Motorola Xoom: The First Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Tablet

Final Words

In general, tablet prices are a major turn-off. If you add up the costs of buying a case, cradle, keyboard, and the apps, purchasing a tablet is a more expensive proposition than many enthusiasts accustomed to investing in performance are willing to consider. Even in the case of the Xoom, you're paying a premium for portability, and could actually get a faster notebook for far less.

Apple iPad 2 Pricing
16 GB
32 GB
64 GB
Wi-Fi
$499
$599
$699
AT&T 3G
$629
$729
$829
Verizon 3G
$629$729$829
Motorola Xoom Pricing
16 GB
32 GB
64 GB
Xoom Wi-Fi
-
$499
-


The beauty of Apple's pricing strategy is that it at least lets you buy in at a lower price. Unfortunately, you have to also buy the capacity you need immediately. There is no option to expand storage. So, if you realize you need more space down the road, you have to either suck it up or buy another iPad. Personally, I find it difficult to fit all of my audio tracks, e-books, and movies on a 16 GB iPad 2. That doesn't even include the space I need for apps. Thirty-two gigabytes is the absolute minimum for my entire media collection with space left over for additional programs. But clearly there are people who get along just fine with 16 GB.

In that regard, Motorola handicapped itself by forcing everyone to buy a 32 GB alternative for $599. It's really unnecessary since the Xoom features a microSD slot for expanded storage. Motorola's single-model approach may have been intended to simplify the product line and lower manufacturing costs, but we'd argue that the company would be better off with a 16 GB Xoom at $499.

Update 7/8/2011: Within the past 48 hours, Motorola dropped the price on the Wi-Fi Xoom to $499, citing poor sales. I've updated the pricing table, but my comments still stand. Motorola did a disservice to itself and potential customers by forcing us to buy in at higher price. I would also argue that Motorola should have gone one step further and cut the price down to $399. The price structure is now even with the iPad 2, but there are other Android tablets that the Xoom has to contend with.

Motorola gets some points for its expansion concession, but low marks for execution. The whole pricing and capacity debate is moot because the microSD slot still isn't enabled at the software level here in the U.S., even though it was expected in the Honeycomb 3.1 update. Almost infuriatingly, non-U.S. Xooms do get microSD support with 3.1.

This really underscores a fundamental problem with Android-based tablets. Everything feels a bit rushed and less polished. After two months of use, I'm noticing the small things. For example, there's a lag in the time it takes for the Xoom to switch from landscape to portrait mode. If you have widgets on your screen, it's even worse because overlays aren't cached; they're redrawn every time.

Motorola Xoom: Orientation Lag

Motorola Xoom: Redrawing Overlay

There's another weakness inherent to Android-based tablets. Apple's greatest strength is that it controls the experience from top to bottom. Developers can't release iPad apps unless they conform to Apple's rules and standards. This makes for a uniform and immersive experience. The guidelines for UI, gestures, graphics, and screen rotation are the same in every iPad app. When you use one iPad app, you know how to use every other iPad app. That's not the case for Android.

In the spirit of GNU and open source, Google offers a more freestyle path. While that encourages uninhibited software development, the result varies from app to app. Even so, tablet programs for Android are fewer in number. I really don't accept the argument that Honeycomb hasn't been around long enough. Apple and Google both started with operating systems geared to smartphones, but the number of apps for the iPad exploded into the thousands within months of the device's launch. It's already been more than five months since Honeycomb's launch, and the number of tablet-specific apps is less than 100. The figures provided by Google seem more impressive because many apps are simply upconverted for a larger screen, but very few of them are explicitly designed for Android-based tablets.

While there are fewer general-use apps, Google needs to thank Nvidia for pushing development of Android-oriented games. Nvidia obviously wants to highlight its Tegra 2 SoC, but the hardware vendor seems to be doing a better job of directly engaging developers. There's a whole slew of new games about to be released. Some of them, such as Riptide, are ports from Xbox, which suggests that Nvidia is hoping to see more popular titles released. That's the good (Ed.: albeit obvious) news.

