Say hello to the Motorola Xoom
I know, I know... another tablet. And it's not the iPad (or iPad 2.0), "So what's the big deal?" Apple fans might be asking. Well, there are quite a few reasons you should care about this newest tablet to hit the market, but I'm going to give you ten that I feel are worth mulling over. Ready?
#1 — The Xoom is not an iPad
The iPad is a great device — I own one, so you don't have to convince me. But not everyone agrees. The iPad has its detractors, as well. But the fact remains, like or dislike the iPad, for the first six months after the iPad's release (April 2010), it was really the only game in town when it came to the touchpad tablet. But all that's changed now. Competitors are releasing tablets left and right.
And of all the tablets to be hitting the market right now, the one that seems to be getting the most attention is the Motorola Xoom. It was selected as the best tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 (by Gizmodo.com) and the general consensus of various technology magazines and blogs is that the Xoom has the potential to be a serious iPad competitor. The Xoom shares some features with the iPad, but what's most obvious when you hold and use the Xoom are the differences between it and the iPad. Keep reading...
#2 — The Xoom runs Honeycomb
When it comes to operating systems, the most famous is probably Microsoft's Windows operating system. Other names that are likely familiar to you (or you've at least heard of) include Linux and maybe even iOS (that runs on the iPhone and various Apple laptops and computers). Well, the Xoom runs a different operating system called Android. And just like Windows has different versions (Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7), so does Android.
Android is an operating system that was originally designed for small devices like mobile phones. It has taken off in popularity, especially with smart phones. But the versions of Android found on mobile phones were designed for a phone's smaller screen rather than the larger screen of a tablet. You may hear of other tablets running Android 2.1 or Android 2.2, but if you're wanting a tablet, what you really want is Android 3.0... also known as Honeycomb. (Android versions all have their own names to make it easier for non-technies, thankfully.)
Honeycomb is a version of Android that was designed specifically for tablets. It's designed for a touchscreen tablet with a higher resolution screen, SD cards, and a faster processor than those found in mobile phones. There are many more reasons for wanting Honeycomb on a tablet (keep reading!), but just the fact that Xoom comes installed with the Android 3.0 operating system means that it's ready for the tablet-minded consumer looking for an alternative to the iPad. (Other tablets are still being released that run the Android 2.2 operating system — how often are you told to buy a computer with an older operating system installed?)
#3 — The Xoom also has Apps... lots of Apps
What has really been popular with the iPhone and iPad is the access to the thousands and thousands of apps that can be purchased cheaply (and often free), downloaded quickly to a device, and immediately used. No rebooting after installation, immediate updates and fixes from the app developers, great review system for helping to make a buy or leave it decision, dozens of categories with a search feature to sift through it all. What's not to like?
Well, the Xoom (and Honeycomb OS, in particular) is not going to be left out in the cold when it comes to apps. The Android Market is quickly catching up to its rival, Apple's App Store, in terms of quantity, quality, and ease of use. And since most apps are $0.99, you're not going to break the bank loading up the Xoom with a nice collection of games, productivity tools, and other apps that grab your attention.
Oh, and one last thing about apps — a really cool feature that's not gotten a lot of attention is app syncing. If you already have an Android device (such as a smart phone) that is linked to a Google account, you'll be able to configure the Xoom to automatically pull down all those apps you enjoy on another device to your Xoom. And it goes both ways, too: find an app you like with the Xoom and you can download and store it "in the cloud" so that other Android devices, when logged in, can grab the new apps and install them!
#4 — The Xoom has a Webcam and a built-in Digital Camera
One of the biggest complaints from iPad owners (as well as those who wanted a tablet but chose not to buy the iPad) was the obvious lack of either a digital camera or a webcam. Even one of those would have been nice to have in such a portable device, but Apple didn't put in either of them. (The iPad 2.0 will likely fix this by including both, but it's not out as I write this.)
Right now the Xoom comes with a 2 megapixel webcam. And with WiFi or 3G data service (4G is a free upgrade from Motorola when your carrier starts to offer it), this means you can have a video conference anywhere you have a signal.
The Xoom also comes with a 5 megapixel camera. A lot of folks may wonder why they need a camera on a tablet when most mobile phones these days also come with a camera, but having the ability to take instant photos and upload them to the web or email them to a friend (without having to pull out a memory stick or connect via USB to a computer) is a nice feature to have.
