It has been over a month now that I have been using the Motorola XOOM, which is at the moment (but not for long) the only comparable alternative to Apple’s iPad. I have used it through its early days when the microSD card slot won’t work (Android 3.0) to its most recent update that brought Android 3.1 and lots of new features with it. The tablet with a 10.1-inch widescreen display promises a lot hardware-wise and most of it works too. But will it be able to replace my iPad 2 as my primary tablet? Let’s find out…
The XOOM feels like a premium product right from the word go. The brushed metal finish on the back feels good to hold while the wide display is covered with scratch-proof Gorilla glass. At 12.9 mm, it is closer to the first generation iPad’s thickness than the current iPad 2, which comes in at a sleek 8.8 mm. It is also heavier (730 grams VS 613 grams) but the designers have done a great job of spreading the weight throughout the body. The XOOM, like most other Android Honeycomb tablets, is designed to be used in landscape mode and the device is slightly thicker in the middle and tapers off towards the edges. The resulting grip balances the weight perfectly on either sides. Google has done away with physical buttons in Honeycomb and the XOOM has a pretty clean front sans any buttons. In fact, it took me a few minutes to locate the power button, which is housed in the rear along with the camera and flash. A weird place, but start using the XOOM and you realize it is the best place to house the power button as it is within one’s finger’s reach when held in the landscape mode. The SIM card tray and microSD card slot is found on the top, the volume rocker buttons on the left and a micro USB port, charging port and dock connectors on the bottom.
The design might remind many of the first generation iPad (solely owing to the thickness) but the XOOM’s specs are very much in sync with what one expects in 2011. It is powered by a 1GHz dual-core nVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a 10.1-inch 1280×800 pixel display, a 5.0 MP rear camera capable of shooting videos in 720p and a front facing 2.0 MP camera for video chatting. There is hardly anything that one would miss, hardware-wise on the XOOM. Even the battery performance with regular usage is at par with the iPad 2 and when left on standby can go on for days on a single charge. Overall, I am pretty impressed with the hardware and cannot pinpoint a single area where I was dissatisfied. Just to pick on something, I’d mention the XOOM does not charge via a micro USB cable and needs its proprietary charger.
OS – ANDROID HONEYCOMB 3.1
The XOOM was my first brush with Android’s Honeycomb OS, which is Android’s tablet variant. Being a seasoned iPad user, it took me a couple of days to get accustomed to the new OS. There are no hardware buttons and all actions are managed on the display with dedicated buttons in the UI itself. Three buttons on the bottom left corner are omnipresent across screens, which can take you a step back, to the homescreen or show apps running in the background. With Android 3.1, the multi-tasking button shows the last app used on the bottom and apps used earlier in chronological order. The lower right corner shows the battery/signal status as well as a shortcut to access the settings menu. Another tab on the top right corner will take you to the apps menu. The space in between is where you have app shortcuts and widgets (resizable widgets in Android 3.1). There are multiple homescreens on which one can have different widgets. Annoyingly, any app that I downloaded automatically made a shortcut on the homescreen.
I am not a big fan of Android Market on smartphones and my experience of the tablet version is even worse. For starters, the Market does not distinguish between apps made for smartphones and tablets. Well, there are hardly any apps for tablets but still the ones that run on a bigger, higher resolution tablet display are not marked as such. The only way to find that out is by downloading and running those apps, only to find that they were made for smaller displays. This whole exercise gets frustrating and eventually I stopped going to the Market itself. Hopefully, this problem will be resolved with Android 3.2. But nonetheless, one is stuck with this situation till the next update is made available.
The browser is a different story, a pleasant one. Honeycomb’s browser brings tabbed browsing along with the option to open tabs in incognito mode. This makes browsing on the XOOM a much better experience that what’s currently on the iPad. Having said that, iOS 5 will also bring tabbed browsing to the iPad. Also, the XOOM’s browser opened many web pages in their mobile view whereas the same open as proper PC view on the iPad. Google might want to look into this tiny problem.
Android 3.1 also adds a file manager and allows users to connect a range of devices like keyboards, mice and even game controllers over Bluetooth or USB. One can even connect cameras over USB and transfer files directly to the XOOM. However, to do that you will need a special ‘USB on the Go’ cable, which we are told is available at Motorola’s repair centers for Rs 115. Surprisingly, Android 3.1 does not support USB pendrives for transferring files.
Based on hardware performance, I cannot pinpoint any major flaw in the XOOM. I have watched HD movies and the wider screen provides a better experience than on the iPad 2. The onboard speaker is also better and the hardware just feels topnotch. However, the OS and the app ecosystem leaves much to be desired. There is simply not enough happening on the Android tablet front to make use of all this wonderful hardware. Yes, if downloading apps is not your thing and you are closely tied to the Google ecosystem (it does video chats over GTalk effortlessly) and you want to use a tablet for browsing the Internet and watching movies, the XOOM could rock your boat. But then we’d also wait for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (it is launching in India this week), which would compete with the XOOM.