Editor's update April 2011: Flash Player is now available for the Xoom and the WiFi-only model is available for $599 $499.
Editor's update Sept. 2011: Motorola dropped the price of both Xoom models by $100.
The Motorola Xoom is the third hot tablet to hit the market, following the wildly successful iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Like the iPad, the Xoom is large, though not quite as large as the iPad despite its larger 10.1” display (the iPad’s is 9.7”). The 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab is a different animal that’s more portable but lacks the wow factor for multimedia and web browsing given its significantly smaller display. Not that we don’t love the highly portable and powerful Galaxy Tab; it just suits a different set of needs.
The Xoom currently has the best specs on the market, good enough to ensure a healthy dose of future-proofing. It has a dual core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with hardware graphics acceleration, a gig of RAM (that’s a lot for an Android tablet), 3G with free upgrade to 4G LTE, dual band WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth, a GPS and both front and rear cameras. Its 10.1” multi-touch capacitive display is extremely responsive and boasts an iPad-beating 1280 x 800 resolution that’s more often found on laptops. It’s the first tablet to ship with Android OS 3.0 Honeycomb, an OS that’s designed for tablets rather than smartphones. The Xoom sells for $599 with a 2 year Verizon Wireless contract (starting at $20/month) and $799 without a contract. Motorola plans to release a WiFi-only version that will sell for $599.
If you’ve used an Android phone, the user interface will look familiar enough that you’ll feel at home, despite the serious tablet redesign. There’s the multi-page, swipeable home screen, application drawer and largely familiar selection of built-in apps like contacts, calendar, Gmail, Google Maps and the YouTube player; but these have been amended to make use of the larger tablet display. Gone are the hardware buttons: all navigation is done using software buttons on the bottom task bar and upper right corner app drawer icon. This works just fine, and we don’t miss the hardware buttons one bit. The user interface is a joy to navigate with touch and we had more than one Minority Report moment when swiping through all sorts of apps, widgets and screens with a light pass across the screen.
Android OS 3.0 is extremely fast, at least on this dual core beast of a tablet. Every interaction is quick and we found it a bit faster than the first gen iPad. Even with several heavyweight applications running in the background (a 3D game, Office suite, web browser, Gmail, Flixster and lesser apps), the Xoom remained extremely responsive. In terms of stability, we only experienced application force-closes when running apps that didn’t scale to the display size or get along with Honeycomb, and these didn’t crash the OS itself. The Android Market runs just fine with an update that’s automatically pushed once you’ve booted up the tablet for the first time. The crashes we and other reviewers saw before the Xoom’s release date were due to the older Market application. Speaking of the new Market application, it’s very cool. There are sections for tablet-specific apps (Google is still working on populating this since apps are coming out so quickly) and a filter for apps vs. Google books. It makes excellent use of the added screen real estate, is intuitive and graphically attractive.
The home screen looks Tron-like with neon outlines around each pane and visual effects that would fit right at home in that video game and film. Menus have been cleaned up and are much more straightforward, and we can see the influence of ex-head UI designer Matias Duarte, who defected from Palm after developing the delightful webOS to join Google. Unlike iOS and to a certain extent webOS, Honeycomb is less directed in possible interactions, which will please the technologically adventurous but may present a learning curve to those less inclined to explore user interfaces. Where iOS presents you with a permanent fixed palette of application icons (you can’t stray too far), Android still presents you with a customizable home screen and more menus to navigate. I prefer the customizable nature of Android and the useful widgets on the home screen, but I know some of you may not. To see the new OS in action, watch our video review below.
Motorola Xoom Design and Display
The Motorola Xoom looks smaller than the iPad, though it’s not that much smaller and at 1.6 lbs. weighs the same as the 3G + WiFi iPad. Black is slimming, as are the tapered edges and 0.5” thickness. The Xoom feels balanced in hand when held in landscape orientation, but is a bit heavy in the hands when held in portrait mode. It has a 4-way accelerometer that handles screen rotation, but you can disable this if you wish. There’s also an ambient light sensor, gyroscope and barometer inside. The look is modern and attractive, though not wildly distinctive. It looks like a quality piece; much more so than the plastic Galaxy Tab. The frame and larger rear panel are metal alloy, with a short strip on the upper back made of plastic to reduce wireless antenna interference. The rear aluminum alloy panel is coated with a soft touch black finish that somehow manages to attract fingerprints. That said, all in all, Motorola has made an excellent piece of hardware.
