Since I already shared my first impressions of the Dell Streak hardware, I thought I'd follow up with my first impressions of the software (Android 1.6 with Dell Design UX). I've been using my Streak for about five days now, so some of the knee-jerk thoughts I had about it back then no longer apply. I think it's still worth sharing, though, as first impressions can sometimes make or break a purchasing decision.
In case you don't want to read the long list you'll find below, the short of it is that I was a little disappointed when using the Streak for the first time. "Is this it?" popped into my head a few times.
I don't feel like this anymore, as I'm finding a lot of things to like the more I use it, but the initial user experience didn't make a positive first impression on me.
Here are my first impressions of the software, in no particular order:
- User interface is very plain and uninviting. Vanilla Android 1.6 looks very . . . well, vanilla after being immersed in Android 2.1 with HTC Sense on my EVO 4G.
- What a boring choice of stock wallpaper. I'm going to look for some HTC Sense or panoramic ones.
- There's no "Wow!" when looking the default home screen for the first time; it's more like "Oh."
- Is this seriously Dell's custom skin (formally called Dell Design UX) or do I have to enable it in the settings? The app menu where the pull-down notification shade normally is, app icons set inside individual translucent black boxes, and a tappable status bar, notification bar, and home screen/browser window bar seem to be the gist of it.
- I like being able to tap for notifications rather than tap-and-drag.
- Tapping the status bar brings up useful wireless settings (no need to use widgets to control these) as well as a shortcut to the main settings area.
- The app menu has a favorites bar at the top, which seems handy though perhaps a little redundant since most people will put their most-used apps on one of the home screens.
- App icons and text labels are small.
- Three home screens are enabled by default, but there can be a total of six.
- Swiping through home screens isn't as smooth/fluid as it should be. It's almost like each screen needs to get over an invisible hump in the middle to make it all the way across.
- System response is snappy.
- No double-tap to zoom in stock web browser. Boo!
- Text doesn't reflow in web browser, which makes pinch zooming kind of worthless.
- Oh, hey, Spare Parts is already preinstalled!
- Keyboard has a separate 10-key number pad, making thumb typing feel off-balanced. Keyboard itself is decent, though. I think I like it better than the stock Android keyboard and the one included with HTC Sense.
- There are so many keyboard alternatives available for Android that it almost doesn't matter what people think of the default one.
- Screen rotates to portrait mode in only one direction (clockwise). Orientation switch is fast. Home screens are locked in landscape mode.
- Capacitive touch buttons provide haptic feedback. Haptics can be disabled on the screen, but I don't see a way to get rid of it with these buttons.
- Long-pressing the Menu button brings up the keyboard. Long-pressing the Home button brings up home screen thumbnails and list of 9 recently accessed apps.
- I don't know why I thought the Streak felt fragile when I first took it out the box. It feels very solid and almost indestructible when actually using it.
If first impressions sell a device, then I'm curious about how the Streak will fare with customers who don't know anything about it and just see it in a store. Android isn't an OS that everyone can use with no instruction (it isn't as user-friendly or straightforward for mainstream consumers as iPhone OS), so I think Dell really should've done more with its custom skin.
The company's tweaks are too subtle and most of the interface just looks "blah" compared to some other custom UIs and mobile operating systems out there. We don't know yet how Dell will be marketing the Streak (and at what demographic), but if it's the mainstream crowd who compares every gadget with an iPhone or iPad, then the software should've been stepped up a few notches to be on the same level as the hardware.
If Android 1.6 could be a strike against the Streak for techies and the weak custom overlay that barely qualifies for a skin could be a strike for non-techies, then who is this device really for? The software makes it unclear.