The bad news is that the whole Android experience is less immersive than what Apple offers. For example, the widescreen display on the Xoom is better suited to watching videos, but the iPad is optimized for tasks like reading books. The 4:3 aspect ratio just works better, since it's similar to staring at a pad of paper.

It's difficult to compare the Xoom to the iPad 2. While the iPad 2 outperforms the Xoom, that's not saying as much in the tablet world as it would be in a desktop PC comparison. Though, in my opinion, the iPad is the Wii of the tablet world. It's easy to use and there's a plethora of apps to keep you engaged. The Xoom is more like Sony's PS3. There are many cool features, but the learning curve is steeper. When you're using an iPad, it truly feels like what we'd hope for from a "tablet experience." With the Xoom, it merely feels like you're "not using a notebook." Right now, Apple has the advantage of being one generation ahead. Motorola's Xoom represents the first Android tablet. So Google needs to ramp up software and hardware development if it wants to close that gap.

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53 comments
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  • dragonsqrrl
    Very impressive review, especially the display quality page. A lot of in-depth information.
    4
  • joytech22
    Excellent! Covered everything I was interested in when comparing the iPad 2 to the Xoom.
    3
  • tramit
    Excellent review. I also agree that the excuse of Android coming later in the game does not mean it cannot have the same growth in apps in the same alotted time frame that it was released.

    I personally feel that the iPad is a better device for gaming just by going through the app store and being able to find games ranging from Monopoly to FF3 and Infinity Blade. I have a Nexus S right now and the list of attractive games is not as long.

    I like having both devices however. I plan to stay the course with continuing to purchase Android Nexus phones and having Apple supply me with their iPad. I get to enjoy the best of both worlds and not narrow my enjoyment of tech like most Droid and Apple fanboys.
    4
  • Maziar
    Excellent review.
    I'm impressed with the honeycomb but I think it has 2 major drawbacks
    1)UI is somehow laggy and not 100% smooth
    2)Lack of apps.
    If these 2 issues get fixed,then we're going to see a better competition
    3
  • fstrthnu
    A little late, but very good quality review. Very nice to see custom benchmarks, it really shows you guys put in the effort here.

    I'd probably go for a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but that's just me.
    1
  • Anonymous
    Seems HD video playback was not tested. Nice to have a HDMI option, but not really useful if most HD movies cannot play smoothly as is the case with the XOOM.

    Also, and probably related to the slow video, Tegra 2's CPU has no NEON extensions, limiting applications that use signal processing.

    Yes, I do own a XOOM (also iPad 2 by the way)
    0
  • acku
    Quote:
    Seems HD video playback was not tested. Nice to have a HDMI option, but not really useful if most HD movies cannot play smoothly as is the case with the XOOM. Also, and probably related to the slow video, Tegra 2's CPU has no NEON extensions, limiting applications that use signal processing. Yes, I do own a XOOM (also iPad 2 by the way)



    Check out page 13. We tested H.264 battery life using a ripped 1280x720 Blu-ray movie.

    On page 12, we also show HD playblack when you're mirroring the display.

