Review: Xoom emerges as first real iPad competitor

Mar 02, 2011 By RACHEL METZ , AP Technology Writer
Review: Xoom emerges as first real iPad competitor (AP)
In this Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, a Motorola Xoom tablet is shown at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Motorola's Xoom has been hailed as the most likely tablet computer to rival Apple's iPad - the first with the goods to compete against the uncontested leader in this nascent but rapidly growing market.

After trying it out, I found it to be a great gadget that, in many ways, can keep up with the black slab from Apple. The first black slab, that is. Unfortunately, Apple said Wednesday that it will start selling a new, improved iPad next week, which will likely make it difficult for the to snag many users.

The Xoom is well-equipped, with a large, vivid touch screen and zippy processor.

It's the first to use Honeycomb, Google Inc.'s flashy tablet-geared Android 3.0 software, which is a big improvement over older versions designed for phones but pushed onto some tablets.

It's clear the software was designed for a tablet's larger touch screen. A persistent bar at the bottom of the screen displays virtual "home" and "back" buttons. You get information such as battery life and wireless reception and notifications for e-mails, instant messages and more. You also get a virtual button that can pull up miniaturized images of your most recently used apps, the way it looked when you last used them. That makes it convenient for speeding back over to a game or Web page.

The touch-screen keyboard is also nicer, thanks to Honeycomb. It's easier to type e-mails and instant messages on the Xoom than on tablets running older versions of Android. Although it doesn't seem as easy to use as the iPad's , the Xoom's keyboard is fairly spacious and was something I got use to typing with after several hours. Those who do a lot of typing can use a Bluetooth keyboard or connect a USB keyboard with an adapter through the Xoom's Micro USB port.

There's one big blemish marring the Xoom's otherwise delightful package: its price tag.

The Xoom, made by Motorola Mobility Inc. and available from , costs $800 without a cellular-service contract, about $70 more than a similarly apportioned iPad. You can get a Xoom for $600, but you'll have to sign up for a two-year data plan that runs at least $20 per month; by contrast, AT&T Inc. offers month-to-month data service for the iPad. Like the iPad, the Xoom lets you access the Internet through Wi-Fi, so a data plan isn't essential.

While Motorola offers the Xoom in only one configuration right now - with 32 gigabytes of storage and data access through both Wi-Fi and Verizon's cellular network - Apple offers a range of iPads. The cheapest is $499 and comes with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage and Wi-Fi access. The most expensive is $829 for a 64-gigabyte version with Wi-Fi and the ability to access AT&T's data network for an additional fee.

Apple's iPad 2, which will be available in black and white, will keep the same pricing structure, and a version of it will work with Verizon's network.

Other than price, the Xoom and the iPad appear pretty similar: Both are thin, shiny slabs, though the Xoom's screen is a bit bigger (and the new iPad is noticeably thinner). The Xoom, like the iPad, has very few buttons: Volume buttons sit on one side, and a combined power and lock button is inconveniently positioned on the back.

The Xoom also has some 3-D-esque views incorporated throughout Xoom's software. Play music on the Xoom and you'll notice your albums are viewable in a 3-D-like array, or open up the included YouTube app and you'll see a curved gallery of videos.

I was happy to see an updated Web browser, which gives you the ability to open multiple tabs on a single screen; the iPad can't do that and instead forces you to open a new window for each Web page. Web surfing becomes easier and more clearly organized because you can see what you're doing all on one screen, without having to leave the webpage you're looking at. The browser also lets you surf the Web in "incognito mode," which means pages you visit won't be logged in the tablet's browsing or search history; that's a feature common on desktop browsers.

Sadly, the Xoom didn't come with support for Flash videos, which is a popular online video format. An upgrade to allow that is coming soon.

The Xoom's screen measures 10.1 inches diagonally, compared with the iPad's 9.7 inches. Its resolution is slightly higher than the iPad's, and videos and photos looked bright and sharp with vivid colors. It's great for reading books downloaded through the included Google Books app. The app looks similar to one for Apple Inc.'s iBooks, but it also has "day" and "night" settings. Those let you switch to a white-text-on-black-background view when reading in the dark.

