- At a Glance
- The Good
- The Bad
- Design and Build Quality
- Software (Honeycomb!)
- Lockscreen, Homescreens, and Widgets
- Virtual Buttons, Multitasking, and Notifications
- Camera App
- Google Talk
- Third-Party Apps and Games
- HDMI Mirroring
- Performance, Data Speeds, and Battery Life
- The Verdict
The Motorola XOOM: Ever since it was first teased at D: Dive Into Mobile, the Android community hasn't been able to take its eyes off the tablet's dual-core processor, gorgeous 10.1-inch display, and - last but certainly not least - Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) operating system.
Well now the device has officially gone on sale, and I've been
testing falling in love with a review unit for the last few days. Typically, I end up hating devices that I adore at first blush, but the XOOM is an entirely different story - the device is far from perfect (where are the tablet apps?), but I have yet to find anything truly upsetting about it.
That said, I find it hard to recommend forking over $800 for a tablet which, despite being among the best in its class hardware- and software-wise, lacks the multimedia options of the competition. But don't let that stop you from reading on for our full review of the XOOM and - perhaps more importantly - Android 3.0!
At a Glance
They say specs aren't everything, but the XOOM's hardware is powerful enough to make any tech geek drool:
- 10.1-inch 16:10 WXGA (1280x800) LCD display
- 2MP webcam
- 5MP rear cam capable of recording 720p HD video
- 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
- Stock Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
- 1GB DDR2 RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- 3250 mAh 24.1 watt-hour lithium ion polymer battery
- WiFi 802.11b/g/n
- EVDO Rev. A radio upgradeable to LTE
And now that your interest has been piqued, I present to you the short, "in a nutshell" version of the review:
- Steep $600 on-contract / $800 off-contract price tag
- No Flash at launch
- No LTE out of the gate; upgrade won't be available for about 90 days and will take 6 business days to complete
- SD card functionality not yet available
- Honeycomb apps are few and far between (at least for now)
In a sentence: As the first Honeycomb tablet, the XOOM contains oodles of potential, but its lack of apps and sky-high price tag prevent it from being a mainstream device.
You should buy it if: You're a well-to-do consumer interested not only in the current state of tablet computing but also in its future (and you don't mind waiting for that future).
So that's the tl;dr version. For the complete, super in-depth, 6000-word review, keep reading!
Design and Build Quality
Though the XOOM is an extremely sexy and well-built device for the most part, there are certain aspects of its design that I despise. For example, its back, the better part of which was crafted out of magnesium and aluminum, feels very natural in the hand but looks rather awkward. Additionally, the front of the device has a very clean aesthetic, but that look is broken by some unnecessary logos and branding.
The good news about the XOOM's frontal surface is that it is void of any buttons whatsoever. Additionally, the bezel around the display is just the right size - it's the perfect place to rest your thumbs while watching a video or reading a novel, but it isn't so big that it detracts from the tablet's appearance.
The bad news is that in addition to a seemingly red-eyed front-facing camera and a nigh-invisible notification light, the front side of the XOOM also contains a pair of landscape-oriented logos (one for Motorola, the other belonging to Verizon). The front camera and the notification light aren't problems at all, as they do a great job of getting out of the way to let you focus on what's most important - namely, the onscreen content - but I did find the logos to be slightly annoying.
Their existence definitely isn't a deal breaker, but they are undeniably a nuisance when the tablet is being used in the portrait orientation - just take a look at the following photo:
Alas, the bigwigs on Motorola's design team decided the branding simply couldn't be restricted to the device's backside, and since the XOOM was obviously meant for landscape use, that's where the logos ended up.
And speaking of the XOOM's backside, it's a mixed bag if there ever was one. In terms of build quality, there's nothing to worry about here - as I mentioned previously, all but the very top portion of the XOOM's rear is made of premium metals, so you can rest assured that the tablet feels great to the touch (if a bit heavy after prolonged use). And even that very top section, which is constructed of plastic rather than metal, feels solid - so if you're looking for a well-built tablet, the XOOM absolutely fits the bill.
