Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

Summary: The Motorola Xoom is the tablet that has been preparing to go toe-to-toe with the Apple iPad. Here's the rundown of how it measures up for IT and business professionals.

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The Motorola Xoom has arguably been the most widely-hyped-tech-product-not-made-by-Apple in the past year. Motorola has gotten a lot of people excited for the first official Google tablet.

However, the Xoom faces two big challenges. First, all of the hype surrounding the Xoom and Android 3.0 Honeycomb has created extremely high expectations. Second, there's already a tablet on the market that has set the bar pretty high. Despite its well-documented shortcomings, the Apple iPad gets high marks from most users.

Unfortunately, the Xoom doesn't quite live up to its lofty expectations and doesn't deliver the same level of product experience that you get with the iPad. Still, there are things to like about the Xoom, and for some people, this will be the tablet they've been waiting for. See if you're one of them.

Photo gallery

Motorola Xoom: Unboxing and comparison photos

Specifications

  • Carrier: Verizon Wireless
  • OS: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
  • Processor: NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core 1GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 32GB internal
  • Display: 10.1-inch WXGA 1280x800, 160 dpi
  • Battery: Lithium-ion polymer with 3250 mAh capacity
  • Ports: Micro USB, Micro HDMI, 3.5mm headset
  • Weight: 25.75 ounces (730 grams)
  • Dimensions: 9.8(h) x 6.6(w) x 0.51(h) inches
  • Camera: 5MP with auto-focus, dual LED flash, 8x digital zoom; 2MP front-facing
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, aGPS, digital compass, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, barometer
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY
  • Networks: CDMA 800/1900MHz; upgradeable to LTE 700MHz
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Tethering: Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Price: $799 (no contract) or $599 (with 2-year contract)

Who is it for?

For Android developers and devout Android fans, the Xoom is a long-awaited device that provides some exciting glimpses into the direction Google is headed with Android. For those who want a more PC-like experience on a multitouch tablet than what you get with the iPad (which has more of a mobile device experience), then the Xoom may be the device you're looking for -- especially if you want a tablet but have previously been unhappy with the ones running a version of Windows. Of course, those lusting after an iPad but avoiding the walled garden of the Apple ecosystem may be attracted to the Xoom as well.

What problems does it solve?

While we've seen Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the various Archos devices, those are basically oversized screens running a smartphone OS. Android 3.0 Honeycomb is Google's first tablet-optimized version of Android and the Xoom is the first Honeycomb device to hit the market. In essence, this is the first Google tablet. It's also the first major 10-inch tablet running Android, matching the 9.7-inch iPad.

Standout features

  • Native tablet UI - I've had my doubts about whether Google was serious about building a great tablet OS, but Honeycomb delivers a very usable and likable experience -- when you're in the native UI and the native apps and widgets that Google has built to work in Honeycomb. The UI is very smooth and works especially well in landscape mode, which Google has made the default on its tablet OS. The native widgets work well, and are a key advantage over the iPad. I especially like the ability to stack useful widgets next to each with plenty of room to spare on the large screen. It gives a more desktop-like feel. The email app, Web browser, and Google Talk apps offer an excellent experience that has been thoroughly customized for a tablet view. The Google Books app has the best UI of any ebook app I've seen, with nice touches like a night reading mode.
  • Web browsing experience - Along with widgets, the biggest advantage the Xoom has over the iPad is Web browsing. The Xoom offers tabbed browsing so that you can quickly and easily flip between Web pages like you do on a desktop. However, my favorite part of Xoom browsing is the thumb controls. You simply hold down your thumb on the edge of the screen and semi-circle menu overlay pops up and lets you open a new tab, bookmark the page, go back or forward, refresh, and more (see screenshot here). Quick tip: In order to turn this on you have to go to Settings | Labs | Quick Controls. The other advantage for the Xoom is that the Android browser supports Flash, but surprisingly, Flash support was not included with the Xoom at launch. It is promised for a future software update.
  • Performance - Nearly everything is fast on the Xoom -- the UI animations, search, loading videos, flipping through photos, pulling up Web pages (with a good Internet connection), etc. With a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and some good video chips, this thing has plenty of horsepower. And, even with all of that power, battery life doesn't suffer. The Xoom's battery life isn't quite as good as the iPad, but it still approaches 10 hours.

