Dell's puzzled the world for quite some time with its outlandish Mini 5 / Streak -- at first glance it's just another Android-based MID, but a quick fiddle with it reveals the full-fledged 3G phone inside. So will it fit in a pocket? Can we carry it around like a normal phone? Is this the future form factor that will bring the ultimate balance between portability and practicality? With such heavy dose of curiosity, we eventually traveled all the way to Shenzhen literally just to grab this prototype. Now, before you read on, do bear in mind that some of its features -- especially the OS -- may not make it to the final design when it comes out later this year, nor do we know what stage this prototype was at. We good? OK.

Let's start with the basics: the main specs on our unit include Android 1.6 (which will definitely be obsolete for the final product), five-inch 800 x 480 capacitive touchscreen, Snapdragon QSD8250 chipset (with CPU clocked at 1GHz), Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS and WCDMA radio. Sadly, we have no info on whether the Mini 5 will have other cellular radio options, but it wouldn't hurt to send Dell a petition regarding this matter. For those who want the dimensions and weight in numbers, it's about 152mm x 78mm x 10mm at 8 ounces (including the battery, which lasts for almost a day for normal usage on 3G). Memory-wise there's 405MB RAM and 1.63GB of internal storage -- a slight let-down for the latter, so let's hope the retail unit will be given a more generous dose of silicon. You can add a microSD card next to the battery on the back, but it appears that the mysterious second card slot we saw in the earlier teardown only gave us false hope -- we couldn't find a way to get to it without prying open the housing. Connection to your computer relies on a proprietary port -- similar but slightly larger than the iPod's -- to USB cable, which may suggest that we will see some more peripherals made for the Mini 5 and its future siblings.
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Dell Mini 5 / Streak prototype impressions


Software, buttons and keyboard

We won't bore you with a full list of preinstalled Android apps on our Mini 5, but there are indeed a few that are worth mentioning: the usual bundle including Google Mail, YouTube, Amazon MP3, WebKit browser (with pinch-to-zoom but no Flash support), Google Maps (no pinch-to-zoom, boo!), K-9 Mail (which supports Exchange server) and Quickoffice (a file browser that can also view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents). For multimedia there's the standard Android music app, a Gallery app by ArcSoft (pinch-to-zoom supported), and a three-year trial of the forthcoming CyberLink Live for Android that gives you "instant access to your photos, music, and video stored on your home computers." There's no social networking integration (like MOTOBLUR and Sense) as such, but you can use the preloaded Meebo IM for chatting on AIM, Facebook, Google Talk, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, etc. If you want to be discrete about your gigantic phone, you may find the Voice Control app by Nuance handy for voice-dialing -- it can be triggered by holding down the button on the bundled handsfree earphones.

Many of the apps support both portrait and landscape modes, although landscape mode only works one way (with the dock connector pointing downwards). This is actually pretty neat for those who like to read in portrait mode while lying in bed, but you'll have to get used to leaning on your right side of your body for this. The dialer app -- as pictured above -- is only available in portrait mode and does look like work in progress, plus we haven't found a way to initiate or receive video calls, leaving the front-facing 640 x 480 camera pretty useless except for some casual self-portraits. Hopefully the final software build will have these fixed. As for normal phone calls we've found voice quality on both ends to be satisfactory.

Going back to the homescreen, we see that Dell's done some skinning -- the top bar houses a button for triggering the apps menu (unlike the traditional pull-up menu on most other Android devices), along with a homescreen switcher button and notifications button. The shortcut icons are contained in shaded grey squares. Only a couple of widgets got our attention: Power Control allows us to quickly change the screen brightness and turn on / off various wireless connections, while the cute TasKiller widgets let us kill apps one by one or all in one go. The widgets for Twitter, Facebook and RSS are useful, but like those on other Android phones, they still lack options for refresh rates. Any chance that we can have enhanced versions, Dell?

The only physical buttons on the Mini 5 all reside on the top edge (when held as pictured above). Starting from the left we have a 3.5mm headphone jack, followed by buttons for volume, power and camera (which has two stages: focus and then capture). On the right of screen there are three touch-sensitive buttons with haptic feedback: back, menu and home. Like other Android phones, the on-screen keyboard can be triggered by holding down the menu button, and as you can see above, the landscape version has a numpad that you may or may not like -- frankly, the keyboard offset is pretty annoying since we need to stretch our right thumb across the numpad for handheld typing, plus the keys could've been bigger if the numpad wasn't there. We think those two factors are to be blamed for our constant typos, so a numpad-less option would totally make our day. That said, when the phone's placed on the desk, we typed better on the landscape keyboard using our index fingers. Similarly, the portrait keyboard performed better with our thumbs while we held the device.


