There's plenty to like about the Xoom, the problem is there's also plenty to dislike

Early reviews of the Motorola Xoom are in.  Packing a large screen and dual CPU core Tegra 2 ARM system-on-a-chip, the Xoom has some pretty powerful hardware.  And the tablet comes with Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", meaning that buyers will get to taste for the first time Google's tablet vision.

So how does the Xoom fare in early reviews?

I. Hardware

Engadget's Josh Topolsky [review] generally offered general praise for the base hardware, including the LTE upgradability.  He writes:

[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.

He overall offers praise to the size, shape, and weight, saying the footprint "isn't massive" and that the 1.5 lb weight "gives it heft without killing your arms."

But he criticizes that the power button gets stuck, the volume buttons had trouble functioning, and the power button's odd placement next to the back-face camera and flash.  He also says that the screen size means the device is less useful in landscape mode than in portrait mode.

Walt Mossberg of All Things Digital and The Wall Street Journal [review] seconds this comment, stating, "Though it works fine in portrait, or vertical, mode, the Xoom is mainly designed as a landscape, or horizontal, device. The screen is long and narrow, proportioned to best fit widescreen video."

He criticizes the low starting memory capacity 32 GB (versus 16-64 GB on the iPad), but points out that a coming software update will allow memory card expansion.  He praises the high screen resolution commenting:

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.

AnandTech founder Anand Lal Shimpi [review] gives us a little background/history writing:

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.

Mr. Shimpi likes the overall size and feel, but also took issue with the power button placement.  He points out that the tablet handily beats the current iPad in processing speed (2x 1 GHz cores) and memory (1 GB DRAM).  But he says there's some rough edges with the hardware.  For example, he states:

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.

Self-proclaimed "iPad freak" Robert Scoble writes [review] on his blog, Scobleizer:

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.

CNET, PC World, and Android Community all offer similar conclusions when it comes to hardware.

II. The Operating System (Honeycomb)

Most reviews were overall positive on the Honeycomb experience saying that Google is offering an attractive OS vision.  Writes CNET's Donald Bell [review]:

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.

Chris Burns of Android Community [review] warns that the OS may seem a bit unfamiliar to prior Android users, stating:

[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.

He says the new Action Bar (on top of the screen) and the System Bar (on the bottom of the screen) do a good job chopping up navigation, OS/app options, and notifications.

The new App Panels and the "drawer" of apps to add to them is a clever technique, says Mr. Burns, but it can backfire:

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.

AnandTech offers praise for the new virtual keyboard and its customized levels of autocorrect "aggressiveness", though offer some criticism for making the punctuation keys hard to access.  Writes Mr. Shimpi:

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.

He also loves the email, client, though he found it has a bug in reporting back to your mail server to delete messages.  He writes:

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?

He says that multi-tasking is improved with the new button which brings up a history of previously used apps, but he also gripes:

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.

Endgadget sums up the new OS's look, commenting:

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.

III. Apps

Most reviewers loved the look of apps on the high-resolution screen, but there were plenty of other comments both good and bad.

AnandTech complains of general app crashes:

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.

CNET also raises the valid point that the iPad still simply has more apps than Android, especially tablet-centric ones.

PC World's Melissa Perenson is not happy with the new gallery app:

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.

Engadget was more positive about the revamped YouTube and music players.  It describes the new look of the music player, writing:

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.

Similar comments were leveled against Google Chat.  The feature was deemed promising, but buggy by most.  Walt Mossberg remarks:

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.

Probably the most well received software component was the browser.  Mr. Shimpi summarizes:

Simply put: the Xoom puts the iPad to shame. The combination of an ultra fast javascript engine with a pair of 1GHz Cortex A9s makes the Xoom feel less like a tablet and more like a PC when browsing the web. Particularly over WiFi the web browsing experience is just awesome. It’s like using a netbook, which in this case isn’t meant as a knock but rather a compliment.

It’s not all about performance though, functionally the Honeycomb Browser is a huge improvement over anything else out there: it supports tabbed browsing. I can’t stress how much better this makes browsing on a tablet. Switching between tabs is just as easy as it is on your PC or Mac, you just use your finger instead of a mouse or keyboard combination.

IV. Battery Life

AnandTech got 9.52 hours out of the Xoom when web-browsing over 3G -- nearly two more hours then the iPad.

Running a looped video at 65 percent brightness, Engadget estimated video playback time to be around 8 hours and 20 minutes, impressive but short of Motorola's 10 hour claim.  Walt Mossberg reports getting only 7 hours and 32 minutes of video playback, four hours less than the iPad (11.5 hours) (he did not discuss what settings he used).

Android Community reports getting over 14 hours of use, eight of which were "heavy" (browsing, video playback, etc.) out of the device before it powered off.

CNET and PC World did not provide battery life tests.

Aside from explicit testing, Walt Mossberg also raises a valid issue, that the Xoom, unlike some other Android devices has a non-replaceable battery.  That means that power users who might hope to bring an extra battery with them on a long plane ride, etc. are out of luck.

V. Price

If there's one thing nobody care much for it was the price, though most said it was (somewhat) worth it.  At $800 for the current 3G model, the device is priced substantially higher than the first-generation iPad 3G.  

Engadget describes the tablet as "quite a pricey piece of technology to own."

CNET opines, "Priced at $800 off-contract or $600 with a two-year commitment from Verizon, the Xoom isn't out to win frugal customers."

Walt Mossberg comments:

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.

In fairness, the iPad model with the same memory as the Xoom and a 3G cellular modem like the Xoom’s is $729, which is a closer comparison. But it is still less than $800, and consumers still focus on that $499 iPad entry price (for a Wi-Fi-only model.)

Anandtech offers a bit of hope to those wishing for the lower price, confirming, "What’s missing of course is a plain old WiFi only Xoom. Motorola says this is coming and will be priced at around $600."

V.  The Verdict

Verdicts generally varied from buy it if you like it to wait for the less-buggy version, with a hearty helping of "wait for the iPad 2".

Walt Mossberg summarized:

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.

PC World concludes:

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.

AnandTech, who appeared to be one of the ones to spend the most time with the device, was also one of the most positive offering:

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.

Engadget alternatively comments:

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.

Robert Scoble wraps-up, writing, "Finally, is it worth $800? Not for the mass market due to the lack of apps. If you don’t care about the lack of apps, then yes. It brings Android solidly into the tablet world and brings Apple some significant competition."

Android Community didn't really provide a verdict, so the last word goes to CNET who wrote:

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.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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