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Motorola Xoom Tablet Review - Android 3.0 Arrives
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Date: May 02, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction and Specifications

The Motorola Xoom tablet has been met with plenty of hype, and perhaps rightfully so since it is the first tablet to ship with Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb), the first version of Android designed specifically for tablets. Although there are a number of tablets slated to hit the market this year, Motorola has the benefit of being the first company to actually ship a tablet running on Honeycomb. The Xoom also has some powerful specs that are sure to attract attention, including a dual-core processor, a 10.1-inch widescreen display, 32GB of onboard storage, and front- and rear-facing cameras.

Honeycomb was designed for devices with larger screen sizes, especially tablets. With Honeycomb, you'll get a new multi-touch holographic user interface as well as a 3D experience. You'll also get an updated set of standard applications including a browser with multiple tabs, a Contacts app that uses a two-pane UI and Fast Scroll, and a new two-pane UI in the Email application.

The Motorola Xoom is powered by a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor. It comes with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The Xoom also has a microSD card slot, though it is not enabled out of the box. Motorola has confirmed an update is in the works that will enable the microSD card slot. If you're too anxious to wait, there is an unofficial kernel available on xda-developers.

Although the Xoom won't be the only tablet making headlines this year, it is the first to ship with Android 3.0. It will also directly compete with the ever-popular iPad. So how does the Xoom stack up? Read on as we take a hands-on look at the Motorola Xoom for Verizon Wireless...


Motorola Xoom
Specifications & Features

  • Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS
  • 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core
  • 32GB Internal Memory
  • 1GB LP DDR2 RAM
  • CDMA 800/1900 (CDMA EV-DO Rev A)
  • LTE 700 (after upgrade)
  • Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz & 5GHz 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR + HID
  • eCompass, aGPS
  • 1 USB port  
  • 1 HDMI input
  • 3.5mm headset
  • Proximity, ambient light, barometer, gyroscope sensors
  • 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 Light Responsive Display
  • approximately 9.81 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches
  • 1.61 pounds
  • Front-facing 2.0 megapixel webcam
  • Rear 5.0 megapixel camera with flash
Battery Life:
  • Charge Time - Up to approx. 3.5 hours
  • Video Playback Time - Up to approx. 10 hours
  • Browsing over Wi-Fi - Up to approx. 10 hours
  • Browsing over 3G - Up to approx. 9 hours
  • MP3 playback - Up to approx. 3.3 days
  • Standby - Up to approx. 14 days
Box Contents:
  • Motorola Xoom Tablet
  • Charger
  • Data Cable
  • Product Safety & Warranty Brochure
  • Quick Reference Guide
Price:
  • Motorola Xoom for Verizon Wireless
    • Full Retail Price: $799.99
    • PRICE with 2-Year contract: $599.99
  • Motorola Xoom with Wi-Fi: $599.00

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Design

Considering the widespread success Apple has enjoyed with the iPad and its successor, the iPad 2, it's hard not to compare a new tablet to these two (already successful) tablets. In many ways, you'll find the Xoom has similar physical specifications to both generations of iPads.

The Motorola Xoom measures approximately 9.81 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches and weighs 1.61 pounds. For comparison, the Apple iPad 2 measures 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.34 inches and weighs 1.33-1.35 pounds depending on model. When we first picked up the Xoom, we thought it felt a bit heavy. Other people we handed the tablet to made similar remarks. As a result, we were a bit surprised to discover that the Xoom is not really any heavier than the first-generation iPad, which weighs 1.6 pounds. The first-generation iPad and the Xoom also have similar thicknesses: 0.51 (Xoom) and 0.5 (iPad). In terms of width and height, the first-generation iPad measures 9.56 x 7.47 inches.

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While both generations of the iPad have 9.7-inch displays, the Xoom offers a larger 10.1-inch display that also offers a higher resolution than the iPad (1280 x 800 for the Xoom compared to 1024x768 for the iPad 1 and iPad 2). In addition, the Xoom's display features a widescreen aspect ratio which is especially nice when watching movies on the tablet.

During our testing period, the Xoom's screen attracted a fair number of fingerprints, though they never seemed to affect the responsiveness of the display. Viewing angles on the Xoom's display were very good. In fact, we were still able to read the Xoom's display at nearly a 90 degree angle to the screen.

Although you can use the Xoom in either portrait or landscape mode by simply rotating the tablet, its natural orientation is landscape mode. When held in landscape mode, you'll find the volume buttons on the upper left edge of the tablet. The top edge of the tablet houses a sliding door that reveals a SIM card slot and microSD slot. The SIM card slot is designed to be used once the tablet has been upgraded with 4G LTE support.

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Although the Xoom doesn't support 4G LTE straight out of the box, Verizon Wireless has said it will issue a free 4G LTE upgrade at some point in the future. To upgrade the tablet, you will have to ship it to Motorola. The upgrade process is expected to take about six business days. Once upgraded and assuming you're in a 4G coverage area, Verizon Wireless claims you'll get average downlink speeds of 5-12Mbps and 2-5Mbps uplink. For more information about the upgrade process, you can visit the Xoom upgrade page where you'll find a Getting Ready Guide and FAQ page.

It's unknown when an update will be available from Motorola that will unlock the microSD card slot, but at least we know such an update is in the works. In the meantime, you'll be able to use the 32GB of internal storage found on this tablet. Also, if you're too anxious to wait, don't forget that there is an unofficial kernel available on xda-developers.

