powered handsets by the end of the year. When I heard one of them was the tablet/phone built by Dell, I had to check it out. Fortunately, where I reside, the Dell Streak is already released, which means I was able to get some hands-on time with this very large device.
How large is it? At 152.9 x 79.1 x 10 mm, this phone is a giant. Many people have even been referring to it as a tablet. The size is actually somewhere between the iPhone and iPad, and considering this makes calls and is intended to be carried on the person like a typical smartphone, let’s compare it to our just-released iPhone 4 and see how it stacks up.
The Streak has a 5 MP snapper with dual LED flash, same amount of pixels as the iPhone 4, but double the lighting power. Both phones also have secondary front-facing cameras, for video chat. In addition, the Dell device also packs a face and smile detector, as well as a dedicated camera button, which the iPhone lacks. The Dell’s auto focus works very well and gets pretty close before going soft. But auto focus doesn’t always pick up what you want, so the iPhone 4′s touch-enabled focusing feature proves more useful. And with Apple boosting the shutter speed, by comparison, the Dell phone’s shutter leaves a lot to be desired. When quick reaction time is necessary, some Streak users may find that by the time they snap the pic, the photo opportunity has passed.
Junior Spielbergs in the reading audience will want to note that both phones offer video capture, but the Streak tops out at 640 x 480 VGA. As well known by now, the iPhone 4 boasts 720p HD video recording. May not be a deal breaker for the occasional amateur videographer, but anyone who wants or needs to capture detail will notice the difference.
The screen can play a huge part in the camera experience, as people view their shots on screen, and it doesn’t lack on either phone. The Streak displays the photos with great clarity, and its huge 5″ display gives a better view of the entire photo. It doesn’t show up quite as vivid as on the iPhone’s higher resolution Retina Display, but viewing quality was still excellent. (For more about the screen, see “Display” below.)
The Streak sports a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, which is appearing all over the smartphone market lately. While not the top of the line these days (the Hummingbird chipset is the next “hot” thing for processors), Dell’s processor speed seems to perform quite well. With the Apple handset wielding a “custom silicone” A4 chip, the gadgets are pretty evenly matched. The fact that both use different operating systems means it’s a little difficult to compare processor performance. The iOS, as with everything Cupertino make, is minimalist and takes little power to use. Android, similarly is minimalist, but with widgets, extra notifications and what not, it can get a tiny bit laggy. To be fair, however, the Dell Streak ships with Android 1.6, but will be upgradeable to 2.2 (Froyo). How it will handle a more advanced, polished build of the OS could make all the difference.
I won’t go into the merits of the Android platform vs. iOS 4 here. That could be a whole post (or rather, a series of posts) unto itself. But I will talk about it from a performance standpoint. On version 1.6 running on the Streak, screen switching is fluid, as is opening up the Android standard menus. Third-party apps can take a little bit longer to launch, and the same applies to loading the camera. Don’t get me wrong â€” compared to a lot of other phones, it’s pretty quick. But compared to the iPhone, it’s just that little bit behind. On the 4, everything is snappy, with app launching and homescreen swiping moving swiftly. The new fast app switching capability lives up to its name, allowing users to move seamlessly between applications. One noticeable area of improvement for the iPhone is SMS. In the key function of sending texts, the animation that sends the message on to the thread seems a little jittery.
Overall: The Apple phone does perform tasks slightly quicker than the Streak overall, but there’s not enough of a difference to impact the user experience in an appreciable way.
With Jobs having made a big deal of the so-called “Retina display” and the Streak hosting the largest screen seen on a phone yet, this one’s tough. Both phones sport capacitive touch screens; the Dell offers 480×800 pixels, Apple’s considerably more at 640×960 pixels. Touchscreen connoisseurs may see the difference, but I’d wager most people wouldn’t feel cheated using the Streak by any means.
Dell offers 5 inches of “WOW!” in a scale that’s just super impressive. It’s sharp, and images are crystal clear â€” at least indoors. Unfortunately, it’s not so hot out in daylight, and not great for viewing at tight or sidelong angles.The iPhone display, as frequently reported, is superb. Visible from almost any angle, it offers bright colors and clarity that may be the best of any smartphone display to date. (Literally, I could not see any pixels no matter how close I got.) But at 3.5 inches, the size may not satisfy users who want to get lost in a big smartphone screen.
So both devices offer some very compelling reasons to rejoice. In the end it will likely come down to individual size preference. Big, beautiful screen that offers a great viewing experience for images, video and web surfing vs. smaller, more portable size with better clarity and resolution.
Overall: As mentioned, users will have their own subjective preferences here, and I’m no exception. The iPhone 4 may offer a more beautiful and clearer, higher resolution display, but I find that the smaller size does impact the viewing experience. The Streak’s display may not beat the iPhone’s quality, but it is still very, very good. That, coupled with the greater surface area equals pure magnificence for me. So nice job, Dell. This display is a winner in my book.
