Motorola Xoom: The First Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Tablet

Honeycomb: Navigation, Browser, And Music

The move to tablets was fairly easy for Apple. It took the same underlying operating system and hardware powering the iPhone and applied the package to its iPad, which makes sense. Not surprisingly, then, the competition seems to be working from the same playbook.

Enter Google. In the world of smartphones, the company’s Android operating system is the only thing allowing companies like HTC to put up a fight against the iPhone onslaught. Ergo, the logic has always been to use Android as the basis for a competing tablet.

There have been a number of updates since Android first emerged, but version 3.0 (Honeycomb) is significantly different. Past builds were clearly designed for smartphones. That’s what you got from Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). It looked and felt like better version of Symbian S60. But Android 3.0 feels more like the jump from XP to Windows 7.


Previous Android users will find the changes in Honeycomb to be just as extreme. Once you complete the setup process, the lock screen pops up. But unlike iOS and Android phones, you don’t swipe to unlock the screen. Instead, you have to drag a circle and release it once it hovers over a white lock.

Home Screen

The home screen is unchanged. You can add contact cards, Gmail labels, widgets, and other icons for quick access, and there are a total of five panels that you can fill to your heart’s desire.

Navigation, Browser, And Email

If you own an Android-based phone, you generally enjoy the benefit of physical and on-screen buttons. Android tablets only have touchscreen buttons.

These buttons are in addition to the basic pinch, zoom, swipe, and scrolling gestures.
  • Back button: move to a previous screen or App
  • Home button: instantly takes you to home screen
  • Multitasking switcher: expose the multitasking switcher

My first experience with these buttons was a little confusing. With the exception of the Back button, the icons don’t exactly convey their exact function. They're certainly not as intuitive as pressing the iPad's Home button.

Here's an example: the built-in Chrome browser has its own dedicated Back button, which retrieves the previously-viewed Web page. Pressing the operating system's Back button doesn’t enable the same functionality while you’re browsing the Web. Instead, it returns you to the previous app. But if you’re browsing Gmail, the operating system's Back button does help you move between folders.


Sort by Album

If you have a large music collection, management is a bit of a mess. You can sort music based on albums, artists, playlists, and genres, but CD covers represent all of that information in a 6x3 array. If you're trying to find one particular song, it's difficult because there is no column browser like the iPod app in iOS. You can browse for specific songs after you click on an item, but it's a slower process.

Third-party apps like doubleTwist operate in the same manner, which is a major disappointment. The main attraction of a tablet is its more immersive media experience. This interface needs a little fine-tuning if Google wants to compete at the same level as Apple.

  • dragonsqrrl
    Very impressive review, especially the display quality page. A lot of in-depth information.
  • joytech22
    Excellent! Covered everything I was interested in when comparing the iPad 2 to the Xoom.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • acku
    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.

    Andrew Ku
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.