The display uses Corning Gorilla Glass just like many high end smartphones and is supposed to resist breakage (happily the LCD is not fused to the glass should you ever need a repair). The display dominates, and the bezel is quite small, which is good for typing on the large on-screen keyboard. If you have large fingers, you may accidentally trigger on-screen elements however, if your fingers move beyond the thin bezel. The LCD is sharp at 160ppi and colorful, though not over-saturated and hyper-contrasty like Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays used on smaller screen devices. The auto brightness setting is a bit dark for our tastes, and overall display brightness is acceptable but we wouldn’t mind a higher max brightness setting for outdoor use. The display is worlds better than the Streak 7’s, but not as bright and colorful as the iPad’s. The pixel density is higher than the iPad’s 132ppi, and slightly lower than the Nook Color’s 169ppi. It’s a very good display but not tops.
The Xoom has a sealed back, but it’s relatively easy to disassemble (though this may void your warranty, visit iFixit.com for disassembly details). Since it ships without a working 4G module, Motorola will be taking your Xoom apart when you send it in for the free 4G LTE upgrade (this process takes up to 6 business days and is expected within 3 months of the launch date Feb. 24, 2011). The upgrade doesn’t require a data plan change, nor will it cost more. The Xoom ships with a dummy 4G module inside and it has an LTE SIM card slot under a plastic door on the top edge (there’s a clear dummy SIM card in the slot).
The HDMI, micro USB and tiny charging port are on the bottom edge, while the oddly small volume controls are on the upper left side. The power button is on the back, and it’s a large round affair that’s well positioned for easy access when holding the tablet in landscape orientation with 2 hands (we never pressed it by accident). Also on the back is the main 5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash and stereo speakers. The optional folio case has a large cutout that exposes these for play-through use. The speakers have moderate volume but tend to distort when set near max. There’s a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack up top, and Motorola sells an optional speaker dock with HDMI out.
The connector bay on the bottom: micro USB, micro HDMI, dock sensors and charging port surrounded by two Torx T5 screws that hold the back cover in place.
Here's our 23 minute video review of the Motorola Xoom where we take a deep look at Honeycomb, web browsing and 3D gaming and compare the Xoom to the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Apple iPad.
Internet and Data
Verizon offers a 2 year contract in trade for a $200 discount on the Xoom, or you can go with a month-to-month postpaid contract with no ETF and no hardware discount. Plans start at $20/month for 1 gig of data, though we recommend the $35/month 3 gig plan if you plan to use the Xoom much when away from WiFi access points since it pulls full web pages and high quality video. Plans with even higher data allowances are available for a higher monthly fee. There is currently no pre-paid data option for the Xoom or Verizon’s other tablets.
Data speeds on Verizon’s 3G EVDO Rev. A network were surprisingly good and we averaged near 2Mpbs down and 780 kbps up according to Ookla’s Speedtest.net app. Web pages load quickly and email download speeds are likewise good. YouTube and video trailers streamed fine and we saw decent video chat quality using Gtalk’s new Android video chat feature. Good job, Motorola and Verizon. Speeds should be absolutely wonderful with 4G LTE based on our tests with the LG VL600 USB 4G modem on Verizon (we got 15Mbps downloads with it).
Should you wish to use the Xoom without a data contract or simply prefer to take advantage of WiFi speeds, the Motorola has dual band (2.4 and 5GHz) WiFi 802.11n with 802.11b/g too. As with all Android devices, you can turn each wireless radio on and off easily. The Xoom supports VPN connections and it has the WiFi Hotspot sharing feature where you can turn the tablet into a high speed wireless modem that shares its data connection as a WiFi hotspot.
As with most US tablets, the Xoom works with data only, not voice. That means no cell phone calls over Verizon Wireless’ network, but you can use VoIP and video chat applications over 3G, 4G and WiFi. That includes Google’s own Gtalk video chat feature in Honeycomb. Your call recipient need not use a Honeycomb tablet to receive calls, they can partake in Google’s video chat using a computer web browser via their iGoogle web page or Gmail page. There is no text message (SMS) app on the Xoom.
