The Motorola Xoom isn’t the first Android tablet, but it might be the most significant. The Xoom is the first to run Google’s Android 3.0 operating system, known as Honeycomb. While there are some similarities to previous Android operating systems, this version is made specifically for tablets.
Motorola gets the honor of being the first tablet out of the gate with Google’s new Honeycomb OS. As a manufacturer, Motorola seems to understand their role of creating powerful hardware and the Xoom certainly fits that bill. The 10.1-inch tablet features a WXGA 1280×800 display. The display is 16×9 ratio, similar to the ratio of movies. For the most part, the display offered up vivid colors. On occasion, I found some websites or graphics to look muddy. There is a microUSB port for connecting to your Mac or PC, in addition to an HDMI port for connecting to an HDTV. Mac users will need the Android File Transfer app, which is available as a free download. Volume buttons are barely noticeable on the top left of the device, when holding horizontally. I would have liked the volume controls to either be more pronounced or easier to adjust. Fingernails work better than fingers, which isn’t how it should be. Motorola and Google expect that most users will hold their device horizontally, given the placement of the volume buttons and the Motorola logo. When holding the Xoom in portrait mode, it’s ever so slightly weighted to the bottom (left side while holding). Weighing in at 1.6 pounds, the Xoom requires two hands to hold comfortably. It has some heft to it. The back is a matte finish, which was grippy and had a good feel to it. It was susceptible to fingerprints as you’ll note in the photo at the bottom of the review.
The front of the Xoom is mostly display and a very slim bezel. There is a 2-megapixel camera, suitable for self-portraits or video chat. Flipping over the device reveals a 5-megapixel camera that features a dual-LED flash and automatic focus.
Taking photos with a tablet feels unfamiliar, probably because it is. Taking photos using a tablet was a completely new experience. The large display is useful allowing you to preview your shot. The shutter felt slower than the camera on the Atrix 4G, but the results were very good. My cats are not particularly good at standing still for photos, yet I was able to snap some excellent photos using the Xoom.
Video shot with the Xoom was passable and could be used in a pinch. As you’ll see in this raw video sample, there are dropouts. They were evident in playback on the device. This is raw, unedited video taken directly from the Xoom and uploaded to YouTube.
Sound from the Xoom emanates from the stereo speakers found on the back panel. The sound quality is average and the placement of the speakers is questionable. You have to turn the volume up to compensate for the fact that sound is coming from the back of the device. Volumes levels however were acceptable. At maximum levels, there was some distortion. Speaker positioning is a design choice I don’t agree with, but at some point one would assume there are only so many options in a thin tablet. It’s worth noting that the included Music app is very slick in Honeycomb, offering cover-flow browsing of titles. There is also a handy widget or access via the notifications dock.
The power button is recessed at the top back of the device. At times, I found myself flipping over the device to locate the button. Outside of changing the location, Motorola could have easily put a slightly beveled plastic making it easy to locate by touch. Not ideal, but the slight recess is sufficient.
Motorola claims battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or video playback. In our usage, we found the battery life to be superb. Standby time is 14 days. Charging the Xoom from 6% to full took roughly 1.5 hours. The battery charger does not use the standard microUSB.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb
Hardware is only part of the story here. The other half is Google’s tablet OS. While it will spark some familiarity to those using Android phones, in many ways it is remarkably different. You are greeted by a 3D interface. Okay, it’s not true 3D, but moving through home screens generates a 3D effect that’s pretty nifty. Similarities include the ability to put place widgets anywhere, making personalization easy. While not a fan of widgets on my Nexus One, I do think the larger sized tablets lend themselves to efficient use of widgets. Simply tap and hold reveals an array of available widgets and app shortcuts. I’ve found that some widgets I had installed on my phone worked great, such as Beautiful Widgets. All in all, this makes for a truly personalized experience and it’s easier to digest a wide array of information when the tablet is powered on. Despite all the information, it didn’t feel cluttered.
Navigating the Xoom is extremely fluid. It responds effortlessly to your swipes and selections. Android 3.0 offers new navigation features in the way of back, minimize and open recent windows. Back takes you one step back. That can be either one step back within on app or it will back you out of an app completely. The other navigation arrow closes out of the app or window. Think of it as a minimize arrow in Windows, since the app doesn’t technically quit. The placement of this arrow presented a few usability issues for me. If you’re right handed, you are likely going to hold the tablet with both hands, using your right hand when navigating. The top right of the display seems like the more natural location. I found myself utilizing my thumbs to better navigate the Xoom.