What's wrong?

  • Too much stuff is missing - My feeling is that Motorola and Google pushed the Xoom out of the nest a little too soon. It needed longer to develop before it was ready to fly. I've already mentioned the fact that Flash doesn't work in the Xoom browser (at launch), which is odd since Flash works in Android 2.2 and 2.3. A future software update is promised to fix that. The Xoom's MicroSD card doesn't work at launch. That's also promised to be fixed in a future software update. This first version of the Xoom is 3G-only but is ready to be upgraded to Verizon's 4G LTE network, except that in order to get the upgrade customers will have to mail the Xoom to Motorola to install the new chip. There are also too many times when the Xoom gives strange error messages or simply locks up or certain elements crash. Motorola and Google would have been better off waiting until early summer to release this, once the Flash and MicroSD issues were worked out, the other bugs were fixed, and LTE could have been loaded on every Xoom by default.
  • App experience is a letdown - Google didn't do a very good job of lining up app developers to update their apps for the tablet experience before launching the Xoom. As a result, there were only 16 tablet-ready apps when the Xoom launched. That number is growing and there are some really nice apps -- like CNN, AccuWeather, Pulse News Reader, and USA Today -- but it's not enough to make the Xoom very useful. And even some of the tablet-optimized apps like the Amazon Kindle app are still very rough around the edges. As a result, you end up using apps optimized for smaller screens and that get badly stretched when you open them on the Xoom. I wish Honeycomb would let you open these apps in smaller smartphone-sized windows and then you could use 2-3 of them side-by-side, cut-and-paste between them, and multitask.
  • Data plan is overpriced - In the US, the Xoom is available on Verizon Wireless with a badly-overpriced data plan. For $20/month you get 1GB of data ($20 for each GB over that). You can also get plans for 3GB ($35), 5GB ($50), and 10GB ($80), and with those three plans you'll pay $10 for each extra GB that you use each month. For a device like this that is made for downloading and consuming lots of media files (Web pages, photos, movies, music, etc.), that's a paltry amount of data. The situation will get even worse when the Xoom has 4G LTE capability, since you can download a lot more stuff a lot faster on LTE.

Bottom line for business

In the technology industry, we don't give products an "A" for effort. Things iterate too quickly. That's why it's tough to recommend the Motorola Xoom. There's just too much unfinished business on this tablet, plus it's roughly $100 more expensive than a comparable iPad 2 model.

Unless you're an Android developer, a devout Android fan, or a bleeding edge IT professional who wants to get an early jump on Android 3.0 Honeycomb, then I'd steer clear of the Xoom -- at least until everything gets cleaned up, LTE 4G is shipping as part of the standard package, and the price drops by at least $100.

Even then, Android is going to need a lot more really good tablet apps in order to compete effectively against the iPad, which has quickly become a favorite among business professionals for its approachability and plethora of software. Once it gets finished and gets more apps, the Xoom could be in the same league with the iPad. Most buyers should avoid it until then.

Competitive products

Where to get more info

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

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

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27 comments
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  • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

    Respectfully, I'd like to add a couple of things:
    Pricing: I get that it may have more expensive components but there is no variety in the configurations, pricing options too, are very limited. I mean for 399 you can get an iPad with an installed base.

    What about backing up? Has google made a tool to easily back up your data? No one seems to ask the important questions like these. How to use or maintain the device. Focus seems to be on whether the device will be faster or cooler but that doesn't mean much when you have few apps to run and the user experience isn't all that great.