    @Everyone else. Thanks for the comments guys. If there's anything else you guy want to see in future reviews please let us know.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
    1
  • house70
    Took quite a while to get this review done. Other tablets are already available that sport Honeycomb. Not to mention they are better than both contenders described in this article. I have a Transformer and no matter what I throw at it, it does it well. A review of that would be nice (maybe in another year or so...).
    Good effort, but as others have said, late to the table.
    -2
  • house70
    What the reviewer perceives as weaknesses, others perceive as strength. Example: the apps installation process. Not having to deal with iTunes is a bonus in itself, and having the option to make your own backups using whatever application you prefer is also a plus. The reviewer got a bit carried away by his personal bias towards iTunes/iOS environment. There are people that prefer to be led by hand while operating their tablet and there are others that prefer to pick and choose their options without limitations. It's a matter of personal preference. But this should not transpire into an objective review. Other than that, not too bad.
    -2
  • Anonymous
    Wow - I couldn't disagree more with some of your views. Obviously you love you some Apple... I'm not an Apple hater - I have a Macbook Pro, I have an iPad, and I have a Xoom. I tell everyone the Xoom is 5X the tables the iPad is (Granted it's an iPad, not an iPad2 - but my beef with iPads are how much Apple controls what you can or can't do with it - that has not changed in the new generation of iPads). The iPad I can use as a toy, or as a cool media gadget - I actually basically gave it to my 6 year old son now bc that's all I can do with it. The Xoom I can use as so much more - it is was more useful on so many levels. Yes rendering takes a bit longer when you flip th screen, yes there are a few small quirks in it's behavior occasionally, but from an overall usefulness point of view I like it TONS betters than the iPad. Widgets - MultiTasking - OpenSource app development with an App store NOT controlled by Apple. Android IS the future for tablets. Apple needs to take note - they are just lucky at this point bc of their following, but Android will leave them in the dust. MS isn't even in the game and won't be even when Windows 8 hits. And you price comparison is off too IMO. $599 (now $499) for 32MB on the Xoom was in line (and is now better) than Apple's price point. Take it a step further and look the the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (very similar to Xoom with some things done even better) at $399. Android is taking hold, and will gain on Apple quickly, and eventually blow them away.
    -1
  • acku
    house70Took quite a while to get this review done. Other tablets are already available that sport Honeycomb. Not to mention they are better than both contenders described in this article. I have a Transformer and no matter what I throw at it, it does it well. A review of that would be nice (maybe in another year or so...).Good effort, but as others have said, late to the table.


    I'll take that shot. Understand that we just started in with tablets. So we're playing catch up, but we're not purposely reviewing tablets late.

    That said, I don't think it's necessary to be snarky about it.

    368500 said:
    What the reviewer perceives as weaknesses, others perceive as strength. Example: the apps installation process. Not having to deal with iTunes is a bonus in itself, and having the option to make your own backups using whatever application you prefer is also a plus. The reviewer got a bit carried away by his personal bias towards iTunes/iOS environment. There are people that prefer to be led by hand while operating their tablet and there are others that prefer to pick and choose their options without limitations. It's a matter of personal preference. But this should not transpire into an objective review. Other than that, not too bad.


    I'll agree that we can disagree. But I don't think that makes my concerns any less valid. And it's true that many people don't care for that hand holding experience, but again, that is why I called the iPad a Wii and the Xoom a PS3.

    I'm speaking from experience as an Android AND iOS developer. The hoops that you have to jump through for the Apple App store are infuriating. But if you're a tablet user, you don't care that said developer had to wrack his brain dealing with Apple. You just want to know apps are available. No tablet platform can truly succeed without third-party application support. This is a reality that everyone has to face. It's also a reason that Apple still struggles in the notebook and desktop market with OS X. There are more programs for Windows that you can't run on Mac. Until this changes, the playing field is going to be uneven.
    4
  • acku
    WebologyWORXWow - I couldn't disagree more with some of your views. Obviously you love you some Apple... I'm not an Apple hater - I have a Macbook Pro, I have an iPad, and I have a Xoom. I tell everyone the Xoom is 5X the tables the iPad is (Granted it's an iPad, not an iPad2 - but my beef with iPads are how much Apple controls what you can or can't do with it - that has not changed in the new generation of iPads). The iPad I can use as a toy, or as a cool media gadget - I actually basically gave it to my 6 year old son now bc that's all I can do with it. The Xoom I can use as so much more - it is was more useful on so many levels. Yes rendering takes a bit longer when you flip th screen, yes there are a few small quirks in it's behavior occasionally, but from an overall usefulness point of view I like it TONS betters than the iPad. Widgets - MultiTasking - OpenSource app development with an App store NOT controlled by Apple. Android IS the future for tablets. Apple needs to take note - they are just lucky at this point bc of their following, but Android will leave them in the dust. MS isn't even in the game and won't be even when Windows 8 hits. And you price comparison is off too IMO. $599 (now $499) for 32MB on the Xoom was in line (and is now better) than Apple's price point. Take it a step further and look the the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (very similar to Xoom with some things done even better) at $399. Android is taking hold, and will gain on Apple quickly, and eventually blow them away.