Unfortunately, the XOOM's battery cover doesn't look nearly as good as it feels. While the iPad's silver aluminum back is nice and smooth, the XOOM's hindquarters are kind of just all over the place in terms of aesthetics. The machined metals that make up the bottom part of the rear look splendid on their own, but Motorola has seen fit to detract from their appearance by emblazoning them with three separate (relatively large) logos (Google, Verizon, and Motorola branding, for those keeping count) in addition to some FCC materials. But all that is forgivable - after all, rare is the Android device that isn't covered in branding. The real disaster is the way the plastic and the metal meet each other - not only are they split by a seam as apparent as the Grand Canyon, but the materials don't align with each other properly, meaning that the plastic sits about a millimeter or so above the metal.
Worse yet, the back of the XOOM is very easy to scratch, and those scratches are painfully visible against the black background. These things may sound trivial, but they're hardware issues that never should have made it into an $800 tablet.
Attractiveness and build quality aside, the back of the tablet includes two speaker grilles, a 5MP camera, a dual-LED flash, and a power button in addition to the aforementioned logos. It's a pretty standard array - with the obvious exception of the power button, which is usually placed on the sides of a tablet/smartphone. Having it in this position took some getting used to, but after some time, I actually quite liked the placement - something about having the power button on the back makes a tablet feel a lot more like a full-fledged computer. That said, the placement means there is no way to turn the tablet on without picking it up - very inconvenient if you're eating, lying down, or working at a desk.
The rest of the buttons and ports can be found on the attractively curved sides. The volume rocker - which is unpleasantly stiff - is located on the left edge, while the top is home to the 3.5mm headset jack as well as a large opening containing two slots, one for the SD card and one for the LTE SIM card (unfortunately, neither of these holes were utilizable at the time of this review - 4G connectivity will come at a later date via a hardware upgrade, and SD card functionality will be included in a future software update). Finally, the bottom contains the microUSB, microHDMI (see the 'HDMI Mirroring' section for more details on this), and proprietary charging ports. The last of these items is a minor annoyance, especially since the charger Motorola provides is practically the size of a brick, but it's still a small issue at best.
Though it may not have the viewing angles of the iPad's IPS display, the XOOM definitely holds its own when it comes to the all-important screen. As can be seen from the photo above, the 10.1-inch LCD's 1280x800 WXGA resolution looks really crisp, and colors are vibrant and bright, just the way I like it.
I'd argue that the real story with the XOOM's display isn't its quality, however; what's most important here is the 16:10 aspect ratio. And I, for one, found the widescreen form factor much more comfortable to use (as opposed to the 4:3 ratio found on tablets like the iPad) - as a result of this ratio, the keyboard is a lot broader, allowing for a much more pleasant typing experience. Similarly, HD movies look marvelous on the XOOM - unlike Apple's slate, the bars across the top and bottom of the screen are nearly nonexistent. And games? Well, have a look:
The one downside of the super-wide shape is that it makes the XOOM look even worse in portrait mode. I suspect this is why Steve Jobs and co. decided to go with the rather squarish design of the iPad - when you turn the XOOM on its side, you find a strangely and ridiculously tall device.
Aspect ratios aside, I think the XOOM's display is among the best you'll find on any tablet, and I wouldn't hesitate to call 10 inches the perfect size for a tablet (though I'm sure some of you will beg to differ).
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of images captured by the XOOM's 5MP rear camera - of course, you'll look like a complete moron taking photos with a giant 10" viewfinder, but hey - at least the resulting shots will be fairly decent in almost all lighting conditions.
From left to right: excellent lighting, average lighting, and poor lighting
The front facing 1.3MP camera wasn't nearly as good, but that's to be expected. And besides, it wasn't that bad:
Video recording is also fairly decent, but that will be covered in our upcoming review of Movie Studio.
For details on the process of taking pictures, jump to the 'Camera App' section.
There's a reason Verizon and Motorola are able to claim that the XOOM is more than just a big smartphone, and that reason is Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb). Granted, the number of tablets running Honeycomb will soon be more numerous than the number of stars in the sky, but at least for now, the XOOM has a huge - and I mean huge - leg up on the competition. Yes, Android 3.0 is that good.
