Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Streak vs the iPad

[Provisional rating: one out of five stars. I expect this will rise significantly if and when they ever fix the issue with downloading from the "Market" (Android app store).]

OK, so I took a leap and got the Dell Streak. Even though it's currently priced about the same as the (much bigger) iPad, and will surely fall in price. Wha'ever.
You should understand, I don't do this to get another toy! I do this because I take my role as researcher for you very seriously!!

So far, my impression is positive. The Streak is nice and sleek, very responsive, userfriendly, and has a nice screen.
About two negatives so far: the large battery cover is fiddly to get on and off, and only held in place by several very tiny curved flaps of steel. Hmmm.
And I'm trying to download ebook readers for it, this was after all my main purpose in getting it. And I found them (Kindle and Adiko) in the Market, and the device claims it's downloading them, but for over thirty minutes now it's been stuck on "starting to download", with no indication of any actual progress, despite it having both wifi and 3G access. Even rebooting the device has not changed the situation. I don't know what the heck is going on there. (Update: it's been hours now, and despite trying some things from the forum, it still has not downloaded one byte. This is getting crazy, the iPad is not perfect, but Apple products don't have flaws as severe as this.) (Update next day: it's a very odd situation... I've been having it just sit there trying to download, hours on end, and most of the few apps I've selected are still hung, but occasionally one will just slip through and be installed. I've never seen anything like it.) (Update two days later: all six selected apps have finally appeared...)

People talk about that it matters what Google account one is logged in with. But I can't even find any settings for the Market app, or how to log out!
(From the Android Market forum, it seems it may be a quite common problem with the Market app store. Not the Streak itself, but that hardly matters to me if I can't get hold of any apps for the durn thing. There are so  many threads asking when this problem will be fixed. Quite a beauty spot on the platform.)

You need a Google account to access the Market. It seems you need a durn Google account to do anything these days, I have decidedly mixed feelings about that.
(Also, I logged in with my usual account, and it seemed to accept it, but then I also had to create a new Gmail account in order to continue. So I'm not even sure I logged in successfully or what. Strange.)

On the pictures the Streak may not look much larger than a normal phone, but then I'm 6.4 with the hands to match.  

I'm pleased that I can use it with wifi without a SIM card in place. It would have been just like companies today to demand an active phone card, even if you don't need it. But then of course I paid full price, unsubsidized. (450 Pounds Sterling ($700), gasp! Crazy pricing when you can get an iPad for the same price, or for $500 in the US. Such is the penalty for living in comfy ol' Europe, where you don't risk ending up in tent cities without water or electricity if you lose your job. C'est la vie.

We'll see how it goes over longer time. But if there are not too many of these hiccups, I think the Streak could be quite successful. I love my iPad, and its size (9.7 inch screen) is great for many things, but the Streak with its 5 inch screen is very hand-hold-able and pocket-able, and yet more useful than the usual 3.5 inch phone screen, so I think it might be a very good compromise.

The iPad has a very simple interface, but I don't mind the Streak's either, so far. The hardware button on the front are unusual: they are not simply electronic so they would react to the merest butterfly touch, but neither are the push-buttons so you have to really push them willfully. It's something in between. It does feel nice, but I think I might have preferred real buttons which would not be activated accidentally just by you handling the device.

The screen keyboard is much more full-featured than the one on the iPhone, but this also means the keys are quite small, I find them pretty tricky to hit right. 

You can't, unlike the iPad, wake it up by touching the screen. You have to press the powerbutton on the side, which you pretty much have to look for to find, at least in the beginning. And while the iPad has a slider to avoid accidental activation, the Streak use the Menu button for this, I guess almost as effective.

The unnamed browser seems very nice, and unlike Safari on iPad, has actual settings!  (Sometimes Apple does go a bit overboard in their love of minimalism.)
I'm a bit surprised though that they haven't (yet) adopted the very useful gesture of double-tapping on a column to have it fill the screen. But at least pinch/spread zooming is easy and precise. And again, the screen is very nice.
It's nice that you can change the size of text in the browser, but unfortunately it seems it's only in settings, not per-page. Also, like often happens, the size steps are simply too crude to be really useful. If the text is just slightly too small, the next step up will be way larger. Smaller increments would be much more useful. (This is also true for many other apps, like the Kindle app on various platforms for example.)

Update: After several hours of this BS, one app was suddenly downloaded! (Only one, others are still hanging.)  And fortunately it happened to be the Kindle app, the one I bought the machine to use. Apart from the oft-mentioned too-crude steps in text size, it works nicely. (Oddly though it does not seem to sync my place in a book, unlike the Kindle app on my other devices.)

So far I'd say that both the Streak and Android seems really nice, except it is irritatingly buggy. This is, I guess, the predictable downside of an open platform. That's where Apple has a big advantage, they control both the hardware and the software, so it's a much smoother experience.

The camera though, while five megapixels like the one in the iPhone 4, has nothing like the quality of the iPhone's. The iPhone 4 I will cheerfully use for serious photography (and I have), the Streak's camera I'll only use if I have nothing else.

These are the two text sizes I use in Kindle on Streak.

I think that if the iPad had not existed, the Streak would be a very good reader, at least to rival the Kindle or better (unless one prefers the greyish e-paper and reading in the sun). But if the rumors are right and there will be a seven-inch iPad, maybe even with Retina display, the Streak is down for the count.

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