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Motorola Xoom Review

xoom

The tablet war has finally begun, and its full speed ahead. Fortunately for Motorola, their Xoom tablet is the first tablet out of the gate to run the highly anticipated Honeycomb Android 3.0 tablet OS. Like the Atrix, the Motorola Xoom got tons of attention at CES this past January.  The Motorola Xoom sports a widescreen 10.1″ displays and is running on a speedy NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core 1GHz processor, plus it packs in both a front-facing and rear camera. Could the Xoom finally be a serious contender for the iPad? Lets find out.

Design & Build Quality

Weighing in at 1.6lbs, and measuring 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches, the Motorola Xoom is covered in an anodized aluminum and soft touch rubber grip. It’s overall appearance is pretty handsome and has a professional look going for it. Some of its ports include a 3.5mm jack and a HDMI out. It also sports a micro-usb port, but oddly enough, the micro-usb can’t be used as a way to charge the device. The device also sports a built-in accelerometer along with a proximity, ambient light, barometer, and gyroscope sensors. The volume rocker is a bit too flush with the Xoom but that is hardly a deal-breaker. Overall, the Xoom has a very solid build quality going for it.

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Display

The Xoom sports a large 10.1″ Widescreen HD display which is even a bit bigger than the iPad’s display. The display has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels at 150 pixels per inch. The display is pretty good, and definitely sharp, unfortunately it feels like it could get a bit brighter and have more vivid color. Also, if you press down to hard with your fingers, the display will exhibit a rainbow color effect. This is a very minor issue, but it’s a significant difference from the iPad’s rigid display panel.

Cameras

The Motorola Xoom sports a 2MP webcam on the front and a 5MP camera which can record 720p HD video on its back side. The 5MP camera features a dual-LED flash and automatic focus. Camera quality on the Xoom is pretty good and is on par with one of the better smartphone cameras. The autofocus works well and photos tend to be sharp. That said, indoor shots tend to be grainy and the colors don’t quite pop either. Video quality is ok too. Again, indoor videos tend to be grainy and colors aren’t very vivid.

A preloaded Movie Studio app is included for stitching together videos on the fly. The Xoom also comes bundled with Google Talk, which helps take advantage of both of these cameras. You can sign into your Google Talk account to have video chats with your buddies. From within the app, you can easily switch from showing them what’s on the front-facing camera to whats on the back-facing camera. And the video chat experience with Google Talk on the Xoom is indeed very pleasant, even on 3G, during which we didn’t experience any video or audio stuttering.

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Keyboard

The onscreen keyboard is very responsive and comfortable to use. Between the fast responsiveness and the large amount of real estate afforded by the 10.1″ widescreen, we’re really enjoying typing on the Xoom.

Web Surfing

Honeycomb’s built-in browser is also a pleasure to use. It features Chrome bookmark sync, incognito mode, form auto-fill, and tabbed browsing which makes you feel like you’re using a desktop browser. The browser comes preloaded with bookmarks for major sites like Yahoo, Twitter, CNN, NYTimes, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, the Weather Channel, BBC, Amazon, ESPN, and eBay . And despite the fact that the Xoom is only 3G for now, even while browsing web sites on Verizon’s 3G network, sites load up with plenty of speed. So at the moment, the tablet is 3G only but it’s also compatible with an upcoming 4G LET upgrade, and all purchases of the Xoom are eligible for a free 4G update. But even without the Xoom being 4G yet, it’s still plenty fast for getting around the internet. However one issue we do have with the browser is that it often defaults to mobile sites and there is no browser setting to switch it to desktop views only. Also at the moment the browser doesn’t support Flash, but a Flash 10.1 plug-in is supposed to be available in the marketplace soon.

Using the Speedtest.net app, the device showed an average speed of 2481kbps for downloads and 843kbps for uploads.

Multimedia

The built-in speakers on the Xoom are quite powerful, and they’re definitely significantly more powerful speakers than the iPad. That said, they do get tinny on louder volumes and they are no replacement for a dedicated external speaker, but they’ll definitely do the job on the go. Also, when playing music on loud volumes the whole device vibrates from the power of the speaker which can be a tad bit disconcerting when you’re gripping the device.

The music player also comes preloaded with a very nice selection of tracks including music from Sarah McLachlan and Oasis. The Android 3.0 music player itself is quite slick as it lets you navigate and fly through album covers while the background changes colors. The music player also supports the following files:  AAC, H.263, H.264, MP3, MPEG-4, ACC+ Enhanced, OGG, MIDI, AMR NB, AAC+. Unfortunately Amazon’s MP3 store is not yet available as a tablet app.

Performance

The Xoom really does ‘zoom’ when it comes to running tasks. We ran benchmarks on it using Quadrant and it came out with a very healthy score of 1766. We’re just a bit surprised that that score shows that the Xoom is slower than the Motorola Atrix we recently tested. Either way the Xoom is quite the speed demon on its own and the general operation of the device is peppy and it provides a speedy multitasking experience. Unfortunately, sometimes the device can slow down when there are too many apps running in the background. Luckily, Honeycomb provides a dedicated shortcut that takes you to Running Services. Running services is kind of like the built-in task manager for Honeycomb which lets you shut down any running apps.

