My time with the Motorola XOOM

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As we know, I’ve been using the XOOM for several weeks now. I could’ve given you guys yet another boring review and tell you about all the specs, features, and other garbage that you already know by this point. Well there’s no sense doing that, so instead I figured I could go into having the XOOM for normal use. Maybe give you an idea of really using the Honeycomb tablet daily, and how it stacks up to the competition and whatever else is around the corner. Let’s see what my on Motorola’s first tablet, along with the feel of Android.

XOOM

We should all know by now that the XOOM is built extremely well. It’s  a premium device all around, and is covered in glass and high end materials. It really feels great to touch, but not as much to hold. The design is more comparable to iPad 1 rather than iPad 2, meaning the extra weight and less curve friendly design leads to a little fatigue when holding it. I have no problem holding the new iPad with one hand, and waving it around the house like it’s light and airy. The XOOM is industrial in comparison. It just feels like a heavier, darker slab that’s meant for business. I noticed that I’d naturally use 2 hands when holding, and almost always in landscape mode. Also due to the wider footprint, and the extra heft, you won’t feel comfortable going landscape mode with one hand at all. But in the scheme of things, it’s still light and gives me the feeling of carrying nothing around while stored in my backpack.

The biggest disappointment (in usable features) that the XOOM has for hardware is the screen. They don’t use the IPS display the Nook Color, the iPad and the Transformer uses. It’s disappointing. There is a huge difference between the image quality when compared side by side. The XOOM looks like an LCD screen, and you don’t get pulled into what you are seeing. You notice the backlighting, and the off angle distortions. The Nook and the iPad in comparison make you want to reach out and touch the actual object on the screen. Pull up Epicurious or AllRecips on the iPad, and look at the pictures of the food, it makes you want to reach out and get a handful. The XOOM makes me feel nothing. It’s just an image projected on a screen. Boring. XOOM fanboys will argue it isn’t a big deal, especially when you don’t have an iPad to compare to. But, that’s what fanboys do. They make excuses, and for a tablet that is supposed to be high end, I want the all important high end screen.

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I think you guys know how we feel about the camera situation for a tablet. The XOOM’s camera is mediocre at best (still beating the pathetic iPad 2 though), and that’s fine because I never use it. I  paid for it though, so I’d rather just not have one at all. I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures or video with a tablet. It’s uncomfortable and downright annoying to use. If I want pictures or video, I use my Sony NEX-5. Same goes with the front facing camera. Video chat on a tablet is stupid. Nobody likes pictures or video shot from below, the natural position to hold your tablet. So yeah, I’ve been right all along. Camera’s on tablets are stupid.

Stereo speakers are a pretty nice feature to have built into the XOOM, but unfortunately they are poorly positioned. I think this can lead to a better listening experience, but I just don’t like them on the rear of the tablet facing away from you. Some video lectures I watch need the volume cranked up, and I need every bit of audio directed to me. With the sound coming from the back, it just misses the mark, and I’d rather use the iPad 2 with its mono side speaker. When flipped over (so the speakers are firing upwards) the speakers sound fine and get plenty loud enough though.

Overall though, the XOOM is a pretty decent hardware contender. Of course, I’m not counting against them the $600 entry offering (vs iPad’s $500), the non working MicroSD card slot, and the fact that you need to send in your XOOM if you want the 4G upgrade. But from a hardware standpoint, it’s pretty respectable. Using a usb cable to transfer files is clearly the way to go, and is 10x quicker than using iTunes to transfer media. The wireless network internals are also superior, which able you to pull signals from networks that the iPad can’t even see. I’d done this on more than one occasion while traveling. I also usually don’t like proprietary cables either, but I really appreciate the AC charger for the XOOM. It really makes a huge difference when charging, and really makes me think that Apple should speed up their USB charger adapter for the iPad because it takes forever to fully charge. The XOOM is done (without actual testing) in half the time.

Android

Now that we have the hardware out of the way, let’s dive into the Android OS. To be direct, it’s buggy, clumsy, and slow. The difference between iOS and Android’s tablet OS is night and day. Let me re-iterate, not even close!

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With that said, it can be better than iOS. I really enjoy having a more desktop-like OS. It’s not a phone, it’s a tablet which has the power to do much more than than a phone ever can. I like widgets, and use them. I have an ever expanding to-do list, and with Android I can see my list (Gtasks) without having to open the app. I need to pick up milk, it’s right there reminding you. No need to set a reminder, or open the app. I love it. Wanna throw on some quick tunes? Music widget is right there to click play, or skip to the next one. What will the weather be like in 2 days? The Weather Channel widget has my info there for me at my beck and call, waiting patiently for me to just glance at it and nothing more. Widgets are one of the best features of Android, and that hasn’t changed with their tablets.

