An iPad lovers review of Motorola Xoom

You know I’m an iPad freak. I was first in line to buy one and I’ve used it so much my screen is cracked.

It is the device that’s changed my life more than any other in the past year, which, in a year that Microsoft Kinect shipped, is totally impressive.

For the past few days I’ve had a Motorola Xoom. I accepted a loaner because I wanted to prove that it would suck next to an iPad.

One problem: I’m falling in love with it.

With a couple of caveats.

First, the caveats:

1. There aren’t any apps that are designed for it yet. I have three “secret” apps that will be out soon, but three goes against, what, 30,000+ for iPad?

2. The iPad 2 is coming, I’ll be at the Apple press conference on March 2.

So, those two caveats out of the way, what do I love about it?

1. Some parts of Android are better designed than iOS. Multitasking just seems to work better for me than the way you do it on iOS. In the video I did you see why, it takes fewer clicks to switch apps.

3. Notifications are much nicer on Android. Along the bottom right it shows me when new emails and other things come in. Very well thought out, and way better than notifications on iPad.

4. Battery life seemed equal, although I need more time to really figure out whether it’s as good as the iPad, which has extraordinary battery life.

5. Having cameras on the device is very nice. I used it last night at a discussion at Stanford and I filmed it. Because of the size of the Xoom it came out a lot steadier than anything I film with my iPhones. (This advantage will only last a month or so over iPad 2, but it’s there). I can see using the other camera to do videoconferencing, too. Yeah, it’s not the highest resolution camera you’ve ever seen on a mobile device, but it works pretty well, I’ll try to get a video up tonight from it.

6. HDMI connector. I have an HD screen downstairs. Here I can hook it up without buying a hyper-expensive Apple connector.

7. Better resolution and form factor, especially for video. I love watching video on my iPad. Netflix rocks on it, especially when the kids have taken over my TV set. But I like the higher resolution of the Xoom (1280 pixels across instead of only 1024) and I like the longer and narrower form factor, which fits video better than the iPad does.

8. The widgets on the home screen let me just glance down at my tablet to see info. I now am keeping it on my desk at work as a third monitor and that’s nice.

9. The docking station makes a nice desktop stand. Although it’s a bit weird to figure out how to get the Xoom to dock once you figure that out it makes a nice desktop stand.

10. The browser feels closer to Google Chrome than Safari does. It has one box for URLs and search, which I really love (the two box system Safari has feels lame in comparison) and it has tabs, just like my Chrome does on my desktop.

11. Speaker system in the Xoom is better than the iPad and it has stereo speakers.

13. Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Calendar apps are WAY better than the ones on iPad. As you might expect.

So, take this all together and I really love the new Motorola Xoom. I will be buying it because it’s the best of the Android-based devices I have seen and I need one to track all the apps over the next year and compare them to what’s on iPad.

That said, will I recommend my dad get one? No. Not this year. Why? No apps that have been specifically designed for the 10-inch tablet, which in my experience does demand new apps. Yes, Android phone apps “stretch” to bigger sizes a lot better than iPhone apps did when stretched up, but sorry we haven’t seen great apps like the History of Jazz, Aweditorium, NPR, BBC, Flipboard, Heritage, etc, like what you see on iPad.

The apps are ALL that matters for the market and Android does NOT have them yet.

That said, Android is in a better spot than HP’s TouchPad or RIM’s PlayBook, and I believe it will take the #2 spot, mostly because of the strength of its mobile app community on phones.

Some other minor nits. I don’t like the surface on the back of the device. It isn’t consistent, which makes part of the back collect more dirt than the strip with the cameras and speakers.

Also, the on button is in a weird place. I’ve hit it a couple of times accidentally because it’s where you hold the device with your left hand.

Finally, is it worth $800? Not for the mass market due to the lack of apps. If you don’t care about the lack of apps, then yes. It brings Android solidly into the tablet world and brings Apple some significant competition.

