Motorola XOOM Review by Taylor

Published: February 28, 2011

The Motorola XOOM has finally arrived and it is without a doubt one of the best tablets we have gotten our hands on here at PhoneDog. Long has been the wait for customers in the market for an Android tablet that truly gives the Apple iPad a run for its money. That day finally came last Thursday when the XOOM launched on Verizon Wireless.

For $600 with a two-year agreement or $800 contract-free, the XOOM is a little on the expensive side, but offers some serious specifications. A 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, 10.1-inch display, and Google's made-for-tablets operating system puts this tablet in a class of its own for the time being. Is it enough to knock the Apple iPad from its pedestal? Or is this just another failed attempt from Android tablet manufacturers?

Design & Features

The first thing you will notice when you pick up the XOOM is its distinct weight. It weighs in at a whopping 25.75 oz, which is comparable to the iPad at 24 or 25 oz (depending on the model). Save for a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, a light sensor, a notification LED, and the 10.1-inch (1280 by 800 pixel resolution) display, the face of the XOOM is quite bare. Unlike other Android devices, there are no physical or capacitive buttons. The left edge of the device consists of separated volume up/down keys, and the top edge holds the 3.5mm headphone jack, LTE SIM card slot, and microSD slot – neither of which are active at this point. On the bottom edge of the device, you will find the microUSB port, micro HDMI port, the dock connection points, and the proprietary Motorola charging port. On the back lies the two speakers, the 5-megapixel camera, dual-LED flash, and the power on/off button.

The unexpected heft of the device is nice, though after a prolonged amount of time, I found myself resting it on my lap or chest (when I was laying down). The device is very easy to grip thanks to the matte metal backing and rubberized top. That said, there is far less bezel around the display in comparison to the iPad. This makes the device a little more awkward to hold seeing that there is less room for you to place your thumb without touching the touchscreen – it's a trade off. Overall, the XOOM is a solid device with great build quality.

Usability & Performance

The first time I booted up the XOOM, it took a little while for it to get going. Since I bought it without contract and don't have a need for a 3G plan, I skipped the activation process. It didn't seem to like this very much and hung. I had to reboot it and start over. After I got past the setup process and logged into my Google account, the tablet proceeded to download all of my purchased and previously installed applications. During the two or three minutes that this took, I did notice a slight slow down. After the 60 or so applications finished installing, everything was smooth. I have yet to experience any lag whatsoever.

Android 3.0, or Honeycomb as it is commonly called, is a version of Android made specifically for tablets. After having a Galaxy Tab and comparing that experience to a more tablet-friendly version of software, I have to say that Android has come a long way in a very short period. That said, I feel like it may be a bit much at times. With the immense customization options comes a cumbersome home screen setup process. For previous Android users, you will feel at home in no time. Newcomers may find themselves stumbling a bit before walking or running.

In comparison to the iPad, a much more weathered tablet OS, tablet-specific Android applications are sparse. You still have the option to download standard Android applications, and since the operating system is scalable, most of them load and render just fine – without pixelation. However, some games and applications still are not tablet-ready; layout is off and in-app buttons tend to be long and very skinny. Given some time, there will be more tablet-specific applications in Market, and other applications will be updated to render correctly on the larger displays of tablets.

The XOOM comes with 32GB of built-in memory. I found this to be plenty, especially considering there is a microSD card slot for expandable memory. The part that baffles me is why the microSD slot is not yet active. I can somewhat understand the LTE SIM card slot being inactive. But for a device that is trying to directly compete with the iPad – a very highly regarded product – it needs to hit shelves ready to run, not stumbling over components that are not yet ready for prime time. Like Aaron said, these updates are bound to be PR nightmares, which in turn could give Motorola a bad rep.

The most pleasing experience with the XOOM has undoubtedly been web browsing. The Honeycomb web browser is much like the desktop version of Chrome. You can even sync your Chrome bookmarks between your PC and XOOM. The easily accessible tabs at the top of the page and how quickly and well the pages render make this feel like a full desktop browser. Testing side-by-side with the iPad, pinch zooming and panning on the XOOM proved to be faster most of the time, which I found surprising. The entire experience with it has been great, even without flash capabilities.

Something I've found myself having trouble getting used to is the on-screen buttons rather than physical or capacitive buttons. The fact that they are dynamic and adjust to the orientation is very nice and convenient. However, there isn't always a menu button. It makes appearances from time to time (when you launch applications); sometimes it will be in the top right corner of the display and other times it will be in-line with the back, home, and the task switcher button. I haven't really found it to be much of a bother, but for an Android first timer, this may get very confusing. The power button being placed on the back of the device rather than along the top edge is also strange.