Horsepower and Performance
The Xoom joins the Dell Streak 7 Android 2.2 as the first 2 Tegra 2 tablets. The LG G-Slate on T-Mobile and other higher end tablets will share their 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU later this year, but for now, the 7” Streak 7 and Xoom are the only Tegra 2 models on the market and the Xoom is the only Honeycomb tablet. The Xoom does considerably better than the Dell Streak 7 on the Quadrant benchmark which tests CPU, file system, 2D and 3D performance. We suspect Dell has used very conservative settings with the Streak 7 to improve its weak battery life, and that may be the culprit.
As we noted, the Moto is very fast when swiping through screens, launching apps and rendering web pages. The included 3D game Dungeon Defenders runs fluidly and MPEG4 video encoded at 720 x 480 plays perfectly with a variety of encoding settings. If you want to play 1920 x 1080 video (higher than the Xoom’s resolution but suitable for HDMI out), you must encode your video using the Baseline H.264 format (the 1080p Baseline requirement seems to be a Tegra 2 issue).
The Xoom has a gig of RAM and 32 gigs of internal flash storage. There’s a microSD card slot located under a plastic door up top (the 4G LTE SIM card slot is beside it). It seems that Motorola rushed the Xoom to market, and an SD driver wasn’t ready at product launch. As far as we know, Google needs to complete the SD card driver before it can be released (or pushed via OTA update) to the Xoom.
A large tablet with a dual core CPU isn't the kind of tech you'd expect to get good battery life. We were pleasantly surprised by the Xoom, it managed 8.5 hours of video playback with brightness set to 50%, and easily lasted through the day when using it for a mix of web, email, word processing and music playback. The Xoom has a 3250 mAh, 24.5 watt-hour Lithium Ion Polymer battery that's sealed inside the case. Battery life rivals that of the also excellent iPad and handily beats the Dell Streak 7.
As a Multimedia Device
The 10.1”, 1280 x 800 pixel widescreen display and HDMI out port make the Xoom a promising portable movie player. We have no issues with the Tegra 2’s limitation to Baseline profile for 1080p MPEG4—that looks plenty good enough to our eyes even when outputting to a large HD TV, but we know some of you videophiles might want Blu-ray level quality. Android doesn’t support a wide range of video formats out of the box (then again, neither does iOS and the iPad), so you’ll need to rely on third party players and codecs if you stray far from MPEG4 and H.264. We generally encode in H.264 with AAC stereo since that format works on pretty much all mobile devices currently on the market, and we’ve been very pleased with the Xoom’s ability to play our ripped videos.
When it comes to streaming, Android doesn’t currently support Netflix (this is a DRM issue with the platform), but it will support full Adobe Flash 10.2 within a month, according to Adobe. For those of you who miss Flash playback on the iPad, this is a big plus. In the meantime, there’s the built-in YouTube player that handles the mobile Flash format, and it looks pretty decent but not super-sharp. There’s no Hulu yet, but Hulu says Android support is coming for Hulu Plus. There’s no video rental or purchase store on the Motorola; a big hurt when competing with iTunes.
Android's deadly dull music player got a makeover for Honeycomb, and it now sports a cover flow style interface with some really neat graphics effects in album view that make use of the accelerometer and your finger interaction. The Xoom's rear-firing stereo speakers sound full and have reasonable volume unless you crank it to near max when distortion creeps in. Sound output via the 3.5mm stereo jack is excellent and the tablet works with Bluetooth speakers and A2DP headphones. Motorola sells an optional HD Speaker Dock with good sounding small drivers and an HDMI port.
As an eBook Reader
If you’re in the LCD rather than E-Ink camp, the Xoom is an excellent ebook reader that works with Kindle, Nook and Kobo’s apps as well as Google’s own Books app. It’s easy to browse and download books from Google Books, and these are in the standard ePub format. Google’s Books app is very attractive and has portrait and facing-pages landscape views, text and line height settings and more. Oddly, it lacks bookmarking capabilities though it at least remembers the last page you were on for each book in your library.
Though Kindle and Nook aren’t yet updated with large tablet support, they display perfectly well and work fine. Thanks to the large, high resolution display, the Xoom is the LCD counterpart to the Kindle DX Graphite and is perfect for reading books with illustrations. Likewise, we downloaded the free Adobe Reader for Android and found that PDF books and files formatted for the standard 8.5 x 11/computer screen looked great. We tested Aldiko for reading DRM-free eBooks and as of this writing it wasn’t ready for large screen tablets like the Xoom; text ran off the page. The free FBReader did just fine.
