[T]he Xoom is equipped with formidable hardware. The 1GHz, NVIDIA Tegra 2-based slate boasts a sizable 1GB of DDR2 RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 capacitive display, 3G connectivity (Verizon on our review unit), along with front and rear facing cameras, HD video capability, and loads of wireless options. Not only is the Xoom clearly competitive (and frankly, more stacked) than most of its competition, Motorola has attempted to futureproof the device by offering a free hardware upgrade down the road which will give the tablet access to Big Red's 4G LTE network.
The HD screen boasts a resolution of 1280 by 800, versus 1024 by 768 for the iPad...Some apps for phones, like the popular game Angry Birds, filled the screen beautifully and worked fine.
Google wanted to bring Android to more than one hardware manufacturer, but doing so would make out executing Apple nearly impossible. The solution was to pick a hardware and a device partner for each major Android release. Google would work closely with those partners to release the flagship device for that version of Android. All of the other players in the Android ecosystem would be a bit behind the curve. It was a necessary evil in order to rev Android up quickly enough to compete with iOS... For Honeycomb, the tablet exclusive release of Android, Google’s SoC partner is newcomer NVIDIA with its Tegra 2. And the device partner? Motorola with the Xoom.
Compared to the iPad the accelerometer/rotation magic seems to take longer on the Xoom. The lag between rotating the Xoom and the OS rotating the desktop seems to be just slightly greater on the Xoom compared to the first generation iPad.
5. Having cameras on the device is very nice. I used it last night at a discussion at Stanford and I filmed it. Because of the size of the Xoom it came out a lot steadier than anything I film with my iPhones. (This advantage will only last a month or so over iPad 2, but it’s there). I can see using the other camera to do videoconferencing, too. Yeah, it’s not the highest resolution camera you’ve ever seen on a mobile device, but it works pretty well, I’ll try to get a video up tonight from it.6. HDMI connector. I have an HD screen downstairs. Here I can hook it up without buying a hyper-expensive Apple connector.7. Better resolution and form factor, especially for video. I love watching video on my iPad. Netflix rocks on it, especially when the kids have taken over my TV set. But I like the higher resolution of the Xoom (1280 pixels across instead of only 1024) and I like the longer and narrower form factor, which fits video better than the iPad does.
Out of the gate, the first thing we noticed about Honeycomb compared with iOS is the amount of information conveyed on the home screen. Through the use of widgets, you can glance your inbox, Twitter stream, Facebook news, and YouTube channels, all in one view. The whole metaphor feels more like a deck of cards on a playing table than the grid of apps we're accustomed to in iOS or an Android phone app drawer. It's not quite the clumsy mess of a conventional desktop, but not as rigid and size-constrained as a mobile OS. It's a thoughtful compromise.
[I]f you expect a relatively easy to understand experience here, you’re going to get it, just so long as you don’t expect know this user interface from top to bottom just because you’ve used Android before.
Each [drawer] contains elements you can drag to one or more of your homescreen panels. I say “or more” because you can place any number of instances of each item (except for wallpapers, of course,) in each panel. When we were checking out the XOOM Euro Edition in Barcelona, the demo units were FULL of clocks – people had dragged the same clock to every panel, and several times for each panel.
The virtual keyboard itself is pretty nice. Key spacing is good both in portrait and landscape modes and the learning curve isn’t too steep. It’s still faster (and less painful) to type on a physical keyboard, but for banging out short messages, emails and URLs - the virtual keyboard works.
The email and Gmail apps are both perfect fits for Honeycomb. The UI provides a two column view, folders/inboxes on the left with messages/previews on the right. The formula works so why change it?
Unfortunately the task list is limited to five items - you can’t scroll to reveal more. I feel like this is a pretty big limitation as I do find myself going back to the Apps launcher screen more than I’d like given the functionality here. There’s also no way to force quit apps from this list, which would’ve been another nice addition.
