Motorola Xoom Review: The latest tablet computer to hit the market, is fast and well built, but a little bit of a bugger to play with and way too overpriced
Since it was first announced at CES, we’ve been eagerly waiting for the Motorola Xoom – the first tablet with Google’s brand new Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) operating system. This is truly the first real competitor to the Apple iPad, and Xoom actually manages to outperform Apple’s tablet in quite a few areas. It has just launched in the US, where T3’s US correspondent Jeppe Christensen has been checking it out.
Motorola Xoom: Screen
The hardware is sturdy and impressive. The Xoom weighs in at 730 grams and is 12.9 millimeters thick –almost identical to the iPad, but the roomy 10.1-inch screen is wider, with 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. That gives the Xoom an edge when watching movies and browsing larger websites, but it also makes it feel a tad long and narrow while one is holding it vertically. No doubt, this beast was made for landscape mode, where the Honeycomb software is able to make great use of all that screen real estate.
Sunny weather is a problem though, the screen looks great when inside but there’s just too much glare to use the XOOM comfortably outside in direct sunlight. Turning the screen brightness all the way up helps but it’s nowhere near good enough.
The Xoom has better specs all-around than the current iPad. The processor is faster with two cores, there are four times as much memory, better speakers, and a bigger and higher resolution screen. Currently, it’s equipped with EVDO 3G for use on the Verizon cellular network in the US, but later in the year a free upgrade will be available for the company’s faster 4G network. When it arrives in the UK/Europe, the built-in Broadcom 3G chip will be configured to enable HSDPA performance of up to 10.1 megabits per second.
There is 32GB storage for apps, movies, music and photos. The Xoom actually does have a slot for MicroSD memory cards, but unfortunately, it’s not working right out of the box. Motorola reports it is waiting for a software update from Google to enable support for memory cards in Honeycomb.
Motorola Xoom: Camera and Google Talk
Finally, there’s a 2.0 megapixel front-facing camera for video chat or narcissistic self-portraits and a five-megapixel shooter on the back that also produces 720p video with 30 frames per second. The five meg shooter on the back actually produces decent well-balanced pictures, and 720p video looks pretty decent. although it’s really awkward holding the XOOM when shooting pictures or video for more than a few minutes at a time. The Google Talk app is a joy to use, so instant messaging on the XOOM feels natural when you’re sitting lazily on your couch.
The two-megapixel camera on the front enables you to make video calls, and while not crystal clear HD quality, the quality is good enough, especially over Wi-Fi and a decent broadband connection, with video and audio being mostly fluid and in sync. Tying to make the same call via Verizon’s 3G EVDO network produced a choppy and much less enjoyable experience, hopefully in the UK with HSDPA things will improve.
Motorola Xoom: Android 3.0
So, the Xoom is quite a well-equipped package, but does that really translate into a fast, functional and accessible user experience? In most instances, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Having used quite a few Android phones over the last couple of years, we quickly felt at home in the Honeycomb user interface. You have five home screens for apps and widgets and a permanent navigation and notification bar at the bottom of the screen. In the past, Android has been criticized for being a bit nerdy and complicated, and while Honeycomb does have kind of a cold and digital look (TRON, anyone?), most actions are easy and intuitive.
Composing e-mails, checking your calendar, browsing the Web, using Google Maps, or simply playing with the settings are allsimple tasks, and it’s a joy working with apps built and optimized for the larger screen. The user experience is definitely much closer to that of a PC than that of a smartphone.
Surfing the Web is a breeze thanks to tabbed browsing, the ability to open and render new Web pages in the background, and the sheer speed of the device.This thing is fast, and now it’s actually preferable to look up something or check a link on your tablet than it is on your laptop. We’re a bit bummed to discover there’s no support for Flash straight away, but Adobe is assuring us that their software for Honeycomb will arrive in just a few weeks. We hope that this won’t impact the speed too much.
Most Android apps for phones work fine and fill out the entire screen, but occasionally, you’ll run into apps that won’t work properly or simply crash, and this is something we’d like Google to fix immediately. As of writing this, there are only 16 tablet apps in the Android Market, and this puts the Xoom at a huge disadvantage compared to iPad and Apple’s booming app store that carry more than 60,000 apps for the iPad. The few apps that are in there are generally of a high quality, and we enjoyed checking the latest news with the Pulse News Reader, checking out movie listings and reviews with the Movies app from Flixster, and just killing time with the tablet-optimized version of Angry Birds Seasons.
The built-in keyboard is easy to use and just as good (or bad) as that on Apple’s iPad, so it’s fine for short messages and e-mails and you can actually type pretty fast enabling correction suggestions.
Motorola Xoom: Video and music
The Xoom’s 10.1-inch screen just begs for Hi-Def video, but currently there are no compatible video rental or download services available. Google states this will change soon enough, but right now, you have to make do with converting your DVD or Blu-ray collection. Unfortunately, the built-in movie player is very picky and won’t play even the most popular file formats. Forget about DivX and MKV files, and nothing with DTS or AC3 sound will play either. The “easiest” solution is to fire up a program like Handbrake and convert or re-encode your movies into MP4 files with AAC or MP3 audio.
The lack of support for a variety of movie and audio formats is seriously disappointing, especially considering that a device like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab will play nearly everything you throw at it.
Handling your music collection is easy, and the built-in player looks beautiful with its fancy 3D-effects and album graphics. Unfortunately, Honeycomb has trouble recognizing embedded album artwork, which is a shame. Also, if you stuff the tablet with gigabytes and gigabytes of music, the music player tends to become overwhelmed and then takes quite a while to change between different views. You can’t help but feel that the software needs time to mature.
Motorola Xoom: Battery
Battery life seems to be comparable to that of the iPad, with better or worse performance depending on your usage scenario. We got a whopping 10 hours of heaving Web browsing over 3G before the battery finally ran out of juice. That is, in all respects, pretty impressive. It doesn’t handle video quite as well, but still managed to squeeze out eight hours with brightness at 65 percent and Wi-Fi and 3G turned on. In a mixed-use scenario, you can probably squeeze out between 10-14 hours of use.
The Xoom is an enticing device with a very promising operating system, but we must note that despite the long wait, Honeycomb feels a bit rushed-to-market and somewhat rough around the edges. We love the user-interface, the Web browser, and all the Google-oriented apps, but the poor media handling is seriously disappointing, and we desperately need more tablet-apps in Android Market. We will update this review when we get a UK review sample, so we'll see if this improves.
We could overlook all this were the Xoom priced competitively, but Motorola is asking for a whopping $800 dollars without a contract or $600 with a two-year Verizon contract. In the UK pricing has just been announced at £499, which seems respectable. Considering we’ll see iPad 2.0 in just a few days, with expected availability within a few weeks, and with the Honeycomb running Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG Optimus Pad coming soon, we'd suggest waiting before investing.
Motorola Xoom launch date: Q2, link Motorola
Motorola Xoom price: Pre-sale for £499