The Motorola Xoom is the first real competitor to Apple’s wildly popular iPad. The Xoom has hardware specs better than the new iPad 2 and it is one of the first tablets to run the new Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) operating system, so we were excited to take a look. Our review unit was the 32 GB Verizon model of the Xoom.
As shown in Figure 1, our Xoom box was slightly damaged, but the sturdy cardboard box kept the contents in pristine condition. Figure 2 shows the contents of the box, which include the Xoom, a charging cable, a USB cable, and a small brochure called “Master Your Device.” Don’t expect this small brochure to do what the title suggests. It is really just a very basic “Getting Started Guide.” If you want to master this device, you will have to download the User Guide from the Motorola website.
The plug on the charging cable folds down for better transportability. You will note, however, that the charging cable plugs into a wall outlet. Unlike some other tablets, this device cannot be charged through the USB cable, but must be plugged into a wall outlet.
[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]
The Xoom measures 9.81 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches (249.1 x 167.8 x 12.9 mm). The 10.1" display is widescreen at 16:10 with a resolution of 1280×800 WXGA. The widescreen aspect is very good for displaying videos and also looks good when viewing webpages and other data. The screen is crisp and clear, has excellent viewing angles, and can be viewed in sunlight. It is also a very responsive capacitive touch screen.
The front of the Xoom, shown in Figure 3, is one slab of Gorilla glass with squared-off corners. The screen has a black surround that measures 0.5 inch. On the top of that surround you can see the Motorola and Verizon names on the left. Both are in soft gray letters which do not detract from the viewing of the screen. In the middle of the top you can also see the front-facing camera.
The Xoom feels sturdy and well-built. Unfortunately, it also feels quite heavy. It weighs in at 25 oz. (708 grams) which is only about 4.5 ounces (127 grams) heavier than the iPad 2, but it “feels” heavier than that. After an hour or more of use, holding it can get to be a bit uncomfortable. Whether it is the weight, thickness, or square-shaped design, the Xoom is simply not as comfortable to use as the iPad 2.
The hardware specs of the Xoom are better than the iPad 2. The Xoom’s 1280×800 resolution is slightly better than the iPad’s screen resolution of 1024×786. The Xoom’s 10.1-inch screen is slightly larger than the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen. The Xoom has a 1 GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, while the iPad 2 has a 1 GHZ dual-core A5. The Xoom has double the memory with 1 GB compared to the iPad’s 512 MB.
The bottom of the Xoom has three ports. As shown in Figure 4, they are (from left to right), the micro USB port, the micro HDMI port, and the round charging port. The addition of an HDMI port also puts the Xoom ahead of the iPad 2 which requires an optional accessory for HDMI connectivity.
The top of the Xoom, shown in Figure 5, has only two openings. On the right is the 3.5 mm headphone jack and on the left is the slot for a memory card and 4G SIM card. Although this port is not operable now, it will be employed in the future. The fact that this device will be able to handle 4G will be attractive to many users.
The back and the sides of the Xoom are one piece of anodized aluminum in a matt black color, as shown in Figure 6. On the right is a strip in shiny black material that holds the 5MP camera, a dual-LED flash, a speaker, and the on-off button (from left to right.) Another matching speaker opening can be seen on the left, as well.
Having the on/off button on the back of the device is somewhat inconvenient. Even worse, however, is having the speakers on the back. While the sound that this device produces is good, in normal use, the speakers are directing the sound away from the front of the unit, which lessens the sound quality for the user.
The side of the Xoom, shown in Figure 7, has only one control, the up/down volume control. Although these buttons protrude slightly, they are not easy to press.
[nextpage title=”Setup and Navigation”]
Setting up the Xoom is an easy process. You don’t need to attach it to a computer as you do with the iPad. Instead, you simply follow the on-screen instructions for setup.
If you use an Android-based smartphone, you will be able to use the Xoom right out of the box. If you have never used Android, you will have a little learning curve. While the Apple iOS operating system is easier for the neophyte, the Android operating system is much more customizable. The Xoom is one of the first tablets to come with Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), which is designed for tablets. It makes very good use of the extra screen real estate. As you can see in Figure 8, with Android, you can have a combination of App icons and larger Widgets.
Android 3.0 does not have capacitive touch buttons on the bezel like Android 2.2 smartphones and tablets. Instead, the touchable navigation buttons are right on the screen. When the screen rotates, the buttons also rotate into the proper position, which is a real plus. There are three navigation icons as shown in Figure 9. They are Back, Home, and Recent Apps.
The Recent Apps navigation icon is especially beneficial as it provides easy multi-tasking. Figure 10 shows the large rectangles that appear to represent the five most recently used Apps.
In the upper right of most screens, you will also see two additional navigation icons, shown in Figure 11. They will bring up the All Apps and Customize functions.
Another nice feature of this Android tablet is the notification screen which can be summoned by touching the bottom right of the screen, as shown in Figure 12. This shows all the recent activities.
[nextpage title=”Using the Xoom”]
The Xoom does everything you would expect a tablet to do. This device was very responsive whether zooming, swiping, or using the keyboard. Of course, voice search and other voice features are also included.
Reading ebooks on the Xoom is a good experience. Because of the good screen resolution, the text is smooth and readable. The Google bookstore already has about three million books.
Email was especially good on Android 3.0. The interface is excellent with a full reading pane, as shown in Figure 13.
Web surfing is also pleasurable, but the web interface is not as easy to use as Apple’s. The look of the Web browser is similar to Google Chrome in that it is very simplistic. The browser offers some nice extras like tabbed browsing and an incognito mode that erases your trail. Yet, we feel that an uninitiated user is sure to have some difficulty performing simple tasks like bookmarking. In fact, we used the Xoom for an entire day before we discovered the hidden menu that appears if you place your finger in the right margin of the page. As you can see in Figure 14, this menu bar has some unusual icons, so you will be left to trial and error to learn to navigate.
