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Motorola Xoom Review

by Ryan MatthewsMarch 14, 2011

It’s here. The highly-anticipated Motorola Xoom tablet has hit the market, marking Motorola’s first significant foray into the tablet PC world. Slim, lightweight and aesthetically marvelous, the Xoom is a compliment to Motorola’s Google-based Droid phones. While you simply can’t review a tablet PC without comparing it to Apple’s iPad, let’s take a look at the Xoom on its own merits before we delve into comparison.

Specifications

Physically, the Xoom is delightful. It weighs in at 1 ½ pounds while supporting a coveted 10.1” screen. But at 9.8 inches by 6.8 inches and a scant half an inch thick, it is hardly a bulky device. It’s decked out with a 5 megapixel rear camera with duel LED flash, as well as a front-facing 2 megapixel camera perfect for video chatting. There is an onboard speaker on the back that gets a fair amount of power for a small device. The left side of the device holds two volume buttons, while the bottom has micro USB and micro HDMI out ports. The 3.5” headphone jack is on top of the device. As is standard for tablets, the screen sits flush with the chassis of the device, and the whole device is thin and tapers off to the edges in the rear.

The biggest news about the Xoom, of course, is that it features a totally revamped Android operating system designed specifically for tablets: the 3.0 Honeycomb update. The OS is powered by a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 1 GHz processor and covers 1080p HD video. Further accelerating the powerful new OS is a full 1 GB of DDR2 RAM and 32 GB of onboard memory. Motorola has specified that they will include an update to support additional SD card storage. The battery claims 10 hours of continuous video playback, though the optional 3G coverage will reduce it to 9 hours, according to some testers. Speaking of Wifi, the Xoom has 2.4 GHz Wifi support and also supports Bluetooth 2.1.

Performance and Accessibility

So how does the Xoom handle? Again, it’s hard not to make comparisons to Apple’s new iPad2. It sits comfortably in the hand, and the slight increase in size over the iPad is definitely worth the extra screen size. I love that Motorola has pushed the screen closer to the edges of the device; Apple tends to include frames on its devices that I feel eat up screen space. The screen looks amazing, the colors are rich and deep, and while the 1280×800 resolution may not totally destroy the iPad 2’s 1024×768 resolution, it is still fantastic. I found everything to be easily accessible and well-laid out, but it’s a tablet PC so connectivity is always going to be limited to just a couple of ports. This isn’t a mark against the device so much as it is a limitation of the whole tablet line.

One thing of note is that the layout of the Xoom seems geared towards operating it in a landscape position, rather than the iPad’s instinctive portrait feel. The software doesn’t limit you to either position, of course, but the positioning of the buttons and ports means you will probably want to hold it in landscape position. This gives the feeling of a computer more than an oversized mobile device which some will definitely appreciate. Again, there is plenty of freedom to orient the device any way that you feel; this is just the natural inclination of design. The keyboard, of course, will always work best in landscape mode, and will always have that unnatural feel of typing on a flat surface with no tactile response. For what it’s worth, the Xoom’s keyboard is responsive, large, and while it will always take some getting used to, you will find it a worth competitor to the iPad.

Of course, the star of the show is the new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system. Google rebuilt its standard Android operating system, which had been geared primarily to smartphones, to function more reliably and intuitively on a tablet device. This is a highly anticipated change, as many customers had been griping about Google’s lack of interest in a tablet-devoted OS. Google, always quick to respond, has given us an operating system that is powerful if a little confusing at first. You may find yourself having trouble performing some basic tasks until you learn the ins and outs of the system. This is a mark against it in terms of comparison with the iPad. Apple produces notoriously simplistic and easily-accessible devices, and while I appreciate Google concentrating on functionality, a more intuitive design would have been nice.

However, this may all be the jogs and pains of playing around with a new operating system. Get used to it and it really works well. It features several customizable homescreens, meaning you can really fine-tune your experience more than you typically can on Apple’s offerings. Truly, this is the double-edged sword of mobile device design: making something too intuitive and you won’t be able to let users customize it; make it too open for customization and you sacrifice design. Personally, I’ll take function over accessibility, but I am prone to investing a certain amount of time in my devices, and I will always prefer customizable operating systems to Apple’s proprietary, vice-like grip on its software.

With that being said, Honeycomb is fast, much faster than some other Android fare. Delays have been significantly reduced, and while it still can’t quite match the iPad’s smooth transitions and scrolling, you won’t be disappointed by what the Xoom can do. It has 1 GB of RAM, which doubles the presumed 512 MB of the iPad 2. This combined with the fact that Google is fully integrated into the operating system makes for a good experience. That rings particularly true if you are heavily invested in Google products; a Gmail account makes a world of difference when synching up with your Android devices. Plus, you have access to the Android market which, while currently lacking in tablet-specific apps, is growing every day.

There’s one last thing I have yet to mention: price. The Motorola Xoom starts at $799 for a basic Wifi tablet and no Verizon contract. However, the price drops to $599 if you sign up for Verizon’s 2 year data plan which gets you 3G coverage. The iPad 2, by comparison, ships for a starting price of$499 for a 16 GB tablet, while all Xoom tablets come with 32 GB of onboard memory plus room for future expansion. The 32 GB iPad 2 will presumably take on a higher price tag.

Conclusion

The Motorola Xoom is a formidable first effort in terms of tablet PCs. The 3.0 Honeycomb OS shines as a beacon of hope for those of us heavily invested in Google continuing to compete with the Apple juggernaut, but there’s room on the market for both devices. However, with the hefty price tag, you should be prepared to invest quite a bit into your Xoom, both in terms of money and time spent learning the device’s capabilities. Some users will be chased off, as Apple’s price tag is typically the thing that keeps people from investing in new devices. However, you must bear in mind that the price discrepancy is based largely on functionality and the fact that Apple tends to ship bare-bones products at their lowest prices.

So is the Xoom worth it? That really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to pick up your device and go, you may be better off with an iPad 2. But if you’re looking for a powerhouse device that runs well and offers significantly more customization options, you will definitely be pleased with the Motorola Xoom.

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