Can’t wait to see that iPad 2, which will probably change some of these opinions.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. The screenshots and videos of Android 3.0 seem to have a very complicated, widget-filled home screen. How do you feel about it compared to the simplicity of the iPad’s home screen?

          1. Maybe not called widgets, but they were called gadgets. Same concept different name. I wrote plenty of them during the 90’s. Small little utilities to run under hWnd on the desktop.

          2. maybe it started on the desktop, but widgets exploded on the web, people started using widgets on the web far more than on the desktop

        1. Maybe it’s just the way human’s think and interact. The iPad could be said to be following the “desktop paradigm” because it’s a bunch of icons on a flat surface.

          BumpTop could be said to be following the desktop paradigm because it’s a 3d representation of the desktop.

          It all depends on how you choose to define the “desktop paradigm”. If it means “a visual representation of everything one would want to quickly access on a computing device”, then yes, I don’t think we’ll ever leave the desktop paradigm.

          1. You’re right, the iOS collection of App icons is annoying. Actually, I find the entire iOS App management to be lazy. I can’t say what would be better, but I am not convinced that widgets and folders are revolutionary. I don’t mind others trying, but do we need to repeat the ‘follow Microsoft’ model with Apple?

    1. Well, for starters you can customize your home screens however you like. Each widget has a regular app shortcut if you like. However, the widgets are quite wonderful… more so on Honeycomb than they’ve ever been! I especially like the calendar, email, and youtube widgets! And if nothing else, the organization is much more attractive than the wall of apps I have on my iPad!

    1. Just because a tablet ships does not mean competition. It has to actually be competitive. The MacBook Air 11-inch may be providing more competition for iPad than XOOM. A comparison of the 3 devices is really interesting. If you want windows and widgets and nerd-friendly features, for $200 more a MacBook Air has double everything, plus UNIX and can run Windows in a box. And it has a better app store with more apps.

      1. A MacBook Air is just as much competition as a laptop or netbook is… It is some competition sure, but not much… because it does not occupy the same space in a consumer’s mind. I definitely wouldn’t consider one as an alternative to a tablet!

  2. Not only is it more expensive than the iPad, you have to hand over some cash to Verizon to activate WiFi. Let’s hope this doesn’t become the norm.

    1. The data requirement is by BEST BUY, NOT by VerizonWireless. A quick call to Verizon would clarify this for people but everyone refuses to do that. Instead they spend their time forming their opinions about carrier products from BEST BUY. (which “required” activation for the Galaxy Tab from day 1 as well, Verizon didn’t)

        1. That’s funny because every store I’ve called said it wouldn’t require it,
          and I never saw a verizon screencap showing that, just best buy.

  3. My thoughts are:

    1. Too expensive (How about a wifi only model?)
    2. $20/mo for 1GB?

    Will be interesting to see if any of that changes. I am sure someone is going to get the Android tablet right but I am not sure this is “the one”.

    1. wi-fi version is coming … $200 less which is the same price for the (current) iPad with same storage and much less HW specs.

  4. My husband (the android fanatic) says it sounds appealing. But it will be all about the apps in the long run. So the ‘droid community had better get working on it.
    Nice review Robert, thanks. Points out the ups & downs clearly. I suspect the Xoom will get more play than previous android tablets – but wonder if anyone can hit the ‘name appeal’ of the iPad with the average non-tech adopter.

      1. Ethan, you’ll note that Xoom won’t be getting Flash support for at least a few weeks. So, we’re not realistically talking about any form of advantage there until that happens… much like waiting for tablet Android apps in general.

        Luckily, Android apps won’t have to wait for a review process to hit the Marketplace, so it barring development time things should start showing up at a good pace in the coming months.

        I’m more distressed to hear that the microSD slot doesn’t actually work yet. It gives the product a distinct “rushed” feel, especially if you want to move around videos and photos from your 32GB of built-in storage.

