Verizon Motorola Xoom Review

When pondering the name of the Motorola Xoom, I can’t help but think that the high-powered inaugural Honeycomb tablet’s name is the perfect adjective to describe the speed by which it was released.

The Xoom was shown off as a mysterious Motorola tablet prototype by Google’s Andy Rubin at the Honeycomb event in December, then announced to much pomp and circumstance at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Even then the software wasn’t final; we weren’t allowed to play with the Xoom, just sit back and watch a few demo videos that were loaded on it to make it seem “real”. And less than 2 months later, the Xoom was released sans a few major features — with promises to have those features thrown in at a later date — and for an unreal $599 with contract ($799 without).

I received a Xoom a couple weeks ago and have had quite a few chances to get to know both the tablet and the OS itself. While it’s important that to understand the tablet, one must understand the OS as well, I have separated my reviews of each.

I feel it’s necessary to treat Honeycomb as a separate entity and review it apart from the Motorola Xoom. Otherwise, it would be like trying to review the Motorola Droid 2 based on its inclusion of Froyo. It helps make the Xoom unique, but an OS does not make the tablet.

Go here to read a full review of Android 3.0 Honeycomb.

Unboxing and First Impressions of the Motorola Xoom

The video below will show off the unboxing in all its glory.

VIDEO:

My first impressions of the Xoom were mixed. With only 2 buttons gracing the sides and a nice rubbery-feeling backside, the Xoom is a very good-looking tablet.

I enjoyed its size and beautiful 10.1” touchscreen display, and it’s definitely a solid phone, but felt it was too hefty for my taste. While I appreciate a minimal approach to the side buttons, it was almost too minimal; I absolutely loathed the idea of having the power button on the back instead of the side. I’ll explain later why the placement makes a little more sense now, but I still find the location of the power button to be an annoyance.

The Xoom also ships with a charging cable that looks almost identical to one of the old-school rounded Nokia chargers. This was likely done to rapidly charge the massive 6400 mAh battery; the Xoom has a standard MicroUSB port that you would normally see in most other Android devices, but it isn’t used to charge the tablet. It just wouldn’t charge it quickly and efficiently enough.

One thing I also noticed when first playing with the Xoom is that even though the screen orientation can move to portrait mode, the tablet from the very beginning feels like it belongs in landscape naturally. Like it was meant to be held with two hands, one hand on each end like a steering wheel.

Video Review of the Xoom

 

Software and OS of the Motorola Xoom

The Xoom is famous for being the first tablet to sport the brand new Android 3.0 OS, also known as Honeycomb. Mentioned earlier, I covered the Honeycomb OS on another review, so be sure to go here to check it out. The Xoom’s software is identical to that shown in the Honeycomb review.

Hardware and Design of the Motorola Xoom

Looking at the overall design of the Xoom, it appears to be a solid tablet that is certainly hefty enough when you hold it. It’s definitely no lightweight, and that is typically considered a bad thing when comparing to competition. For instance, the Xoom weighs 730 grams (25.75 oz) compared to the iPad 2, weighing in at 613 grams (21.62 oz). For tablets, this is a huge weight difference.

The Xoom’s solid feel can be attributed to both the tablet’s weight and its build. It’s got a type of grippy plastic on the backside that makes it easier to hold onto and less of a fingerprint magnet. That’s the complete opposite of the screen on the front; it picks up fingerprints and dust to a significant magnitude compared to other devices.

The back of the Xoom curves up in an ever-so-slight arch that makes it thinner on the edges and gives the tablet more gripping ability on the sides because of this.

The Good, the Bad and the Meh

Good:
Processor: Inside the Xoom is the fastest mobile processor available today, the Tegra 2 dual-core 1 GHz processor. For kicks and giggles, Motorola threw in a full gigabyte of RAM to handle all of the gaming and multitasking demands that will be placed on a well-used Xoom, so all of the games and programs are incredibly fast.

Honeycomb: Android 3.0 Honeycomb is still a work in progress, and is definitely far from perfect, but it is still a specific tablet-optimized OS that has some great apps (not very many total apps, but the ones already on there are wonderful to use). This is a huge strength for the Xoom, and the OS will continue to grow as more and more tablets migrate over. Also, since a new Android update will come out that puts features of Honeycomb on phones, a huge benefit of using Honeycomb on a tablet now will be that it’s going to be so much easier to learn a new phone with these same features on it. You will have already defeated the learning curve.

Plus, with Honeycomb, you get the Movie Studio, special apps, smartly-designed widgets, and much more.

Screen size: The Xoom is not only a 10.1” screen (same as iPad 2), it also has a better resolution than the aforementioned tablet: 1280×800, vs. 1024×768 on the iPad 2. The screen on the Xoom is indeed gorgeous to look at and use.

