Motorola’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet arrives in Ireland. Should the iPad be worried?
Look and feel
The Motorola Xoom weighs 730g – about the same as the first-generation iPad. Its 10.1-inch wide-screen display is quite bright. It supports up to 720p HD video.
It looks quite similar in style to many tablets out there at the front, with a black, glass facade. The back casing is made mostly out of aluminium, though it has a strip of black running across the top.
The on/off switch is at the back, which I felt was a strange location. Even after using it for awhile, I still found myself trying to feel around the back of the device just to turn on the screen. However, the button is slightly indented, reducing the risk of the tablet turning on while in your bag.
It has a 2-megapixel camera on the front, placed to work best when held horizontally, and a 5-megapixel camera at the back, with a dual LED flash. It also has a micro USB port, a micro HDMI output, a 3.5mm jack for headphones and a SIM card slot.
The Motorola Xoom came out in the US in March, and at the time, it was the first device with the Android 3.0 OS on it, designed specifically for tablets. As an interface, it certainly is quite nice. That said, there are a few design issues which may confuse users, with some options being hidden away.
Like on an Android smartphone, the main five homescreens can be customised to place app shortcuts and widgets onto them. The homescreen can rearrange itself to be viewed horizontally or vertically, though it tasks a second to register the switch.
The top left corner has a Google search tool which lets you find anything online. There’s a Google voice tool beside this, as well.
The apps menu, along with a tool to let you customise your homescreen, is located on the top right corner.
At the bottom, there are icons for back and home, along with an icon to let you view open apps. Settings can be accessed by tapping the clock icon twice, which I felt wasn’t immediately obvious.
The onscreen keyboard, when horizontal, includes spacious buttons, making it pretty easy to use for a touchscreen keyboard, but still doesn’t challenge its physical counterpart. However, when the tablet is held vertically, it’s a lot thinner, requiring more precision.
Its built-in browser is a tablet version of Chrome. At the top, users can add new tabs and close them down, replicating the PC web-browsing experience.
It offers typical gesture-control operations, such as pinch to zoom, and the browser supports Adobe Flash Player 10.1.
You can also switch to “quick controls”, which lets you access the menu options by holding your thumb at the side of the screen, making the top bar only accessible for tabs. You must hold your thumb to scroll through options. I felt the normal set up was more user friendly, but it was nice to have another navigation option.
The browser lets you add incognito tabs and allows you to share a page directly to Twitter or Facebook accounts. Google’s refinements to Chrome really pay off, giving you a lot of control along with good tablet integration.
With Honeycomb, there are numerous Google apps revamped for a tablet, such as Maps, Gmail and YouTube. The Maps app, in particular, was quite nice, and really comes to life with the larger screen.
It also comes with a comprehensive music player, a gallery app which displays photos, and a contacts listing app.
One built-in app which I felt was strange to leave out was an SMS app. While I was able to receive texts, they appeared as a notification and seemingly vanished into thin air, not allowing me to check archived messages or to text people back. There are apps available to counter this online, but this should have been built into the tablet.
Venture out to the Android Market and you’ll discover one of the biggest issues of the Motorola Xoom. The tablet was released in the middle of spring in the US, with many complaining of the absence of tablet-only apps for Honeycomb. A few months on, and this still seems to be the case. In fact, the Android Market makes it difficult to even try to locate Honeycomb-specific apps.
I have mixed opinions about the Motorola Xoom. On the one hand, the interface does a lot right, with a comprehensive web browser, some great built-in apps, a more customisable homescreen and some nice design choices.
On the other hand, it certainly has its flaws, with other design aspects hiding features away and, most notably, the lack of tablet apps for it, which I believe is the most important aspect for the platform’s staying power.
While I do want to judge the tablet on its own merits, it’s hard not to make iPad comparisons, it being the most dominant player on the market. There are things the Motorola Xoom does better than the iPad, such as the browser and homescreen customisation. However, I don’t think it’s enough to surpass the iPad.
Ultimately, if I had a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket, I’d probably go for an iPad instead. The starting price is much cheaper and the number of apps available for it greatly outweighs those available on the Android tablet.
The Motorola Xoom tablet is available from O2, costing from €629 on prepay and billpay.