  5. Excellent Review. It’s nice to hear the comparisons with the iPad while still showing the strengths of Honeycomb instead of where it might still be a little Beta.

    Apps will come for it. This is an area that Google does need to work on (releasing SDK earlier) and motorola should’ve given a couple of those “golden” xoom’s to popular devs and not just actors. I can’t wait to see what Level Up Studio and kittehface do with Honeycomb, let alone companies like Rovio.

    1. People keep complaining about the price. It’s the same for the comparable iPad with 3G. Do you expect them to see the Xoom with 3G, upgradeable to 4G, at the same price as a wi-fi only device?

      1. Apple has set this up quite perfectly, from a pricing strategy perspective: They made sure that the $499 price of the WiFi-only version was the one that was most repeated, and most focused on by everyone. It’s what’s called an Anchor Price. So now everybody else is competing against this “ghost”, regardless of what their specs are.

        Apple also brilliantly employed a Decoy Pricing tactic with the $499 as well, by previously floating a lot of rumors that the Apple Tablet would likely cost close to $1000. When they announced it at HALF that, it was game on…

        Details here: http://businessmindhacks.com/post/key-excerpt-on-decoy-pricing-from-techcrunch-the-subplots-of-the-ipad

    1. You can do that with iPad, but I never understood why you would want to. A Samsung 22-inch HD display is $179 if you need more desktop. I find that running a browser or video player or eBook reader on iPad next to my Mac is outrageously productive.

  6. I’m holding out for the 10″ Honeycomb that’s integrated with a Google-TV from the same brand – I forgot whether it’s LG or Vizio, in 2-3 months…

  7. Looks like a solid device although the price is outrageous; definitely not what tablets are supposed to cost. Looking forward to watching your review of the iPad2.

  8. Thing is….the aspect ratio of the iPad suggests it was designed primarily for applications as opposed to video even though it does video adequately.

    1. The latest video standards are iPad-shaped. They show a 4:3 image full screen and 16:9 in a letterbox, optionally with information like subtitles in the black area. iPad is a 1K screen, which when doubled into a Retina Display will be a 2K screen (the next size up from 1080p HD), and so both of those are very compatible with 4K, the biggest video standard we have right now, because you scale down in even quarters.

      So iPad is actually perfectly sized for post-HD video as well as general tasks.

      1. The iPad 2 most likely won’t have a higher resolution screen, so XOOM will have a slight advantage here. And there’s no such thing as “latest video standards”. As we all know, widescreen is better for video consumption.

        1. How you know it won’t have a better screen. I believe Apple’s next move is to corner the Display market.

  9. You can understand why Apple gets away with not adding all the eye candy and extra capability to the first release – there are enough people out there that will go and buy the iPad all over again.

    1. The sad thing is… if you open up an iPad, you’ll see the engineering specifically leaves a spot for the camera. In other words, they already engineered everything FOR the camera… and, with the iPhones under their belt, the capability is clearly there… so leaving the camera off of the first one was purely a marketing move, either to lower the price of the original iPad, or to give them something to show off on the iPad2. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

      1. Adobe Flash will be here in a few weeks, word straight from Adobe. 4G will be within 90days (straight from Motorola/Verizon) and I’m not sure about SD, I’d imagine (hoping) even sooner since it’s just a firmware update needed.

  10. Since Android 1.6 SDK, ALL APPS scale perfectly for medium density screens = Tablets. Android has over 100 thousand apps already that are suitable for tablets. Just try any in the Google Marketplace.

      1. Do you mean function-wise they don’t feel as good? Because the way Honeycomb scales the apps it looks just like it was originally meant to, just bigger. Which is much better than the way my iPad does it with that little stupid window that I can hit the 2x button on to make it look even worse.

        So the functionality of the app is still there, it’s not optimized to utilize the extra size of the screen with more features, but it does scale up to look just like it did originally.