    Everyone who criticizes Apple for some reason feels the need to say they own an Apple product, as if that somehow means something. It doesn't really matter what you own. Anyone can have a valid opinion.

    I understand your view, I just disagree with it. The idea that open source dominates doesn't jive with what every computer user experiences. Look at Linux. If open source was simply the issue, Ubuntu should kill Windows and OS X within the next few years. That's simply not the case.

    I'm an Android and iOS developer. In fact I have to program in both because some of the benchmarks we use are custom coded. As a reader, though, most people could care less how much effort I put into a program. They just want to look at the results. No tablet platform can truly succeed without third-party application support. This is a reality that everyone has to face. It's also a reason that Apple still struggles in the notebook and desktop market with OS X. There are more programs for Windows that you can't run on Mac. Until this changes, the playing field is going to be uneven.


    And on that note, if the Xoom was all that and a bag of chips, Motorola wouldn't admit it's struggling with sales and drop the price.
    5
  • Onus
    For the same amount of money, I can get a Brazos-based notebook with superior performance, more applications, a real keyboard, expandability, full interoperability with my PC, and the only thing I'll give up is some battery life (but apparently not all that much); oh, and an extra camera.

    I just don't see a tablet in my future.
    0
  • lamorpa
    jtt283For the same amount of money, I can get a Brazos-based notebook with superior performance, more applications, a real keyboard, expandability, full interoperability with my PC, and the only thing I'll give up is some battery life (but apparently not all that much); oh, and an extra camera. I just don't see a tablet in my future.

    You'll also have to give up not having a keyboard and display stand.
    0
  • smeker
    jtt283For the same amount of money, I can get a Brazos-based notebook with superior performance, more applications, a real keyboard, expandability, full interoperability with my PC, and the only thing I'll give up is some battery life (but apparently not all that much); oh, and an extra camera. I just don't see a tablet in my future.


    I m really happy for you and for sharing this news which has nothing to do with the article.... Keep up with the great trolling job! :)
    1
  • drchemist
    Galaxy Tab 10.1 was the FIRST tablet with Honeycomb 3.1 by almost 1 month. Change your headline. Google I/O doesn't count since it was a limited test edition for developers. Consumer released version on June 8. Check it.
    -1
  • acku
    drchemistGalaxy Tab 10.1 was the FIRST tablet with Honeycomb 3.1 by almost 1 month. Change your headline. Google I/O doesn't count since it was a limited test edition for developers. Consumer released version on June 8. Check it.


    Not true at all.
    http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/10/google-announces-android-3-1
    5/10 3.1 was available to Verizon Xoom owners. Xoom was first 3.0 and first 3.1
    2
  • winterblade
    Hello guys. A few months ago I really thought tablets were just a gimmick and that, iOS or Android, I would never get one, then I noticed that more and more frequently I rather use my Motoroi (the mexican version of the original Droid) than my laptop (a Dell Studio XPS 13) for simple tasks like chat, light browsing, checking mail and hell even for gaming I found myself using more and more my phone, but I really get tired soon because of the small display... so it soon became a no brainer that I wanted a tablet.

    I could really not say if it´s because I'm waaaaaaaaay more used to use android devices than iOS ones, but seriously, iPad being more intuitive than the Xoom my ass... I love the Android buttons in my phone and I love the software buttons in my Xoom. Of course iPad is going to be more intuitive if you are an iPhone user, is the same frikkin OS. I'm a PC user and as such I can tell you I feel at home with android from day one, iOS and OS X, even when pretty at first sight, are just not enough functional for me and I really find no value in that famous "apple experience" and since mankind is yet to design a experience-o-metter it is my humble opinion that in an OBJECTIVE review it should not be regarded over and over again, maybe in an editorial, but not in a review.

