Review: Motorola Xoom

The Motorola Xoom tablet has been one of the most anticipated tablets to hit the market. It has a true tablet OS, handsome looks, and features that seem to fit the bill of a killer tablet. But for a tablet to truly be an iconic device, features, looks and OS must work in perfect harmony to deliver an experience that is flawless. 

The device comes in at 9.8 inches wide, 6.6 inches tall and a half inch thick. It has a solid amount of mass to it, but isn't so heavy that you will get tired of holding it upright while watching a movie or recording one. It sports a resolution of 1200x800, Nvidia Tegara 2 graphics, 3G, 4G, 802.11n, personal hotspot, 10.1in display, two cameras, 32 GB onboard storage, SD card slot support and 1GB of DDR 2 RAM. The proverbial dream tablet, if you will.

But it's not all about the hardware, even the best hardware can be gimped by faulty software. This bad boy runs Google's Honeycomb 3.0 software and it definitely shows that this is an early software release. More on that later.

Hardware

The tablet feels well made, it has a very nice fit and finish to it, it's definitely not an ugly beast and would be in the running for Prom King if given the chance. The back has a textured feel that isn't massively fingerprint prone but you can definitely see where fingers have touched. Up front, the glass runs edge to edge and there is an indicator light in the top right corner that alerts you to new emails and a assortment of other things.  

The buttons on the device are a mixed bag. There are a total of three, power/lock (one button) and up/down volume (two buttons). The power button is well placed and is easy to target and engage but the volume buttons are too small and recessed into the unit and makes them a bit harder to use. Not a major flaw but larger buttons would make the user experience a bit better.

Display/Battery/Sound Quality/Camera

The screen on this unit is well proportioned. The color reproduction seemed accurate but was typically on the cool side of things and the viewing angel was reasonable considering this is a mobile device and you will rarely be far off center when viewing.  

I attempted to kill the battery as fast as I could and the Xoom held its own weight. I tried streaming video after video and the little battery that could never faulted. I managed to get a little over 8 hours out of the unit during two test runs which is handsomely respectable.  

Another big surprise was that the sound quality out of the built in speaker is actually quite nice. For something this size, you would expect a tin can army to be playing your favorite song, but that is far from the case. For a tablet, it is well above average, but don't turn it up all the way, otherwise it will begin to distort near the top end. 

When you first think of a tablet, a camera seems like a logical addition, but in practice it's quite awkward to use. The back camera takes decent pictures but it's the practice of holding up a large slab to take a picture that feels a bit weird. Not many people will be using this device as their primary shooter because cell phones have a comparable camera and are much easier to use.

The front camera seems much more logical as it allows for video chats. Again, it's a great feature but when was the last time you lusted to have a face to face chat using webcams? While its a good feature to have, much like the iPhone front facing camera, it probably wont get used that much after the novelty wears off. 

Software

A key part of the Xoom experience is that it is running Honeycomb. The biggest problem with the tablet is also that it is running Honeycomb. The OS still very much feels like a gen 1 or even beta software as there were several times when apps would close or freeze up for several seconds. These issues will hopefully be ironed out in the future with revisions to the Honeycomb OS, but at the same time, hopefully Motorola wont delay the updates being pushed to their devices.

The browser on the device acts more like a desktop class browser than a mobile equivalent. It comes complete with tabs and even looks more like Chrome on your desktop. The browser felt swift and did not get caught up on much (other than having no Flash support). It receives high marks for its usability and overall appeal.

The keyboard is easy to use, much like you would expect. Google has clearly spent a lot of time carefully laying it out and compared to the iPad, after some quick adjustments, they are equivalent. 

The OS is a standard Android affair, which gives the user a lot of options of adding widgets and tweaking the various appearance settings. If you have used an Android device, you will feel right at home using the Xoom. And this is by far the strongest point. It will take you a few minutes longer to get up and running on the Xoom when compared to the Apple flavored tablet, but what you get is a a more customizable experience. 

However, something that is hard to get over is the fact that the OS still feels like it needs to be cooked just a few more minutes. Transitions between home screens can be laggy and it's rather noticeable at some points. This same transition issue happens in several areas and becomes quite annoying if you're expecting a fluid motion after paying at least $600 for a Wifi version of the tablet. You want an exceptional experience, not just an average one.

Mobile Connectivity

The Xoom is compatible with Verizon's 3G and 4G services. The 3G had no problem connecting to Verizon right out of the box but 4G is another story. If you want your Xoom to bask in the 4G goodness of Verizon's LTE network, you will have to send your unit back to get the upgrade. This strange process is quite baffling and I can imagine there were many heated boardroom discussions about this decision.  

Conclusion

Having said all of the above, is this a good tablet? Yes, if you don't want to buy into the Apple cult, this is your tablet. But, you need to understand that the OS is not perfect and if you can wait for a revision of the OS, your experience will be that much better. Motorola hit a homerun with the hardware and build quality but we need the OS to catch up to it. The Xoom is a top notch product, and you will be happy with it as long as you know that you need Google to update its OS to make it a flawless experience.  

Rating: 4/5

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