As a Laptop or Netbook Replacement
The Xoom is much more of a netbook replacement than the iPad. It has easily accessible storage via USB and a microSD card slot so you can easily transfer all types of files back and forth. The Chrome-influenced tabbed web browser, upcoming Adobe Flash, larger screen and higher resolution make for a very computer-like browsing experience (it has the same resolution as many notebooks and a higher resolution than basic netbooks). The web browser does a simply excellent job of rendering sites, and we found ourselves forgetting that we were using an Android tablet rather than a notebook. Given the 1280 pixel wide display, we didn't need to use pinch zooming when viewing web sites in landscape mode-- cool!
The Gmail and Email clients are very full-featured with an Outlook or iOS (depending on your view of the world) presentation complete with folder lists, message view panes and address book integration. This competes well with Samsung’s excellent customization of the email client on the Galaxy Tab which otherwise would have been relegated to the basic phone version of Email.
Once tablet-friendly Office suites are on the Android Market, the Xoom will be very capable of doing Word and Excel files on the road as well as PowerPoint presentations (hello HDMI). Interestingly, there’s a QuickOffice HD app on the Xoom that you can find using a file manager, but there’s no icon or way to launch that capable Office suite. You can use Motorola’s $69.99 compact Bluetooth keyboard with the Xoom (the same keyboard offered with the Motorola Atrix 4G), or any other Bluetooth keyboard you wish.
No doubt, the Motorola Xoom is currently the best Android tablet on the market. It’s supremely fast, runs Android OS 3.0 that’s optimized for tablets and has a sharp, high resolution display that’s a good stand-in for a notebook viewing experience. If you get a Xoom right now, you’re buying into the future, just like early iPad adopters. There are only 20 apps designed for high resolution Android Honeycomb tablets on the Android Market, but we’re sure that as with iTunes, the apps will come out in impressive numbers quickly. You can run non-Honeycomb apps and some run fine, while others run in a small window (similar to the iPad without the pixel doubling option). The tablet’s hardware and software are certainly ready for primetime, but you can tell Motorola and Verizon rushed it to market since it shipped without the much-vaunted Adobe Flash, 4G LTE or a microSD card slot driver. While Flash will soon be here and we hope the SD card driver will be as well, that means you’re still buying today and waiting for that figurative tomorrow for key features. Would that stop me from buying a Xoom? No. It’s all together too capable and sexy to pass up.
Pro: Quite fast, large high resolution display, computer-like web browsing experience, dual band 802.11n, available with and without contract, free upgrade to 4G LTE, solid GPS, Bluetooth with wide variety of profiles, has WiFi mobile hotspot feature for sharing the 3G/4G connection over WiFi with computers and other devices, Honeycomb nicely optimized for tablets and is fun to use. We expect a large selection of tablet-centric apps to hit the Android Market this year. Attractive with excellent build quality and materials. Nice accessory selection including a folio case, Bluetooth keyboard and speaker dock with HDMI port.
Con: Rushed to market without Flash 10.2, microSD card driver or LTE module. Expensive enough to compete with laptops.
Price: $599 $499 with a Verizon 2 year contract, $799 $699 without contract for WiFi plus 3G/4G model, $599 $499 for WiFi-only model (Moto dropped the price for both WiFi and Verizon models).
Phone:CDMA dual band digital EV-DO Rev. A 3G. 4G LTE free hardware upgrade coming.
Camera:5 megapixel rear main camera with dual LED flash and autofocus lens. Front 2 megapixel video chat camera.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
GPS: Has GPS that works with the included Google Maps and Navigation.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n (dual band) and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
Software:Android OS 3.0 Honeycomb. Google apps: search, voice search, Maps, Navigation, Places, Gmail, Email, web browser, Gtalk with video chat, Books (Google ebook reader), Gallery, YouTube, Music, Clock, Calculator, Contacts, Calendar and Latitude. Third party apps: Cordy and Dungeon Defenders (games) and QuickOffice HD (MS Office file viewer).
SDHC microSD card slot (not usable until a software driver is available).