Upgrading the Xoom to 4G: Why it's not simple

Upgrading the Motorola Xoom to 4G is a convoluted process. A couple of teardowns expose the root cause for the headache-inducing process.

Upgrading the Motorola Xoom to 4G is not simple--and teardowns expose the root cause for the Byzantine upgrade process.

Verizon rolled out the Xoom tablet--one of the first major rivals to Apple's iPad--this week and is now selling it at stores nationwide. One of the Xoom's selling points is its 4G LTE upgradability. But there's a catch.

That catch can be found in the form of an asterisk, which leads to a page full of nasty instructions. For consumers it's not a pretty picture. After it becomes apparent that Verizon and Motorola don't offer software-upgradeable 4G hardware in the Xoom, consumers are sent to a page with the set of aforesaid instructions that require, among things, that users relinquish their Xoom for six business days.

So, what is the root cause of all of this hassle? After removing the bottom of the Xoom and sliding back an internal "panel," teardown virtuoso iFixit says this exposes "a mysterious circuit board" that can be swapped for a 4G board. Ay, there's the rub. An entire circuit board needs to be replaced.

And IHS iSuppli, which also took apart the Xoom, adds its 2 cents: "There were no 4G components found in the Xoom tablet aside from a dummy miniPCIe card--an obvious placeholder for the future LTE upgrade. However, Motorola did provide two MIMO antennas and a SIM card slot in preparation for the LTE upgrade."

The 'mysterious' dummy circuit board that can be replaced with a 4G board--but  consumers must go through a convoluted process to make this happen.
The 'mysterious' dummy circuit board that can be replaced with a 4G board--but consumers must go through a convoluted process to make this happen. iFixit

This doesn't make the Xoom a bad tablet. Quite the contrary. It has a lot going for it, including a slim 1.6-pound design, a 10.1-inch 1,280x800 pixel display, a snappy Google Android 3.0 interface, a dual-core Nvidia processor, and the Verizon network. Overall, it's "technically...a more powerful, more capable alternative to Apple's iPad," according to CNET's review.

It's just that the 4G upgrade feature seems to be an exercise in aggressive advertising that sets consumers up for a rude surprise.

When contacted, a Verizon representative had no comment beyond saying that the necessary modification was a hardware, not software, upgrade.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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