It has some rough edges, but Motorola’s Xoom a credible
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver June 28-July 4, 2011 issue #1131 High Tech
Tablets were big in 2010 following the launch of Apple’s iPad, and all
indications are that they’ll be bigger in 2011, with both increased
sales of iPads and the release of models from companies previously
known for mobile phones or netbooks and laptops.
Recently Dimensional Research reported 68% of the businesses it studied
were already deploying tablets or planned to do so by next year (51% of
the businesses, however, weren’t sure why). Tablets are also being
blamed for declining netbook, notebook and desktop PC sales.
Smartphones running Google’s Android mobile operating system have
emerged as the most successful competitor to Apple’s iPhone; many
tablet manufacturers are hoping that Android will allow them to
similarly compete with the iPad. But early efforts, like last winter’s
Samsung Galaxy Tab, were hampered because Google had not yet released a
version optimized for tablets and there was a lack of Android apps
optimized for a tablet’s larger display.
Motorola’s Xoom is among the first models available in Canada running
the new made-for-tablets Android 3.0 (Honeycomb); it’s been available
since early April from Best Buy, Future Shop and Telus. Currently,
there’s only one model available: a 10.1-inch widescreen (1,280 x 800
resolution) display with 32 gigabytes of internal storage and Wi-Fi.
Unlike Apple’s iPad, there is no 3G option, though a 3G model is
available in the U.S.
Many of Xoom’s hardware specs match those of Apple’s new iPad 2: a
dual-core processor running at one gigahertz. About 10 hours of battery
life (and the ability to go several days without needing charging –
Motorola claims 14 days standby time); it also has a pair of cameras.
Some of its specs beat the iPad’s: there’s a MicroSD memory card slot.
Camera resolution handily tops the iPad 2. GPS is built in, while Apple
makes it available only on its 3G models. A mini-HDMI port and real USB
port are built in – iPads require adaptors to connect to TVs,
projectors or digital cameras. And Xoom’s $599 price is $20 cheaper
than Apple’s equivalent model.
I had the loan of one for a week.
There are some rough edges. Yes, there’s a memory card slot. But it
doesn’t work; a software update to enable it is promised. The 16:9
ratio widescreen display makes it better than the iPad’s 4:3 ratio
display, but also makes it less usable as an e-book reader. Often, the
relatively high resolution means text is uncomfortably small (and hard
to enlarge). And while – unlike Apple’s products – Flash is supported,
it works sometimes, somehow.
Shutting down applications to save system memory is possible – but
awkward. And, too often, the browser displays mobile versions of pages
designed for smaller displays.
Despite those grumbles, in many ways it’s very nice. The interface is
responsive and performance is snappy. With one gigabyte RAM (double the
iPad 2), multitasking works well. The email and Gmail apps have been
tweaked to take advantage of the larger screen. Notifications and
widgets on the home screen and voice navigation features outclass
anything Apple offers. I like the browser tabs – just like on a “real
computer” – and much more convenient than Apple’s equivalent. You can
synch bookmarks with Google’s desktop Chrome browser.
Reportedly, there’s much improved support for business-network Exchange
servers – something I’m unable to test. Plug a Xoom into a Windows
system and you can copy music, movie, photos and documents into the
appropriate locations – no ungainly iTunes needed. (Mac users can do
the same after downloading a utility from android.com/filetransfer.)
Apple’s App Store has far more tablet-centric apps than Google’s
Android market (a search in the Market for “tablet” got me 3,765 hits)
and more apps overall, but the gap will almost certainly narrow over
Even with its current rough edges, Motorola’s Xoom tablet is the most
credible full-sized alternative to Apple’s iPad to date; when the
memory card slot is enabled, 3G (or 4G) versions come to market and
more apps designed for Android tablets appear it will only get better.