The User Interface

Honeycomb is a major evolution from Android 2.3 which was designed just for smartphones. With Honeycomb, Android has basically been overhauled to accommodate a true tablet experience.  Android 3.0 features pretty much all the standard features you’d expect from a modern day tablet like pinch to zoom. That said, it personally took me a while to adjust to Honeycomb’s interface and initially I even felt a bit lost and confused. However, after a while you do get the hang of the device and it starts to become enjoyable to use. Features like notifications become very efficient and practical to have around. Overall, I do like Android 3.0 a lot more than Android 2.3. But at the end of the day, the Honeycomb U.I. isn’t quite as simple and straightforward as iOS, or even WebOS and BlackBerry’s Playbook OS which we’ve recently had opportunities to play with. Honeycomb feels more like a power users and geek’s tablet OS of choice. That is not to say that anyone cant use it, but I can’t picture my technologically-challenged mom figuring out how to navigate this device. On the other hand, she was able to pick up the iPad and start using it within just a few minutes.

Like with its predecessors, Android 3.0 on the Xoom has multiple homescreens which can be customized with widgets and app shortcuts. On the Xoom, there are 5 available homescreens and you’ll be hard-pressed to fill them all up. Out of the box, there are widgets for bookmarks (a widget that show thumbnails of your most recent 4 bookmarks 5 homescreens), a music player, a picture frame, a YouTube widget, market widget, Google search, a Gmail and email widget with inbox preview, a Books widget, an Analog Clock widget, a Calendar widget,  and a Contact widget. And what can we say, we love widgets and they’re certainly something you don’t get in iOS. Plus, on a tablet where there is extra screen real estate, widgets get to really shine.

Unlike with most traditional smartphone user interfaces, in Honeycomb, the bottom right corner is where you can find the 3G or WiFi signal, battery indicator, time and pending notifications. New emails pop up in the bottom right as a notification. Each notification shows the sender and subject, as well as number of new messages waiting in your inbox. Notifications also pop up when apps are installed or when you install apps with notification support. Also, when the music player is running, tapping the headphones icon in the bottom right, brings up the track your playing. Meanwhile, the top right of the device gives you quick access to your apps menu, the top left offers quick access to Google Search (including Voice Search), and at the bottom left corner you can find the back icon, home icon and app switch icon which brings up hovering thumbnails of all of your currently running apps so that you can switch between them. The app switch menu is really neat and makes multitasking all that more efficient, however it would be nice if you could close apps directly from the app switch menu too.

Preloaded apps

The device comes preloaded with Google Maps, Google Talk, Books, Google Latitude, a Calculator, Calendar, Gallery, Movie Studio, Voice Search and YouTube.

Books

The ebook reading experience on Android 3.0 and the Xoom is excellent. The Books app lets you zoom in on text, view the original scan of a text, and read in both portrait and landscape views. The app also offers quick access to brightness and text settings including text size and day and night reading modes. Page turns are very quick too and feature a neat page turn animation. You can download books in the marketplace which already has quite a nice selection of books to choose from, including many classics which are free.
We tried reading an ebook with the Xoom under direct sunlight, and while the experience cant be compared to a dedicated ebook reader with an E Ink display, it wasn’t bad at all and the text was still very readable. Alternatively you could download the just released Kindle app from the Marketplace.

Maps

The device comes running Google Maps 5.0 which includes Google maps with navigation. I used Google Maps with navigation while driving around and it was a great experience. Because the Xoom’s display is so large, it also ended up being the biggest “in-car” GPS nav I’ve ever used.

Email

The built-in email client supports Gmail and Exchange and actually looks and operates similarly to iOS’s own email client. It feels like a major improvement over Android 2.3 to us.

Marketplace Apps

As of the day that this review is being published, there are about 34+ Android Apps for tablets in the marketplace. Some of those apps include CNN, Pulse News, USA Today just announced one, Angry Birds Seasons, Google Sky Map, Accuweather.com and Androidify. Unfortunately, many staples aren’t in the marketplace yet, such as Foursquare and Facebook, nor is there any other instant messaging app yet available in the Market Place besides Google Talk. However you can run just about any regular Android app that is designed for smartphones in fullscreen on the Xoom.

Conclusion

After spending a week with the Xoom we have grown quite fond of it. Honeycomb is not nearly as intuitive as iOS but we love its widgets, notifications, and multitasking capabilities. For the moment, with a limited supply of apps for tablets, the Android marketplace also leaves much to be desired. However were confident that that will change at a very fast pace, especially when there are so many Honeycomb tablets on the way. That said, we found the overall experience of using the device to be full of pep and the hardware to be solid. Whether or not the iPad 2 and other future tablets puts the Xoom to shame, remains to be seen, but being the first tablet out of the door running Honeycomb, the Xoom doesn’t disappoint. The Motorola Xoom is available for $799 at Best Buy without contract, or you can pick it up for $599 with a 2 year contract on Verizon.

The Good: Very fast, great tabbed browsing experience, notifications are awesome, widgets and homescreens are very cool, solid hardware.

The Bad: Display is just ok, poor amount of designed for tablet apps -at-least for the moment, device occasionally freezes up.