Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

Summary: There has not been a single Android device yet to hit the market with as much potential as the Motorola XOOM; sadly, it is unrealized potential in its current state.

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Motorola delighted CES attendees in January with the unveiling of the XOOM, the first tablet running Google's Honeycomb version of Android optimized for bigger devices. It raced to get the XOOM released and as the first legitimate Android tablet to market, it has potential written all over it.

The XOOM will be the first tablet with Verizon's 4G (LTE) connectivity integrated when Motorola gets the hardware upgrade ready to release in the future. It will have the ability to augment the installed memory with a microSD card, when the software is upgraded to enable it. With Honeycomb onboard, it will be able to run thousands of apps optimized for the tablet screen, when they are written and released to the Android Market. The web browser will offer a desktop-like user experience, when Flash (though promised in January) is finally released. There has not been a single Android device yet with so much potential; unfortunately, it is unrealized potential in its current state.

Check out the extensive Motorola XOOM photo gallery


Image Gallery: Check out the extensive Motorola XOOM photo gallery with Honeycomb. Image Gallery: XOOM Image Gallery: XOOM

Hardware:

  • CPU: Nvidia Tegra 2, 1 GHZ dual core
  • Memory: 32 GB
  • Storage: microSD (not yet enabled)
  • Display: 10.1-inch, 1280x800, 150 dpi
  • OS: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
  • Slots/ ports: microUSB, miniHDMI, microSD, audio, SIM (LTE)
  • Battery: integrated, 24.5 W/hr
  • Connectivity: WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, 4G (LTE 700, not enabled), CDMA 800/1900
  • Cameras: 2.0 MP (front), 5 MP rear, digital zoom, autofocus, dual LED flash
  • Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches, 1.6 lbs.

The XOOM is well constructed out of black anodized aluminum with a soft coating to improve the grip. The edges are gently curved giving the XOOM a nice feel. The bezel around the 10.1-inch screen is narrow which can make holding it for extended periods in portrait orientation a bit difficult without touching the screen and triggering unintentional events. Otherwise the XOOM feels solid to hold and easy to operate with a soft touch.

All of the ports are on the bottom of the device when in landscape orientation which feels a bit awkward at times. Motorola decided not to use the microUSB standard for the charging cable, using a thin proprietary connection instead. This charging stem feels very flimsy and requires care to not put pressure which would likely result in damage. The microUSB port included is for connecting to a PC only, and will not charge the XOOM.

The 2MP webcam on the top front of the device (landscape orientation) is good for video conferencing using the included Google Talk app with video enabled. Calls are of decent quality and the camera captures good video. The rear camera can be used to take both still photos and 720p HD video. The quality of the shots taken with this 5MP camera are OK, but not outstanding. The Honeycomb camera app that runs the cameras has a lot of features and is fun to use.

Next to the camera on the back of the XOOM is the power button, which is an odd placement. I quickly got accustomed to this position, and the power button has a solid feel that makes it clear when the button has been pressed. The two stereo speakers are also on the back of the device, and are capable of playing quite loudly with minor distortion noticeable at higher volumes.

The only controls on either side of the XOOM are the volume up/down buttons on the left side. These buttons are extremely small, making them hard to hit decisively. Turning the volume down quickly is harder than it needs to be which would be avoided with larger buttons.

The XOOM can be rotated to any of the four orientations to fit personal preference, and the display autorotates smoothly. This screen rotation happens quickly, although lag is detected once several apps are running at once.

This lag occurs more frequently than I would expect, and sets in after a few apps are running at once. The dual-core Tegra processor is a very fast CPU, but the XOOM regularly bogs down with several things running. This will need to be addressed, either in updates to Honeycomb or by Motorola.

Honeycomb and apps »

Software

The Honeycomb OS is the real story of the XOOM, as it is the first device to market running this version of Android. It features a whole new look and feel, with an interface designed to better use the bigger screen of the tablet. Overall it works well and is fun to use, with some minor inconsistencies in the interface doing different tasks. This review is not intended to be a comprehensive look at Honeycomb, that has already been done. If that's of interest don't miss the detailed look at Honeycomb done by Slashgear. This review will focus on the usability of the Honeycomb system.

Gone are the hardware buttons present on every Android device prior to the XOOM, and these are now represented by soft buttons on the lower right of the screen. These buttons are the Back and Home functions of old, with the addition of a button that calls up the running tasks bar. Switching to another running task is as simple as hitting the soft button and then tapping the desired app, represented by a thumbnail preview of the app window.

The search function, previously accessible via a hardware button in Android, now is accomplished via another set of soft buttons located in the upper left corner of the home screen. There is a microphone icon to trigger search by voice.

In the upper right corner of the home screen there are two soft buttons, one to access the installed applications (Apps) and another to add widgets and shortcuts to the home screens. This process has been optimized in Honeycomb to make it easier to accomplish.

In the lower right corner of the home screen is where most of the action takes place. This is the notification area, where Honeycomb signals you when email arrives, app updates are available and other situations that need your attention. Tapping the notification icon for Gmail pops up an overview of one received email at a time, making it a snap to triage multiple email without opening the app. Next to the notification area is the clock and status indicators showing 3G/WiFi signal and battery strength.