The Xoom includes a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 2-megapixel camera on the front - cameras were lacking on the first iPad, but the iPad 2 will also have front and rear cameras. The Xoom's back camera includes some simple color effects and scene modes for adjusting your images. The front camera works with Talk's video chat feature, so you can conduct video chats with friends. This is a nice addition I'd been waiting to see.

I hoped there would be more tablet-specific apps available through Google's Android Market, but I only counted a handful, including a CNN application and the "Fruit Ninja" game. Several existing apps looked good on the Xoom's larger screen, however, including the game "Angry Birds."

These features are backed up by a dual-core processor, which make the Xoom zip along. The Xoom's 1 gigabyte of random-access memory - the kind important for running programs - is much more than the iPad has. In my tests, the tablet rarely faltered and was quick to load content offline.

Online, it was fairly speedy and reliable, and this is expected to improve. Currently, the Xoom uses Wi-Fi or Verizon's existing 3G data network for wireless service. Eventually, it will be upgraded to work on Verizon's faster 4G network.

The battery is rated for up to about 10 hours of video playback, or about nine hours of Web browsing over 3G; I played YouTube videos over Verizon's network and got more than six hours of life out of the Xoom. Not bad, but it could be better.

Regardless, the Xoom is a strong tablet, and the first true competitor to the iPad thus far. The new looks enticing, but if you're set on getting a non-Apple tablet and can get past the Xoom's steep price, it's a good pick.

Explore further: Five features an Amazon phone might offer

4 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Inside Motorola's Xoom: Plenty of horsepower

Feb 25, 2011

Motorola's new Xoom tablet computer has enough power under the hood to challenge Apple Inc.'s iPad, according to analysis by market researchers IHS iSuppli, but buyers might be disappointed to find that it ...

Xoom tablet debuts Feb. 24 with $800 price

Feb 22, 2011

US telecom titan Verizon on Thursday will begin selling Motorola Mobility's hotly awaited "Xoom" tablet computer at a price close to that of a top-of-the-line iPad.

Xoom sales 'off to good start': Motorola CEO

Feb 28, 2011

Motorola Mobility chairman and chief executive Sanjay Jha said Monday that the US telecom maker is pleased with early sales of the Xoom, its rival to Apple's iPad.

Motorola unveils tablet computer, the Xoom

Jan 06, 2011

US telecom maker Motorola Mobility has jumped into the bustling tablet computer market with a touchscreen device powered by "Honeycomb," the latest version of Google's Android software.

Apple to unveil next-generation iPad

Mar 02, 2011

As rival manufacturers scramble to bring their own touchscreen tablet computers to market, Apple is poised to unveil its next-generation iPad on Wednesday.

Motorola Xoom tablet crowned best CES gadget

Jan 09, 2011

Motorola Mobility's Xoom tablet computer powered by new "Honeycomb" software from Google was crowned the best gadget at the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Saturday.

Recommended for you

Five features an Amazon phone might offer (Update)

4 hours ago

A report this week in The Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning to release a smartphone has prompted industry analysts and technology blogs to muse about what the device might offer.

Sony's PlayStation 4 sales top seven million

Apr 17, 2014

Sony says it has sold seven million PlayStation 4 worldwide since its launch last year and admitted it can't make them fast enough, in a welcome change of fortune for the Japanese consumer electronics giant.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nik_2213
not rated yet Mar 02, 2011
Looks good, but 10 inch is still too small, IMHO.
COCO
not rated yet Mar 03, 2011
when is the RIM blackboard due out? - I understand it will be way better.
Kingsix
not rated yet Mar 03, 2011
Not sure but its called the Playbook.

Should be an interesting time in the mobile/tablet market, 9-12 months from now.
COCO
not rated yet Mar 03, 2011
thanx Kingsix - I like my handle better but you got the facts.

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...