Review: Motorola Xoom Good, But No iPad Killer
The Android Honeycomb-based tablet brings the mobile computing fight to Apple’s doorstep. While the Xoom may not topple the iPad, it is a solid first step for Google’s tablet platform.
By Eric Zeman InformationWeek
March 12, 2011 06:00 AM
The Motorola Xoom — the first device to run the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb platform — is a solid entry into the tablet market, though the experience of using it is a bit uneven. The device itself is easy to use and control, but Honeycomb itself is not quite fully baked.
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I have spent nearly two weeks using the Xoom. How does it stack up as a mobile computing device?
Motorola has crafted a fine piece of hardware to encase the Xoom and all its capabilities. The Xoom’s dimensions run 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches, and it weighs in at 1.6 pounds. It is a perfect size to fit into a briefcase, backpack, or satchel, though only the biggest purses could contain it. The plastic materials are sturdy and well put together, though the back surface attracts a lot of fingerprints. It is dense, and feels strong.
Because the Xoom has an approximate 16:9 aspect ratio for its 10.1-inch screen, it is almost always held in the landscape orientation when in use and many of the secondary controls reflect this. Along the bottom edge of the Xoom, Motorola has tucked in microUSB, mini-HDMI, and charging ports. These all lock into a number of accessories that Motorola is offering for the Xoom. There is a 3.5mm headset jack on top for headphones, as well as a non-functioning SIM card slot (it will be activated once the Xoom is upgraded to LTE). Volume controls are on the left side, and the buttons are a bit too small. The HD video camera, dual-LED flash, and stereo speakers are on the back surface of the Xoom.
The one fairly odd design choice made by Motorola is the placement of the power/screen lock button. It is on the back of the Xoom, and falls under your left index finger when you grip the sides. I would much prefer this button to be on the front of the device (somewhere my thumb could reach it). That positioning led to accidental screen shutdowns when I was in the middle of some activities. It’s not the end of the world, but something I’d prefer to see changed if/when the Xoom is revised.
The Xoom’s 10.1-inch display holds 1280 x 800 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 150 pixels per inch. It is perfectly capable of playing HD movies, and works well for browsing, playing games, and — gasp! — getting some work done. The one place I’d give it negative marks is the display’s brightness. No matter how far up I cranked the brightness controls, it hardly seemed to impact the visibility of the Xoom’s display. It comes off as a bit dull, and it was almost impossible to use outdoors. It was great for watching movies in a dark room, though.
In all, the hardware works as it should, and, aside from the odd screen lock key, the tablet itself doesn’t get in the way of how it is used.
Honeycomb User Interface
Though Android 3.0 Honeycomb is an evolutionary upgrade to the Android smartphone system, it’s hardly recognizable as such. The entire home screen experience has been altered, as have many of the menus, controls, and settings.
The other big disappointment is the browser. Don’t get me wrong, it’s leagues better than what’s available on Android smartphones, but it still manages to make some critical blunders. For one, Web sites don’t know how to react properly to the Xoom. Web sites mostly think it is a smartphone, so they serve up the mobile version rather than the desktop version. This gets old really, really fast. One of the main selling points of Honeycomb — the ability to play Flash content — isn’t available yet. Adobe is still working to finalize Flash Player Mobile 10.2 for Honeycomb. Until it does, the Xoom doesn’t support Flash. Perhaps the browser’s best feature is the way it supports real tabs. You can open a large number of Web sites and easily jump to any of them via the tab bar at the top of the browser. This makes a lot more sense than having to jump out to a secondary screen to see what Web sites are open and available.
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What does this mean for enterprise productivity? Well, unless your organization uses Google Apps, the Xoom will be limited in what it can do until developers catch up with Android 3.0 Honeycomb. It manages the basics — i.e. email, contacts, calendar management — but beyond that, it lacks the support of thousands of apps.
Tablets aren’t just for work, though. There are plenty of ways to use the Xoom to entertain oneself.
The initial crop of games available to the Xoom are actually pretty decent, and include titles such as Fruit Ninja, Spectral Souls, Gun Bros, AirAttack HD, and others. The selection will only improve over time.
Google has revamped the music player application as well as the video player application. Both are much more visually immersive and have fun-to-use graphics to interact with. I was able to use the Xoom as a mini entertainment center on a short trip I took. The speakers do a fine job for movie watching when you’re in a small room, and you always have the option to plug in headphones for less intrusive entertainment.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb feels like a 0.9 beta. It’s almost done, but not quite. It needs to be rounded off at the edges more, and get some features — such as the browser and Flash — working as they should. It also needs better support for the enterprise in the form of apps and management tools that IT can put to use.
Even though the platform itself doesn’t come across as 100% complete, it’s easy to see how powerful it will be as it evolves over time. The flexibility of the home screens alone will appeal to many. They have far more range for customization than any other tablet platform that comes to mind. As more applications — and specifically, more widgets — are built to support Honeycomb and its home screens, its capabilities and usefulness will only grow.
As for the Xoom, it’s a solid piece of tablet kit, no doubt, and a good first device for Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Given that it is Motorola’s first effort, I expect much better things to come in the not-too-distant future.