Review: Motorola XOOM

A quick look around any tech blog will highlight one thing: 2011 is indeed the year of the tablet. CES was full of dozens upon dozens of tablets from various manufacturers across the globe. While most were nothing special, certain devices caught our attention. One such device is the Motorola XOOM tablet. Boasting a dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, 1200 x 800 10.1″ display, 1080p video playback and output, and Android 3.0. Clearly, this tablet means business. It certainly looks nice with its sleek edges and weighted, yet pleasant feel. But is it really $800 good? For that, we need more space, more words, and a little more of your time. Hop on past for the full review…
 

Physical Design

There’s no denying that the Motorola XOOM is a sleek device. The cold, dark metals bring a sense of strength and power. At first, the added weight (730g vs. iPad’s 601g) was a slight turn off. But over the course of 24 hours we actually came to enjoy it.

When we say that XOOM is sleek, we mean it. There aren’t many openings in the sides of the device. Starting at the top and moving clockwise we have a sole SIM card slot and headphone jack. Moving to the right side reveals a sparse, barren wasteland of black that seems to go on for miles, eventually leading to the next corner. Down below is where the action happens — it is here you’ll find the XOOM’s microUSB and miniHDMI ports as well as contacts for a dock accessory. Swing ’round to the left and final side, a pair of volume up/down buttons signal that the end of the journey is near. If you consider the back in your voyage, you’ll find the XOOM’s 5-megapixel rear-camera w/ flash and two speaker cutouts. The speaker, for those who care, is loud — as in really loud. And finally, a power/sleep/lock button.

Getting more specific, the display on the XOOM measures in at 10.1″ and pack in 1200 x 800 worth of pixels. It’s one of the higher resolution screens on the market (higher than iPad 2), features decent viewing angles, and most importantly, is a joy to gaze at.

Overall, the hardware itself is nice. It’s sleek, one of the most powerful tablets on the market, and has a nice, weighty feel to it.

Performance

If you had any doubts about single-core 1GHz tablets of 2010, you can be sure that the tablets of 2011 and beyond are completely different machines. Dual-core (now) and quad-core (later) are quickly relegating the typical desktop PC into much smaller parts of our lives. The Motorola XOOM is a perfect example of how a tablet should be hardware wise — 1GHz dual-core processor.

And yet, with all of that power system slow downs, lag, and other stutter problems were seen throughout the OS numerous times. Even something as simple as scrolling to the bottom of an email list (with no other apps running) served up rather copious amounts of lag and choppy scrolling. From a bleeding edge tablet with bleeding edge hardware, this is worrisome and disappointing. A first generation iPad with half the memory and cores manages to operate more smoothly through a variety of similar instances without any noticeable lag.

The only thing we can lay blame on is Android 3.0 not being perfectly optimized for this tablet. Hopefully future iterations of 3.x can improve upon this apparent speed issue.

With that opening story, you’d think that everything about the XOOM was slow. But it’s not. More times than not, transitions from screen to screen and app to app were smooth and lightening quick, adding a bit of disbelief and confusion regarding the lag we had been seeing. How could something so powerful perform so well in one instance, and then something as simple as a scrolling list of text get so out of hand? Moving on, the camera and video capture/playback was notable for it’s 720p nature, though not immediately apparent. Video/photo buffs: you won’t be giving up your dedicated gear anytime soon.

Android 3.0 & Apps

It certainly goes to say that a hardware device is only as good as the software that it runs (or vice versa). With that said, I love Android 3.0. It finally looks polished. The designers really put in a lot of wrench time getting everything to look nicer, mesh more seamlessly, and just work better overall.

However, the new shiny paint and eye candy don’t come without one serious drawback — lack of apps. This is more of a problem with tablets and their higher resolutions in general than it is with Android 3.0 not working with an older app. Nevertheless, there’s something very frustrating and disappointing in the fact that there are only a laughable 16 total tablet apps in the Android market. Today. In 2011. If this were the first Android tablet, I could understand that. At the very least though, the Samsung Galaxy Tab should have gotten developers and Googles’ collective efforts on track. As it stands now, the hardware and software of Android are top notch. The lack of 3rd party software at launch is not.

Building on that last paragraph of disdain, we must stress how at this stage in the game, the XOOM excels at web browsing and a few select apps. That’s it.

Music Player and Gallery

Perhaps not deserving of its own section to some, many Android and non-Android consumers alike will agree that the stodgy gallery and media player was in dire need of a re-design. Android 3.0 delivers with a new media player that is simply gorgeous. Scrolling through your library can now be done via a Cover Flow-esque method that in our eyes, blends in a bit of Windows 7′s design flare to boot. Listening to music and watching video is now more bearable that the respective apps have caught up.

Verizon 3G (and 4G)

Verizon’s network has been tested with every phone review, so there’s no need to beat the skeletal remains of the poor horse. With that said, we must admit we are excited for LTE capabilities in the XOOM. We are not fans of Motorola’s half-baked attempt to rush the XOOM to market with only 3G radios inside, and requiring users to ship said tablet back to them to swap in an LTE radio. Even worse, the process takes an entire week from start to finish. Motorola does regain some points though as the LTE upgrade is completely free of charge.

