Technologizer: Dell’s Streak–Is It a Huge Smartphone or a Tiny Computer?

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By Harry McCracken

The time I’ve spent with Verizon Wireless’s Droid X has made one thing clear to me: I like great big smartphone screens. As impressively elegant as the iPhone 4′s 3.5″ retina display is, the X’s 4.3″ superscreen makes for larger type and easier tapping. It’s like the difference between a highly refined sportscar and a roomy SUV. I hope phones in both sizes flourish.

And then there’s Dell’s Streak…which makes the Droid X look like a pipsqueak. At five inches, its screen is so expansive that it’s not clear upon first glance whether this device is a phone. It is. Or at least it can be one: The Dell executive I spoke with at a demo yesterday described the Streak as being “capable of making phone calls.” In other words, Dell sees it as a data device that does voice rather than a phone that does data.

The Streak is currently available in the UK from wireless carrier O2; consumers who sign up for two years of data-only or data/voice service can get it for free, and it costs about $500 without a contract. Dell intends to bring it to the states later this summer, but hasn’t announced any specifics about pricing or or carrier partnerships.

If nothing else, the company deserves credit for being gutsy enough to enter a market with an exceptionally checkered past. The OQO and FlipStart PC flopped, as did Microsoft’s UMPC. Intel’s Mobile Internet Device platform doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, either. Sony’s UX series is history. Archos continues to build mini-tablets that run Windows and Android, but it caters to gadget nerds, not the masses.

Basically, there’s never been much evidence that anyone other than a few geeks wants a computing gadget that’s bigger than a smartphone and smaller than a netbook. (The iPad is a lot thinner than a netbook, but its screen size–9.7 inches–is similar.)

And yet the Streak is pretty interesting.

[This post is excerpted with Harry McCracken’s permission from his Technologizer blog.]

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