        1. Exactly! Skype on Android tablets looks much better than on iPad. And yes, they still didn’t redesigned Skype specifically for iPad.

        2. “Just like it was originally meant to, but bigger” is the problem. The way you’d design an app for a phone-sized screen is completely different to how you would design the layout for a tablet-sized screen.

          To see a concrete example of this, look at OmniFocus on iPad compared to iPhone. Had Omni just done the iPhone version but bigger it would have been a much less compelling product.

        3. I think he’s just talking from purely an emotionally charged standpoint. i.e., you could create a vector recreation of the Mona Lisa, and make it larger, and give excellent attention to detail, but someone who is enthusiastic about art (or the Mona Lisa in particular) will say “but, that’s not the right size… it should be smaller… this larger version just… well… it just feels… wrong.”

          If Android phones had never been around, the apps on the Xoom would likely feel just fine. Knowing that the apps work on a smaller screen, you simply expect them to be different on a larger screen. When they’re not different, there’s that nagging voice in the back of the head that says “they probably could have put more thought into utilizing the greater screen real estate here”.

      2. They are not stretched. Since Android 1.6 SDK, ALL APPS are designed for medium density screen support, meaning 800×480 7″ or 1024×600 10.1″. That is medium density. Try to load any Twitter app, any seesmic, any feed reader app, any email app. THEY ALL WORK FINE on tablets.

    1. He is talking about full-size apps. One lesson from iPad is users basically ignored the 300,000 plus mini-apps on iOS and focused on the full-size apps, even though there were only about 3,500 at launch. Now there are about 75,000. So in tablets we are talking 75,000 to zero right now, not 350,000 to 100,000, or whatever the current numbers are. iPad’s native C is a huge advantage in full-size apps because most of the world’s full-size apps are written in C, so they are easily ported to iPad. XOOM and other full-size Android are going to attempt to create the first successful Java PC platform. Good luck.

      XOOM is also not running all the Android mini-apps for whatever reason. See Walt Mossberg’s review.

    2. He is talking about full-size apps. One lesson from iPad is users basically ignored the 300,000 plus mini-apps on iOS and focused on the full-size apps, even though there were only about 3,500 at launch. Now there are about 75,000. So in tablets we are talking 75,000 to zero right now, not 350,000 to 100,000, or whatever the current numbers are. iPad’s native C is a huge advantage in full-size apps because most of the world’s full-size apps are written in C, so they are easily ported to iPad. XOOM and other full-size Android are going to attempt to create the first successful Java PC platform. Good luck.

      XOOM is also not running all the Android mini-apps for whatever reason. See Walt Mossberg’s review.

      1. Android supports native C and C++ apps through the NDK, and it is used primarily when high-performance is key (e.g., gaming), but also for portability. See:

        http://developer.android.com/sdk/ndk/index.html

        Android, webOS and iOS all support C/C++ development, so that porting existing apps and games to these platforms doesn’t require a total rewrite.

        Do you know what you are talking about?

        1. @BioNerd, yes, Android DOES support native c development. It just discourages people from doing so unless they have a compelling reason for avoiding java, “performance” being suggested.

          But that’s useful for your key engine, say, your video engine. It’s NOT the basis for the full flow-control, basic resource management functions that dominate apps. By Google’s recommendations, it’d be a minor or irrelevant part of porting most full-screen apps.

  11. I heard it hasn’t shipped w Flash. If true, when will it be available and is this a ploy to have long battery life show up before the Flash hits the fan?

    1. Adobe says it will be out in a few weeks. If Adobe truly has optimized it well for the Tegra 2, the battery life will reduce, but not as much as people are expecting.

  12. I heard it hasn’t shipped w Flash. If true, when will it be available and is this a ploy to have long battery life show up before the Flash hits the fan?

  13. Nice to hear that we will have some compelling competition in this space. Apple really needs to move on and update the experience to be a little more appropriate for the tablet format. Even HP did that. That said, the webOS tablet also looks very promising in terms of user interface, but I don’t believe it will have an ecosystem as strong as Android’s.

