Dell looks at larger screens for handheld devices

Dell will first go to Europe with its Streak smartphone

Dell on Tuesday announced it would ship its first handheld device, called Streak, in June, but it is also looking to develop devices with larger screen sizes as it tries to establish a foothold in the competitive mobile market.

The Streak has a 5-inch screen, and the company is looking at developing handheld devices with larger screen sizes, said John Thode, vice president of small devices in Dell's communication solutions group. He said there is room for portable devices with multiple screen sizes as technology develops and new usage models for applications emerge.

Communication technologies like LTE (Long Term Evolution) are developing fast, data plans are becoming cheaper, and consumers are willing to carry more devices, Thode said. Dell wants to create different consumer and enterprise usage scenarios as wireless data transfer rates get faster, he said.

Streak is the first of what could be multiple devices from Dell in the fast-growing mobile space over the next few years, Thode said.

The Streak device -- which the company calls a tablet -- was developed as a pocket-sized device with a large screen on which content like movies could be viewed, Thode said. Dell executives have described Streak as hitting the "sweet spot" between smartphones and tablets with larger screens.

The device runs Google's Android OS. It will first be available in the U.K. through retailers Carphone Warehouse and O2 stores. Pricing was not announced and the device will be available in the U.S. later in the summer, according to the company.

This market segment Streak serves was previously occupied by devices called MIDs (mobile Internet devices), which didn't take off because there wasn't the right combination of hardware and content, Thode said. Dell hopes to offer the right hardware with Streak, and with Android, hopes not to lock down users into proprietary stores to download applications and content, Thode said.

Tablets recently emerged as a hot-selling item with Apple's iPad, which comes with a 9.7-inch screen. But with the 5-inch screen, the Streak is an experiment that could set the stage for development of pocket-sized devices that mix voice with a heavy emphasis on content consumption, analysts said. Smartphones already come with screens in the 4-inch range, and there is room for the screen size to increase, analysts said. HTC a few weeks ago launched the Evo 4G smartphone, which sports a 4.3-inch screen.

Streak's larger screen brings more viewing convenience to movies than traditional smartphones, said Will Stofega, program director for mobile device technology and trends at IDC, who has been using the device for a month. The device is small enough to fit in a pocket with its smartphone-like design.

However, battery life could be an issue, Stofega said. He didn't measure Streak's exact battery life, but said smartphone batteries have been slow in keeping up with the faster processing power and growing screen sizes.

Streak is Dell's early entry in a crowded market dominated by Nokia, Apple, Samsung, Research in Motion and others. Sales of the device could partly depend on Dell's reputation and how carriers place the device.

"What it's going to come down to for them is marketing and channel. Can they get the right partner in the carrier space and can they get the advertising?" Stofega said.

Dell is trying to establish itself in a new market with a differentiated offering in Streak, but whether it succeeds remains to be seen, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. There is a going interest in Android devices, and Streak's larger screen and Dell's brand recognition could differentiate the device from a hoard of other Android devices.

"I think in the short term, they will do well," Gold said.

Dell also has a large PC supply chain and strong channel that it could leverage to distribute the products, Gold said.

Dell declined comment on its partners in the U.K. But the company has established strong partnership with carriers like AT&T and Telefonica, which has a strong presence in Europe and South America. Dell hasn't detailed what devices it would sell through Telefonica, but it will sell another smartphone called Aero later this year through AT&T. The device comes with a 3.5-inch screen and the Android OS.

The Streak comes with a Snapdragon processor, which runs at 1GHz. Over-the-air software upgrades will be available with the device, and users will be able to upgrade to Google's latest Android 2.2 operating system later this year. The device will also come with a high-resolution 5-megapixel camera, a front-facing camera and 2GB of internal dedicated storage. It also includes an Micro SD slot for expandable storage of up to 32 GB.

The device offers 3G connectivity through HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) networks. It also includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.

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