Flash Player: Finally available for download and general public consumption on March 18, this one just barely got moved to the Good side. We figure the lack of Flash Player on the Xoom is more a Honeycomb restriction than it is Motorola or Verizon. Android’s team had probably not been able to get it worked out on Honeycomb until that point.

Camcorder: I’m not a huge proponent of rear cameras on tablets. I just don’t see much of a point to it because holding tablets to take pictures is much easier said than done. It’s rather difficult to get a great picture on one because the device is so large, it becomes unsteady in your hands. The video camera, however, is a little different. Taking videos ended up being pretty easy compared to the still camera because it’s okay to be less steady. I was able to take good videos of my kids. It’s not a great alternative to a regular camcorder, though, because of the extra weight to carry around.

Video Chat: Speaking of videos, it was nice to have a 2 MP front camera for video chatting. Honeycomb has a new pre-installed app for Google Talk that enables this feature without having to go third-party (such as Qik or Skype) to do so. The best part is, anyone who is at their computer with a webcam can join in a video chat with you on your Xoom.

Bad:

LTE 4G Upgrades: In a few weeks, this bad will turn into a resounding good for the Xoom. But this echoes my whole argument about the Xoom’s issues: the product wasn’t completely finished, but Motorola wanted to push the tablet out before the iPad 2 and any other Honeycomb tablet had the chance to get theirs out first.

In doing so, the Xoom was shipped with only 3G capabilities inside. This is certainly upgradeable, and Verizon has come out and specifically mentioned that the update to Verizon’s 4G LTE network will be ready to go within 6 weeks of the tablet’s launch. However, as this upgrade does require opening up the tablet and switching some chips, you will need to part ways with your newly purchased Xoom for around 6 business days (translated: a week and a half). The upgrade is free to do and all shipping will be on Verizon’s dime, but the time wasted without the device is the real cost here.

Power/lock button on back: this was one of the biggest design blunders I’ve seen in a mobile device. Sadly, I know it wasn’t a blunder — it was meant to be this way. The power and screen lock button are located on the back of the Xoom, rather than the sides. It’s placed in a good spot where your left index finger can turn the screen lock on and off, but there were several times I used the Xoom on the table itself, and had to actually pick up the Xoom to turn the screen on or off. A small annoyance, but I did it enough times that it started growing under my skin.

Weight: As I mentioned earlier, this is a rather heavy tablet when compared to the competition.

The Meh
Battery life: The Xoom is rated for 10 hours of battery life. Tremendous, to say the least, given the 6400 mAh battery dwelling inside the phone’s chassis. Most reports I’ve seen praise the Xoom’s battery life, though my unit never seemed to last a very long time, even in standby mode when I wasn’t using it very heavily. I didn’t have a chance to measure length of time, but in periods of non-use I was still having to charge it up every other day.

Cameras: While the resolution on the Xoom’s cameras are great (5 MP rear, 2 MP front), I found it difficult to not only take pictures, but tell how good they were in the viewfinder and gallery. While the video player worked valiantly and wasn’t as awkward on a tablet as I expected, the still cameras were more of a letdown. It wasn’t that they were terrible; they were just mediocre, which is unfortunate given the specs. It was great to have the front-facing camera for video chat, but still pictures looked quite grainy on the screen (of course, the viewfinder and gallery pics are always blown up to a larger size, which could explain the graininess).

Conclusion

What everyone is wondering is, is it worth $799 retail ($599 with contract) price? How does it hold up?

I never had any problems with my Motorola Xoom review unit. Everything worked perfectly fine. I loved having the faster processor and RAM to take advantage of, and I enjoyed the experience of using Honeycomb one-on-one for the first time, and spending enough time to really get to know it.

However, the Xoom was practically doomed to begin with, dealing with large criticism over the Xoom’s pricing and the feeling of a product being rushed at the very end as the result of a push to get it out ahead of the rest of the competition. Sure, the Xoom has a lot of firsts under its belt now, but at what cost?

There are several new Honeycomb tablets that will be coming out in the next couple months. We’re not certain what the pricing will be on those, but the Honeycomb experience will likely be almost identical to that on the Xoom.

I wonder if Motorola will sell enough units of the Xoom to make it worth sacrificing 4G and Flash and risking its reputation as a top quality, high-end tablet. Most of the puzzle pieces are together, but until it’s 100% of the tablet we were promised to receive, I have a difficult time recommending the Xoom. In this instance, I would recommend waiting to get it until it is officially 4G and has the Flash Player installed. This way you feel like you actually got what you paid so much for. By then, other Honeycomb tablets will likely be out to market, making it easier to compare specs, design, the feel of the tablet, and pricing.

Get the Motorola Xoom on Amazon!

Author: Brad Molen

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    The Motorola Xoom actually looks pretty sleek. The design is cool and the performance also makes it cooler. I think it deserves to be the Apple iPad 2’s rival in the tablet industry.

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