The display is very crisp and clear. At 10.1-inches, it is much larger than what I'm used to seeing Android on. I've heard complaints of it looking washed out, but I haven't personally noticed it. I've seen worse. Originally, I thought I would hate the widescreen aspect ratio of the device. In actuality, I favor this display over the iPad's shorter, fatter display. When in portrait mode, you don't have to scroll nearly as much when browsing because the display is so tall. As for landscape, it's great for watching videos.

Auto-brightness on the XOOM didn't seem to function very well. I tried manually turning the brightness all the way down and toggling on auto mode. The brightness of the display remained the same regardless of the lighting in the room. I manually set the brightness to as high as it would go and switched auto mode back on. Nothing happened. After placing it directly under a lamp and flipping the switch, the display dimmed slightly and remained there even after turning the lamp and the rest of the lights in the room off. This is one of the few glitches I've noticed in Honeycomb.

Battery life has been good so far. People have been comparing it to the iPad's battery life. To be honest, it doesn't quite match that of the iPad. I put both my iPad and the XOOM side-by-side, powered them both down and back on, and used them about the same amount for roughly an hour. It's a very raw test, I know. But the battery on the XOOM drains slightly faster. Once again, it's a trade-off. A better multitasking experience over battery life. On standby, the battery life is exceptional and is on par with the iPad.

The rear camera on the XOOM is a bit lackluster. Expecting pretty decent photos from the 5-megapixel shooter on the back, I have been somewhat disappointed. The auto-focus acts very quickly and there is little to no control over it; therefore, it results in fuzzy or blurry photos. Not to mention, it feels extremely awkward to be snapping a picture with a 10-inch device. Luckily, most buyers aren't going to be looking to replace their digital cameras with a tablet. The front-facing camera, on the other hand, is decent. At 2-megapixels, you can only expect so much, but we're not looking for HD quality to video chat or to snap countless self-shots for Facebook.

Something I have always found to be very awkward on tablets is typing and their software keyboards. The same goes for the XOOM. You are either one-finger pecking at the keyboard or laying it on a flat surface to type. This means you are leaning over the tablet or looking at it from a sharp angle. As for typing in portrait mode, it is somewhat better thanks to the tall and skinny design of the XOOM. Out of the box, auto-correct is modest. You will have to open up the Android keyboard settings to turn up the auto-correct if you are having trouble. Thankfully, you can also enable the same word suggestions like in the Gingerbread keyboard. There are also more dedicated buttons on the Honeycomb keyboard like comma, quotation marks, and hyphen, all of which you can long press for other symbols. All in all, typing on the XOOM isn't horrible, but it is still lacking. Nothing can replace a good, hardware keyboard. If you plan to do a lot of typing, you may want to consider a Bluetooth keyboard.

Conclusion

The Motorola XOOM is by far the best Android tablet to date and it even has a fair shot at the iPad. In my honest opinion, Honeycomb gives the XOOM a bit of an edge over the iPad and iOS. Albeit still a little buggy, Honeycomb is more suitable for tablets and more appropriately uses the larger display. By the use of widgets, you can keep important, live information on your home screen at all times. That said, Evan had a good point. Android is still suffering from a lack of content (Netflix, Hulu Plus, The Daily, etc.), though that will eventually change. The CNN and YouTube applications are proof that with a little time and tender lover and care, Android can be as mature as iOS on the application front. The introduction of the XOOM shows that Android is ready to be a tablet contender, and with a little time will – much like the smartphone realm – pose a threat to Apple in the tablet space, too.

This tablet is one sleek and sexy piece of equipment and packed full of some of the best specifications we will see for some time to come. The one major drawback to this mighty tablet is undoubtedly the price tag. $800 is a large chunk of change for buyers to spend on a luxury item, and $600 with a two-year contract is just as unsettling. For the same price – or much less even – buyers can buy a very nice laptop with much more functionality. However, for those that don't need a data plan, there is a Wi-Fi only version being made that will be offered for a more competitive price.

Wrap-Up

What's Good: The 10.1-inch high-res display is clear and fairly bright; good battery life; very solid build; 32GB of built-in storage and will later have expandable memory slot activated.

What's Bad: Poor rear camera; user interface may be complicated for first time users; tablet-specific applications are sparse; proprietary charging cable; high price point; has to be sent away to have LTE enabled.

The Verdict: The dual-core processor and Honeycomb, though there is a shortage of tablet-specific applications, gives the XOOM an edge over the iPad. It is blazing fast and the use of widgets makes the home screen more interactive. The XOOM definitely upped the bar for Android tablets with great build quality and a daunting list of specifications. However, I feel that the price will undoubtedly hurt sales, especially as more tablets become available.

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