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On the bottom edge of the Xoom, you'll find a microUSB port, HDMI output, and charging port. As you may notice from the list of box contents, the Xoom comes with both a data cable and a charger. You can only charge the tablet using the charger that accompanies the Xoom – the microUSB port is only used for data transfer, not for charging.

The Power/sleep button is located on the back of the Xoom near the rear camera. This rear camera is a 5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash. There's a speaker between the camera and the power button on the back of the tablet. Just above the display, you'll find the Xoom's front-facing 2.0 megapixel webcam.

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User Interface

Android 3.0 provides a redesigned user interface that's different from previous versions of Android. In many ways, Honeycomb takes what we love about Android and improves it for use on a larger screen. Some of these improvements include better notification capabilities, widgets, the ability to easily switch among recent apps, and more features within the web browser.

Unlike many Android smartphones that have a typical set of keys below the display (typically Back, Home, Menu, and Search), there are no hard keys on the Xoom. Instead, there are three touch icons (Back, Home, Recent Apps) in the lower left corner of each screen. The Recent Apps icon makes it easy to jump from one application to another quickly. Because these "buttons" are on-screen icons rather than hard keys, they'll rotate with the screen's display so that they're always in the lower left corner.

     

 

The Xoom's five home screens; Click to enlarge

In the bottom right corner of the screen, you'll find the notification panel. Here, you can tap individual notifications and messages to view them one at a time or tap the digital time display icon to see all notifications and messages. By tapping the digital time icon, you'll also see information about your current connectivity status and battery life. If you tap the digital time icon a second time, you'll see a quick settings menu that provides access to wireless connectivity, the ability to lock the screen orientation, screen brightness, and more. You can also access the full Settings menu from this smaller menu.

To access all of the apps that are installed on the Xoom, press the Apps icon which is located in the upper right corner of any of the Home screens. Next to the Apps icon, there is a customization icon (denoted by a "+") that provides easy access to the many ways in which you can customize your Home screens. From any of the Home screens, you can perform a Google text or voice search by pressing the appropriate search icon from the upper left corner of the screen.

  

  

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The Xoom's onscreen keyboard is comfortable to type on, though we often found ourselves accidentally typing the dash key instead of the period due to the placement of these two keys on the keyboard. To us, it seemed these two keys should have been placed in the reverse order, though this is definitely personal preference. Other users may not feel this way.

Browsing the Web on the Xoom is fun, and we particularly appreciated the browser's tab functionality. The Bookmarks menu provides thumbnail views of each of the bookmarked pages. When the Xoom initially shipped, Adobe Flash Player was not preloaded on the Motorola Xoom. Now, there is an update available in the Android Market for the Adobe Flash 10.2 Player which will enable a richer browsing experience.

        

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As with other tablets these days, the Xoom will automatically rotate the display to match the orientation of the tablet. There's one exception to this however: the Android Market. For some reason, the Market can only be viewed in landscape mode.

     

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Performance Benchmarks

Next, we'll take a look at how the Xoom compares to other tablets by running and examining a few benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

In all three performance benchmarks, the Xoom scores at or near the top in comparison to our reference systems. The Linpack score shows the Xoom offers competitive processing power to the Dell Streak 7 and the Viewsonic G Tablet. An3DBench shows the Xoom offers competitive graphics performance as well.

In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, the Xoom outperforms all of our other reference systems in this test. Not only did the Xoom take the top spot in this test, but it did so with room to spare.

A Note On Battery Life: Overall, we were very impressed by the Xoom's battery life. Using the Xoom as a general purpose tablet for social networking, surfing the Web, checking email, etc., we were able to use the Xoom for about five days (off and on) without needing to charge it. Of course, battery life will vary greatly depending on how often you use the tablet and which connectivity options you use.

In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Xoom's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we also ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Xoom's display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi. For this test, the Xoom managed to last six hours and two minutes before it died.

This is a fairly new test in our set of benchmarks, so we don't have a lot of other tablets to which we can compare. However, we have run the test on a few smartphones. The graph above shows how the Xoom compares.

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Conclusion

The Motorola Xoom has a lot of good things going for it. We loved the Xoom's colorful, high-res display with excellent viewing angles. We also appreciated the tablet's speed and smooth performance. For tablets, Android 3.0 is a definite improvement over previous versions of Android as well.

Price is something many people bring up when trying to compare the Xoom to the iPad and other tablets. In this review, we took a closer look at the Motorola Xoom for Verizon Wireless. There is also a Wi-Fi only version of this tablet. In terms of price, the least expensive Xoom is about $100 more expensive than the least expensive iPad.

Keep in mind, however, that the $499 iPad 2 has 16GB of storage and the $599 iPad 2 has 32GB of storage. When looking at both tablets with 32GB of built-in storage, the Xoom and the iPad 2 have identical price tags. If you're considering a tablet tied to a wireless contract, the Xoom comes in cheaper than even the least expensive iPad tied to either Verizon Wireless or AT&T.

We wish the tablet would have shipped with Flash preinstalled and the microSD slot enabled. We also wish Motorola and Verizon would have been able to pull off shipping this tablet with LTE enabled rather than asking users to send the tablet back to Motorola for the upgrade. Although the upgrade is free, it will require doing without it for a little while.

Our overall impression of the Xoom from Verizon Wireless was a very positive one. We felt the tablet was powerful and responsive. In our benchmarks, the Xoom posted competitive scores.


     
  • 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core processor
  • Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
  • Great battery life

 

  • microSD slot isn't enabled, yet
  • LTE upgrade requires sending the device to Motorola
  • Pricey compared to Android 3.0 tablets recently launched

 



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