Dell launches Streak tablet PC across Europe

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PC giant Dell has joined the increasing number of firms offering a tablet device.

The world's number three computer manufacturer says that its Streak - also known as the Mini 5 - is the first of a number of planned products.

The Streak is smaller than most tablets with a 5in (12.5cm) screen and runs Google's Android operating system.

Analysts said it was a "significant" launch that marked Dell's return to the handheld computer market.

"This is a data device first and a voice device second," Tavis Butler of Dell told BBC News.

Mr Butler said it was the first device to be produced by Dell's new business division which focuses on small-screen devices.

"This is the first in a family of devices," he said.

Reports suggest Dell also has a 7in and a 10in tablet planned for the future.

"This year our estimates suggest that there will be 1.3 billion mobile devices sold around the world," said Ben Wood of analyst firm CCS Insight.

"Dell wants to get into this space. How can any PC maker not afford to?"

Always on

The Streak was first shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Early reports have questioned the size of the gadget.

"It kind of fits somewhere in between a smart phone with a big screen and an iPad," said Mr Wood.

"The big unanswered question is whether there is any space for a device like that."

However, he said, it was an "ambitious statement" from Dell to differentiate itself from other tablet manufacturers.

Firms including Hewlett Packard (HP) and Google are reportedly bringing tablets to market soon. HP recently bought Palm with the intention of bolstering its mobile and tablet offerings.

Some have put this renewed interest in tablet PCs down to the recent launch of the Apple iPad, which sold more than one million units in its first month and will go on sale in the UK on the 28 May.

However, Ian Fogg, analyst at research firm Forrester, said this was not the case.

"It takes time to bring a product in a new category to market," he told BBC News.

"There is no way that the number of tablet devices launching today have all been developed post-iPad. They were developed in parallel."

Various firms - including Dell - have launched tablet PCs in the past, but they have never become mass market.

Mr Fogg said one of the reasons that tablets were now making a comeback was the success of the smartphone market, and in particular software designed for the devices.

"Tablets need to be instant on and off, small and have a decent battery life,"

"That is precisely what a smart phone operating system is designed to do."

The Dell gadget uses the Android operating system, whilst the iPad uses software designed for the iPhone.

"It is becoming an extension of the mobile phone market," said Mr Fogg.

Price point

The touchscreen Streak will initially launch across Europe, followed by the US.

The first model comes with 3G and wi-fi connectivity, 16GB of storage, GPS and two cameras; one on the front and one on the back.

Unlike many other Android tablets, owners will be able to download applications from the Android Marketplace. Google has blocked some tablet makers from installing the marketplace app on many devices larger than a mobile phone.

In addition, Mr Butler said that Dell had developed some of its own software for the device for example to access social networks such as Facebook.

Mr Butler described it as a "companion" or "consolidation device".

"It reduces the need to take five or six different gadgets," he said.

However, Mr Wood cautioned that the Streak's Achilles heel will be its price.

"It will have to be at a price where people can buy it as object of desire rather than necessity," he said.

Dell has not revealed pricing, but has said it will be offered exclusively through Carphone warehouse and O2 in the UK from June.

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