Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

Summary: The Motorola Xoom is more of a PC replacement than the iPad, but it still has some frayed edges that need to be evened out before most early adopters will want to jump on board.

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I typically take about a week to use a product before I'm ready to write a product review. At the very least, I prefer to use it extensively for several days. I recently asked my readers about that approach and got confirmation that you appreciate the extra hands-on time, since most of you aren't planning to purchase the average tech product on launch day.

However, a few of you said that you'd be interested in me writing a "first impressions" post near the product launch and then follow up with a full product review after I've put it through its paces. I've decided to give that a try with some of the biggest and most anticipated tech products. The first one that fits that meets that standard is the Motorola Xoom, the first Google tablet based on Android 3.0 "Honeycomb."

Below are my initial insights about the Xoom from my first three days with the device. Next week I will publish my full review.

1. It's more of a PC replacement

Within my first couple hours of using the Xoom, after downloading some of my favorite Android apps and widgets and trying to do a bunch of common tasks, I immediately started to have the feeling that this is much more like a full PC experience than the iPad. The iPad is basically an app machine. Everything that it does has to be contained within an app. Android widgets have always been a nice feature on smartphones, but with the extra screen real estate on a 10-inch tablet like the Xoom they become even more useful. The ability to have a lot of at-a-glance information and favorite functions at your fingertips gives the Xoom a more desktop-like feel. Other things add to the desktop-like experience as well. You have more direct access to the file system in Android, so I was able to take a photo (see it here) on the Xoom and then go to the Flickr site in the Web browser and upload that photo just like I would on a PC. You can't do that on an iPad. The Web browser also has a more PC-like feel because of the tabbed browsing. Combine that with the tablet-optimized thumb controls (see those here) and the Xoom has a solid advantage over the iPad in terms of Web browsing.

2. The UI is better than expected

I didn't have very high expectations from Google when I heard that the company was working on a tablet version of Android. My initial impressions of Android when it was first released in 2008 were very poor. It was a badly unfinished OS. The 2.0 version that came along with the Motorola Droid in 2009 was a marked improvement that essentially brought Android out of beta and launched the Android revolution. Still, the OS was much more functional than flashy or ground-breaking. It was largely an iPhone clone with a handful of its own innovations (primarily widgets). In the past, I've even questioned Google's commitment to building a high-quality OS. However, the company has raised its game with Android 3.0 Honeycomb. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Google hiring Matias Duarte (the design chief behind Palm webOS) and making him the Director of User Experience for Android. Honeycomb is one of Duarte's first big projects and the Android 3.0 UI has a very pleasant experience that is not just a copy of the iPad. It looks great, flows well, is generally pretty intuitive (even though it departs from past Android conventions), and introduces some UI ideas aimed at tablets (like the browser thumb controls).

3. Needs more tablet-optimized apps and widgets

The biggest disappointment with the Motorola Xoom is that very few apps and widgets are optimized for the tablet experience. There are a few good ones that show what the tablet is capable, such as the CNN, AccuWeather, and Google Books apps and some of Google's home-grown widgets, but a lot of the other apps end up looking like badly stretched smartphone apps, including the Kindle app. Google has only recently launched its final development kit for Android 3.0 Honeycomb, so Android software makers haven't had much time to adapt their apps (compared to the two months of lead time that Apple gave developers before the iPad launch). I expect that Android developers will catch up pretty quickly and produce some good software, but the early app experience is a bit of a letdown.

4. Functionality is still a little buggy

As I mentioned above, the 1.0 experience for Android smartphones was a mess. I feared that the first tablet version of Android might repeat that experience. Thankfully, it didn't. The core functionality of Honeycomb is quite good. That said, there are still times when things don't work correctly or as expected. There are instances where you have press things several times to make them work or you get a strange error message or things unexpectedly shut down. This is especially the case in some of the apps. For example, I downloaded and opened the social app Seesmic, but when I tried to hit the button to add an account, nothing happens. I'm sure these annoyances will be fixed in the next few months but it serves as a caveat emptor for early adopters.

5. Price overshadows the technology

As much as there is to like about the Motorola Xoom and as much as it provides a refreshingly alternative to what a multitouch tablet can do, the one factor that casts a long shadow over the product is its price. The Verizon-subsidized version of the Xoom with a 2-year contract costs $600 (the forthcoming Wi-Fi version of the Xoom will also cost $600) while the unsubsidized version of the Xoom costs $800. Both versions of the Xoom are essentially $100 more expensive than the comparable (unsubsidized) iPad models. Some will argue that the Xoom has much stronger specs than the iPad but that's in comparison to last year's 1.0 iPad. The iPad 2.0 tablet will hit the market in the coming months and will likely provide upgraded specs for the same price and Apple could choose to continue to sell the existing iPad for an even lower price. That will put a lot of pressure on the Motorola Xoom and other upcoming Honeycomb tablets that start at a price point over $500. If the Motorola Xoom had been able to undercut the iPad on price, I think it would have had a great chance to earn a big chunk of market share. However, at the current price, it will mostly be relegated to a niche device.

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Mobility, Google, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Tablets

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  • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

    Very good review. Pretty much my feelings exactly, so far. The Accuweather app is quite beautifully done. Facebook app doesn't work well, a few things int eh browser are clunky. I agree about being a PC replacement, too, and since that is what I wanted, overall I'm quite happy.
    clb2196
    • 16 (tablet) apps is not quite PC replacement; also it is plasticky & pricy

      @clb2196: there will be Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, RIM Playbook and HP TouchPad.

      More importantly, iPad 2 -- with over 60 000 tablet apps.
      DDERSSS
      • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

        @denisrs -- Only 59,914 apps to go. Shouldn't be much of a problem for a not-ready-for prime time OS.