Lockscreen, Homescreens, and Widgets
You'll notice the differences between Honeycomb and the mobile version of Android right away - a press of the power button will suffice:
I can't say the circle-style lock adds functionality, but it sure is pretty!
However, Honeycomb's homescreens should be a bit more familiar to seasoned Android users - just as on your smartphone, there are five of them, and they can be populated by any widgets, apps, or other shortcuts of your choosing.
Of course, Google has made a few noteworthy changes, the most immediately apparent of which is the process of adding widgets / shortcuts. In mobile Android, you long press a free area on the homescreen to access a rather plain white menu. In Honeycomb, you instead tap the '+' button in the upper right corner before being presented with this screen:
From there, you can either tap an item to add it to the last homescreen you visited or drag it to any screen you desire. The whole thing is very polished and well done, and to be honest, I found myself adding apps / widgets quite often - not because I wanted or needed them, but rather because I found the process and its transitions so pretty and amusing.
And these aren't just any widgets; thanks to new 3D APIs in Android 3.0, developers can create widgets unlike anything you've ever seen before. Granted, Google's own YouTube, Books, and Market widgets are the only ones to utilize the new APIs so far, but they really spice up the user experience, and I hope devs will jump onboard some time soon.
Tapping the 'Apps' button will bring you to, well, a list of all your applications. It's pretty standard stuff - nothing truly eye-opening here - but there are a few items of interest. For one, you scroll sideways to see more apps (rather than downwards, as you might do on your phone). For another, there is now a 'My apps' option which allows you to focus on the apps you've downloaded, in the order you downloaded them. It's not particularly useful, especially since the XOOM doesn't ship with any bloatware apps you might want to ignore, but it's a nice option to have nonetheless.
Virtual Buttons, Multitasking, and Notifications
As you've probably already noticed, Honeycomb abandons physical home, menu, back, and search buttons and instead aims for an all-touchscreen experience. So how does this work out?
For the most part, it's perfect. The biggest benefit of the virtual buttons found on Honeycomb's system bar - the black bar across the bottom of the screen - is that no matter which way you hold the tablet, the buttons will rotate with you. This is insanely convenient, but it's only one of several advantages.
Rather than including all four Android buttons (home, menu, back, and search) in the system bar, Google has integrated the latter two into individual applications. This makes for a slightly more intuitive experience overall, and it also makes room for another UI element: the multitasking button (the one symbolized by an icon of two windows).
While multitasking has always been one of Android's greatest strengths, it's never been done in a very attractive fashion. No longer - as can be seen from the picture above, clicking the 'multitasking button' not only brings up a list of your six most recently used apps; it brings up a list complete with thumbnail-sized screenshots of the apps and a cool Tron-like background effect. I do wish the list were scrollable - that way, you could switch between more than just six apps. Nonetheless, I'm more than satisfied with the way Honeycomb handles multitasking - it's attractive, user-friendly, and even a little fun.
I mentioned that Google has integrated the menu and search functions into individual applications, and I truly believe this makes for a less complicated and more seamless experience. Why? I've heard many a reviewer call the menu button Android's "skeleton key," simply because you never know what will happen when you press it (its functions vary heavily from app to app). Honeycomb sidesteps this issue by replacing the menu key with additional virtual buttons whose purposes are much more obvious. For example, the Google Body app (seen below) features a series of buttons in the top right corner which strip away different body layers - much more intuitive than pressing a menu key to access a list of options, no?
Other apps, like the browser and the music player, do not completely forgo the menu button - it's still there, albeit in the upper right corner. Unlike the menu button on Android mobiles, however, it's a drop-down menu that brings up nothing more than a list of settings.
Of course, there are plenty of existing Android apps that require the menu button, and Google has thought those through as well - when you open an application built for any version of Android older than Honeycomb, a menu button will appear in the system bar and will function just like the menu key on your Android phone(s).
As for the Search button's disappearance, there isn't much to say other than that... well, the Search button is no longer there, and instead, applications that rely on search are expected to bring their own Search box (much like the one seen above).
