When the Droid Incredible was announced, I asked if anybody besides HTC was even making Android phones anymore. The answer, it seems, is yes. Good God, yes. Dell’s phones are in the HTC mold, except more daring in design. If Dell can pull these things off, HTC should be worried, and we should all be really excited. The phones are clearly mockups, so it’s important to remember that these are officially unconfirmed rumors, but they’re very strong rumors that I personally don’t doubt.
Dell’s first smartphone, the Mini 3(i), was a textbook example of how boring Android can be when left unadulterated and plopped haphazardly into a completely uninspired handset. But these three Android phones, the Thunder, Flash, and Smoke, are anything but boring. They’re shockingly bold, in fact, from a company once described as primarily a manufacturer of beige metal boxes.
The Thunder, pictured above, looks to be the closest to release–it’s running the current Android 2.1, rather than the next-gen Android “Froyo” (Android releases are named alphabetically, after desserts–the current one is “Eclair”) that the Smoke and Flash use. But all three look to have a custom interface, like HTC’s vaunted Sense UI. It’s called “Stage,” and we know just about nothing about it except what we see in these few precious mockups and some scattered rumors. Allegedly, Stage will tap into Facebook and Twitter (like Sense UI) and may use the innovative but frankly sort of weird Swype keyboard.
Like its Windows Phone 7 cousin, the Lightning, the Thunder has a huge 4.1-inch OLED screen, a Snapdragon processor, and, like the Lightning again, an odd mention of Flash. This time, there’s even a Hulu app specifically stated–no idea if that’s true. It sounds a little pie-in-the-sky for me, but who knows. The Thunder will supposedly come out on AT&T in the fourth quarter of this year.
Next up, the Dell Flash. It’s the more mainstream-looking of the two next-gen Froyo Android phones, with no hardware keyboard and a smaller (but still pretty big) 3.5-inch screen. That’s the same size as the iPhone, though the different aspect ratio may make the Flash seem smaller. Aside from the expected specs (Wi-Fi, microSD slot, that kind of thing), the Flash has TV-out, a next-gen Snapdragon chip, and that promising-looking Stage UI. It’s expected to come out on AT&T in the first quarter of 2011.
Finally, the ballsiest and oddest of the bunch: the Smoke. It’s an elongated candybar phone, sort of similar to the Palm Pixi. It’s got a small screen (at 2.8 inches, maybe too small) and a vertically oriented hardware keyboard. It looks like it could be a cheaper brother to the Flash, given its smaller screen size. But unlike the Pixi, the Smoke isn’t underpowered, packing the same next-gen Snapdragon processor as the Flash, as well as a dual-microphone noise-canceling system (like the Nexus One and possibly the leaked iPhone 4). It looks impossibly thin, at 12mm thick. The Smoke is rumored to hit AT&T in the second quarter of 2011.
There are still lots of questions to be answered about these phones, mostly about the software, which is a total unknown at this point. Another question: why go exclusively AT&T? Is Verizon blackballed or something? Also, I’m a bit nervous about the quality of hardware–Dell is not known as the best hardware designer or manufacturer around, and its products often feel plasticky or cheap, which is unforgivable in a smartphone. But I’m really hopeful–these look amazing, and the prospect of a new Android player is great for everyone.