    General usability: the average non-technical person seems to instinctively know how to use the iOS interface. Everyone understands buttons. Is the honeycomb interface as easy to be understood by non-techies? I think not.
    lqr_up_frnt
    • Also, which "grounds" Xoom is "breaking" except for OS/platform stability

      @lqr_up_frnt: ... (I mean crashes)?

      <b>Xoom is thick heavy plasticky lower battery life but pricey device.</b>
      DDERSSS
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

        @denisrs Same general thickness and weight as the original ipad and that is WITH two cameras, dual-core processor, more memory, real multitasking, long battery life, GPS, Wifi + 3G, Barometer AND a gyroscope! And you think that it is pricey? Relative to what other equivalent system currently on the market?
        The_Omega_Man
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

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    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @lqr_up_frnt variety is coming soon in the form of a less expensive WiFi only variant.

      And By default all of your contacts, calendar, Gmail, Google tasks and other Google related data items are backup and restored automatically. If you wish to have any additional backup, there are tons of third party tools to do this. There are plenty of apps to run. Just relatively few tablet optimized (take full advantage of the large screen real-estate) apps. This is being addressed rapidly. The user experience is unlike anything else out today, so it will take a little time for people to get familiar with it and to take advantage of it's unique benefits. This has the potential to be one of the best user experiences on a tablet platform. It's not just another un-original over-sized phone UI.

      iOS is an app launcher interface. It is not complicated to tap an icon to launch an app and to press the one and only button to go back to launch another app. Android can be setup to operate exactly like that. BUT it can also be setup to provide the user with a more customized user interface by giving the user both the choice and the capability to organize the main screens into functional sections of information and applications. All while still being on one screen tap away from the oh-so familiar grid of applications to launch. Between homescreen Short Cuts and Widgets, in many cases a user does not have to even launch an app to get the information that he or she is looking for, as it is already presented to them, improving user efficiency and flexibility. With the highly under rated built it voice search and command system, any information that the user desires is merely a tap and a verbal question away. It does not get any easier to use than that! My mom and my kid, have no problems using Android to provide the information that they need.
      The_Omega_Man
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

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  • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

    Try Changing the Name from Motorolla Xoom to Apple iPad and the product would be magical. irregardless of Hardware and sofrware advantages, as long as its Apple competitor, it would be less admirable.

    I hope you can get the sarcasm.
    iluvmsft
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @iluvmsft

      Sarcasm or not, when you are going up against the incumbent you have to try harder and be better. Companies who want to get into the tablet business have to be willing to invest <b>at least as much</b> as Apple did, and do it all at once to catch up. Apple had the luxury of making their investments in iP**** and iTunes over several years. Now the people like Google, Moto, HP and Samsung need to pony up the same amount of money and innovation <b>right now</b> just to stay in the game. iPad2 is only a minor improvement, but it is enough to cause the market to freeze once again and benefit Apple immensely.

      I don't like Apple's closed model and high-handed ways, but it doesn't stop me from appreciating their brilliance in product strategy.
      terry flores
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

        @terry flores
        Apple is awesome, there's a reason why it will become the most valuable company in the world.
        Hasam1991
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

        @terry flores Who says that this product is going up against any incumbent? These products are not comparable! Are they both mobile computing tablets initially designed for pure data consumption? Yes, but the comparison really ends there. I believe the potential of a large format Android based tablet has yet to be realized. With the drive to provide more functionality within this form factor, I believe that the Android solutions such as the XOOM are better positioned to provide both businesses and individuals more productive capability than consumptive. This differentiates the platforms in my eyes. If a consumer is just looking for web surfing, ebook reading and a little general entertainment from a device of this form factor, then perhaps there is some level of comparison warranted. However, I am already seeing that for this level of capital investment, consumers are demanding more and more capabilities of these devices. The most flexible and cost effective solution generally "Wins" in that situation. <br><br>Bottom Line: apple is merely one player in this space, now. True, they currently have a larger installed base, of this mobile computing form factor, than other would be players in the same space. But I do not see most Honeycomb devices ultimately playing in that same space, versus building a mobile computing niche of their own.
        The_Omega_Man
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @iluvmsft
      Yea right, have you not owned anything made by Apple? the minute you open it, it makes you go WOW! trust me, motorola is cheaply made..
      Hasam1991
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