Look/Feel and Build
With the handsets both being so vastly different in size and shape, it’s basically down to comfort. Considering its size (152.9 x 79.1 x 10 mm), the Streak doesn’t weigh too much at 220 grams. Still, in both cases, it’s quite a bit more than the iPhone 4′s 115.2 mm x 58.6 mm x 9.3 mm form factor and weight (137 grams).
The Apple handset’s build quality is far superior, with its stainless steel and glass fabrication. It’s the most luxurious handset in its price bracket. (In my opinion, the next best-designed device would be the Motorola Aura, which is a lot more expensive.) Not to say that The Streak is a slouch â€” It offers a “Gorilla Glass” screen that is among the strongest on the market. But in the hand, the overall exterior feels a bit plasticky.
As for looks, the Dell device is not a bad-looking gadget. The curves add a nice sleek look, though the Streak does look to me like a giant BlackBerry Storm. It has the same curves downward at the head and bottom, to try and convince you it isn’t too big to carry. (In my opinion, both the Streak and the Storm lack in the comfort field.) As much as I like having a large screen for viewing purposes, I don’t like how the Dell’s enormous size detracts from its portability. It feels okay in two hand mode, but as soon as you switch to using one, for making calls, you: a) look ridiculous and b) get severe hand cramps.
But I also find that the iPhone 4 feels a bit awkward. Its sharp, squared-off form and shiny back will likely result in a lot of slips and drops. To add some grippyness, you could buy a Bumper case or some other accessory. Thing is, I dislike that this is required just so that it feels good to hold.
Speaking of bumper cases and build quality â€” it would be a big omission to touch on this without bringing up the antenna problem. The issue revolves around users’ hands interfering with the metal banding/external antenna, resulting in a degraded or dropped signal. As of yet, however, it hasn’t been fully confirmed whether a software fix could address that or not. So for now, I’m mentioning it here to inform our readers, but am not weighing this against the iPhone’s build quality until more facts come to light.
The overriding issue, especially when it comes to size and shape, is that the Dell Streak doesn’t appear to know whether it’s a tablet or a phone. It’s not sure whether to be an “iPad killer ” or an “iPhone killer,” and so it doesn’t completely succeed at being either.
Overall: Neither phone offers a great feel in the hand, but I think the iPhone edges this one, purely for looks and overall build quality. (However, if the iPhone’s antenna problem is a hardware failure that cannot be addressed by a software update, then this is a pretty massive fail. For people who rely heavily on their phones, this could â€” and maybe should â€” be a deal breaker.)
- With the addition of a MicroSD slot, you’re not going to be short on memory. The device has 16GB storage built in, and can be upgraded with a memory card (up to 32GB), potentially giving you a whopping 48GB of storage.
- It naturally offers seamless syncing with Google accounts. The Android OS is a huge pull to anyone who’s life revolves around Google’s mail, calendars and docs.
- Flash 10.1! Apple will never include Flash compatibility. With its 5″ screen and Flash support, you won’t have large portions of the web outside your reach.
- Home Dock with HDMI out.
- It is due to get an update to Froyo (Android 2.2), currently runs version 1.6.
- 16GB/32GB options available, but no expandability.
- Apple’s “Find my iPhone” (available via MobileMe) and “iMovie” app will be massive draws. (If you have a MobileMe account, it syncs over the air with all the contacts/calendars on your PC/Mac.)
- TV out is a great feature, but it doesn’t come in the box. That means purchasing another Apple accessory to hook it up to your television.
- FaceTime is definitely not the first implementation of mobile video chat, but it seems to have cast quite a spotlight on this for mainstream users. For now, it’s Wifi and iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 only, but look for this to change over time.
If you’re on AT&T and you’re a dedicated iPhone user or an Android fan, the choice between these two handsets is a no-brainer. But those of you who are torn between the platforms should definitely look beyond the operating system and assess what the user experience might be like actually carrying and using these devices day-to-day.
If you hunger for a large screen, and don’t care about how comfortable your phone is to hold, you may find the Dell Streak brilliant. As mentioned, I am personally very impressed by its display. (I’d take 5 inches over 3.5 any day, to watch movies, music videos, or glancing at YouTube.) But it’s important to note that all that screen real estate comes at a price.
The Streak makes itself hard to love, as it’s big and clunky. It neither lends itself to being carried in the pocket, nor in a sleeve in your backpack or bag. Is it a phone, or is it a tablet? It seems too big to be one, and too small for the other.
Obviously, as I write for Today’s iPhone, my personal preference is for the iOS 4 platform. But software aside, the general build quality, looks, performance and portability factor still make the iPhone 4 my handset of choice.
If you’re an Android-curious AT&T subscriber who isn’t gung-ho about the Dell Streak, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for the Samsung Captivate instead. This looks like a higher-end device that’s larger than the iPhone, but smaller than the Dell Streak. It will also have the latest Hummingbird processor, 720p HD video recording and a 4-inch Super Amoled screen. We’ll be doing another TiP Off comparison between this hotly anticipated Android smartphone and the iPhone 4 as well, so stay tuned for that.