Google has updated several of its core apps for Honeycomb, and these improvements are nice on the big screen. These updates include the Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Music apps. All have improved interfaces designed to make use on the tablet much better.

Unfortunately, while some third party apps are prone to crash under Honeycomb, even Google's core apps exhibit problems regularly. I have used the XOOM heavily for over a week, and every session longer than 15 minutes is likely to have at least one app crash, the system hanging up or the entire system rebooting. This can happen while running a Google app as easily as a third party app. The overall impression is that Honeycomb is not quite ready for heavy use yet.

We should see a continual growth in the number of tablet apps in the Android Market. This is the area that will be exciting to watch unfold, and will increase the worth of the XOOM as it happens. There are only a few tablet apps currently available, but some of those (CNN app) are quite nice.

The Tegra processor is particularly good at handling graphics intensive apps, and while there are not a lot of games that take advantage of this yet I tested a couple that played very well. Video playback is quite good too as you would expect. As more games get released for Honeycomb, the XOOM should be quite the gaming machine.

Should you buy one? »

Conclusion and recommendation

The Motorola XOOM hardware is very well executed, and when LTE is enabled it will be the fastest mobile device around. Both the XOOM and Honeycomb show great potential to turn the tablet into a great mobile device. While a tad heavy for prolonged use in the hand, the XOOM is otherwise comfortable and fun to use. The display is beautiful and the Honeycomb interface looks gorgeous.

The problems I encountered using the XOOM can be attributed to the newness of Honeycomb. These will no doubt be remedied with updates by Google and Motorola, and I suspect the system will be a solid product in the not-to-distant future. Unfortunately, at $799 the XOOM is awfully expensive to be in essence a beta test device, and I can't recommend buying the XOOM until the issues get addressed.

Motorola will be providing the free hardware upgrade to enable the Verizon 4G capability soon, but it will require sending the device in to the factory for at least a week. That's a potential nightmare in the event the upgrade doesn't go smoothly. For that reason, I would recommend that those considering buying the XOOM wait until the shipping units have the hardware upgrade in place. That will also give Google time to get things in Honeycomb settled down a bit to minimize the frequent crashes.

If you are an early adopter who likes to have the latest and greatest, then the XOOM will serve you well if you're willing to put up with the growing pains I have covered. I suspect you will see the XOOM/Honeycomb combo mature nicely, and quickly at that. If however you are not one to tolerate the frustrations that a first look device like the XOOM provides, you're better off with the iPad 2.

I have no doubt the Motorola XOOM will live up to the great potential I can see in the device, but it needs a little more time. I would wait before pulling out my credit card.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Laptops, Tablets

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44 comments
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  • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

    What's even more funny is that my non technical frinds know what the xoom is but they're not all aware that the ipad 2 is dual core! This could be disastrous for Apple.

    Even more, after using the xoom for a little more than a week I can say the only thing I would like more is a model with a 7" screen.
    slickjim
    • non technical

      @Peter Perry
      even more funny is that no one outside of this little IT bubble here cares what a dual core tablet is. and besides, you just have to love all the "features" of the exhume that not really exist (flash support, sd card support, 4g, apps).

      sounds like a bad joke or a parody of a tablet: hey, please buy our overpriced "ipad killer" and we promise it will have all the features that we already have as empty bullet points on our list. and don't mind that other tablet, the samsung tab, didn't get an any OS upgrade as most other android devices. ours will. sometime. in the future. maybe.
      banned from zdnet
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @banned from zdnet I'm glad someone else noticed that some of the most highly raved about features are at this point "promiseware" at best.
        athynz
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @banned from zdnet
        It's better than the iPad2, period.
        Droid101
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @banned from zdnet you're bitter because even without those features it still beats the new iPad 2!
        slickjim
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @banned from zdnet The issue is that it's just a couple of features that are not fully implemented, but will be within a couple of months. What's the big deal? It's still the same piece of hardware. No need to spend more money in the future to update the device. It's all there. It's just a matter of turning on the switch. Not the case with the iPad2. Can you improve the cameras on the iPad2 in a couple of months? Can you increase the memory in a couple of months? Can you activate the SD card slot in a couple of months? Oh, snap, that's right, it doesn't have one! Etc, etc.
        mrxxxman
    • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

      @Peter Perry I'd imagine that it is due to your overwhelming Anti-Apple bias and that you raved about a device that is more expensive and full of "promiseware"
      athynz
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @athynz no, I am saying this because it actually is better dumbass.<br><br>Both cameras are better.<br><br>The CPU is essentially the same.<br><br>The GPU are probably comparable.<br><br>I don't have to buy a HDMI Dongle because it is built in.<br><br>I have standard micro USB connectors.<br><br>My Tablet charges in roughly an hour and 20 minutes.<br><br>The Screen has better resolution with true widescreen 720P capability.<br><br>I have two speakers.<br><br>I can download music, books and movies from any site that wants to sell on the platform without Jobs permission.<br><br>I will have Flash Shortly!<br><br>I will have 4G Shortly!<br><br>Documents to Go is more functional than I work and cheaper!<br><br>I can't help if you guys hate Android but that doesn't change the fact that the Xoom is better than the new iPad!<br><br>Oh and one more thing, it is smart enough not to spell check the search box!
        slickjim
    • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

      @Peter Perry

      For the real world, they only thing that will matter is that the iPad 2 will not hang and crash. Google software is always in beta.

