The Dell Aero: Obsolete at Birth

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 And on Day 1, it's already outdated.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.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 9:19 PM, bsimpsen wrote:

    I'll never understand these price $100/$200 price comparisons. With a $70/mo 24 month plan, you're spending $1680 for the plan. So, it's really $1780/$1880. That makes it hard to justify cheapening your entire two year experience to save less than 6%.

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 9:54 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    Fair enough, bsimpsen. Very fair. Guess I should start prefacing these comparisons with something about the immediate hit to your wallet; most of the time I don't have the column space to go into the whole life-of-the-plan calculation.

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 10:29 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    Dell have lost the plot.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 1:58 AM, GreyM0user wrote:

    @infoThatHelp: I can't tell if you're being facetious or are ignoring the entire content of the article. The current Android OS version is 2.2. The Aero released with last year's 1.5 version, which, by no sane definition, is a "new generation Android that's generations ahead and app-rich than Rim OS6."

    The Dell Aero is dead on arrival. With current Android users clamoring to get 2.2 loaded on their phones by any means necessary, the decision by Dell to release a phone with such outdated code is simply dumbfounding.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 8:10 AM, midnightmoney wrote:

    I can see a lot of parents standing at the shop with their children, saying, "no, Johnny, the Dell Aero is more than phone enough for you to start with and probably much more than you need." Johnny may roll his eyes, knowing that he won't be in the superhip-2.2-android-os-it-does-everything-but-turn-farts-into-folk music-crowd. But then he'll grow up and realise that he didn't need anything else to begin with. He'll drive a secondhand ford instead of a brand new bmw. And he'll worry about things that matter more than what version the operating system on his telephone is.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 8:38 AM, DevDude100 wrote:

    I suspect I can guess what happened here. The version number of the phone identifies when Dell got an agreement with a vendor to make the phone. There was probably some internal belief within Dell that the company could take the phone and sell it "en masse" without investing significant resources of their own in testing. Then there were a lot of public issues with the iPhone and executives at Dell got nervous that the company's reputation was on the line and a little testing might be worth it. So, testing began. Then resources got tight so launch was delayed. There were tons of discussions around whether they would need to test the latest version and delay launch but someone decided that "our market doesn't care about the latest version--they want stability". Done, the original version was kept in order to try to hold to a delayed launch date and here we are a year late and a dollar short. Short, short, I say.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 9:10 AM, sk8ertor wrote:

    @infothathelp: Please, get a job and get off this board. You are a spammer and we have no use for you here.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 1:01 PM, SageOrFool wrote:

    The Dell Aero appeals to all the practicality-minded modern folks in the world. It's by far the most practical and capable smartphone on the planet today. I see the Aero being snapped up very briskly especially by the folks who dump the ultra simplistic and outdated gears like the Rim Blackberrys.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 1:11 PM, dexter1225 wrote:

    I really want to see what RIMM said to InfoThatHelp that has caused him to become such a nay-sayer. This is hilarious...

    You REALLY need to find a job or hobby; running around all these RIMM/smartphone related articles posting your "Debbie Downer" comments is really getting old - especially when you use such poor grammar...

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 1:56 PM, GreyM0user wrote:

    SageOrFool, have you even seen what today's Android phones can do? "By far the most practical and capable smartphone on the planet today?" Here's something the Aero can't do that Android 2.x can do: Google Navigation. There are a whole slew of applications and features that I use every day on my phone that simply won't run on anything earlier than 2.1.

    My (almost) year-old Droid runs rings around this phone.

    This is like Dell releasing a computer today that only runs Windows 95.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 2:46 PM, SageOrFool wrote:

    It's the combination of practical AND capable that makes the Aero appealing, not just capable.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 2:48 PM, SageOrFool wrote:

    I have benefited a lot from reading InfoThatHelp. His grammar is really adequate. Not only does he offer solid rationale and information, his writing style is rather efficient and direct.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 4:11 PM, dexter1225 wrote:

    Are you guys "together"?

    No? Could have fooled me...

    And I don't believe "adequate" grammar is sufficient to sound intellectual when making an opinion on the longevity of a company.

    RIMM, Apple, Dell, Motorola, etc... they all have excellent business fundamentals and good management to top it all off...what you choose is all based on preference.

    All I'm reading here in the comments are arguments about the OS on a phone; consumers will choose what appeals to them and what does the job for the individual.

  • Report this Comment On August 25, 2010, at 11:14 PM, GreyM0user wrote:

    SageOrFool,

    How exactly do you define "practical?" I bought my Droid for $50 more than the Aero sells for today. Before it was dropped from the Verizon line-up, you could get 2 for $200. How exactly is the Aero more practical for offering fewer capabilities for the same money? Doesn't sound practical to me.

  • Report this Comment On August 28, 2010, at 1:43 PM, grant224 wrote:

    @MillerFallsMan

    Since this is an old article, you (or anyone else) will probably not notice this, but why do you spend most of your posts being angry at infohelps or whatever..

    I'd almost think we were in elementary school and you had a crush on him or something..

    Grow Up and add something to the discussion..

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