    About people saying they rather get a netbook or even a notebook instead a tablet (I was one of those not long ago) The only thing I can say is that if some one manage to make a 1.5 pound netbook with the 8-9 hours of constant use I can get from my Xoom I will agree with you then, but not today, tablets do have advantages over traditional systems.
    -1
  • irtehyar
    Good article.

    I'm an android phone owner and an ipad owner, and am slowly being converted to iOS for mobile simply because of the vast amount of applications I use that aren't even similarly available on the Android OS. This is painful for me because I'm a Windows programmer and I despise Apple, assemble my own PCs, etc. I'm pretty typical there I guess. But in the end, I just want something that does what I want (music and language apps, mostly), and when it comes to tablet software, only the iPad delivers for me.

    I wonder if this is similar to the way people in music and education felt in the early days of Mac vs PC, when Apple had the best experience and best apps for certain industries? These days I could never go Mac because it does a very tiny fraction of what I do on the PC. Not the case for the more limited tablet world.
    1
  • acku
    winterbladeHello guys. A few months ago I really thought tablets were just a gimmick and that, iOS or Android, I would never get one, then I noticed that more and more frequently I rather use my Motoroi (the mexican version of the original Droid) than my laptop (a Dell Studio XPS 13) for simple tasks like chat, light browsing, checking mail and hell even for gaming I found myself using more and more my phone, but I really get tired soon because of the small display... so it soon became a no brainer that I wanted a tablet.I could really not say if it´s because I'm waaaaaaaaay more used to use android devices than iOS ones, but seriously, iPad being more intuitive than the Xoom my ass... I love the Android buttons in my phone and I love the software buttons in my Xoom. Of course iPad is going to be more intuitive if you are an iPhone user, is the same frikkin OS. I'm a PC user and as such I can tell you I feel at home with android from day one, iOS and OS X, even when pretty at first sight, are just not enough functional for me and I really find no value in that famous "apple experience" and since mankind is yet to design a experience-o-metter it is my humble opinion that in an OBJECTIVE review it should not be regarded over and over again, maybe in an editorial, but not in a review.About people saying they rather get a netbook or even a notebook instead a tablet (I was one of those not long ago) The only thing I can say is that if some one manage to make a 1.5 pound netbook with the 8-9 hours of constant use I can get from my Xoom I will agree with you then, but not today, tablets do have advantages over traditional systems.


    I honestly can't speak from iPhone experience. Other TH coworkers have iPhones, but I don't. I actually have an Android phone, one that I purchased prior to any tablet use.

    Some of what I'm speaking from comes from my experience as an Android and iOS developer. Most of my comments on usability are simply issues with UI. As I stated in the review, the iPad is more analogous to the Wii, whereas Xoom feels more like a PS3. It's really a different experience.

    153298 said:
    Good article. I'm an android phone owner and an ipad owner, and am slowly being converted to iOS for mobile simply because of the vast amount of applications I use that aren't even similarly available on the Android OS. This is painful for me because I'm a Windows programmer and I despise Apple, assemble my own PCs, etc. I'm pretty typical there I guess. But in the end, I just want something that does what I want (music and language apps, mostly), and when it comes to tablet software, only the iPad delivers for me. I wonder if this is similar to the way people in music and education felt in the early days of Mac vs PC, when Apple had the best experience and best apps for certain industries? These days I could never go Mac because it does a very tiny fraction of what I do on the PC. Not the case for the more limited tablet world.



    Thanks for the kudos. As a programmer, you probably understand the problem of third-party app support in a way most people don't.

    On the second sentiment, I'm really not sure how this is going to play out. There are too many variables. So much of this has to do wtih product vision. Apple didn't help itself when it booted out Jobs back in the early days. The Android CTO Steve Horowitz left for Coupons a while back, but there are many talented people at the helm at Google. We probably need another year or two before the fog on the battlefield clears.
    3