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Motorola Xoom: The First Android Tablet

Motorola Xoom: The First Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Tablet

Top to Bottom: iPad 2, iPad, XoomTop to Bottom: iPad 2, iPad, Xoom

The Xoom is nowhere near as thin or light as the iPad 2, but perhaps that's to be expected from a first-generation Android-based tablet. Apple’s already at work designing its third-generation iPad, so the Xoom’s physical size comes across as a disappointment.

iPad (3G)
iPad 2 (3G)
Length 9.56"9.5"9.8"
Screen Size9.7"9.7"10.1"
Aspect Ratio4:034:0316:10
1.6 lb.1.33 lb.1.5 lb.

Compared to Apple's hardware design, the most obvious physical difference is Motorola’s use of a wide (16:10) aspect ratio panel, which is naturally narrower than the iPad's 4:3 screen with a 1024x768 resolution. As a result, you’re going to find yourself holding the Xoom mostly in landscape mode.

iPad (left) & Xoom (Right)iPad (left) & Xoom (Right)

As its name not-so-subtly suggests, Apple is going for the pad of paper approach, which is why it sticks to a standard (4:3) aspect ratio. It’s possible to use the Xoom in portrait mode, but we find it to be a slightly awkward experience. You lose a lot of horizontal workspace. Think about flipping your widescreen monitor 90 degrees for a sense of what we're talking about.

The physical layout of the Xoom lends itself to use in landscape mode anyway. For example, if you hold the tablet with two hands, you’ll find the volume controls located on the left side. Unfortunately, the buttons are so small that there’s almost no tactile feedback. The benefit is that you don’t have to worry about accidentally increasing (or decreasing volume). But bigger buttons with higher depression resistance would have solved that problem, while still letting you increase the volume without using fingertips.

Motorola has a good eye for aesthetics, but it doesn’t have Apple's industrial design accolades. For the first time though, the Xoom looks and feels like a tablet that I don’t have to coddle. On the back-side, the black portion of the Xoom is made of rubberized plastic, while the grey larger grey portion is made of brushed aluminum. Both areas have excellent finishes. If you drag the Xoom across a table, you don’t hear the noise of particles grinding against its surface. Better yet, I don’t even see a single scratch after a full week of use.

CameraiPad 2
0.3 MP (640x480)
2.0 MP (1600 x 1200)
0.7 MP (960x720)
5.0 MP (2592 x 1944)

While the front of the Xoom is equipped with a 2.0 MP camera, the back-side sports a more generous 5.0 MP camera with a dual-LED flash. That’s a substantial benefit compared to the <1.0 MP cameras on the iPad 2 (more on that in a bit). Two stereo speakers next to the rear camera lens are supposed to offer better audio performance than the iPad's mono speaker, but they're weak to be of any practical use other than the generic audio notifications. If you plan to watch a movie or listen to music, use the audio port on top of the tablet to connect a pair of headphones.

The Xoom comes with a microSD slot, but this remains unsupported, even with the new Android 3.1 update. Hopefully, Motorola enables this feature soon. I like the idea of a single tablet model with the option to upgrade capacity later, but the company seems to be dragging its feet supporting expandable memory, even though other Android-based tablets don’t suffer this limitation.

Left to Right: USB, miniHDMI, PowerLeft to Right: USB, miniHDMI, Power

All of the I/O ports are predictably located at the bottom, but cable management is three times more complicated than Apple’s single-connector setup. Motorola makes accessibility easy by sticking to the USB standard. Unfortunately, you can’t charge over USB; you have to use a separate power charger, which makes traveling with the tablet a little less convenient. Now you need to keep track of two cables. Outputting video is easy, since you only need a Mini HDMI-to-HDMI cable. But again, this increases cable complexity if you want to dock, charge, and output video at the same time.

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