The first Android 3.0 Tablet computer is here. Will the Motorola Xoom be able to take on the iPad 2? I don't think so...
The Motorola Xoom has the distinction of being the first "true" Android Tablet to be released this year. It's the first to be powered by Google's native Tablet operating system, Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb.
Since last year, smartphone makers have attempted to make Android Tablets that ranged from 5in to 7in in size. However, many of the attempts felt half-baked as they were nothing more than oversized devices running on a smartphone OS.
So, is the Xoom the next stage of the Tablet evolution? Is it the iPad killer that many expect it to be? Read on to find out.
Aesthetically, the Xoom bears a slight resemblance to the iPad 2 in shape and design although it is a tad longer because of its slightly larger 10.1in (1,280 x 800-pixel resolution) touchscreen. The back is also more curved than the iPad.
The widescreen is great for watching movies but its width makes it feel unwieldy to hold and perform actions like typing on it.
Nonetheless, the display looks nice, crisp and reasonably bright although the colours aren't as vivid as the iPad 2's.
Strangely the screen has an unnatural blue tint when compared to another Android Tablet, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
Also, we found the auto- brightness option a bit extreme - the device dims the screen so much that it's too dim to use sometimes.
On the bright side, even though it isn't an IPS panel, the Tablet still has decent viewing angles.
The Xoom's design is minimalistic with almost no buttons at all on the device save for the power button located on the back (a rather odd place in our opinion) and volume adjustment buttons on the left side of the Tablet.
On the back you'll also find a 5-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash. The speakers are also located here and they are pretty loud. There's also a 2-megapixel camera on the front for video chats.
At the top there are slots for SIM and microSD cards. The review unit is a WiFi-only model, so the SIM card slot doesn't actually work. Currently the 3G/LTE and WiFi model is only available in the United States.
Strangely, the Xoom's microSD slot is also not usable. There is a tiny plastic placeholder in the slot that says the slot will only be activated in a future firmware update.
Still, the 32GB of built-in storage should be sufficient for everyday use.
At the bottom, there is also a mini HDMI jack for mirroring images on a larger screen, a micro USB port and charging port. A charging dock is also available for the Xoom but it's sold separately.
The overall build quality is pretty good and the Tablet felt solid. It weighs 708g which is not too bad but it may strain your hand if you're holding the Tablet for extended periods of time.
What makes the Xoom special is Android 3.0 and Motorola hasn't decked out the OS with any custom interfaces, so what you get is Honeycomb in its purest and unadulterated form.
The Honeycomb interface will be both familiar and foreign to Android users because it features a lot of changes.
Possibly the biggest change is that there are no physical buttons unlike the Android phones which have Back and Home buttons.
Instead, the Xoom uses virtual buttons located on the lower left corner of the screen.
Also, there isn't a menu bar at the top for you to drag down to show notifications.
The options for WiFi, battery status and clock are now tucked away in the corner of the screen.
What feels familiar are the multiple homescreens (you can have up to five) that you can populate with applications and widgets.
Adding applications to the homescreen is quite intuitive and easy as all you have to do is drag the widgets and apps to the homescreen of your choice.
Multitasking is also present on the Xoom although you can only switch between the last five applications you've launched.
Not surprisingly, the Tablet's preinstalled programs mostly consist of apps for accessing Google services such as Gmail, Maps, Gtalk, Voice Search and YouTube.
Sadly, the Xoom is really lacking in applications because at the moment there aren't many apps optimised for the Honeycomb on the Marketplace.
Another sore point - it doesn't come with Flash preinstalled out of the box, a feature that has been trumpeted as one of the Xoom's key selling points.
What's even worse is that we couldn't download Flash - a free app, mind you - from the Android Marketplace because it's currently not available for this region.
We were greeted with the same message when we tried to download many other free applications.
At the moment we are not sure what is the reason behind this. However, Google is working with the Android device manufacturers to rectify the issue.
Still, it's very disappointing that early adopters of Android 3.0 devices will not be able to install many new apps for their new toy.
The Xoom's dual-core Tegra 2 processor and generous amount of memory (1GB RAM) give it enough firepower to cope with most tasks.
The Tablet was generally responsive and applications loaded really fast.
We ran the Quadrant Benchmark and the Xoom pretty much blew every other Android device out of the water. However, the comparison is a little unfair because the other devices were all smartphones.
Web browsing using Chrome on the Xoom was really smooth - pages loaded really quickly and sometimes faster than the iPad 2. Chrome supports tabbed browsing but the features are pretty basic.
Also, typing on the virtual keyboard isn't so bad considering that the default Android smartphone keyboard wasn't that great. The one on the Android 3.0 is a marked improvement.
The Xoom has a 5-megapixel autofocus camera on the back which is good enough for taking casual shots but we wouldn't recommend it for anything other than that.
Pictures shot in dimly-lit areas looked horribly grainy, so this camera is best suited for places with proper lighting.
The dual-LED flash is handy in areas with insufficient light but it's far more useful as a light source for HD video recording.
Speaking of videos, the Xoom produced passable HD videos but a compact camera with HD video recording capability will easily fare better.
The only real benefit to shooting videos on the Xoom is that you can edit them directly with the preinstalled Movie Studio app. Although it works similar to iMovie on the iPad 2, it doesn't run as smoothly or perform as well.
The Xoom's video player only supports a few formats such as MP4, H.263 and H.264.
It can't play most common formats such as AVI, MKV, MOV, AVHCD which is a shame because it is quite a hassle to transcode movies into a compatible format.
We converted a 720p HD movie in MKV format to MP4 using Handbrake on a Mac to play it on the Tablet's video player.
The playback started fine but after awhile the player started to drop frames and the performance was erratic. The frame drops increased for scenes with a lot of action.
In terms of battery life, the Xoom fared fairly. With average use for web surfing and watching a video or two, the device lasted between eight to nine hours.
The Android platform has a large following and Motorola is quick to take advantage of it with a proper Android Tablet computer.
Also, the much talked about Honeycomb OS is well designed for the Tablet. It has a slick interface for managing applications and widgets, and it's great for surfing the Web.
Unfortunately, the Motorola Xoom feels like a rushed product and not everything is in place yet. For example, even though it has a microSD slot, you won't be able to use it until it gets activated in the next firmware update.
But the biggest detractor is the lack of apps optimised for the Tablet and this is made worse by fact that the Android Marketplace is not fully working at the moment. It looks like the Xoom has a way to go before it can match the iPad 2. We recommend waiting until Google sorts out the issues with the Android Marketplace.
Overall, the Motorola Xoom is a decent Android Tablet that needs a bit of time for the platform to mature first.
Pros: Android 3.0, Chrome is fast; dual-LED flash useful for video recording; large 10.1in screen.
Cons: A tad heavy; MicroSD slot needs firmware update to work; Android Marketplace issues; pricey.
Android Tablet computer
PROCESSOR: 1GHz ARM Cotex-A9 dual-core chip (nVidia Tegra 2)
MEMORY: 1GB RAM
DISPLAY: 10in (1,280 x 800-pixels) touchscreen
GRAPHICS: Ultra-low power GeForce GPU (nVidia Tegra 2)
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
PORTS/SLOTS: Headphone jack, micro HDMI out, micro USB
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
OTHER FEATURES: 5-megapixel autofocus camera with dual-LED flash, 2-megapixel front-facing camera
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 167.8 x 12.9x 249.1mm