The final navigation option is to view the most recent apps. You can utilize this within any app that you’re working. Let’s say you’re browsing and would like to see your most recent apps. You don’t have to close the browser to jump into to email or Twitter, or any previous app you were using. The most recent apps will overlay neatly to the left of the screen. Until you select an app from the list, you don’t have to leave your current workspace. This makes for a fast experience while jumping within apps on Honeycomb.
Notifications also get a makeover in Honeycomb. Gone is the drag down drawer of alerts, replaced by notifications that populate the bottom navigation bar. Tapping on the individual notification, reveals more information. You can either act on the notification by tapping once more to enter the app, tap the ‘x’ to remove it or tap back on the desktop, leaving it there as a subtle reminder. If you click on the clock, the notifications stack is revealed in a neat stack, in addition to quick access to battery status and settings. The same options apply to your notifications. Entering settings offers a quick look at popular settings, with an option to dig further if necessary. Again, very well done.
What about the apps?
The Xoom ships with a handful of familiar Google apps that include Gmail, YouTube, Maps and other staples you’d expect from an Android powered device. There is also a Movie Studio app that allows you to edit movies directly on the Xoom. On entirely too many occasions, the browser incorrectly pushed us to mobile sites. Even big sites like Yahoo and CBS Sports, which made for a frustrating experience. Dolphin HD is certainly an option that I’d recommend, since you can change the identity of your browser. There were also some oddities with the browser at sites like the new Twitter and Facebook’s chat, which rendered incorrectly.
If you currently own an Android phone, your apps will be accessible on the Xoom. Some apps scale to one hundred percent of the screen. For example, Angry Birds fills the screen and looks great. Some apps launch in a phone-sized window. While they work, it does not make for a fantastic experience.
The Android Market has a segment of Tablet Apps, but that category has only 15 or so apps. The official Twitter app for Android is listed, but the app offers an experience no different than the phone. There are no features that take advantage of the added real estate of the Xoom. With countless tablets coming to market in 2011, there will be more tablet friendly apps. Just be aware that the current selection is very thin. It’s also not possible to segment tablet apps using your desktop browser. In order to see apps for tablets, you need to browse to the site from a tablet.
What’s Missing, What’s On The Way
There are a few notable features that will be available in the future. Support for Adobe’s Flash is built-in to the Xoom, but requires an updated plug-in from Adobe. That’s not currently available, so you cannot view Flash content on the Xoom at this point in time. Adobe has promised this will be available in the Spring, which thankfully is right around the corner.
In addition to the built-in storage of 32GB, the Xoom will also support microSD cards of up to 32GB for a total of 64GB. The slot doesn’t currently work, so we’re assuming a future software update will rectify the situation.
Regardless of which model you purchase, both support Verizon’s 3G network. Motorola has promised that Verizon’s faster 4G LTE service will be supported in the future by way of a free update. It will require that you send in the Xoom for the upgrade.
- Fast, Future-Proof Specs
- Honeycomb Feels Like The Future
- Widescreen optimal for view movies and personal videos
- Great battery life
- Excellent options for personalization
- Tabbed Browsing
- Android Market phone apps, widgets work
- Flash, 4G LTE, microSD expansion coming
- Software Feels Like Beta
- Lack of Apps
- Sites Push Browser to Mobile Version
- Heavy and not suited for portrait viewing
- Recorded video had drop-outs
- Flash, 4G LTE, microSD expansion coming
The Xoom represents a strong start in the tablet space for Motorola. The company has outfitted with the Xoom with all of the specifications you’d want in a tablet. It’s super fast, well built and it’s currently the only tablet that runs Android 3.0. Honeycomb ushers in a tablet specific Android OS, which thankfully does not feel like a misplaced phone OS. Google has incorporated parts of Android that help to provide for a familiar experience and have a high appeal to those who enjoy personalizing their device(s). There are some gaps in the OS that make it feel incomplete and the lack of tablet specific apps in the Android Market is disappointing, but not surprising. With a slew of tablets expected to hit the market in 2011, the apps will come. A number of differentiating features (Flash support, 4G, microSD expansion) are all coming soon, but not available now. This makes for an experience that might be as refined as one would expect, but it’s a terrific beginning. Google and Motorola will move quickly to address the missing pieces.
In the end, the Motorola Xoom is an extremely capable tablet and one that will certainly improve over time. If you are ready for bumps in the road that accompany early adoption, there is plenty to like about the Motorola Xoom.