I was able to kick the tires on the Xoom this past week. I found it to be a very good tablet and Android 3.0 Honeycomb is clearly a step in the right direction for Android. This product almost deserves two full separate reviews of the hardware and software but I’ll keep the review concise.
- Hardware rocks. The tablet has a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 type of processor, a 10.1-inch form-factor (1280×800 resolution), 1080p HD playback capability, 5MP rear camera with flash, 2 MP front-facing camera (for videoconferencing, more than adequate), 720p video record capability, HDMI-out,WiFi / Bluetooth 2.1 support and 32GB internal storage and 1GB DDR RAM memory. The Xoom will be upgradable to 4G LTE on Verizon’s network and it will support microSD cards, in case 32GB of storage is inadequate for you. There’s more stuff inside like a GPS and accelerometer. Basically, anything that should be in a tablet hardware-wise is in this tablet.
- Honeycomb rocks, too. All those naysayers who say Google can’t create a good user-interface were proven wrong. As far as I know, this is the first operating system truly designed for tablets and only tablets. Sure, Ubuntu and Windows can support touch screens but they are really clumsy for a tablet. Apple’s iOS, while refined and polished, is basically the same software with the same capabilities you find on an iPhone or iPod Touch. On the other hand, Honeycomb is designed for the ergonomics of a tablet. Common keys like back, home, app switcher, wifi connector, etc., all appear along the lower edge of the screen (see picture) and they’re easily accessible at all times. Notifications along the bottom edge on the right work really well and can be cleared individually instead of the mass clear button found in prior versions of Android.
- The hardware and software combine for an excellent, refined and polished user experience somewhat similar to an Apple product. Clearly, Google worked with device manufacturers like Motorola in designing Honeycomb, and it shows.
- Google Apps were improved for the tablet interface. Gmail, Calendar and YouTube work really well. For example, Gmail displays an index of inbox messages along the left-hand column and when a message is selected, the body of the message appears on the right of the index. This works incredibly well in landscape mode and it really improves productivity.
- I didn’t use the videoconferencing feature but I imagine in the next couple of years, this will becoming increasingly common and a near necessity in the business world.
I would categorize these dislikes and others I’ve read on the web as relatively minor.
- It should have launched 4G LTE capable. Shame on whoever blew that one. Maybe Motorola and Verizon should share the blame?
- Some of the icons in Honeycomb are not quite as intuitive as one would expect. What does a file cabinet icon mean to you? Well, it means to Archive the message. While this makes sense, a file cabinet icon also may mislead some into believing that they would see a list of their tags (Google’s version of folders).
- App development for Honeycomb wasn’t as advanced as I expected. There are some apps optimized for Honeycomb by large media companies like CNN, USA Today and so on but, generally speaking, the developer community is still focusing on Android phones and not Android tablets. Nonetheless, many Android phone apps work amazingly well on the Xoom. For example, TweetDeck was superb.
- The price puts this product somewhat out of my reach right now. Heck, I’m still performing surgery on a rooted nook color to make it usable but not everyone wants a fixer-upper or a product with inferior hardware like the nook color. Also, nook color supporters need to jump through hoops to use mobile data on the device through a nearby phone. Everyone has different price points or whatever economists would call it so decide for yourself if the Xoom is right for you.
This is clearly the best Android tablet on the market right now. The Galaxy Tab is nice but it seriously feels like a sluggish toy compared to the Xoom. You read that right. The Galaxy Tab feels like a toy now. Galaxy Tabs and Nook Colors might be great for pulling up a recipe in the kitchen but for video playback, recording and conferencing the Xoom is needed. Also, Honeycomb brings other improvements that make the Xoom a better tablet. In summary, it is a high-end device that performs like one but carries a hefty price tag. Think Ferrari of today’s Android world.
The big debate will be the Xoom vs. iPad 2. Frankly, I’m not an Apple guy and I’m not too fond of iOS or Apple’s App Store police. I haven’t really looked into the iPad 2 much at all so I’ll reserve judgment until I have a chance make an informed opinion. Stay tuned…
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