From a visual standpoint, we could most easily explain that Android 3.0 looks very much like the world of Tron. Think soft focus neon and cold, hard digital angles. A homescreen which phases between panels with a blue, ghosting glow that represents your last and next page. When you place items on the homescreens, you see a distant patchwork of grid marks, and a vector outline of where your icon or widget will eventually land. Even in the app list, you see electric blue representations of your icons before the icons themselves. The effect is angular, but the feel is still very human -- like a cross between the "chromeless" environment of Windows Phone 7, and the photorealism of webOS or iOS. It absolutely works. From the overall look and feel down to the method in which you get widgets onto your pages or change the wallpaper, everything is new here.
After using the Xoom for the past couple of days I can say that while the experience isn’t horrible by any means, Honeycomb isn’t anywhere near as stable as Froyo on the Atrix 4G. I’ve had many application crashes in both older Android apps and native Honeycomb apps. For a while there I couldn’t get the Android Twitter app to work at all, even after a reboot...As I mentioned, it’s not just third party apps. The Honeycomb Browser, camera app and even Marketplace have all crashed on me over the past two days.
The included Gallery app didn't render the images properly. Images lacked sharpness and suffered from artifacting, dithering, and macroblocking. It was almost as though I were looking at images that had undergone a preview render but never fully rendered. A Google spokesperson did not know what was going on, nor did Motorola. Nvidia, which makes the Tegra 2 processor, did not respond to my inquiry before I posted this review....Interestingly, though the Gallery player supports H.263, H.264, and .mp4 video files, it failed to play .wmv files that Android 2.2 and 2.1 devices had managed to play just fine.
As you can see in the above photo, gone is the amateurish and drab Android player. It's now been replaced with a dimensional, 3D interface that isn't just good looking, it's actually useful. There are 2D views when you jump into albums and playlists, but the flipbook navigation is actually not bad for finding your music.
I also tested the Xoom’s front-facing 2-megapixel camera by performing a video chat with a Motorola employee using Google Talk software. The chat broke up or froze several times over Verizon’s network, but we eventually got it to work pretty well on Wi-Fi.
While iPads come in a range of models priced all the way up to $829—none of which requires a cellphone contract—Apple’s entry price for the iPad is just $499. By contrast, the base price of a Xoom without a cellphone contract is $800—60% more. And even with a Verizon two-year contract at $20 to $80 a month—depending on the data limit you choose—the least you can pay for a Xoom is $600, or 20% more before counting the contract costs.
As much as I like the Xoom and Honeycomb, I’d advise consumers to wait to see what Apple has up its sleeve next before committing to a higher price for the Motorola product.
The Xoom is the first large-screen tablet to provide stiff competition for Apple's iPad. But as smooth as many of its elements are, and as groundbreaking as this first-of-its-kind tablet is, its weaknesses prevent me from giving it a rousing endorsement. Software rough patches can be patched; but hardware frustrations may run deeper than any firmware update can fix.
I have to say, this is a lot better than I expected. Honeycomb feels a lot like Google’s take on iOS without sacrificing any of what makes Android unique. It’s a healthy combination of the appliance-like iOS without giving up any of the user facing customization & flexibility that Android users love. If you’re a die hard iOS user then I don’t think Honeycomb will tempt you, but if you’re undecided or you can appreciate both then Honeycomb may actually push you over towards Google.
Is the Xoom a real competitor to the iPad? Absolutely. In fact, it outclasses the iPad in many ways. Still, the end user experience isn't nearly where it needs to be, and until Google paints its tablet strategy and software picture more clearly, we'd suggest a wait-and-see approach. Honeycomb and the Xoom are spectacular -- unfortunately they're a spectacular work in progress.
For all our criticisms, we are thrilled that Motorola, Google, and Verizon have teamed up to deliver the Xoom. It is the best alternative to the iPad we've seen, and there's every reason to believe it will get better over time with the addition of Adobe Flash support, 4G network compatibility, and refinements from Google. At its current price, we think the Xoom's appeal will be limited to early adopters and Android loyalists. As prices inevitably come down (or contracts become more lenient), the Xoom will likely realize its true potential.