Up until now, every Android tablet we've reviewed suffered from behaving too much like a smartphone. Google's mobile operating system, its apps, and its developer tools were all geared for the small screen, and it showed.
With the introduction of Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb), Google is showing its commitment to tablets. With the exception of legacy support of existing Android apps, Honeycomb is a dramatic departure from the Android of smartphones.
Even experienced Android users will need some time to get accustomed to Honeycomb's navigation. Gone is the familiar four-button navigation across the bottom of the screen. Contextual menus and options are accessed through the top of the screen, notifications pop out from the lower right, and the trusty old back arrow will occasionally morph into a down arrow when the keyboard is engaged, allowing you to conceal or reveal the keyboard.
Out of the gate, the first thing we noticed about Honeycomb compared with iOS is the amount of information conveyed on the home screen. Through the use of widgets, you can glance your inbox, Twitter stream, Facebook news, and YouTube channels, all in one view. The whole metaphor feels more like a deck of cards on a playing table than the grid of apps we're accustomed to in iOS or an Android phone app drawer. It's not quite the clumsy mess of a conventional desktop, but not as rigid and size-constrained as a mobile OS. It's a thoughtful compromise.
That said, Honeycomb's added complexity and sophistication is a double-edged sword. To Google's credit, Android 3.0 in many ways pushes tablets in an exciting new direction by blurring the line between a mobile OS and a conventional desktop. But as much as iOS gets push back from users who find it insultingly simple, Android Honeycomb is at times needlessly secretive. A task as simple as opening the lock screen plays out like an IQ puzzle. Home screen customization is broken down into separate categories for widgets, app shortcuts, and app-specific shortcuts, such as browser bookmarks and Gmail labels. There will be users who are going to rejoice in the flexibility and options on offer by Honeycomb, but there are bound to be just as many who are turned off by the complexity. We're just thankful that users now have more options when it comes to tablets.
As we've already noted, the Xoom is smoking fast. We're also happy to report that the screen quality is excellent. We couldn't find a bad viewing angle in any direction, and the 150 ppi pixel density is smooth for both images and text. That said, the screen doesn't get as bright as the iPad's, which becomes an issue if you're trying to view the screen outdoors.
Motorola pegs the Xoom's battery life at 10 hours of video playback--same as the original iPad. Of course it doesn't hurt that the Xoom does not yet support Adobe Flash, a feature that has been maligned as a battery killer by Apple and others. Motorola promises that Adobe Flash support is coming soon via an over-the-air-update, and is working with Adobe to optimize Flash for the Xoom's Tegra 2 processor. Until then, if Flash compatibility is a must-have feature, your best course of action is to wait (or buy a Netbook, possibly for less).
Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Web site load time (in seconds; lower is better)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
Why the iPad isn't dead
The Motorola Xoom offers many features that the iPad can't match, but there's still some catching up to be done from Motorola and Google .
For starters: apps. The depth and breadth of apps available for iOS are unmatched by any other mobile OS. More importantly, since the debut of the iPad in April 2010, Apple has amassed more than 60,000 apps designed specifically for use on a tablet. Outside of games (which are easily scaled), the Xoom has only a fraction of tablet-specific content.
And then there's iTunes. With the Xoom's HD-worthy screen, it's a shame there's no easy way to rent or download movie and TV content. Sure, you can boot up YouTube or install any number of third-party apps to acquire video content, but there's still no beating the iPad when it comes to finding and downloading music, movie, TV, and podcast content right out of the box, or syncing it from your computer.
We've detailed more reasons the iPad still holds its own against competing tablets in a. For the Xoom, perhaps the most damning thing we can say is that in spite of its insanely impressive spec sheet (and high price), the device seemingly offers no practical speed advantage over the iPad. For everyday tasks, such as video playback, gaming, browsing, and e-mail, the Xoom and the first-gen iPad behave just about the same.
For all our criticisms, we are thrilled that Motorola, Google, and Verizon have teamed up to deliver the Xoom. It is the best alternative to the iPad we've seen, and there's every reason to believe it will get better over time with the addition of Adobe Flash support, 4G network compatibility, and refinements from Google. At its current price, we think the Xoom's appeal will be limited to early adopters and Android loyalists. As prices inevitably come down (or contracts become more lenient), the Xoom will likely realize its true potential.