  14. Nice to hear that we will have some compelling competition in this space. Apple really needs to move on and update the experience to be a little more appropriate for the tablet format. Even HP did that. That said, the webOS tablet also looks very promising in terms of user interface, but I don’t believe it will have an ecosystem as strong as Android’s.

    1. I have this device and love the grip and full HDMI and USB slots. PixelQi screen quality is not impressive indoors, but great under the sunlight.

  15. iPad is something like 350,000 native C apps, of which 75,000 run full size. I thought the browser would be the killer app on iPad, but the killer app is apps! In other words, both the browser (for Web apps) and App Store (for native C apps.) I don’t see how I could go to a XOOM and leave behind App Store because I regularly use apps for multichannel audio recording and editing, dozens of world class synthesizers, dozens of MIDI-over-WiFi controllers, dozens of art tools, iWork and OmniFocus, and Netflix and Hulu.

    AirPlay is essentially HDMI-over-Wi-Fi, which is a much better feature than an HDMI port. And AirPlay is coming to non-Apple set-tops and TV’s, Apple has already licensed it. Hooking a tablet to a cable is like clipping its wings.

    Walt Mossberg says the same battery test regimen resulted in iPad 11.5 hours on iPad and 7.5 on XOOM. Also he said they are the same weight.

    We will almost certainly see cameras in iPad 2, and they will work better than on XOOM where they are disappointing reviewers, and we will almost certainly see better notifications a few months from now in iOS v5 (they couldn’t get any worse!), and the multitasking gestures that are still in beta will let you switch apps more fluidly.

    I’ll be interested to know what percentage of your computing time over the next year is taken up by iPad 2 or by XOOM. That is the real test.

    1. I understand that you are hooked to your productivity apps, and that simply means the Xoom is not for you. You have essentially locked yourself into the iPad (which I’m not saying is a bad thing at all). They aren’t aiming for your business though, they are aiming for the people who haven’t yet seen why a tablet can be a good compliment to a notebook/desktop/smartphone and the people who simply will not buy the iPad based on their principles (strong dislike for anything Apple).

      I’m not in either camp, I own and iPad, have since launch day, but I’m frustrated enough with it that I am ready to switch. I’m not tied down to any apps in particular, so moving to Android is easy for me, and luckily the iPad has maintained excellent resale value.

    2. I understand that you are hooked to your productivity apps, and that simply means the Xoom is not for you. You have essentially locked yourself into the iPad (which I’m not saying is a bad thing at all). They aren’t aiming for your business though, they are aiming for the people who haven’t yet seen why a tablet can be a good compliment to a notebook/desktop/smartphone and the people who simply will not buy the iPad based on their principles (strong dislike for anything Apple).

      I’m not in either camp, I own and iPad, have since launch day, but I’m frustrated enough with it that I am ready to switch. I’m not tied down to any apps in particular, so moving to Android is easy for me, and luckily the iPad has maintained excellent resale value.

    3. Android actually supports native C and C++ apps. This is mostly used for games and that’s how high profile software houses make games that work on iOS, Android, webOS etc: they just add a layer for the target platform over their native apps.

  16. Are the native iPad apps really a big deal on a bigger screen with 1280×1024 resolution? Can’t the thousands of web apps meet most of our needs like they do on a PC or a Mac desktop? It’s time we got rid of these native apps that only help Apple come up with arbitrary rules.

    1. I get updates to my Android phones more often than my iPhones. Not sure why the tablet world will be any different, unless there’s something in particular you’re referring to? Link please?

      1. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      2. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      3. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      4. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      5. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      6. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      7. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

      8. That’s funny, since any one with an iphone can update their phone when the update is out. Not so with android waiting for the carrier to send out an update. Look at the Galaxy S phones, how many have Gingerbread, or better yet froyo.