Notifications are another key point in Android 3.0 - unlike Android 2.x, there's no drop-down notification bar here; instead, notifications pop up in the bottom right corner of the system bar like so:
The notifications fade away after a few seconds, and if you miss one (as you are apt to do), you can access a list of them by tapping on the clock:
Tapping the top part of this little pop-up window (i.e. the section containing the date, the time, connectivity status, etc.) will bring up the following control panel:
I could go on and on describing Honeycomb's system bar, but I'll end it here: it's awesome.
As mentioned in the 'Display' section, the XOOM's widescreen display makes using the software keyboard a hell of a lot easier. But that's not the only reason typing is such a pleasant experience on the tablet; Honeycomb's keyboard is excellent in and of itself.
It provides squarish keys that closely mimic the ones on a physical keyboard, and you can long press any of them to bring up additional options like accented letters. The whole thing has a blue, Tron-ish theme that I quite appreciated, and I think even non-techie consumers will like it.
Of course, all the good looks in the world won't help you if the keyboard isn't easy to use, but I'm happy to report that Google's really done a nice job here and made it very usable - in landscape mode, that is.
In portrait mode, typing is a nearly impossible task - it literally requires the slow and antiquated hunt-and-peck technique. Suffice to say, serious typists will either end up using the XOOM in landscape mode all the time or downloading a third-party keyboard from the Market.
Google has also made significant improvements on the cut-and-paste front. To bring up the menu seen in the photo above, simply double tap on some text. From there, you can drag the markers around to select the specific sentence, word, or paragraph you wish to cut / copy.
To paste, tap once in a text field, then tap on the marker that appears. This should bring up a 'Paste' button. Alternatively, you could follow the method for copying text, and if you already have something in the clipboard, you can simply tap the 'Paste' button next to 'Copy.'
One other nice touch is that if you select text in the browser, you also have the option to share it, search the web for it, or find other uses of the word(s) on the page.
It's all very well done, and I especially like how while selecting text, you can use multitouch to move both markers simultaneously.
There's always been something special about browsing the Web on a tablet - I can't quite put my finger on it, but the experience is heavenly; it's in an entirely different class than mobile or desktop browsing.
And that experience is right there on the XOOM - Honeycomb's browser is super-smooth (save for the occasional lapse in performance), the desktop-esque tab management system is superb, and, to quote Apple's Scott Forstall, it just feels right.
Indeed, Google's really outdone itself with Android 3.0's browser. Perhaps my favorite aspect of it is the aforementioned tab system - just like a desktop browser, tabs are displayed at the top of the screen, and you can switch between them with a single tap (as opposed to the iPad's browser, whose approach to tabs is almost identical to the iPhone's). You can close a tab by clicking the little 'X' button next to it, and if you have so many tabs open that they don't all fit on one screen, you can swipe between them with the flick of a finger.
Similarly, the back, forward, refresh, favorite, search, and bookmark buttons are now located in the uppermost section of the app - a welcome change, and Chrome users (or Safari, Firefox, IE, etc. users, for that matter) should feel right at home. It's noteworthy that, like desktop Chrome, the address bar doubles as the search box - typing search queries in takes you right to Google search. Clicking the search button merely deletes whatever URL may currently be in the address bar and replaces it with the text 'Search or type URL.'
Also nice is the 'Incognito tab' feature - let's face it, who doesn't want to do some private browsing now and then? Its functionality is essentially the same as the 'Incognito Window' feature in Chrome - it turns off history tracking. However, it's important to remember that, as Google says, "going incognito doesn't affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software" - therefore, it won't stop keystroke monitors, malicious websites / programs, or other surveillance.
Unfortunately, Honeycomb's browser has one fatal flaw: at the time of this writing, Flash support is non-existent. Verizon says the feature will be included in a future software upgrade, but it's not there yet, meaning that you probably won't be able to play your favorite online game or watch the latest South Park episode.
Another annoyance is that by default, the XOOM directs you to mobile versions of websites, which is incredibly inconvenient considering that the screen is more than large enough to properly display desktop websites. There is the about:debug workaround, but that gets reset every time the browser is closed. Hopefully Google fixes this soon - it's a tremendously annoying issue.
Multimedia has never been Android's strong suit, but Honeycomb's Music and Gallery applications make it obvious that Google intends to change that.