Battery life

On a more positive note, battery life is one aspect of the XOOM that really left me surprised. All too often a great piece of hardware is marred by abysmal runtime whilst away from a power outlet. The first gen iPad uses a single core A4 processor running at ~1GHz. The XOOM uses a dual-core Tegra 2 processor by Nvidia also running at 1GHz. Twice the cores twice the power consumption, right? Wrong. In fact it’s very wrong. The last time we had the XOOM plugged in was yesterday at 4pm and with 95% battery remaining. Today (the next day to us) roughly 19 hours later (and after a multi-hour gaming/web browsing session the night before) our XOOM is still showing 33%. WiFi and 3G are on and the last 6 hours have been spent in a virtual wireless pit meaning both radios are crying out for some wireless lovin’.

Impressed and excited: That’s the Motorola XOOM’s battery life.

Conclusion: Should you buy it?

This is a hard decision for a number of reasons. For starters, the XOOM costs $800 off contract, which to us is absurd. $500 on contract is a bit more manageable, but then you’re left to deal with a cellular contract for the next two years — also not ideal. Compare this to the iPad’s starting price of $499 for the 16GB iPad and you can see where this is going. The iPad has over 12,000 iPad apps — exponentially more than Android. Though at the same time, it’s understood that the same app explosion that happened for smartphone Android apps will happen for tablets too. Time is the only question at this point.

Another thing to consider is your preferences for either OS: Android or iOS. Both are visually dynamic (Android 3.0 at least) and rich. Android is more customizable and “in the users’ hands” whereas the iPad is more of a hands off approach in the same category. The iPad has more apps to entertain you for when the internet, movies, and music get boring.

Accessories play a big roll in deciding larger electronic purchases such as this, and even more so if you’re opting for the VZW-subsidized XOOM. Tablets look like they’ll stick around a bit longer than your typical smartphone (which is ~18 months), and as such accessories will play a deciding factor. There will soon be two different physical models of iPad by the end of 2011. Android tablets: dozens.

Another thing to consider is the whole 4G/LTE mail-in thing. It would have been much better for Motorola to hold off on shipping the XOOM until all the hardware was in place, as these buy it — ship it back for upgrades — return are far from ideal. Motorola does do right however, and is making the LTE upgrade free.

In the end, we come away from our time with the XOOM on the fence. It is hands down the best looking and performing Android tablet to date. It showcases everything that is awesome within Android 3.0 and some things that are not. The hardware itself is powerful, and yet lag and slow downs still crop up here and there more than they should, signaling to us a misstep somewhere in the hardware or software.

So where does that leave us now? On the fence, really. If you want the honest truth: Wait. There will be many more Android 3.0 tablets to launch this year, and all are pinning for your money. In actuality, it all keeps coming back to apps. The lack of 3rd party “things to do” really shortens the amount of time you can hold the XOOM before getting bored. In 6 months, that story could be very different. Of course, in 6 months we’ll already be on to the next “big thing”. Such is the way the consumer electronics world works.

Like

  • Dual-core processor
  • Higher resolution display than competitors
  • Sleek design
  • Android 3.0
  • LTE support

Don’t Like

  • Lack of apps
  • Lag and system slow downs despite uber fast processor
  • high price (for 3G/4G version)
  • Having to mail in XOOM to gain LTE support

*If you have any specific questions, feel free to drop a line in the comments below and we’ll do our best to accommodate you…

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  • cjc

    Great review by the way.

    • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

      Thank you.

  • Shadyghost

    Face time with a 2001 camera phone… Yay! That being said if this was a straight up hardware choice the XOOM wins hands down as the ipad is chuck full of lessor specs and that includes the top of the line ipad. When compared there the XOOM’s price is actually worth the purchase. However, bottom line is the crap ATT makes you pay a month on top of a less mature experience and lack of price points make the ipad a better choice for most people. Oh and Motorolla’s Android update record is pretty bad.

    • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

      If based solely on hardware, then yes, the XOOM is the winner. But hardware is only as good as the software that runs atop of it. And in this case, Android 3.0 — while certainly much more polished than 2.x version — still left me unimpressed overall as far as tablets go. And quite frankly, just because something has the fastest processor or most RAM doesn’t mean it is the clear winner. As I noted in the review, with all the extra horsepower under the hood, the iPad still managed to come away feeling more polished and smooth.

      I shouldn’t be seeing any lag or stuttering on a dual-core 1GHz processor running a 10.1″ tablet…anywhere. But I did. Scrolling though lists, switching screens, playing games — it wasn’t overly excessive or “major”, but certainly noticeable. And given the dramatically improved specs over Apple’s iPad (and price by itself), i was unimpressed and disappointed.

      As far as Android updates go, Motorola is actually one of the better ones. Samsung and Sony are the ones you want to avoid like the plague if future updates are a big deal to you.

      • cjc

        Agreed all around. Although you forgot to factor in the handcuffed experience that is itunes. At least with Android you don’t have to shop in one place for software. Overall though you are definitely right, Apple holds the upper hand but I’m guessing barring something drastic on their part, that advantage is slipping fast. The better the competition gets the more obvious the ridiculous restrictions Apple insists on putting on their customers will become.

      • cjc

        Agreed all around. Although you forgot to factor in the handcuffed experience that is itunes. At least with Android you don’t have to shop in one place for software. Overall though you are definitely right, Apple holds the upper hand but I’m guessing barring something drastic on their part, that advantage is slipping fast. The better the competition gets the more obvious the ridiculous restrictions Apple insists on putting on their customers will become.

        • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

          I see at least 6 months before Android tablets “catch up” to the iPad on the app front. Mainly the library just needs to grow.

  • Compter

    Me being a big Motorola fan will still end up with an iPad2 when it comes out. I like the fact that they solve the higher resolution apps and the iPhone apps by adding the zoom button. Also facetime need I say more!!