      But, of course, the iPad 2 cannot compete because it does not have integrated Google spyware. That is something you technical people love.
      jorjitop
  • Where are the no-Flash bashing rants

    Jobs' (Apples') reasons for not wanting Flash on mobile centered around...
    - it eats up battery life/processor time
    - it has security risks
    - poor or no multi-touch capabilities
    - proprietary vs open web standards (yes, iOS is proprietary but no worse that hypocritical Google pushing it's own video codec WebM/VP8, supposedly because it's open vs H.264, yet Google supports the closed, proprietary Flash... so much for "open")
    - Apple having to rely on Adobe's development time table instead of it's own

    Considering that after 4 years (the iPhone announced in January 2007) that there is still no fully functional Flash for mobile devices, I think Apple's stance has proven to be correct and substantiated re having to rely on Adobe.

    [b]The fact is, Apple is constantly criticized for failing to provide something that Adobe has yet to deliver.[/b]

    Where are all the Apple-has-no-Flash bashing Android fanboys to point out that Xoom doesn't yet have Flash though that was supposedly one of the promised, iPad-killing features?
    MacCanuck
    • agreed

      @MacCanuck
      hypocrisy towards apple is the norm here in IT doofus lala land.
      banned from zdnet
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @banned from zdnet hipocrisy towards apple? Step out of the reality distortion field for a second and remove the blinders! <br><br>Apple tells vendors if you want to sell in our store you cannot provide a link to your external site... they block the ability to download mp3 files from Amazon on the device so either you buy from apple (often for more money and with Drm) or you side load through iTunes but this isn't monopolistic unless microsoft does it... all of this is basically extortion for their users and their vendors but Apple gets a free pass right? If that were MS or Google pulling that stuff you would be crying foul.<br><br>Anyway, I think you get the picture, Apple is going to get everything they deserve but this time I hope the company isn't able to rebound.
        slickjim
      • if only the apple haters...

        @Peter Perry
        ... would know what they are talking about, then maybe coming here would be even more fun.

        theres is NO drm in the itunes store for music. no drm. since 2007. in addition to using apple's store (or instead of it) i can buy any music from any site on the interwebs and play and load it on my iphone or ipad. even from amazon. just a simple fact for your consideration.
        banned from zdnet
    • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

      @MacCanuck That's not the issue. Flash IS supported by Android, and it's not supported by iOS. It's very simple. It's not on the Xoom yet, but will be as opposed to NEVER on the iOS.

      Imagine the outrage if iOS users didn't have the youtube app available on their device? There would be a lot more complaining then for sure.
      mrxxxman
      • why?

        @mrxxxman
        if there wasn't a youtube app, iOS users would simply use safari to navigate to the youtube-site, dummy. and contrary to common belief of the apple hating ITtards, youtube videos are not encoded in a special flash-format, it's simple h.264, perfectly playable on any iOS device. like almost any video on the web now. even most of the pron-sites changed their encoding from flash to h.264. when that happens, you know it's over for an ancient, proprietary, battery killing, crashpron, security nightmare piece of software crap.
        banned from zdnet
  • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

    Thank you JK. All you've done is confirmed what I was already thinking in that I'm going to wait for Google to work out their $800/$600 beta.

    The Xoom has so much potential and it's a shame they rushed this to market just to beat the iPad2 which I was not going to buy anyways.
    david.daugherty@...
    • It's all about me

      "it's a shame they rushed this to market just to beat the iPad2 which I was not going to buy anyways. "

      Darn. I'm sure if they'd known that, they'd have delayed the release.
      Robert Hahn
  • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

    I don't trust Motorola to enable anything that is not enabled on day 1: consider the Comcast DVR (made by Motorola) that still does not have the USB or Ethernet ports enabled. One could argue that Comcast is blocking that, but Motorola could make drivers available without Comcast, yet they choose not to.
    steve@...
    • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

      @steve@... you have to remember this is a developer device so its not just Moto here, Google has a big hand in the updates. My Xoom has been great and I haven't run into the numerous FCs written about her. I agree it needs to mature and I recently wrote that in a post I did about the Xoom. Just as the G1 had growing pains (man that was buggy at first), the Xoom is nowhere near as buggy and when the first updates roll out, this device will be truly amazing (my opinion of course). Also, remember the price isn't that expensive. $599 for 3G/4G with 2 year contract, $549 wi-fi only. More than competitive against other tablets out there.
      flippedout
      • RE: Review: Motorola XOOM, brimming with unrealized potential

        @flippedout As JK is alluding to, the price is only competitive when the features are enabled. I believe that what you're seeing with the current state of the Xoom is on par with what you would see in a beta of other devices. Only now you get to pay $$$ for it.
        david.daugherty@...