Aug 10, 2011
Android tablets have been something of a mythical beast, often mentioned, but rarely seen in the wild, at least as long as the iPad has been the popular tablet of choice. So most of my experience with Android tablets has been secondhand, until I recently got my hands on a Motorola Xoom Wifi tablet, running Android 3.2.
The Xoom feels about the same weight as the iPad, if not maybe slightly heavier, but the difference, if any, is such where actual measuring tools would have to be used to determine any weight difference. The hardware feels very rugged, like it could take a beating and keep on ticking. The battery life of the Xoom will depend on how much background processes will be running, and if a lot of notifications are active, but I approximate 6-8 hours of continuous usage without a charge; with occasional usage, I can go a couple days without charging the Xoom. The Xoom comes with a micro-USB cable and a separate wall charger; the cord on the wall charger is of very generous length, and using the Xoom while it is charging is very easy, unlike with the iPad’s obtrusive dock connector. The interesting element of the Motorola Xoom is that it actually has fewer buttons than the iPad, having just a lock/power button on the upper left side of the device, and volume keys.
The rear-facing camera is solid, and comes with a built-in flash. However, there is no “tap to focus” like on other Android devices, focusing only happens when the shutter key is pressed, and even then it does not provide a good preview of what the final image will look like. That’s really the problem with the camera in general; pictures are practically impossible to set up. This is a competent camera, though. A front-facing camera is available as well, though there’s no Skype available for the Xoom yet. Google Talk video support works, though.
All the ports are put in positions where they are out of the way of the hands in pretty much any orientation; the headset port is on the top, the charging ports are on the bottom of the device, and the volume keys are on the top left. If turned upside down, the volume keys are difficult to press accidentally. In portrait orientations, the ports are still well out of the way of any hand placement, though the tablet feels a bit top-loaded due to its taller aspect ratio. In landscape mode, the widescreen 1280×800 resolution of the Motorola Xoom makes it better for viewing videos, and makes it great for multi-column apps like Gmail and Twitter apps like Plume. A thumb keyboard comes highly recommended, though there isn’t one pre-installed with the Xoom.
There is the occasional slowdown while using the hardware, and the lack of any kind of default task manager makes clearing applications out of RAM a problem after a couple of days of continuous uptime. Power cycling usually solves these issues; rebooting is not available on the default software, and would likely require rooting. Still, for a device that is touted for its dual-core processor, it’s disappointing to see the slowdown that often pops up. The browser suffers from some of this occasional slowdown and lag. Flash does not come pre-installed, but can be easily downloaded and installed from the Android Market.
A comparison of the Android tablet OS compared to iPad’s iOS can be found in this The Hills Are Greener column, but the main drawback to Android 3.x is that tablet apps are harder to find. A variety of apps do work when stretched out to tablet resolution, yes, but it does lead to weirdness with the user interfaces. A lot of these apps are in the Android Market’s “featured tablet apps” section, as well!
Using the Xoom has been an entirely different experience from the iPad because of the differences. The Xoom is a great piece of hardware, and the base OS is very solid and well-designed for tablets. With more available apps on the Market, the tablet experience could improve. For those looking for an Android Tablet, the Xoom seems like a great choice, and will become something that I will regularly use, especially for productive activities, like writing and the most important activity of all: tweeting.