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iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom Comparison in Words and Video
      #40187 - 03/14/11 09:30 PM

The iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom are obvious competitors since they're both dual core tablets that are roughly the same size, and they launched within weeks of each other. They both have excellent hardware, with the Motorola having somewhat better specs and a higher price tag. The iPad 2 makes up for specs with a more established tablet app market and more streaming/downloadable video options. The Xoom (and upcoming Samsung 10 and LG G-Slate) are 10" Android tablets running Honeycomb. The iPad 2 runs Apple's iOS that powers not just the iPad but the iPhone and iPod Touch. Before the fanboi flames flare, let's try to take a reasonably balanced look at both.

If you compare the comparable WiFi + 3G 32 gig iPad 2 with the Xoom in terms of hardware, you get much better cameras with the Xoom, a free 4G LTE upgrade, built-in HDMI and a microSD card slot. If you add in the price of an SD card adapter and HDMI adapter ($39 and $29), the iPad 2's price creeps closer to the Xoom's. It's also worth noting that the Xoom is available with a contract subsidy for $200 off, while there's no contract option with iPads. In the coming weeks to months, we'll see several other 10" Android tablets hit the market with high end specs similar to the Xoom's for even more choice in terms of design, carrier and pricing.

As we've learned, specs aren't everything these days: user experience and apps are paramount. Apple's iOS is easy to use, but very closed. While you can use the SD card slot to expand general storage and transfer any type of file you with Android, you're limited to photo transfer with Apple's SD adapter (that's why it's called the Camera Connection Kit). With Android you can access eBooks, videos, MS Office files and whatever else you wish. There' s no need for a go-between USB-based syncing conduit inside of iTunes. With either platform (at least for now), you can download and access purchased content inside of applications like Kindle, Nook and more. It's equally easy on both platforms.

If games and watching movies/TV are your thing, the iPad is the winner. It's also the winner for children's apps, books and games. The iPad has access to iTunes music, TV shows and Movies that you can buy and transfer to the iPad 2 and even stream from computer to iPad over your home WiFi network. Then there's Netflix for iPad where you can stream movies and TV shows for a reasonable monthly fee. Hulu Plus is yet another option, though we hear it will be coming to Android too. In contrast, the Xoom has no video store and no Nexflix due to DRM issues on Android (Netflix says it currently lacks a way to enforce DRM on Android). You can access the Amazon MP3 store and other browser-based music selling sites, so we're less worried about music on the Xoom. You can also transfer your non-DRM iTunes songs to the Xoom, it's just iTunes DRM video that's a no-go.

For power users and those who want their tablet to be more like their computer in terms of customizability and open access to the files on the tablet (and microSD card), Android and the Xoom win. Android has a very customizable home screen with 5 panels and you can put widgets, application shortcuts and more on those screens. It's more about getting things done quickly and having information available at a glance, be it weather, Facebook, news or stocks. There's no need to find and launch an application to get this info. Notifications are also top notch: they won't escape your notice but they won't interrupt whatever you're doing either. They're always available on the bottom task bar, as is quick access to basic settings like display brightness and wireless radio controls. With iOS, you must exit your app, then open settings, then go to brightness or wireless to change these settings. Then you go back to your app. Hard to believe that Android is sometimes more streamlined than Apple's venerable OS, hey?

Then there's that Adobe Flash thing. Steve Jobs hates it, so it's not on the iPad 2. Flash is available for Android OS 2.2 Froyo already, and the public release of Flash 10.2 for honeycomb happens this Friday. We installed the early release that's floating around the Net and it works quite well (though we couldn't get the controls to work for switching video resolution). We demo this in our video. It's not quite an HTML5 world yet, and we hate it when we see holes in web pages in Safari where some Flash content is hiding. We know some of you like to play Flash games too.

How about the app story? The Motorola Xoom is afraid to even enter the ring because it has a few hundred tablet/Honeycomb optimized apps to choose from, while the iPad 2 has 65,000. Ouch. But Honeycomb hasn't even been out a month yet, while the iPad has been out almost a year--not a fair fight yet. I expect to see thousands of Honeycomb apps on the Android Market in 6 months to a year. But that doesn't help you now, does it? If you're an app junky or play tier 1 3D games, the iPad 2 is the way to go, at least for 2011. Once the Android apps are out, they'll be mostly identical to their iPad counterparts (see our video comparison with CNN for tablets running on both platforms).

In terms of speed, they're both very fast with extremely capable hardware the exceeds the demands of current applications. You can argue that the Xoom's Tegra 2 computes Pi more quickly than the A5 used in the iPad 2, or say that Open GL renders 4x faster than the original iPad on the iPad 2 but only 2x quicker on the Xoom. But honestly, for the software titles we'll see in the next year, both are more than capable of handling anything developers throw at them.

In the end, it comes down to what you want to do with your new tablet. If you want lots of tier 1 3D games to play, get the iPad 2. If you want to watch iTunes video and Netflix, get the iPad 2. It's hands down the most rich and consumer friendly tablet for gaming and video consumption.

If you want a more PC-like web browsing experience with tabs and Adobe Flash, get the Xoom (or wait for the Samsung and LG offerings if you prefer). We also like the Xoom's higher resolution display for web page viewing and working with MS Office documents. If you want a customizable experience with widgets, excellent notifications and a top notch email client, get the Xoom.

If you're into Apple's ecosystem and iTunes, get the iPad 2. If you're a Google person who can't live without their Gmail, Gtalk, Maps, Voice Search and YouTube (yes, the iPad has YouTube too but the Xoom's YouTube client blows it away), get the Xoom.

It will be interesting to see the tablet space a year or two down the road. Will Android encroach on iOS the way it has with phones, or will the iPad maintain its strong lead?

How do we roll here at MTR? I use a Xoom and my Senior Editor wouldn't give up her iPad 2.

Read our:
iPad 2 Review

Motorola Xoom Review


Lisa Gade
Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview

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