Users are met with an extremely sexy 3D interface upon opening the XOOM's Music app - the design is reminiscent of the Gallery program we've all come to know and love on our smartphones. Once you select an album (or an artist, playlist, or genre, depending on which method of organization you prefer), you can select an individual song from a screen similar to this one:
If you choose to organize your music by 'Songs,' you'll be met by an almost identical interface
After you tap on a song's name, you are presented with this screen:
From here, you can tap the back button to return to the list of songs (this won't stop the music though; pause, rewind, and fast forward controls will be displayed at the bottom of the screen) or tap the home button to begin doing something else (your song will keep playing in the background, and controls are accessible via the system bar).
I feel obliged to note that I encountered a bug that basically disables volume control - the speakers will continue blasting music out at the loudest volume they can, even if you turn the volume down to the lowest level. The bug was fixed by rebooting the device.
So all is well and good with Honeycomb's Music app (other than that one nasty bug), but what about the new Gallery? It's pretty much the same app you'll find in mobile Android - and that isn't necessarily a bad thing, though I would have liked to see Google take advantage of the additional screen space here.
There's still one glaring omission on the multimedia scene, however: the lack of an official music / movie / TV show store. Google is really shooting itself in the foot here - tablets were practically made for multimedia, and having to sideload music / video files isn't exactly a consumer-friendly solution. Oh well - here's to hoping an official announcement will come soon (Google I/O, anybody?).
The camera app is another scenario where Google really hasn't added much new functionality, but has instead chosen to improve the user interface. And improve it they have - everything except the finest of fine-grain options (think color effects and scenes) is always accessible via a single tap.
I won't bore you with a description of what each and every button does, as the functions are fairly obvious, but I will note that the buttons' placement is perfect - you can easily take a picture / start recording a video with a tap of your finger, and because the XOOM's bezel isn't overly extravagant, you can do so while holding the tablet in the same picture-taking posture you might use with your phone. Cool beans.
Honeycomb's Gmail app looks nothing like the version of Gmail you're used to on your phone. The most obvious difference is that the UI is now split into two panes, and I've got to say: it feels... dare I say it... just like the iPad's email client.
As much as we Android fans hate to admit it, Google didn't exactly revolutionize email on tablets, even if they did create a nice, relatively easy-to-use email program.
In landscape mode, the two panes are always there, though their content changes based on the screen you're in (i.e. on the main screen, the left pane contains a list of folders and the right pane displays the messages in your inbox; when you select an email, the inbox is moved to the left pane, while the right pane shows the text of the message you're currently reading). In portrait mode, however, selecting a message from the main screen takes you to a full-screen view of said message - slightly inconvenient, though understandable considering the decrease in screen real estate.
As for features, Honeycomb doesn't really introduce anything new to the Gmail app. Sure, tasks like attaching files and switching between accounts have been simplified, but the truth of the matter is that the major changes with Gmail lie in the UI department. And that's fine - Honeycomb's Gmail app has a fantastic (though far from original) interface, and it's not as if the mobile Gmail app was missing out on any major features anyway.
But whereas Google decided to build on existing tablet UI concepts with the Gmail app, they took at least a few innovative strides with the Talk messaging application. Not only does it have a sexy, fun-to-use, and drop-dead simple interface, but it introduces two important new features: video and audio chat.
Both work fairly well, though I was slightly disappointed by the audio quality (this could just be an issue with the XOOM's microphone, but I doubt it). I will say that I found it hard to keep the tablet in a suitable position, but this is an issue with the tablet form factor in general rather than the XOOM specifically. I can't help but think that a kickstand might have gone a long time towards improved usability, however...
Turning the attention over to video quality, you'll discover a similar situation: it's slightly blurry and pixelated, though this could be a result of the XOOM's front-facing camera rather than an outcome of poor coding on Google's part.
I also like that Honeycomb's implementation of Talk allows you to easily switch between Google accounts - a welcome change, especially since the mobile version of the app doesn't even support multiple accounts.
