For Dell's Streak, price and design could be crucial, analysts say

The 5-inch tablet/smartphone will be a showcase for Dell, which is best known for selling PCs, one analyst says

Dell said on Tuesday that its 5-inch Streak tablet will ship this Friday for $300 with a two-year AT&T contract.

Dell's 5-inch Streak tablet fits in a somewhat untested product category between a smartphone and tablet.

Its arrival comes after delays that had infuriated potential customers. But even if early adopters forgive Dell for a release snafu, its price seems high to some.

And there's the lingering question of whether it is really more of an Androidsmartphone , because its 5-inch screen is nearly half the screen size of the fast-selling Apple iPad .

Some have also expressed worries about Streak functioning poorly over only AT&T's network in the U.S., following concerns about iPhone service.

The Streak already sells in Britain, and Dell has ruled out using T-Mobile, the other major U.S. GSM carrier, to the dismay of some customers.

Potential customers are also concerned Streak will ship with Android 1.6, with an over-the-air upgrade to 2.2 later in the year, even though 2.2 is already available on smartphones like the original Droid and this week with the new Droid 2 .

Dell mentioned the upgrade for the Streak in a blog yesterday, along with purchase details for customers who registered for a pre-sale.

Pre-sale customers will have the ability to first order a Streak on Thursday, August 12, and online sales will be available to the general public on Friday.

The release at one point was going to be before the end of July, upsetting some customers .

One potential buyer addressed the delays, the price and the choice of AT&T over T-Mobile in one succinct comment on the Dell Commmunity page yesterday.

"JsARCLIGHT" wrote after the announcement: "Count me in the camp who scratched the Streak off my buy list a while back. I kept coming here hoping the price would be lower, the Android version would be higher and the T-Mobile option would be reopened. None of those things happened."

Several analysts said many buyers will forgive the delays and shipment confusion, but the price, form factor (caught between a smartphone and tablet) and the Android version gave them some cause for concern.

"I think it would be better if it was priced at $199," the price of many smartphones, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "It seems they are pricing this half-way between a smartphone and full blown tablet. But I suspect they experimenting to see what the market will bear."

Analyst Rob Enderle, of the Enderle Group, said the $300 price tag is mid-way between a $200 smartphone and some tablets, although he said the highest capacity iPad could run even $800.

Gold said it is "troubling" that Streak ships with Android 1.6, but Enderle said it will probably be upgradable by November, and that Google has not been making 2.2 upgrades available as quickly for Android-based tablets as it has for smartphones.

Enderle has been using a Streak prototype for months to test out the device, and said he found it "close to an ideal blend" of a tablet and a smartphone. Meanwhile, Gold said its size will be the most interesting factor to follow, to see how popular it becomes as a "tweener" device.

"I think this device is, in some ways, a make or break for Dell," Gold added. "They need to establish themselves in the smart device market, which they have yet to do in any real way."

Enderle said that smartphone is actually a new category for Dell and because of that, customers will be somewhat patient.

"The Streak is not in a make-it-or-break-it class, and for Dell this is their first attempt to break into this segment," Enderle said.

"I doubt [Streak] will be successful, just because Dell is not Apple and so many devices are out there. But as a showcase of what Dell is capable of, it's good."

In the end, the confusion buyers faced over the shipment won't matter, Enderle added. "If they shipped in fourth quarter, that would be a problem," he added.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, added: "The question everybody in the store will ask is, 'Why should I buy this Streak instead of the iPad?'"

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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