I’m glad to see Dell and other hardware vendors jumping into the tablet/slate market. Apple may be leading the pack with its iPad, but competition will spur innovation and hopefully drive down prices.

On Tuesday, Dell released details of its latest tablet–the Dell Streak. The announcement follows months of leaks, rumors, and speculation.

Beginning in June, the Streak will be available in the UK from retailers O2 and the The Carphone Warehouse, and on Dell.co.uk. Dell will provide pricing and data plan details sometime before then. The Streak will be available in the US later this Summer.

Dell Streak specifications

Here’s a break down of the Dell Streak’s specs:

  • OS: Google Android with support for Android 2.2 later this year
  • Processor: 1GHz ARM-based Snapdragon
  • Screen: 5-inch multi-touch WVGA display
  • Wireless: 3G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooh
  • Camera: 5MP camera with LED flash and VGA front-facing camera
  • Memory: 2GB of internal memory; expandable to 32GB with Micro SD card
  • Battery: Removable

Too close to a smartphone; too far from a tablet

Looking at the Streak’s specifications, the device looks like a great portable music player or smartphone (which it’s not). But in my opinion, the device’s 5-inch screen knocks it out of the tablet/slate PC category. This is only 1.5 inches larger than the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch–neither of which is called a tablet.

Early tablets

From the beginning, tablet PCs where designed to be both consumption and creation devices. The earliest tablet/slate computers were laptops with swivel screens and touch-sensitive displays (usually requiring a stylus). Some, like the HP TC1100/TR1105, were designed to be used without being tethered to a keyboard. But for the most part, these tablets were just specialized laptops.

And being laptops, these computers let you do everything you could do on a traditional computer. You could consume by browsing the Web, playing games, watching video, and listening to music. You could create by writing documents, building spreadsheets, developing software, and editing video.

Smartphones take over consumption

At the other end of the computing spectrum are smartphones. They are more portable than traditional laptops or the early tablets, and they offer superior battery life. And as the capability of mobile hardware and operating systems have grown, smartphones have assumed many of the consumption duties once reserved for traditional computers. Yet they remain limited as creation devices.

Sure, you can take photos, send emails, even view and edit documents with your smartphone. But unless you’re a texting champion, I doubt you’ll be writing your next 20,000-word quarterly report or building a 1,000-column financial spreadsheet via the onscreen keyboard of a device with a 3.5-inch display. It’s just not efficient, or comfortable for that matter.

The new tablets

Somewhere is the middle of these two extremes are the new tablet/slate devices. These devices are designed to provide a mix of portability, battery life, and computing power.

Apple currently leads this market with the iPad. And while the iPad still leans more toward consumption than creation, the device’s 9.7-inch display and keyboard accessories make the process much easier than on a smartphone. Hopefully, Apple will add Bluetooth mouse support in iPhone OS 4, which will make creating on the iPad even easier.

Why not just buy a smartphone?

Unfortunately, Dell’s first entrant in this new market is little more than a super-sized smartphone. It has hardware to rival the iPad, but with a 5-inch screen the Streak will be primarily a consumption device.

If you want a portable communication and consumption device, why not just buy a smartphone? If you already have a smartphone, do you really want a second device that does exactly want your smartphone does, but has a slightly larger screen? Am I missing something here?

Check out the demonstration of the Dell Streak in the following video and let me know what you think. Do small-screen devices like the Streak have a place in your tech toolbox?