        Naaaah...
        SkateNY
      • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

        @denisrs

        DEFEND THE HIVE!!!!!
        Hallowed are the Ori
    • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

      @clb2196 -- The Accuweather app? As though there aren't a gazillion, billion places to find whether on the Internet, you need an app? And how are the other FIFTEEN tablet optimized apps working out for for the Xoom?
      SkateNY
    • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

      @clb2196 -- It's the ecosystem...the integration of hardware, software, app purchasing experience, UI, end-user experience, and on, and on, and on.

      That's only one of the reasons why Apple accounted for 93% of 2010 Q3 tablet sales.

      Unless and until someone offers a better -- even a competitive -- alternative, each effort at catching will remain a failure. And while all these other folks are straining to catch up. Apple won't be sitting still. It simply in their DNA.

      I gotta laugh quietly to myself when I read the ostensible thoughts of WM7, Android, and other "I-wanna-be-like-Apple!" operating systems.

      That ship sailed a very long time ago.
      SkateNY
      • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

        @SkateNY

        DEFEND THE HIVE!
        Hallowed are the Ori
  • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

    Xoom is nice! But this is better: http://www.getpowerpad.com as you don't need any wire yo charge it!
    Montebello
  • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

    You say that the forthcoming WiFi only Xoom is $100 more than the comparable iPad. That is incorrect - the 32GB WiFi iPad is also $600, the same as the forthcoming WiFi Xoom. These are unsubsidized prices. But Verizon has now offered Xoom at a subsidized price with a 2yr data plan. So it should be assumed then, that the forthcoming WiFi only Xoom will have a subsidized price of $399. And keep in mind that if you have a Droid X, you can get a 2GB hotspot plan for $20. The data plan for the 3G Xoom is 1GB for $20. So go and buy the forthcoming WiFi only Xoom and use it with your Droid X for only $399 plus $20 a month for the 2GB data plan. You don't need the 3G Xoom to get 3G if you have a Droid X or other smartphone with a hotspot capability. I think that's a very good deal indeed.
    msc5216
    • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

      @msc5216 Wait, why would anyone subsidize a WiFi only tablet?
      jason.irwin@...
    • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

      @msc5216
      What would Verizon get if they subsidized "WIFI" only Xoom? How could they get money from the one who bought that when (s)he is not taking any service from Verzion?

      Hint: Verizon can't sell their monthly services to WiFi only tablets in anyway.
      Ram U
    • There is NO price for the WiFi Xoom.

      @msc5216

      None. Zip. Ziltch. All we know is it will be meaningfully cheaper than the 3G with a mention of the current iPad as a reference attempted target.

      Meaningfully cheaper may be $50 without the activation fees. It might mean $250.
      Bruizer
      • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

        @Bruizer

        The CEO of Motorola Mobility already announced that the forthcoming WiFi only Xoom will be priced at $600.

        I do now realize that VZW would never subsidize a WiFi only tablet. Thanks to those who have reminded me about that. But a $600 unsubsidized WiFi only Xoom is still $200 lower than the 3G model and you don't need 3G if you have a smartphone with a hotspot capability like the Droid X.
        msc5216
      • No, "meaningfully cheaper".

        @msc5216

        Jha <b>never</b> siad $600. He never said $599. He never once said a price, the tech community did.

        So again to make it really really simple. There is <b>no price on the WiFi Xoom.</b>
        Bruizer
  • Might Want To Wait

    I've had a Motorola phone (non-droid) and their commitment to keeping their devices up-to-date and their bloated overlay software was a huge disappointment. I would wait for the full array of Honeycomb tablets to come out. I think when Vizio puts theirs out, with all it's promised bells and whistles, the others will be forced to reduce their prices substantially -- like their LED TV's did. Motorola makes powerful equipment and flashy commercials, but their support for these products is incredibly bad and their unwillingness to participate in participate in Google's Android Open Source policy is often frustrating and causes issues with apps.
    boomerxyz
  • I am not

    an Apple fan. I own no Apple products except a IIc. No Apple software on my computer. I took back a 3G after a week. BUT what kind of IDIOT would price a XOOM above an iPad and expect it to sell? Give me a break!
    sackbut
    • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

      @sackbut what kind of idiot would buy a product that costs less and perceive it is a quality product? See it is a two way street.
      slickjim
  • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

    I got Atrix 4g and this is my second Motorola phone, and I feel MotoBlur blur brings more privacy invasion issues than Google. So I feel like boycotting Motorola altogether. Motorols+Google is big privacy disaster. OTOH, I am waiting for LG G-Slate and HTC Flyer. I think I would go with one of those than Motorola anytime.
    Ram U
  • If you want a PC replacement

    why not buy an HP Slate? That really is a tablet PC which runs Windows software. The iPad is a fun device, rather like a console. People like it precisely because it isn't a PC replacement.
    The Star King
  • RE: Hands on with the Motorola Xoom: Five initial insights

    Why would someone price a piece of hardware like the Xoom the same as an entry level 16GB WiFi iPad when it has specs double that ipad in every category and then some. Remember folks that ipad is a single 1GHz processor while Xoom is 2X that. Apple people test it out. I did. This is not your father's iPad. iPads are like every day cars for every day people. The Xoom is a Porsche. You have to have a little know how to drive it, but once you get the hang of it you won't go back to another vehicle no matter how pretty that doesn't have the as* to take you where you want to go fast. Stop being fanboys of any particular company and just be fans of the journey. I'm a Vette man, but that don't mean I can't appreciate the hell out of a Ferrari!
    chethammer