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The Xoom is a lot like chess, let me explain...
on April 1, 2011
UPDATE 1/16/2013: I just wanted to write a quick update. Everything I say below is still valid but when I refer to iPad in my review I am talking about the iPad 2, the current model is the iPad 4. Both the iPad 3 and 4 have retina displays which crush everything else on the market in terms of pixel density. Compared with the current best 1080P Android and Windows 8 tablets the iPad 3 and 4 still has 1 million more pixels. Compared with the Xoom the iPad 3 and 4 has 2 million more pixels. As I kind of mention in my review I like Android but I really buy tablets for the screen. I find that the higher the pixel density the better a tablet works for my uses. I currently use an iPad 3. I would also add that quite a bit has changed in terms of software and capabilities both for Android and iPad since I wrote this review. Again, I still feel what I say in this review is valid, but it is only valid when you consider the time it was written. Technology moves fast and a lot has changed in less than 2 years. Thanks to everyone that has read, commented on, and hopefully found my review to be helpful.
When I first got the Xoom about a week ago I turned it on and I really wasn't blown away. I use lots of devices, and my first impression of the Xoom just wasn't stellar. However, I could see the potential, and so I kept using it, I got some apps, I started to learn the interface and the depth of the features.
Sometime during day 2 of using the Xoom it really hit me. The Xoom and the iPad are like chess and checkers. When you first start playing chess (or trying to use the Xoom, in my amazing analogy) you feel overwhelmed and confused. You can't really do things smoothly, you don't understand the options, it just is not a great first impression. On the other hand, your first game of checkers (or using the iPad) is probably going to be pretty smooth. It isn't complex, most all the options and concepts are obvious and easy to understand and your first game is going to be pretty similar to your hundredth.
However, as you start to understand the Xoom (or chess) it really starts to grow on you. You understand what you can do, how to do it, the amazing depth and possibility in the device. While the iPad (or checkers) players are still having roughly the same experience time after time, with the Xoom every day of experience with the device makes it more powerful and enjoyable to use. In the end, the Xoom becomes a much better device than any of the competition; it just takes some time for you to learn what it is capable of and how to make the most of it.
As you can tell from the last three paragraphs I wasn't exactly impressed with the Xoom to start. I wasn't even sure it would replace my current device for most things. However, by day two I started to really "get" the device.
This first happened when I needed to look over and annotate a PDF someone had sent me. I downloaded it from my email, and was able to actually put it in the Xoom memory where-ever I wanted in whatever folder I wanted. Wow, that is kind of cool, can't do that on the competition. Next, I was able to open it in a PDF reader, using this fancy program (which I easily found on the marketplace). I went through and did what I needed (with an amazing free hand drawing tool, it was a snap!), then I jumped back over to email, attached the newly edited PDF and sent it away. Now maybe I just never tried hard enough, but I don't think that is possible on some of the competition. That freedom to download files, do what you need, and then send them away again. On the iPad apps I have used it always requires the files to be in something like Dropbox, which is fine, except it would have made what I did impossible without using a computer.
Another "WOW" moment came when I wanted to get some ebooks onto the device. Now, on my Apple products this is generally a pain, you hook the device to the computer, go open itunes, you go to a certain tab, and a certain area, and a certain feature, and if you do it all right you can drag your ebooks over to the reader. It was rather simpler on the Xoom. For the ebooks I had on my computer I just dropped them in Dropbox, then I downloaded them on the Xoom, and using the Xoom file manager I easily moved them into a new "Books" folder I made in the Documents folder. Fast, quick, and simple and done on the device, rather than on the PC.
However, what really blew me away was when I wanted some ebooks off the web. Using the regular browser I was able to just download them directly from the internet onto the device. I then used the file manager again and simply moved them to the right folder. This really did impress me, my tablet was uncoupled from the PC, I could browse the full web, download things, and then make use of them all without ever needing to tether to my computer. I was hooked.
With my new excitement at not requiring my computer to use my tablet I headed over to an Android App development forum. Here developers had posted lots of cool apps that were in beta or that they wanted to promote. On competing devices the only way to get an app is through the sanctioned and controlled portal, not so on Android (and thus Xoom). Using the Xoom browser I bounced around the forum, I downloaded beta apps, and then I was able to easily install them. Again, this is all on the device, and these were not approved apps, awesome.
Another example of something that impressed me came on my third day with the device. I was using the CNN app (which is free and tablet optimized, go check it out) and I watched a video of a story that I thought was really interesting, but it was one of those that is only a teaser, and the rest is on another site. When I hit these videos on my iPad I just have to try to remember to watch them later on a computer, because they are inevitably flash based. Not so on the Xoom, I typed in the address, the flash loaded up perfectly, and I was watching the video in full screen with no trouble.
This process of growing more comfortable with the device and learning what it could do continued over the last few days. At every turn I would find something amazing that just wasn't possible on competing tablets. I discovered the glory of widgets (custom little desktop things to show you the weather, or news, or whatever). I found some live wallpaper (moving animated wallpaper, that can change and adapt to things, such as the weather). I just kept finding new awesome features and uses.
One thing I want to touch on that is perhaps more technical than the rest of my review is the screen. I use my tablets to read, I started using ebooks a while back and I found tablets to work pretty well for that. I do most of my reading at night before bed, so the backlit screen is actually helpful versus a traditional reader. Anyway, one of the things that has always bothered me about the iPad as an ereader is that the pixel density (that is the number of pixels (or square blocks of color) in each inch of screen space) is very low. The iPad has somewhere around 130PPI (pixels per inch). It was so low that it really did give me noticeable eye strain to read on the device, I could see the pixels, and it really just wasn't a great reading experience. This was so pronounced that for the last few months I had actually been doing most of my reading on a 4th generation iPod Touch. It had a smaller screen, but a higher pixel density.
Anyway, the Xoom has a very noticeable increase in resolution and pixel density. With its higher resolution it has roughly 33% more pixels than the iPad, roughly 300,000 additional pixels. This is something you can see immediately when looking at any text. It is a lot smoother and easier to read on the Xoom. However, the other side of this is that the iPad has a different display type, that does have better viewing angles and color/contrast. In my case I don't really care, I find the pixel density to be 1000 times more important than small color improvements or viewing angles but I feel I should mention it.
My point in these last two paragraphs is that the Xoom is a much better device for displaying text than any of the lower resolution competition. If you are looking for a tablet to read your newspaper and books and websites on, then you definitely should give the Xoom or other higher resolution tablets a look. In my opinion the resolution on the iPad/iPad 2 just does not cut it for text.
Welp, this is really starting to get long, so I guess I should wrap it up. I know this isn't like the usual review you read, but I really wanted to give people an idea of the experience of using the Xoom versus just giving the facts and the breakdown and the comparisons. The Xoom is a device that improves exponentially the more you use it. After a few days of use I really can't imagine returning to the constraints and frustrations of the competition. However, on my first day I wasn't that impressed, so be sure to stick with it and get used to it. Now I am off to make dinner, and to accompany me I am going to take my Xoom, which is streaming live video thanks to the wonderful inclusion of flash, the competition is going to stay sitting on the shelf (probably for the foreseeable future).
I just want to mention that I am giving the Xoom four stars because it is not perfect. As a reference after using the Xoom I would probably give the iPad / iPad 2 three stars. There are still improvements that can be made to tablets. I really feel like Android and Xoom are on the right track, but this is still not what I would call a perfect tablet, it is just the best that is available right now (for my uses).
I hope someone finds my review helpful, feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments.