Motorola Xoom £399
3rd Mar 2011 | 11:58
The first Android 3.0 tablet arrives to challenge the iPad 2
Motorola Xoom: Overview
The Motorola Xoom is the first Android 3.0 tablet to hit the market. That makes it the first Android tablet to ship with an OS that's designed especially for big screens, and that's why it's so exciting.
Every tech gadget must be judged solely on what it provides, its purpose in life, and whether it will help you accomplish tasks and enjoy your media.
- Read: Android 3.0 review
Yet, the Xoom is the first Android 3.0 tablet, the first really powerful tablet with a dual-core processor, and a sleek, 10.1-inch slate that is easy on the eyes.
You can check out our Android Tablet round-up to see how this slate measures up against three of its rivals below:
There's no question the Xoom is a brilliant tablet, one that is incredibly flexible in terms of media you can put on the device.
With a 5-megapixel front camera and a 2-megapixel rear-facing camera, 32GB of local storage (plus a potential for more SD storage after the next software update), 1GB of RAM, 4G support once the LTE roll-out starts and after a software upgrade, and 10-hours of battery life, the Xoom has the hardware specifications to make you sit up and take notice.
Plus, the new Android 3.0 tablet interface lives and breathes in the open source world.
Frankly, the Motorola Xoom blows the Samsung Galaxy Tab out of the water, and that is saying something. We'll keep our iPad comparisons to a minimum (hey, if you wanted one of those you would have bought one by now, right?) and ratchet down our comparisons to the iPad 2 which ships in the UK on 25 March.
The Xoom is the best Android tablet around and a device that is well worth serious consideration.
However, before we go any further, we need to address pricing - the Motorola Xoom is currently available for pre-order for £499. The 3G version is set to cost £100 more at £599.
The next-best Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, costs £399.00 without a contract, which is quite a bit lower than the Xoom. And, the Apple iPad 2 will start at £429.00 for the Wi-Fi-only version, so the Xoom is expensive.
Yet, our overall impression testing the device is that it is a notable upgrade from every other Android model, including the Dell Streak series. The heart and soul of this tablet is the new Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS, which ran lightning fast in our tests on the Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor.
And we mean fast: finger swipes registered quickly and accurately, and the few games available ran smoothly.
Android 3.0 is a brilliant interface for tablets – much more flexible than iOS in that you can drop widgets all over your homescreens, and more responsive and even better suited for reading books and playing games.
The Xoom even touts this fact in the Google Books app: there's a cool page flipping animation.
The Xoom has a decidedly PC-like UI in that you can press a button to see all open apps (unfortunately, you can't selectively close them from here but you can close apps through a memory manager under the settings screen), click the clock to see notifications and access settings, and move objects around the screen easier.
Motorola Xoom: Features
At first glance, the Motorola Xoom looks smaller than the Apple iPad. In truth, they both have a 10.1-inch screen, but the Xoom has a thinner bezel.
At 249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm, the Xoom is a bit longer than it is wide, and that caused a few minor issues when grabbing the device with one hand. It's also wider than the Galaxy Tab, which is easier to grab with one hand.
Another first impression is that the device feels heavy. In reality, at 730g, it is only 50 grams heavier than the iPad. By contrast, the Galaxy Tab is 599g, making it a bit more mobile.
Part of the reason for the extra weight in the Xoom is that there are beefier internal components.
The Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, running at 1GHz per core, is capable of handling some tougher tablet computing chores. In our tests, games like Angry Birds ran without the typical pausing and hiccups of other Android tablets.
Motorola said the dual-core processor also helps with browsing, presumably because of memory management and dolling out computing chores to each core.
Wonder of wonders, you can load up the Xoom browser with multiple tabs, as on your desktop. The 1GB of RAM is up to the task, and we had TechRadar.com, YouTube.com, GamesRadar.com, and several other sites all running at the same time without any trouble (by contract, the Motorola Atrix we just reviewed, which runs in a unique webtop mode, has memory trouble with too many tabs open).
With the 32GB of internal storage, we decided to load up our review unit with as much media (photos, music, and videos), Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, and extra fluff as possible, including some accounting files we knew wouldn't even work.
No USB charging
The Xoom has one strange 'gotcha' in that, when you connect to your PC to add files, the device does not charge. Instead, the Xoom only charges using the power adapter, which is a bit limiting (In truth, the iPad only trickle charges over USB anyway and does not charge as fast as it does normally).
The Xoom has up and down volume buttons on the left side. The spongy case that Motorola included with our review kit covers those two buttons in a way that makes it hard to control volume (Motorola offers a full wrap-around case as well).
The power button is on the back of the device by the camera, which makes it hard to find, especially for tablet newcomers. There are two ports under the device, one for HDMI-out (used for mirroring to your HDTV) and one for USB.
The 10.1 screen can play 1080p content and looks bright and crisp. Unfortunately, there is no extra screen coating on the Xoom display so it tends to attract thumbprints and other grime.
During our testing process, we had several other technical users try out the device, and one common complaint was that the device felt a bit slick, oddly rectangular, and accumulated too much grime.
Motorola Xoom: Interface
The Xoom uses an interface that should appeal to the technically savvy user.
The iPad does not support widgets at all, and that is the main differentiator here: you can drop weather widgets, your daily schedule, a mini view of your e-mail and a clock pretty much anywhere you want. This works much more like you'd expect from a tablet. The Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak are much more limiting.
By default, the Xoom comes with a wide assortment of built-in apps including an e-mail client, browser, contacts database, calculator, scheduler, and maps.
The YouTube app is quite impressive, showing a movie theater look for the most popular videos that you can flip through from side to side. The Maps app provides a 3D view of major cities that you can swivel any which way.
Google has added a few of their own extra apps. There's Google Talk for instant messaging, a voice search app, Latitude for sharing your location with friends, and Google Sky Map, which works better on the Xoom than any smartphone because of the larger screen size for inspecting constellations.
The Gallery app for Android 3.0 is quite useful -- it groups photo albums automatically by source, such as Picasa Web Albums versus local shots. The slideshow viewer shows the "Ken Burns" effect that gradually zooms in.
Motorola Xoom: Android Market and Apps
The Xoom includes the Android Market app, and Android 3.0 apps are separated from the pack.
There are only about 20 of them, including Fruit Ninja HD, Google Sky Map, and a game called Dungeon Defense that is short but engaging.
Some of the apps are just average. The CNN app is just a portal to its web page, and the Pulse reader, which shows RSS feeds, is overly textual (even though it has a legion of fans).
On 'the big screen' these smartphone apps need to do more than just adjust the location of data entry fields and provide a more tablet-like experience. For example, something with better tablet-size nav buttons.
The best use of the screen real estate is the Movie Studio app, which lets you edit imported videos quickly through a scrub interface. Oddly, this is the only app that would pause occasionally, thinking about the video clips.
Also, it is nowhere near as powerful as the multi-track, effects laden iMovie app for iPad 2.
That said, it is easy to envision a day when there are thousands and thousands of good, functional Android 3.0 apps. After all. there are more Android phones in use in the world than iPhones.
Motorola Xoom: Screen
Thanks mostly to the fast Tegra 2 processor, the Motorola Xoom responds quickly and efficiently to fingers presses, swipes, and other gestures.
This is one of the most appealing features, that you can trust the touchscreen. The 24K-color display looks bright and clear, and at full brightness looks a hair brighter than the iPad.
Contrast ratio is another factor. We tested the movie Miracle at St. Anna and noticed the screen looked a bit washed out compared to the playback on the Galaxy Tab, and even more so compared to a Lenovo U260 laptop.
In terms of viewing angle, the Xoom is good but not great. In a brightly lit room, with the Xoom placed on its docking station, the screen was viewable from straight on and just to the left and right, but not nearly as visible from an angle.
The Xoom supports HDMI mirroring using a proprietary cable. Our test kit included a six-foot cable, so we had to use the Xoom right next to an HDTV. In mirrored mode, the same movie we tested look clearer thanks to the Sony 3DTV we tested on.
Like the Atrix phone, however, we preferred the way Apple does media streaming to an HDTV where you can use an Apple TV as an intermediary device, then stream whatever you want from your iPhone or iPad with no cables.
Motorola Xoom: Usability
One of the most interesting findings with the Motorola Xoom is that, since it has so few hardware buttons, it is easier to focus almost entirely on the screen.
There's no hunting around for a home button once you get used to the fact that the icon is on the lower left (placed right where you'll find the Start button on a Windows PC).
Interestingly, we found Xoom to be quite fun to use - it has a bit more complex usability than the iPad but is easier to use than the Dell and Samsung tablets because of the improvements in Android 3.0.
We enjoyed learning how the OS works and clicking on notification screens. They have an undeniably "space age" look, like something from Star Trek.
The physical size and slightly slippery feel meant the Xoom was just a hair less usable for daily tasks than other Android tabs. We like how the Samsung and Dell models are smaller for e-book reading on a whim. That said, the Xoom feels well-constructed and the larger screen size is a major bonus.
In fact, the overall dimensions are smaller than the first iPad but the screen is the same size.
Because Motorola offers a dock for the Xoom, charging was easy and relatively quick - we found the unit charged up in just two hours and lasted the full ten. You can't trickle-charge from a USB connection, though.
The Xoom is nearly instant-on from a sleep state. At boot-up, you will stare at the dual-core processor logo for a few seconds before you see a honeycomb animation that lasts another few seconds. There's a cool circle where you move an icon to the edge to unlock.
As we mentioned, we prefer the smaller Dell and Samsung size for e-books, but the Xoom is actually a very good e-reader. The Google Books app includes most major titles, and books look very clean and readable in a horizontal view. In vertical mode, pages were a bit too long and harder to read.
Motorola Xoom: Media
As we mentioned at the outset, one major strength of the Xoom is flexibility with media. We ripped several unprotected DVD discs, including some band concerts, and saved the files as MPEG4 videos.
When you connect the Xoom to a PC, you see folders with logical names, like movies and music. The concert films played back in high-quality 1080p video on the device without any stuttering.
You can also play H.263 and H.264 video files, and the Xoom doesn't care where the videos come from -- we copied videos we recorded using a Sony camcorder, ripped on a Mac using Handbrake, and downloaded over Torrent feeds and they all played smoothly and accurately.
We had similar success with music files. The Xoom supports AAC and MP3 files, plus a few other less common formats. Importantly, playing very high quality MP3 tracks worked smoothly. Once again, the faster dual-core processor helps keep audio files clear.
The generic music app included with the Xoom is functional if a bit limited. You can scan through album covers quickly, but there is no built-in media store -- to buy albums, you have to switch over to the Amazon MP3 app. We imagine Android 3.0 apps for music playback, will make their way onto the Android Market soon.
Speakers on the back of the Xoom sounded loud and without the typical distortion of other tablets. We wish they were just a bit more powerful because the Xoom could have worked well as a kitchen-counter music player. We're sure there'll be plenty of peripherals for that, though.
The TFT LCD screen is similar to those used for laptops. At 1280x800 pixels, the screen is actually higher-res than the Apple iPad, which uses an in-plane switching (IPS) display that's better for wide viewing angles but is only 1024x768 pixels.
Of course, the one major mark against the Xoom is that there is no way to rent or buy TV shows and movies on the device. At least the Galaxy Tab has the Movie Hub app, which works pretty well.
Unfortunately, the Xoom does not yet support Flash content in the browser, which means sites like Hulu.com do not work for watching videos. Unlike the Atrix phone, the Xoom also does not support DLNA streaming from a computer.
Motorola Xoom: Camera
We'll admit that shooting video and snapping photos with a tablet is a bit awkward.
On the Motorola Xoom, you can get a slightly better grip holding the device horizontally, and the results for both images and video looked quite clean.
There are quite a few options for setting effects (like sepia tone or black and white), setting exposure for specific scenes (such as night or snow), and choosing white balance options for sunlight or inside lighting conditions.
The interface for the camera is a high mark -- the settings are all on the right where you can easily tap them as you hold up the device. You can also switch between the rear and front cameras.
An advanced menu lets you set picture quality, megapixel size, and even make fine adjustments to the exposure level.
All of our test shots looked quite crisp, but there is a definite "shaky cam" feel to videos since it is hard to keep your hands steady. Recorded video looked crisp in high-def but we are not ready to ditch a real camcorder anytime soon.
Motorola Xoom: Benchmarks
Motorola Xoom benchmarks
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful tablet reviews on the web, so that you are able to make a more informed buying decision.
Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.
Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.
We test each device three times and take an average.
Motorola Xoom: Verdict
So where does this leave the Xoom? Overall, the device is a joy to use -- fast and nimble, able to handle high-res media files, long-lasting.
We strongly prefer the Android 3.0 e-mail interface to what you get on other Android devices -- it makes the tablet a more useful e-mail client. Like the Atrix phone, you can even sync with Microsoft Exchange e-mail and Google Apps for Business, Yahoo! and Gmail services, and any POP account.
The browser is a godsend for technical users - you can queue up a dozen tabs and leave them available at all times (strangely, you can only set one page as the default home page and not multiple tabs).
What this means for power users is that you can really use the Xoom as a powerful Web client, especially if you use the optional Bluetooth keyboard. (The Xoom also works with the Apple Wireless Keyboard.)
The built-in camera also worked well, producing some winning shots. Games played smoother than expected. Several apps, such as Google Sky Map and the Gallery app, take full use of the larger screen size of a tablet.
Not everything is so stellar about the Xoom, though. We didn't like that you can't trickle charge from any USB port. Lack of Flash support is a major letdown, even though Motorola plans to fix this issue soon. There is no way to buy or rent movies or TV shows, which means you have to obtain them on a PC and transfer them over. The form factor of the Xoom is a little odd because it is rectangular and slick, and a little harder to grasp when you are running out the door.
Currently, the low number of apps is the most critical ding. In some ways, the tabbed browser makes up for this -- you can run a plethora of Web apps instead. But the iPad has a major headstart over any Android 3.0 tabs.
And there are a few other nits. The microSD slot on the Xoom does not work yet, and the device could work with 4G but is not ready for that yet.
Yet, we've been craving this kind of fast and powerful, ready-for-the-tablet age device.
Hoping the apps appear quickly, the Xoom is fast enough to keep pace and gets our nod over other Android tablets. The iPad is still the better tablet and has thousands of useful, powerful apps that make it more appealing.