After using an iPad, one joy that this pad offers is that it supports Flash. We really missed viewing Flash presentations on the iPad, so we were very happy to see them on the Xoom. In fact, because of the wide screen aspect ratio, all full-screen videos and movies looked especially good on the Xoom.
The dual cameras on the Xoom are also a joy to use. The front-facing camera at 2 megapixels is adequate for video conferencing. Although we were disappointed to find that Skype did not yet support video on Android, we were able to use Gmail and Google Talk to make video calls.
The 5 megapixels camera on the back has a dual LED flash. This camera can also take 720p HD videos. Although we found it a bit difficult to hold the tablet still while taking pictures or videos, the results were pretty good. You probably won’t use this as your only digital camera, but it will be there in a pinch, and you can hook the pad right up to an HD television to show your movies and pictures.
Depending on use, the battery will last an entire day. The only time the battery lasted only about seven hours was in constant use as a GPS the day we used it on the road. We were, however, very happy with its turn-by-turn instructions when using Google Maps. Recharging is fairly quick. We were able to go from 0 to 100 percent battery life in less than three hours.
Although the hardware of the Xoom compares very favorably with the iPad 2, it falls short in the number and quality of the Apps that have been optimized for Android 3.0. With the newness of this tablet and its operating system, this is not surprising. That is not to say that you won’t find an App for what you want to do, it’s just that not too many Apps take full advantage of the Android tablet. Surprisingly, most regular Android Apps will work on the Xoom; they just appear in a small rectangle on the screen rather than taking advantage of the large screen.
There is little doubt that this will change in the future, but if you buy a Xoom now, you will have to wait for the beautiful full-screen Apps that are already available for the iPad.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Motorola Xoom tablet are:
- Dimensions: 9.81 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches (249.1 x 167.8 x 12.9 mm)
- Weight: 25 oz. (708 grams)
- Operating System: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
- Display: 10.1-inch HD Widescreen (16:10)
- Resolution: 1280×800 WXGA
- Processor: Dual–core 1 GHz processor
- RAM: 1 GB of Low Power DDR2 RAM,
- Internal Memory: 32 GB
- Networks: CDMA 800/1900 LTE 700, Rx diversity in all bands
- Sensors: Proximity, ambient light, barometer, gyroscope
- Camera: 5 Megapixels
- Webcam: 2 Megapixels
- Flash: Dual-LED
- Video Capture: 720p
- Music Formats: AAC, H.263, H.264, MP3, MPEG-4, ACC+ Enhanced, OGG, MIDI, AMR NB, AAC+
- Email: Corporate Sync, Google Mail, POP3/IMAP (embedded), Corporate Directory Lookup (GAL)
- Instant Messaging: Google Talk
- BlueTooth: 2.1+EDR+HID
- WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Carrier in the US: Verizon
- More Information: https://www.motorola.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 800 or USD 600 with a two-year contract (USD 350 early termination fee), plus a data plan (USD 20/month minimum)
The exciting part of this tablet is that it is the first Android tablet running Android 3.0 which is optimized for tablets. This new operating system has some excellent features and, except for the browser, is pretty easy to use. Motorola has put together a sturdy tablet that is definitely a contender in the tablet marketplace. The dual-processor, wide screen, good cameras, and additional equipment like the HDMI port, put this tablet ahead of the iPad. The hardware is excellent except for the fact that the tablet itself is a bit heavy and tiresome to hold.
For newbies, the iPad operating sys
tem is still easier to use. But if you are an Android user and love the Android operating system, you will like this tablet OS better than Apple’s. It is more customizable and one might even say – more fun.
The biggest drawback also comes from the fact that it is the first tablet running Android 3.0. There are simply not very many Apps that have been optimized for the Android tablets. Newspapers, magazines, and children’s games that are optimized and available for the iPad, have not yet been made available for the Android tablets. Android tablets can only succeed if the Google Marketplace is seeded with Apps that have been optimized for the tablet and if they can keep their prices lower than Apple.
Which brings us to the Xoom pricing. When compared to the iPad 2, the Xoom seems to be more expensive, even if that is not necessarily true.
The 32 GB version of the Xoom with WiFi only is exactly the same price as the iPad 2 at USD 600. However, Apple also offers a 16 GB version for USD 500, which allows people to get into the tablet world through Apple at USD 100 less.
The 32 GB version of the iPad on Verizon is USD 730 while the 32 GB Xoom is USD 800. Again, there is a cheaper 16 GB iPad available for less at USD 630, but no 16 GB version of the Xoom.
You can, however, purchase the 32 GB version of the Xoom with a Verizon 2-year contract for USD 599 but that monthly fee really adds up.
Also, if you purchase the Verizon Xoom without the contract and decide that you only want to turn on the cellular service occasionally, you will pay Verizon a USD 35 activation fee every time you want to turn the cellular service on again. That fee is waived for the iPad, so you can turn the service on and off without additional fees other than the cellular service.
The Xoom is a really useful, well-implemented tablet, but if Motorola wants to sell Xooms, they will have to be competitive in every way with the iPad, and right now, they are not.
- Fast dual-core processor
- Android 3.0
- Navigation buttons on the screen
- Good battery life
- HDMI port
- 4G upgradeable
- Excellent email interface
- Good screen and aspect ratio
- Good dual cameras
- Poorly placed speakers
- Poorly placed on/off switch
- Battery not user replaceable
- Lack of Apps optimized for Android 3.0