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Motorola Xoom review

Post image for Motorola Xoom review

April 5, 2011

in All Articles,Cellphone reviews

The Motorola Xoom Tablet PC won CNET’s “Best of Show” award at CES 2011 for being “the most potentially disruptive technology”. While I think “disruptive technology” sounds more applicable to airport backscatter X-rays challenging the concept of personal privacy, or social media enabling political revolutions in Libya and Egypt, I get the point: In terms of mobile technology and specifically tablet PCs, the Motorola Xoom is going to be big. It’s a top competitor to all competiton, including the iPad.

To start with, here’s what we’re looking at:

Motorola Xoom stats and functionality

CPU: 1GHz dual-core
Memory: 1 GB
Storage: 32 GB internal, microSD card external
Screen size: 10.1” widescreen HD, 1280×800
Network: 3G and 4G CDMA / GSM, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
OS: Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” (Supports Adobe Flash Player)
Cameras: 5MP rear-facing (can record 720p HD video) with dual-LED flash, 2MP front-facing
Size: 9.8″ x 6.6″ x 0.5″, 1.6 lb
Other cool things: Multi-touch screen, 3-axis accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, barometer

Yes, you read that correctly – the Xoom is dual-core and can take advantage of 4G networks. It’s fast. It’s also Adobe Flash-capable, giving access to more web and application content – something Apple doesn’t currently do.

The Xoom is a fast device – we’re luckily beyond the days of new devices coming packed with more features than the CPU can handle. Animation is smooth, application start times are fast and the interface is responsive.

The more noticeable changes between the Xoom and other Android devices are the user interface and basic controls – the Xoom is running Android 3.0 with its “Honeycomb” interface. When I first started using it, I was taken back to the days of tabletop hex games, simple but elegant architecture and, of course, Tron:

The Motorola Xoom is properly designed for multimedia. Below we see the “Google Body” application, an Android 3.0 app that allows you to fly virtually around a human body, and add/remove layers to view skin, bones, organs and the nervous system. Part educational tool, part cool demo, my daughter loved playing with this:

And like all tablets, the Xoom is an ebook reader. I personally prefer the Amazon Kindle – the Xoom and tablets are (even at just over a pound) really too heavy to hold comfortably in one’s hand for extended reading. But the Xoom does run the Google Book and Amazon Kindle ereader software:

Finally, I wanted to specifically talk about the keyboard. It works very well. As long as you don’t mind looking at the keys (no touch-typing with a virtual keyboard!), you can type pretty fast on one hand.

Within minutes of picking up the Xoom, I unconsciously changed my typing style. I was in the middle of typing a sentence, and stopped to analyze what I was doing: I’m right-handed. I held the Xoom with my left hand while I typed one-handed with my right. Unlike a physical keyboard, though, one-handed typing was not slow – it was pretty speedy. The keys are close enough together that you don’t need to reach far, and the multitouch touchscreen is calibrated well enough to know the difference between keypresses, shift-combinations and accidental presses.

Could I drop all my computing devices and get a Xoom? The answer is “not yet”: I do need physical keyboards, functionality and applications provided by a laptop. I support Windows devices for a living, so I prefer to have one as my primary work device. I need the mobility and ease of use of a cellphone. But down the road, yes: I can see the transition happening.

Even in typing this article, I see the where our future interfaces are headed: I can type faster on a physical keyboard than a virtual one. But after using the Xoom, my laptop keyboard feels outdated and clunky. Keep giving those virtual keyboards predictive input and voice recognition (both available on the Xoom), and for many users, physical keyboards will move from a requirement to simply an option.

Motorola Xoom compared to the Apple iPad

I was able to get my hands on an iPad before finishing this review. Here’s the Xoom (on left) next to an iPad (first generation).

The Xoom is more rectangular and is almost exactly the same weight as the iPad (iPad’s second generation is 1.33 lb compared to the Xoom’s 1.6 lb).

The Xoom and iPad are both such good devices that I can’t really argue that one outperforms the other in any meaningful way. Unless we’re really interested specifically in performance, we’re no longer comparing stats and running comparative benchmarks. For the average user at home and at the enterprise, and even when arguing things like 4G and Adobe Flash, both devices perform very similarly. The only significant difference in performance is the cellular provider: AT&T for the iPad and Verizon for the Xoom. Verizon has much better coverage and network stability overall than AT&T, but check your specific location to see what works for you.

So besides the network, the difference between the Xoom and the iPad is that of presentation and the philosophy of their parent companies. If you are a user who wants a more stable, more mature “it just works” device, focus on the iPad. If you’re interested in getting under the hood and don’t find the fact that the Xoom and Android tablets are younger than Apple’s, focus on the Motorola Xoom.

Also determine how you’re going to use the device. For email, messaging and corporate connectivity, both devices are about the same. Beyond that, look at the respective marketplaces for each device. Apple has had more time to develop and a larger app store, but has a strict application developer policy. Google’s Android market has a more open policy, but that means more junky applications get through.

I personally prefer Google’s philosophy because it encourages hacking and innovation more than Apple’s. But I will clearly advocate Apple’s methods, too – it depends on the user.

The only thing I didn’t like – Xoom’s charger

I loved the Xoom. So the one problem I had with it stood out to me more than if I didn’t love it so much.

The charger is proprietary. You use the Xoom charger (or dock) and nothing else. This is despite the Xoom having a USB interface. Plug into it with a USB charger and you’ll see the picture on the left.

Enough with the proprietary chargers. I’m sick of having so many cables and adapters, and I’m a techie! All devices are consolidating on USB for both communications and charging. I suggest that Motorola do the same.

Motorola Xoom review conclusion

The Xoom’s CES endorsement is high praise and it’s one with which I agree. The Motorola Xoom is a great device, high-powered, easy to use and nice to look at. As I reviewed it, I did wish I owned one. In previous reviews, I wondered if the consumer technology market could really find room for tablet PCs, and if so, could they take the place of devices like laptops and cellphones? For some people, the answer is clearly yes. In cases where you don’t need to type a lot, or don’t need to run Microsoft-specific software, a tablet will work fine.

The Motorola Xoom is a great device, and I’d love to own one. If I did, I’d pay very close attention to the rush of tablet-specific software and hardware, and I know I’d use my desktops, laptops and cellphones less and less. Lucky for us consumers, all we have to do make this happen is to wait.

The Motorola Xoom is available from Verizon Wireless for $600 with a 2-year customer agreement, or $800 without a contract. Data plans start at $20/month for 1GB.

Thanks to Matt Glenn for the use of his iPad in the above comparison photo.

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