A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to review a new Motorola Xoom. Could the Android Honeycomb tablet unseat the iPad as my go-to device? Here are my initial impressions.
Tell me about the Xoom
The Xoom is an Android-based tablet that runs on Google’s new Honeycomb 3.0 platform (the device I tested had version 3.1 on it). As you may know, Android runs on smart phones, but Honeycomb is actually the first version that Google has built with tablets in mind. Now, some phone manufactures will customize Android for their device. That’s not the case with Honeycomb. With the Xoom you get it the way Google intended and without those annoying add-ons or skins.
The Xoom has a 10 inch display with a massive 1280 x 800 resolution. It runs on a dual-core 1GHz processor (the first tablet to offer dual-core processing at the time) with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The Xoom has a SD card slot to swap and upgrade your storage space if needed. The Xoom I tested had both 3G and wi-fi connectivity. If the rumors are true, the Xoom will be able to access Verizon’s 4G network when available.
The Motorola Xoom comes with both a front and rear facing camera. The rear-facing camera is 5 megapixels and the front-facing clocks in at 2MP – more than enough for all your video chatting and photo needs. You can record HD video at 720p or play it back at a crystal clear 1080p. I was really impressed that it also has HDMI to output to a TV or external monitor as well as a USB port to quickly swap files.
The wi-fi only 32GB Xoom is $599 (the same price for the wi-fi only 32GB iPad 2). If you’d like the option of having Verizon’s 3G network, you can get it for $599 with a contract or $799 without. Data plans range from $20 to $80/month depending on your data usage.
Where the Xoom excels
Notifications on the Xoom are marvelous. When you get a new email message or reply, a tiny box pops up with a preview of the message. Click it and the Xoom quickly switches to that application. It doesn’t butt in like iOS notifications do.
The GMail app is simple and charming. It syncs with your inbox, keeps you organized and has all the great features the web version offers. Google Talk is a great alternative to Apple’s Facetime and doesn’t lock you (or your chat partners) in to one device.
The homescreen is fully customizable with apps and widgets. The widgets give you real-time updates of your inbox, twitter stream, weather and more without having to spring the app. This is a great feature and a geek’s dream.
I spend a lot of time in the browser and the included Chrome browser trumps Safari in my opinion. I use Chrome as my default browser and the ability to sync bookmarks, logins and preferences across multiple computers and systems keeps me sane. Tabbed browsing, support for Adobe Flash and a single box for typing URL’s and searches puts the Xoom head and shoulders above the iPad 2 in this category.
And although I don’t own an Android phone, I understand the first time you use a Honeycomb tablet, it will automatically import settings and profile preferences from your current Android phone. The tablet will download and install all of the apps you’ve put on your phone en masse. No need to saddle up to your computer, select, select some more, sync, wait and wait some more to get it up and running.
Finally, and although it may seem small, but the charging port on the Xoom is easy to access and comes with a nice long cord. With the iPad 2, I feel like I could break it off every time.
Quick note: Apple is supposedly incorporating quite a few of these features (tabbed browsing, better notifications, over-the-air updates) in iOS 5, but you’ll have to wait until fall to see them on your iPad or iPhone.
Where the iPad 2 is better
Navigating. You know those videos of cats and babies playing with an iPad? It’s a simple demonstration that shows you the iPad interface is so intuitive that even a damn cat can figure it out. Honeycomb on the other hand feels like a baby horse running for the first time. Deep down you know how powerful and elegant it can become, but right now it’s very clunky and rough around the edges. Buttons and navigation are not clearly labeled and spread throughout all areas of the OS. It takes a while to get adjusted and Honeycomb has a small learning curve. I was constantly thinking “where am I?” and “how do I get back?” in the larger sense of the operating system.
Who the hell decided to put the power button on the back? I had to put the device down after 2 minutes of searching and pull out the instruction manual before I finally figured it out. As a test of my ignorance, I asked 3 friends to try and turn it on – they all failed.
The Xoom is a solid 10-inch tablet with the fit and luster of the iPad although just a little heavier and a bit bulkier. Maybe I have weak wrists, but the design forces you to hold it landscape a lot of the time. For apps like Twitter, this results in a lot of wasted screen real estate.
Flipboard is one of my favorite apps for the iPad. I spend a lot of my evenings reading and discovering new aggregated content in it’s super cool book layout. Not having Flipboard available for Android makes me ill.
Here’s why you should buy a Xoom
I feel as though Apple and Google have pitted users against each other. You’re either all in or you’re all out. You can’t have a mish mash of devices that work together in unison without having a computer science degree.
Therefore, if you’re on Google’s side, looking for a solid tablet, running a state-of-the-art operating system that is fully customizable and can stand eye-to-eye with the iPad 2, then the Motorola Xoom is the tablet you should buy.
Note: I was not paid or compensated in any way by Verizon, Motorola or their partners. I simply borrowed, reviewed and returned the device for this article.