  17. The apps will come with time. For example, News Corp is already working on an Android version of The Daily. I’m still hoping that the Android Market starts doing a better job of reviewing apps, because there’s a lot of crap in there. At least in the iTunes market you don’t have to worry about malware as much.

  18. Why would you want to use wi-fi only on this device anyway since they’ve already announced an upcoming wi-fi only version for $200 less?

  19. “6. HDMI connector. I have an HD screen downstairs. Here I can hook it up without buying a hyper-expensive Apple connector.” –> but isn’t that why you have Airplay and Apple TV?

  20. Ultimately an HP Pavillion DM1Z for $450 is probably the heaviest competition for iPad or any tablet but if you are going to have a tablet that you want to use for any kind of productivity then this and the rest of the Honeycomb devices are going to take over once the apps start flowing and the price wars begin. There is an iPad, 3 iPod Touches and until recently a couple of iPhones in my house along with several MacBooks. After 20 years of being an Apple fanboy I personally pulled the ripcord a couple of months ago and went Windows 7 and Android and couldn’t be happier not having to deal with the Apple/iTunes ecosystem. Now if I can just get my wife and kids away….

  21. Fairest impessions review that I have seen yet. Anandtech has a very technical review for those interested.

  22. Fairest impessions review that I have seen yet. Anandtech has a very technical review for those interested.

  23. Robert, I liked the post, but I have to say the video is one of the better ones from you that I’ve seen. Switching angles, etc., kept my interest on the topic as well as giving me a connection to your reactions. Awesome move in the right direction!

    I’m curious how you will feel about widgets and Android now that there’s a device you like more (that, and the Nexus S). I remember a little while back you weren’t so aware of widgets, but they are really something I love about Android, and I’d think with a tablet’s extra space, people like you who are constantly checking different information streams would find they allow taking some of your great setup for monitoring streams into your lap on the go and at a glance.

    You didn’t talk a lot about how everything was done over the air. I think one thing that makes an Android tablet better for the average person with less finances is that they could give up having a laptop entirely. So syncing means grandma and greatgrandma can have something that never needs a computer to setup and maintain.

    1. “You didn’t talk a lot about how everything was done over the air. I think one thing that makes an Android tablet better for the average person with less finances is that they could give up having a laptop entirely. So syncing means grandma and greatgrandma can have something that never needs a computer to setup and maintain.”

      He talked a little abut that, but yea; also potentially a big deal in the developing world (as these things get cheaper) — highly portable computing devices that don’t require that iTunes be installed on an additional computer running a non-free operating system.

  24. i don’t think it’s a good idea to expose the file system to the ‘average user’. good thing these droid tablets have more firepower, it allows the android antivirus software to multitask better once the viruses come out.

  25. I may buy a Xoom 2 instead of an iPad 3. For now, I love iOS (it’s all about the apps) but I await the Android awesomeness. Competition is great.

    For now, I will continue to be happy with my iPad that I got in July as a gift from wife who told me, “you’d have NEVER bought one for yourself. You’d just keep waiting for the next better one…”

  26. Robert, regarding the iPad Gmail client: mine has the ability to mark emails as SPAM. You mentioned in your video your’s don’t.

    Using the leftmost drop down menu I have “Report Spam”. I’m using Google Apps by the way, but ordinary Gmail is most of the time more sophisticated as has new features before the Google Apps one has.

  27. If not having apps NOW is the only reason you wouldn’t recommend it to your dad, then that is lame. You know that the SDK is out, besides iPad didn’t have many apps when it was released and that didn’t stop you from buying.

    1. Me buying and my dad buying are two separate things. I buy things because they are shiny and new. My dad buys things because they are proven and DO things.

      And the iPad had MANY apps out on first day. So, even there the comparison is totally wrong.

  28. I’m always amazed by the peeps on here who love the fact that these tablets are open source, running linux, yet tout flash support. A true lover of open source would readily embrace html5.