At long last, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) finally got around to launching its long-promised Android phone in the hometown American market. Not only that, but the Dell Aero is available with service from AT&T (NYSE: T ) , right next to the omnipotence force we know as the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone.
But this is no iPhone killer. It's a $99 phone (if you get a two-year service contract, of course) with some nice features, notably a 5-megapixel camera in a lightweight and stylish package. And on Day 1, it's already outdated.
The press materials and Dell's own online pages for the new gadget say nothing about which Android version is running on it, but the tech sleuths at Gizmodo have narrowed it down to version 1.5. This is what the original T-Mobile myTouch 3G shipped with last summer, when Android phones were still a rare sight in the wild. It was supposedly obsoleted by 1.6 last October, and Dell's other Android device runs on that version. Never mind that the latest and greatest Android software is up to version 2.2 with some important improvements, or that the whole software platform is license-free -- there is no cost-related excuse to lag this far behind the curve.
And this is why critics of the Android platform like to latch onto the fragmentation of the customer base. New devices launch with old software and no promises about future upgrades. Sure, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) keeps cranking out Android updates on a frenzied schedule, promising two new versions a year. It's hard to keep up, I guess. Apple's mellow once-a-year refresh and very limited hardware variety sure make for less guesswork.
Then again, with a $99 price point the Dell Aero becomes the second-cheapest of AT&T's Android phones. Even the lightweight HTC Aria is more upscale and the Samsung Captivate is the only real challenger to the Apple smartphone hegemony at Ma Bell's place. (OK, the BlackBerry Torch and Bold from Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) also go for $200 each, but are those really smartphones? Your mileage may vary.)
As such, I don't think the Aero's target market is the alpha-nerd crowd where we care about details like modern software. Affordable, lightweight, and good-looking could be a good enough feature checklist to make it a retail-friendly unit shifter. Even so, I would check back on Dell's smartphone strategy in the spring of 2011 or so, when whatever lessons the Aero and Streak can impart will have made their mark on the Texan computer builder.
Would you buy this crazy little thing, even with last year's software? Discuss in the comments below.