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Motorola Xoom: The tale of the (current) market tape

We compare the Motorola Xoom with the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab from strictly a specs standpoint.

The three best tablets currently on the market. Note the "currently"... Eric Franklin/CNET

On Thursday, Motorola's long awaited--and CNET's Best of CES 2011 winner--Xoom tablet will be released. At the time of this writing, only a handful of tablets already released are fit to compete with the Xoom in terms of features, usability, and specs.

Those include the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Apple iPad. I've gathered them here with what I feel are their most important specs, which we'll now take a deeper look at.

Specs Motorola Xoom Apple iPad Samsung Galaxy Tab
OS Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) iOS 4.2.1 Android 2.2 Froyo
Screen size (inches)
10.1 9.7 7
Resolution 1,280x800 pixels
1,024x768 pixels
1,024x600 pixels
Panel type IPS IPS IPS
Processor 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 Dual Core 1GHz Apple A4 1GHz ARM Cortex A8
Storage 32GB+optional 32GB micro SD Up to 64GB Up to 32GB
Cameras 5MP (rear), 2MP (front) None 3MP (rear), 1.3MP (front)
HDMI out Yes No Yes
Price $800; 600 w/contract $600 $500; $300 w/Verizon contract

I've yet to spend a lot of time with Honeycomb, but with the little time I have spent with it, I can say that though it's very different from iOS, it's a marked improvement over Android 2.2.

The iPad has had great success thanks to its very simple and stripped-down interface. Android 2.2 adds flexibility at the cost of complexity. So far, it seems that Google has created an OS that provides the flexibility of previous Android OSes, with less complexity. I'll need to spend more time with it to come to a final decision, but based on my initial impression, it's quite good.

Screen size and resolution
Screen size plays a very important part in how comfortable a tablet is to use. For my tastes, the 7-inchers and below just don't cut it, especially when it comes to typing. I've found that my typing speed on the Xoom and iPad were about the same, while on the Galaxy Tab it's severely diminished. This has mostly to do with the screen size, but also credited is the care that was taken to get both the iOS and Honeycomb interfaces optimized for touch precision.

The Xoom has the highest resolution of the bunch. Though it's difficult to see a difference in clarity compared with the iPad, that difference will become apparent as more apps (especially games) are optimized for the device.

Panel type
All three tablets are built with in-plane switching (IPS) panels, which affords them wider viewing angles than panels made using twisted nematic (TN) technology. This comes in handy when viewing the tablet from off angles.

With an optimized OS there must also come a speedy processor to handle quickly switching between apps, making for fast and seamless navigation. Also, without a fast and powerful processor, you'll see games with low frame rates. Movies will stutter and possibly lock up while the processor attempts to decode the high-definition signal.

One of the biggest criticisms pitched at the iPad when it debuted was its lack of a camera. Pretty much every subsequent tablet released has seen fit to not make the same mistake; some even include two cameras. Don't expect to see another major tablet released sans a camera, and most will include two.

Storage doesn't seem to have been a problem, at least not in my experience. Apple doesn't make upgrading storage an easy task, however, while Android tablets accept SD cards to facilitate storage increases.

HDMI out
The ability to push out 1080p content to a 50-inch HDTV can be a useful feature, especially if you have no other way to watch such content--for example, if you don't have a Blu-ray player or a Netflix device.

Probably the biggest factor is deciding to buy, well, anything, but you don't need me to tell you that. No matter how you slice it, the Xoom is the most expensive of the bunch. You're either paying $800 outright or $600 under contract. The 32GB Wi-Fi iPad costs $600, and the Galaxy Tab's average price is about $500, although Verizon offers it for $300 with a two-year contract. I won't make a recommendation here; instead I'll leave that to the reviews. The way I see it is if you can walk away without an overwhelming feeling of buyer's remorse, then you've made a good choice.

And the winner is...
...The consumer. Yes, the great tablet wars of 2011 can now begin. It will be bloody and terrible, but with so much competition coming, consumers will eventually be the ones who win out. For the time being, if you're looking to buy a new tablet, you'll want to start here, with these three. In a few months, I'll likely have a different opinion on where to start.