Another excellent Android feature is their notification system. It works, it’s unobtrusive, and is flawless in performance. I have access to any notification, and can dismiss them at my will.  No need to be blasted in the face with a push notification. Subtlety is a nice feature to have.

The rest of the software experience is hit and miss. When browsing, I prefer the stock Chrome browser, which syncs all of my Chrome bookmarks. It works well most of the time. Other times, it comes crawling to a stop. It quits on you, and throws a fit. The only way to “fix” it is to reboot the XOOM. Having tabbed browsing is something you can’t do without now. I can’t stand going back to the Safari browser on the iPad mainly because of the lack of this.

The available tablet apps are few and far between. Developers are definitely not as interested in adopting Android for tablets yet, and this is obvious from the app market. Speaking of the app market, it’s a silly thing to complain about, but you can’t view the market in portrait mode. It is only displayed in landscape, which is incredibly annoying for the overall cohesiveness of the system. Anyways, apps just aren’t there yet. The ones available are all pretty good. One advantage is that you can use phone apps on the Android tablet, which gives you a scaled up version of the phone app. This is much better than the iPad’s way, which is funny because Steve Jobs made such a big deal about resolution when scaling apps up, and he stuck us with a “magnified mode.” So, it’s not perfect, but you do have access to most Android apps optimized or not. At least you get to view them on the full screen.

Scrolling between screens gets laggy and sticky, like Android just doesn’t feel like doing what you want it to do. It depends on the day, and happens off a fresh boot, or after days of use. Apps crash occasionally, and work flawless other times. Even the tablet optimized Angry Birds Rio gets laggy and stuck often. Touch calibration is off, and nowhere near as flawless as Apple’s offering. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pressed a button or flick to scroll and have nothing come out of it. At times, I might even get a 3-5 second delay in response. I’m not sure which is worse though, as that 3 second delay could lead to some impatience which gets you clicking more buttons and throwing it all out of whack.

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However, I just don’t want to harp on the negative. Many people ask if this can replace a laptop, and I can almost say yes. The experience needs to get smoothed out, and the software needs to improve, but we’re close here folks. Now, this all goes into what you use it for, but this will take care of 90% of the needs of people around the world. I can edit photos (PicSay Pro) with more options than the desktop Picasa software gives you, and do the same with video editing. The Office suites are capable, but really not a pleasure to use yet. Browsing gives me the entire internet with having flash on demand, and I’ve even been able to use some sites that the iPad couldn’t handle (I have a Global Management class with an online book, which the iPad can’t seem to use at all). I have storage management, folder management, and soon will have external hard drive capability. I can download media, and manage it through the XOOM without being tied to another computer or program. This should cover most people.

Conclusion

So, I’ve had a love and a hate relationship with the Motorola tablet that run’s Google’s shiny new OS. It pisses me off when it acts up, and I can’t seem to fathom why they put out such a beta product. Apple has a HUGE lead in the tablet market share, and Motorola and Google have done all they can to continue to let that happen. Motorola is having their earnings call tomorrow, and analysts are predicting pathetic numbers for the XOOM. Frankly, they deserve the negative press. The XOOM is half baked, and was rushed out the door. They can’t compete with an entry level price, and are missing features they advertised. Android is typical beta from Google, and should get burned as well. You can’t put out a product, at this price point, and expect to compete with an actual finished product from Apple. People return products like that, and I’m doing the same. Bye bye XOOM!

Of course I’m going from the XOOM to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, so it’s not exactly like I’m leaving the platform. I think it has great potential, and I want to say where they can take it. If the software can get close to what the iPad has (a lot of ground to catch up), then Android tablets will be awesome. If the OS can get smooth, oh so buttery smooth, then it can start to compete. These are things Google needs to do. As for the actual XOOM, I’ll be picking up a Transformer and having a tablet that isn’t “just like everything else.” I like the keyboard dock, built in office suite, Much better screen, stereo speakers on the sides, Splashtop, and the Asus cloud server for free. Motorola hasn’t given me anything that every other Android tablet won’t have. But, I will still have my eye on the HP Touchpad to see what WebOS can do. It’s early in the race, and everything is up for grabs.

 

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Allen Schmidt

Allen is a former contributing editor at Nothing But Tablets, which was merged with Pocketables in 2012.

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