Multimedia experience

Given the MID form factor and that gorgeous five-inch screen, we immediately loaded a few MP4 videos of various resolutions (1080p, 720p and 480p) to see what the Mini 5 could take. Annoyingly, our Mini 5's default video player could only handle MP4V video codec, so we had to convert our test videos, including the MP4 files that were compiled by iMovie (which encodes in H.264). On the contrary, Carrypad's heard from Dell at MWC that the final product will support "H.264 and other codecs." Even then, the device failed to open our 1080p files, but that's not the end of the world considering 720p is already plentiful for the 800 x 480 screen -- we had a 7Mbps 720p video playing smoothly with just the odd stutter. On a similar matter, the preloaded YouTube app performed nicely for us, except for the lack of higher quality playback options to make full use of the large screen.

Moving on to audio: the Mini 5 has a mono speaker on the back that sounds loud and surprisingly clear, but naturally, the bundled earphones sound even better -- we'd scale it to somewhere between the levels of the iPod buds and Apple's in-ear headphones. Fans of stereo Bluetooth headphones will be pleased to know that our Mini 5 supports A2DP and AVRCP, which are particularly useful for devices of such size.

The main camera offers five-megapixel pictures of reasonable quality, along with decent 640 x 480 video capture but with slight rolling shutter effect (aka "jelly motion"). The accompanying camera app has a wealth of settings for both modes: scene, white balance, brightness, contrast, and resolution. Extra settings for photo mode include flash, self-timer, multi-shot, shutter sound, GPS location and flicker adjustment, whereas video mode has options for video format (MPEG-4 and H.263). Both support digital zoom of up to 4x. Once a picture is taken, you get a three-second preview along with options to edit, send, set as wallpaper / contact icon and delete. You get the same options by accessing the photos on the left-hand bar. In edit mode you can rotate, crop, adjust colors, draw, resize and add various goodies (effects, frames, text and clipart). Thankfully, there are undo and redo buttons, too.

Here are a couple of videos and some photos captured by the five-megapixel camera:




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Dell Mini 5 prototype camera photo samples


Comfort

Understandably, most people are concerned about whether this 5-inch tablet would fit inside their pocket. We're happy to tell you that it snuggled nicely in our jeans' pockets, which is most likely to do with the device's sensible thickness and our lack of tight pants. Apart from the slight exposure (as pictured below) and the occasional struggle when walking up stairs, we've had no other issues with pocketing our Mini 5. A more popular concern would be whether you'd look like a dork when holding the monstrous phone right next to your face. To be honest, it's not too bad, except the user would most likely be more concious about the size, simply because you'd have to stretch your fingers a bit to accommodate the unusually large footprint and weight -- you can see the size better demoed in the earlier walkthrough video. Just keep that to yourself and you'll be fine -- so far most blokes who've seen and touched our Mini 5 have said they want one, so this phone is already quite the masculine symbol. And yes, the phone makes a great tool for chatting up the ladies, too (although they've all said it's too big and heavy after playing with it; perhaps the Mini 3 will strike their fancy?).


Wrap-up

Dell may not be the first to forage into the scene of oversized smartphones (see HTC Advantage and HTC Universal), but it looks like the combination of Android, Snapdragon, 3G affordability and resurrection of the tablet trend may give the Mini 5 a great potential. We found the five-inch form factor to be neither too big nor too small, perfect for browsing the web, watching videos (watch out, Archos 5!), car navigation and reading ebooks on the go. Even the battery life matches most current 3G phones, despite the larger screen and faster CPU. We haven't seen one yet, but a dock for this phone would be a great addition as it's just big enough to serve as a digital picture frame, if not a side monitor for your social networking apps or emails. Update: the dock exists!

So, would we get one? Absolutely. Would we buy one? Depends -- Dell's been pretty tight-lipped about pricing, and some of you have even expressed concerns about the possibility of this WCDMA phone heading to AT&T. As mentioned before, the firmware on the actual phone will definitely be different when it comes out at some point this year, so hopefully between now and then Dell can work in some social networking integration, a podcast subscriber, a prettier dialer app, a better keyboard and Google Maps with pinch to zoom. As for hardware, all we ask for is a better camera and larger internal storage. Cheers for now, Michael!
Dell

Streak (prototype)

Pros

  • Great screen with wide viewing angle
  • Good overall build quality
  • Intuitive Android skin

Cons

  • Weak camera performance
  • Unstable early firmware
  • Offset keyboard due to numeric keypad
Summary

LG Arena officially lands on AT&T for $199