Motorola Xoom an impressive tablet, but no iPad

Mar 09, 2011 By Troy Wolverton

Motorola's Xoom is the best non-iPad tablet so far. But it helps illustrate just how far ahead of its rivals Apple remains.

Before I get into that, let me say that there's a lot to like about the , which hit store shelves late last month. It's one of the first of the new tablets to sport a screen as large as that of the iPad, but the Xoom's screen is higher-resolution than the iPad's and is shaped like a high-definition television, making it ideal for displaying HD video.

The Xoom - from Motorola Mobility, the consumer electronics division that split off from Motorola in January - is the first tablet to run the new Honeycomb flavor of Google's operating system, which is specifically geared for tablets. Other tablets on the market run earlier versions of Android or operating systems designed for PCs.

The Xoom's software includes some other nice touches. Many of its built-in apps, such as its e-mail program and , have been designed to take advantage of its big screen. In the e-reader app, you'll see two pages at a time, and in the e-mail program, you'll see both the list of message in your inbox and the text of one message in particular.

Honeycomb also includes a notification feature at the bottom of the screen that allows users to see the subject of incoming messages, adjust settings or read alerts about such things as without leaving or blocking the application they're running. It's a nice addition because it's functional and unobtrusive at the same time.

Like other flavors of Android, Honeycomb allows users to place small programs called and other objects on one of five home screens. But on the Xoom, similar objects are grouped together. So you can place on the home screen a group of your bookmarked Web pages or your collection of . To call up a particular Web page or e-book, you can flip through the stack of them on your home screen and tap on the one you want.

A neat new feature in the Android marketplace allows Xoom users to buy and update apps through a computer Web browser and send them over the air to the tablet and any other Android device they own. That's a much slicker way of updating your devices with the latest apps than Apple's method, which requires users to physically connect their devices to their computers and sync them to iTunes.

Like the iPad 2, the Xoom includes front- and rear-facing cameras that can be used to take pictures and videos and make video calls. And it has a battery that Motorola says will last up to 10 hours. I didn't precisely test that, but I had no complaints; in my tests, the Xoom endured several days of off-and-on use on a single charge.

Despite all this, the Xoom is still a work in progress.

Unlike the new iPad 2, the Xoom is supposed to be compatible with Verizon's new, high-speed LTE network. But it's not right now. Motorola promises to eventually upgrade the device for free to make it compatible, but even when the upgrade is available, users will have to ship their tablets to Motorola to get it. The company won't yet say how long customers can expect to be without their Xooms during the upgrade.

Another advantage of Android tablets over the iPad is that they're supposed to support Adobe's Flash software. But the Xoom didn't at launch, meaning it was no more able to pull up Flash videos or surf Flash-enabled websites than the iPad. Motorola does promise that it will make Flash available through a free download later this month.

Similarly, unlike the iPad, the Xoom has a slot into which users can insert a microSD card to give it more storage space. But the slot doesn't work right now, and Motorola hasn't said when it will provide users with the software to make it functional.

And there are other issues. There are very few apps that have been designed to work with Honeycomb because just released it. Many Android apps will work under Honeycomb, but many don't work well on it. The Twitter app, for instance, looks stretched out on the Xoom's big screen. And in the Pandora app, the album art disappears if you rotate the Xoom so that it's in portrait mode.

I also found the Xoom to be surprisingly sluggish. Like the new iPad 2, the Xoom sports a dual-core processor, which should make it super speedy. But I found a noticeable lag in doing everyday things, such as rotating its screen orientation from landscape to portrait, switching between apps and even loading Web pages.

And the Xoom faces other shortcomings, especially compared with the iPad. It's about $70 more expensive than Apple's comparable device. And unlike Apple, Motorola isn't offering lower-priced Xooms that have less storage space or don't include a cellular antenna. Furthermore, while Apple is now offering both AT&T and Verizon versions of the iPad, Motorola is offering only a Xoom that works with Verizon's network.

I have no doubt that Motorola and Google will address many of these issues over time. And even in spite of them, the Xoom is a very nice device.

But it's no .

Explore further: No fumbling, just tap, say Moto X tattoo all-stars (w/ Video)

More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

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User comments : 6

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ormondotvos
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2011
I think we're getting a little tablet crazy. It's like $4000 bicycles and $50,000 electric cars.

Easy, people! You can buy a MacBook Air for about the same price!
Suavytommy
5 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2011
You give no reason why the iPad is better other than it's $70 cheaper and also offered on the terrible AT&T network (also failing to mention that you can pay more to not sign a contract, which is worth the investment). It has double the memory and a better screen resolution. You mention the lack of Adobe flash 10.2 as a negative, when it's something that iPad will NEVER have. It's also an Open source system and not subjected to Apples strict restrictions. Sorry but you sound like an iPad fanboi who wouldn't admit the Xoom could be possibly better even if it printed gold coins. Terrible article overall.
jamesrm
not rated yet Mar 10, 2011
"Like the iPad 2, the Xoom includes front- and rear-facing cameras that can be used to take pictures and videos and make video calls."
Shouldn't that be the other way round

The Xoom and many other Android tablets have front- and rear-facing cameras, apple finally provided this innovation with the iPad2

panorama
not rated yet Mar 10, 2011
I just don't like Apple's software. Their hardware is impressive, but I just can't stand their UI. I've always been a Microsoft fan though, ever since my days of playing around in DOS then the early Windows days.
ecoFizz
not rated yet Mar 10, 2011
The iPad2 is another great Apple product (with strong hardware/software coupling), but its unchanged-for-four-years iOS user-interface has definitely been eclipsed (e.g. the lack of an intelligent notification handling, widgets, or card stacks) by more recent offerings (e.g. Android, WebOS, and even the copy-cat RIM Playbook).
JinXer
not rated yet Mar 10, 2011
"And unlike Apple, Motorola isn't offering lower-priced Xooms that have less storage space or don't include a cellular antenna."

That is subject to debate. There is a Motorola Xoom Wifi model being sold at SAM's Club for $539