We can't ignore the UI improvements completely, however - and what UI improvements these are! The two-pane design has been put to good use here, with the left side of the app displaying a list of contacts and the right side showing the chat history for the contact selected. Your friends are then divided into two categories: those who are online and those who are not. Beyond that, the names of the contacts with whom you're currently chatting are highlighted - nice ways of distinguishing between people.
The new Talk app is nothing short of amazing, and I can't wait to see how Google implements its features on phones.
Well, folks, it's a calendar. On a 10-inch screen.
Alright, Honeycomb's UI does make the calendar a wee bit more exciting, but the fact of the matter remains that, well, this is essentially the same Google Calendar you use on all your other devices. You still get day, week, and month views, the ability to search for events, and of course the option to create events. Go to town.
The Books app now greets users with a 3D carousel, which is quite nice. Once you select a book, you enter reading mode, from which you can adjust the text size, brightness, line height, and font type. You can also quickly move between chapters with the contents button, or rapidly scroll between pages using the scroller at the bottom of the display.
It goes without saying that having all of these options there all the time would be distracting and certainly wouldn't make for an ideal reading experience, so when you tap the page of the book, all the options are dismissed, and even the buttons in the system bar turn into mere white dots. You can bring the options back by tapping the screen again, or move between individual pages with a flick of your finger. It's a really nice reading experience (even in portrait mode), and I found reading on the XOOM's LCD pleasant - overall, I can easily see the XOOM replacing my small collection of physical books (though I may not be the best person to ask, as I'm hardly an avid reader).
Honeycomb's Market app comes with a change that may be shocking to long-time Android users: it doubles as the Google Books store.
Indeed, you can switch between the two shops by tapping the 'Books' or 'Android Apps' buttons up top. It's nice that they share a similar UI - scrolling list of featured content at the top, featured sections and categories at the bottom. Once you select an item, you'll find a page similar to one you might see on the Web Market (in fact, the whole Market app is styled after market.android.com - nice to see that things are finally becoming more cohesive and uniform):
Unfortunately, there are still some kinks that need to be eliminated before Honeycomb's Market app is ready for prime time. One issue is that when you search for an app that you already have installed - for this example, I chose Cordy - the app still has a price tag (or in this case, a 'Free' sign) next to it. Once you click on the app to go to its page, there are 'Open' and 'Manage' options, but the search results need to have some sort of differentiation between apps that are installed and those that are not.
An even more serious issue is that the 'My Apps' screen force closes more often than not. And I don't know about you, but I don't tolerate that kind of nonsense on my brand spanking new $800 tablet. Fix this asap, Google.
YouTube's interface also opens on a sexy 3D carousel, albeit one with three rows rather than just one. If you can manage to get your eyes off this insanely beautiful wall, you can tap a video to play it, click 'Browse' to select a category, manage your channel from the 'Your Channel' tab, or search the billions of YT videos via the search box.
After selecting a video, you can switch between HQ and standard resolutions, pause the vid, upvote / downvote it, or make it go full-screen. The panel on the right allows you to view related productions or sift through the comments (and of course also leave a comment of your own). It's a very pretty interface, but when all is said and done, watching videos isn't all that great - several HD videos looked a bit blurry in full-screen mode, and vids were brought to a buffering-related halt more than once.
Third-Party Apps and Games
At the time of this writing, there is only a smattering of third-party apps built for Honeycomb. In fact, according to the Android Market, there are currently a mere sixteen programs designed for Android tablets - and this could be a real deal breaker for some (myself included). Sure, most existing Android apps run on the XOOM just fine, but once you use an application designed to take advantage of the larger display, you'll never want to go back.
The tablet apps that are currently available are simply stunning - games' graphics are super-sharp (Motorola and Verizon were kind enough to pre-load the XOOM with two titles: Dungeon Defenders and Cordy), and Honeycomb's fragments API (which splits the screen into the two panes) can make almost any app fun to use.
We'll have separate reviews of Honeycomb apps up shortly, but I must say: I'm impressed with what I've seen so far, and I can't wait until more software arrives (I know you can do it, Google!).
Honeycomb contains a real treat for corporate customers: data encryption. That means you can secure all the accounts, settings, downloaded applications, etc. on your XOOM with a personal password or PIN. Unfortunately, the encryption process takes about an hour to complete, and Google forces you to start with a fully charged battery and keep the tablet plugged in throughout the procedure.