        @Hasam1991 You have no idea what you are saying here. Same question to you: "Have you not owned anything made by Motorola running Google's OS?"
        The_Omega_Man
  • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

    The negatives he lists are things the Ipad1 and Ipad2 doesnt have anyway. At least with the Xoom you'll get a working SD card, you'll get Flash support, you'll get 4G. I'll wait a few months for these upgrades. Compared to apple owners who will wait forever. What a fluff piece. Appleheads just want to spend their money on half engineered products as long as it has a half eaten piece of fruit on the back. Talk about brain washed.
    westvolusiaguys
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @westvolusiaguys
      Use one and you will see why we are willing to wait, and the cycle is every 12 months... not like we're waiting for years.
      Hasam1991
      • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

        @Hasam1991 I have and it was the most boring experience that I have had with and electronic device in years. It's not bad, but not fun and not productive (without jailbreaking) by allowing complete user customization and organization of the supplied or aquired tools. Enjoy your annual updates, the industry is innovating much faster than that cycle. We'll leave the light on for ya. ;)
        The_Omega_Man
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @westvolusiaguys I do enjoy reading the droid and apple fans hurl insults at each other but on this one, I have to side with apple fan boys. Motorola should have never shipped a product that was not fully operational. You accuse your opponents of being brainwashed but I think not, @westvolusiaguys it is you. Could you imagine another industry shipping products that are not fully functional and then saying wait don't worry there is a fix coming later! Seriously, as a consumer you will just wait until the product is right. It is a huge problem that Motorola and Google would rush a product whose features are meant to establish a better experience and those same features don't work. @westvolusiaguys Would you buy a car whose radio and reverse gear didn't work but the automobile manufacture said don't worry buy it now and you can bring it back to the dealership when we have those issues figured out and we will fix it then? Just incredibly stupid!!!!!
      Firstviceroy
  • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

    I still don't understand tablet pricing. It's a flaptop without the keyboard, hinge, optical disk, ethernet port, cooling fan, and far less ram. Why does it cost twice as much?

    I'd like of one of these very much, but I don't think I'd want to pay more than about ?200, call that $300.
    bobharvey
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @bobharvey It's not a PC. If you need the functions of a PC then buy a PC. If you need cloud bases services, instant on capability and multi-media services with some web browsing mixed in, then this MAY be for you. The price is typical for any 1st Gen. Consumer Electronics device, before the rest of the CEM players get into the game and commoditize the market space. If this was not the case on the Laptop front, that PC you described would still cost $2500! ;)
      The_Omega_Man
  • That 10 hour iPad battery life is watching solid video

    battery life for normal use is about two to three days. I seriously doubt Xoom is going to give you that (Android's multitasking is a battery killer) and I can guarantee you won't get it when you run flash or upgrade to 4G, both of which are battery hogs.
    fr_gough
    • RE: Motorola Xoom review: Groundbreaking, but disappointing

      @frgough@... It is all in how you use your devices. Everywhere I see people using ipads today I also see them hunting for a power outlet.

      Bottom line: If you want to do more, you will use more enery to do it. Mobile optimized Flash does not eat batteries like many think. The largest consumer of energy on Android devices is typically the screen. Next is the OS, not usually the Apps unless they are either a) poorly written or b) have the options set to update information too often. 4G LTE there is no basis yet to know about the aggregate battery life impact. There should be more towers for VZWs LTE than say Sprints WiMax, thus theoretically lowering the power consumption of the technology. Time will tell.
      The_Omega_Man