This week in Mobile News Manor #9: XOOM has landed

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week the XOOM has landed.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair bit of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

Gadgetry in the house

This week the Motorola XOOM arrived at Mobile News Manor and I have been spotted with it in my hands all over town. The personal nature of the tablet requires it to be used a fair bit to get a real impression so I have been using the XOOM heavily all week. While my initial impression of the XOOM was less than favorable, over time I have come to like it quite a bit.

The build quality of the XOOM is top-notch; Motorola has done a good job building a solid tablet that looks and feels good. One of the best features of the XOOM that is missing in all other tablets I've tried is the soft white LED indicator that flashes when a notification is received. This little attention to detail is very useful; when an email has arrived the notification lets you know without getting in your face.

The Galaxy Tab is my favorite tablet device, due to its portability and comfort during heavy usage. Comfort isn't discussed very often, but it is a big factor for devices like tablets that are used in the hands. I hear from a lot of people who prefer the bigger 10-inch display like that on the iPad and XOOM, but a big reason I gravitated to the Tab over the original iPad was comfort. When handheld devices get over a pound in weight, every ounce is felt heavily in the hand with heavy usage. The extra weight of the XOOM gets very tiring during extended work sessions, and it should be considered by those looking at tablets.

The XOOM weighs as much as the original iPad, and the weight gets heavy after a while. This week Apple raised the bar with the iPad 2, or lowered it more accurately as the new iPad weighs 0.2 pounds less than the original iPad. That doesn't sound like much, but for those who use tablets heavily it will go a long way toward making the iPad 2 much more comfortable to use. This will impact XOOM buyers too, so it should be considered.

I intend to do a full review of the XOOM soon so I won't get into detail here, but Honeycomb is growing on me the more I use it. It took me a few days to reach that impression, as it is not quite as intuitive as Froyo; it is more attractive and works pretty well overall. The main problem with Honeycomb and the XOOM is the lack of optimized apps. Many existing apps in the Market don't work on the XOOM, and those that do work OK don't always display very well on the big screen. This will improve over time, but right now it's not where it needs to be.

I would recommend that anyone buying a XOOM get one of the docks that Motorola is selling. The location of the charging port is terrible, and a dock is required to use the XOOM in a stand. The charging tip is very flimsy and without the dock I can see this getting broken, rendering the XOOM an expensive paperweight. Motorola really missed the boat here in my opinion.

Another gadget arrived in the Manor this week that has not been announced yet so I can't show it nor talk about it. I can tell you it has made a big impression on me due to its utility and one feature that is outstanding. It is rare that I get excited to talk about a device like this, and I will be happy when the NDA expires. I love this device.

An App and Ebook of the week »

App of the week

Due to the arrival of the XOOM this week I revisited the Google Books app, and it has left me with a much more favorable impression than I had when it was first released. I normally use the Kindle app on all of my devices, due to the WhisperSync technology that lets me read any ebook on any device.

Google Books has the same technology, and it is better implemented. When I buy a book from the Google bookstore, it instantly appears on every Android device. No matter which device I pick up, and I rotate them frequently, the book is on the bookshelf. I just tap the book cover and it opens for reading at my current reading position in the book. No other action on my part is required, it just works as it should.

The Kindle app works pretty much the same way, with a big difference. When a Kindle ebook is purchased, it is only sent to the designated device. The ebook doesn't show on other devices running the app until I go into the Archived Items, which are stored in the Kindle cloud, and manually download the book. Then when you open the Kindle book on any device that is not the one most recently used, you have to approve going to the current reading location on this new device. This isn't a big deal for most users, but when you switch devices as often as I do it is a pain. Google Books handles all of this automatically, and it is a nice feature.

Ebook of the week

This week I have been reading The Whisperers, a John Connolly novel featuring Charlie Parker. Parker is my favorite character of Connolly's, and the story is riveting. I won't divulge what it is about and risk spoiling it for those who haven't read it, but it is a great read.


That's the week as it went down in the Manor, and I hope you got something out of sharing it with me to take away that is helpful. I'll be back with the next column next week, same time, same channel.

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