On a happier note, Froyo's device policy manager API has been improved in Android 3.0 - it now supports password strength and enforcement of encrypted storage. Definitely a huge bonus for business users, especially seeing as the iPad lacks these features.
Ah yes, on top of all that, the XOOM also features full HDMI mirroring. That means that if you've got a microHDMI to HDMI cable kicking around, you can hook your XOOM up to your HDTV and get the entire Android 3.0 experience on that 50" display of yours.
Let's repeat that: this isn't some crippled experience that only plays select videos (like the microHDMI ports on the Droid X or EVO 4G), but rather a full, complete version which allows you to mirror anything and everything on your XOOM's display. As an added bonus, the quality is fantastic - in fact, the only downside is that the system bar becomes twice as tall on the XOOM, but doesn't appear at all on the television. Odd, but certainly not a deal breaker in light of all the possibilities this adds.
Performance, Data Speeds, and Battery Life
As should be expected from a tablet stuffed with a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 chipset, the XOOM flies. Whether I was leaping from app to app via the multitasking menu, playing a graphics-intensive game like Dungeon Defenders, or just admiring the opening / closing apps transitions, the tablet almost never stuttered or became bogged down. Benchmark apps don't really do it justice since they were only designed to measure the performance of single-core CPUs, but for what it's worth, the XOOM got a Quadrant score of 1886 and a rating of 35.523 MFLOPS from Linpack.
That said, I did encounter two crashes during my tests - not too bad, but definitely something to keep in mind.
As mentioned previously, the XOOM doesn't ship with 4G connectivity - though the tablet features a slot for an LTE SIM card, users won't be able to utilize the feature until they send their devices to Motorola for a manual hardware upgrade. Nonetheless, the XOOM's data speeds were as fast as they were reliable throughout my testing - and I don't exactly live right on top of a VZW cell tower. The same goes for tethering speeds and reliability.
Of course, the big question when it comes to data plans and other network stuff is whether you should buy the $799 off-contract XOOM or the $599 subsidized version. Well to quote CNET's Donald Bell, it's best to "avoid contracts like they're the plague." The tablet scene is changing quickly - heck, we're supposed to see quad-core models this summer - and saving $200 upfront just isn't worth the expense of being stuck with the same hardware for two years (besides, the cost of your monthly data plan will likely amount to much more than $200 in the long run). Please, do yourself a favor and don't fall for the $599 trap.
I haven't conducted formal battery tests yet, but in terms of daily usage, the XOOM's battery life is nothing short of fantastic. The tablet was able to make it through a full day of relatively heavy usage, including watching a few videos, playing games, browsing the web, and continuously checking Gmail / Google Talk.
An added (and unexpected) bonus is that the tablet charges quickly as well - this is surprising since refilling the iPad's battery takes an unbelievably long time.
Unfortunately, the XOOM's microUSB port cannot be used for charging. Instead, as mentioned in the 'Design and Build Quality' section, users are limited to Motorola's proprietary port, and the charger provided is so massive that it literally covers up two electrical sockets. Ugh.
There are two stories to tell with the XOOM. The first takes place in today's world, and is a tale of woe and despair - of a consumer who paid $800 for a tablet that doesn't even serve a tablet's main purpose (multimedia). The second, however, is concerned with the future - a future where Honeycomb has been used to its full potential; a future where Google has already released an industry-leading music / movie store; a future where there are more Honeycomb apps than there are iPad apps.
Alas, the XOOM and Android 3.0 still contain plenty of untapped potential, and until said potential is utilized, I can't see an average consumer walking into a store and spending $799 for Moto's tablet when he / she could pick up an equivalent iPad for $70 less. And honestly, I can't see myself doing that either, as I'm confident that the XOOM's price will soon drop (or other manufacturers will produce more affordable Honeycomb tablets), and it's hard to find a compelling reason to spend $800 on a product purely because of its potential.
That said, Honeycomb is a great platform, and I can't wait to see what developers will have done with it in a few months. Because in the long run, open always wins the race... even if it has a bit of a slow start.
Our Rating: 8/10