#5 — The Xoom is an All-in-One Media Device
With a tablet you now have the ability to store and access every bit of digital content you care to collect in one place. You can store and play your music files. You can download free and purchased eBooks from a variety of sources (such as Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble). You can rent or purchase digital movies that are stored on the Xoom. You can rip your own DVD movies and transfer them to the Xoom. You can watch all those movies on the Xoom. You can also watch your favorite television shows. Take some pictures. Record a video. View your photos and videos. Make and store voice recordings. View PDF files. Transfer files to and from the Xoom via a micro SD card. And the list goes on...
#6 — The Xoom is Google-friendly
Here's another short one — for those of us who love Google and all its free services, the Xoom's integration with Google apps is a big deal. Not only can we access our Gmail (Google email) with all its native features (labels, filtering, etc), but we also now have seamless access to Google Docs (and its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation apps), Google Maps, and just about any other Google tool you can name. (If you've not checked out Google Maps Street View, you're going to be blown away by how easy it is to navigate with the Xoom using actual landmarks, buildings, and other visual cues.)
#7 — The Xoom is Upgradeable
There are two specific ways to upgrade the Xoom. The first is its memory. The iPad comes standard with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB of storage space — if you run out, it's time to start deleting stuff. The Xoom, however, comes standard with 32GB of internal storage space plus a micro SD card slot that is capable of adding up to an additional 32GB of storage space to the device.
The Xoom is also capable of having its 3G data service upgraded (for free) to 4G. This may not matter to some, but the speed differences for users is substantial, and Motorola has decided to make the upgrade free to those users who have carriers that offer 4G speeds.
#8 — The Xoom supports Flash
When it was announced that the iPad would not support Flash, battle lines were drawn. Given that so much of the web runs on Flash technology (animation, games, user interfaces), many users were asking just how great would web browsing be on a device that didn't support Flash. The debate still rages, but Xoom owners won't have to worry about it.
On release day, Adobe announced that Flash support would be added to the Xoom "shortly." The rumors are that it will be a few weeks, but the fact is Flash WILL be supported. This means Xoom users can visit websites with Flash movies, play Flash games (visit http://www.kongregate.com/ if you have any doubt that Flash games are huge), and interact with websites that have Flash menus, tabs, etc.
#9 — The Xoom has improvements over the iPad
Comparing the Xoom to the iPad is almost like comparing apples (sorry) to oranges. They're just different enough to be able to stand on their own. But if you want to know some of the areas where the Xoom has improved on the tablet, here are a few:
- Better screen resolution (1280x800 150dpi resolution compared to iPad's 1024x768 132 dpi)
- More RAM — 1GB of internal RAM for the Xoom versus 256 for the iPad
- One additional sensor — a barometer (no idea what to do with it, but hey... it's in there)
- Built-in GPS with seamless Google Maps integration
- Video Chat support (with Google Talk) — takes advantage of that built-in web cam
- Voice commands — yes, you can tell your Xoom what to search for, ask for directions, etc.
- USB support — you can plug in your Xoom to a laptop or computer and transfer files easily
#10 — The Xoom is not an iPad
Yes, #10 is the same as #1, but there's a good reason for that. Do a Google search for "Xoom versus iPad" and you'll find dozens of blogs, newspaper articles, and videos that try to convince you to buy one or the other. But I'll come back to my argument that we really shouldn't be comparing the Xoom to the iPad. Rather, we should be happy to finally have alternatives.
The iPad is amazing — just ask my toddler son who learned his lowercase alphabet in less than a week with a simple $0.99 app. But it's no longer the only game in town. If you want choices, you've got them. And with Honeycomb, designed for tablets, now finding its way onto devices like the Xoom, a larger number of consumers will now be able to try out the iPad, the Xoom, the Galaxy Tab, and many more... and then pick the one that best meets their needs and their budget.
I've now had a few days of uninterrupted work (and play) with the Xoom, and I have to say that Honeycomb is amazing. The user interface is easy to figure out, and quite honestly, it's just flat-out fast and smooth. All the compatible apps that I have installed on my Galaxy Tab and my Android smart phone have found their way, automatically, to the Xoom with the App Sync feature. The battery life appears to be comparable to the iPad as promised (I've been using it for a few hours and the battery level reports 86%). The screen is bright and vivid.
No... the Xoom is definitely not an iPad.
Editor's Note: Watch for details about a related book, My Motorola Xoom, coming soon!