on May 22, 2011
Caution: Long Review, very detailed. Read if you're just super curious or on the fence.
When I say the "right" buyer, I mean this device markets to a certain niche of users. When I first heard that Xoom sales were terrible I lost a little faith in the Android miracle tablet. However, in the week I've owned the Xoom (and the countless hours I've spent on it when I should be sleeping) I have been more than blown away. THAT DOES NOT MEAN, however, that you will necessarily love it as much.
Some things the Xoom falls short on--I'll talk about those below. But on the things that it doesn't fall short on, it more than exceeds. I've had time with both the Xoom as well as the iPad (1 and 2), and I'll make comments comparing the two as I go.
Because I so enjoy it, I've written a formal review. I hope this might help those who are on the fence.
*Who Should Buy It?*
*"Nerds" and "Geeks": if you like the customisable interface that Android offers, Honeycomb won't let you down.
*Tech-spec junkies: go read the spec sheet and you'll see what I mean
*Anyone willing to learn: Android devices have a higher learning curve than iOS devices. Don't expect it to be so easy a caveman (/grandparent) can do it. It took me a full day to get use to the operating system--it's even different from previous versions of Android--but once I had, it was smooth, understandable, and usable. If you're one to get frustrated and give up on newer technology, go back to your Commodore 64.
*Media junkies: the tablet renders all media gorgeously. The large internal memory and the promise of expandable memory means it can be a virtual library of all your favourite songs, movies, games, music videos, and TV shows.
*Who Shouldn't Buy It?*
I'd rather say "who should be careful about buying it."
*Businessmen: unless you want the 4G speeds, or need some serious graphic rendering capability, Android isn't really optimised for business use. iOS is simply better for the simple, mundane tasks asked of someone who is really looking for a larger Blackberry. That's not to say Android can't do everything iOS can, but why complicate the matter unless you want other, non-Business-manly(tm) features?
*The Impatient: Android isn't the easiest thing to get use to, and can certainly have a lot of force closes.
*Anyone who needs maximum simplicity.
*Anyone who wants something cheap. Unless, of course, you define "cheap" as circa $600. In which case, go to eBay. I got my Xoom (4G version), a dock, and a case for $640 after tax and shipping, expedited.
*What Killed It*
You might ask yourself, why doesn't one see everyone with the Xoom if it's such an amazing tablet? Honestly, no matter how awesome a product is, corporate stupidity cannot save it. Here's what went wrong, in one tech enthusiast's opinion:
1) Exclusivity Agreements:
The Xoom was scheduled to be available only through two providers: Verizon or Best Buy. Normally exclusivity agreements such as this aren't a bad thing--people line outside of Apple Stores and AT&T kiosks for newer iPhones. So where did it go wrong with the Xoom?
*Verizon required that one activate the device (buy into a short-term data contract--all outrageously priced, starting at 20$/month/1gig) before buying a tablet from them. $800 + $20 + Tax > buying an iPad, so the "early adopter" market for non-Android junkies shrunk considerably. (Verizon later relented, allowing a customer to buy without activation so long as they bought an accessory, and then relented on the obvious profiteering a couple weeks later by allowing customers to buy the device alone for what it actually cost. By then, it was a little late.)
*Best Buy didn't really market the device at all. They still don't. I remember spending half an hour wandering my local Best Buy looking for the Xoom--I walked from the Tablet selection to the Mobile kiosks and back again. Try finding it at your local Best Buy. It's at the end of the netbook section. There were never any flashy signs showing where the tablet was. Nothing even suggested it was carried. Great way to start off, no?
2) It Wasn't Ready:
Is it ready now? It's ready enough.
What really got the Xoom attention was the combination of 4G speeds on an operating system promised to be polished and refined for tablet use. What was released was a device lacking 4G support--or even SD card support!--and boasting what can only best be described as a late beta of an obviously unfinished operating system. There wasn't even Flash!
Since then the 3.1 update has remedied all but the 4G/SD Card issues, which are rumored to be fixed before the summer.
3) Bad Marketing:
*Motorola's commercials seemed to focus on the same trendy show-and-glow that made the Droid an instant success, only they forgot one key part. While the Xoom commercials all featured fancy sound effects, cool demonstrations, and a scifi feel, they did not present facts. (Remember the first "Droid Does" commercial? Yeah. No lists of comparisons with these ads.) To make matters more complicated, Motorola originally branded the Xoom as a "Droid" product, but dropped the name at the last minute. I'm sure the buzzword association would have picked up a few of the less-geeky Android users.
*Motorola refused to sell the Wifi version at the same time as the 3/4G version. Couple that with Verizon's profiteering and Best Buy's negligence and you end up with a high-end tablet at high-end prices in not-so-obvious places.
*Myths Regarding the Comparison to the iPad 2*
1) "iOS has more apps ready for tablet use."
*The comparison is simple: open the "Featured Tablet Apps" page on the Android Market and you get about three dozen.
Apple, however, has over 300,000 apps that all run on Tablets, and 65,000 are tablet optimised.
Such an erroneous comparison!
*Android apps have been made to scale, because Android developers have had to develop for hundreds of different phones with various aspect ratios. As a result, an obvious phone application can work without a hitch on a tablet by scaling up the distances between objects and stretching backgrounds. Facebook, Evernote, CalorieCounter, and Twitter are all examples of "phone" applications which can be run on the Xoom WITHOUT BEING OBVIOUSLY DEVELOPED ONLY FOR PHONES. In reality, most of the 100,000+ Android apps will run on a tablet.
2) "Apple controls the market"
Jobs isn't a math major, that's for sure. In the iPad 2 Keynote address, he claimed a >90% market share of all tablets ever produced (assume the Galaxy Tab and the iPad 1 were the only tablets ever built--Apple would need to sell over 3 million more tablets just to reach the 90% mark. But they're not. Cheap foreign competitors and lesser-name products have been cramming the market for years.) All of that besides, unless you're looking to play some two-player chess with your buddies, it doesn't really matter that the iPad is a popular tablet.
The Review, Proper
1) Android Honeycomb 3.1: 10/10
Run smoothly (most of the time) and offer a depth of interactivity that one cannot find on any other tablet. Widgets are interactive--you can flick through your library, scroll through emails, or browse the market without ever leaving your "Homescreen", or "main menu." The closest comparable feature on the iPad is the "search" bar, which for some reason has its own homescreen pane.
Being a Google operating system, one has native access to certain Google features, such as Gmail, Step-by-Step GPS navigation (exclusive to Android), maps, etc. Additionally, one can use Google's voice recognition servers to be lazy and have the tablet type smaller phrases for you, such as search terms.
As an Android device, one can--if one so chooses--do literally anything they wish with the device. You can make it run faster by overclocking, or save battery by underclocking (if adventurous enough to root.) You can install applications from third party websites, other app markets (such as Amazon's), or be a bad person and pirate them. Don't do that unless the Market won't install something you've already paid for: Android developers put a lot of effort into their programs, and it often shows. One could also, in theory, turn their device into a wireless hotspot. I don't like Verizon's data plans, nor do I plan on rooting until after the 4G update, so I can't tell you how easy that would be.
The virtual keyboard on the Xoom is very nice, though the landscape mode requires some getting use to. I advise setting "Autocorrect" to "Aggressive" in the system settings, or else you can end up pressing the letters to the left of your intended letters, and end up with sentences that make no sense. After a bit of use, it becomes very natural--easier, in my opinion, than the iPad. I've even used the landscape keyboard to write a four-page English essay, in dactylic hexameter, without too many problems.
But the real winner is the portrait mode. The aspect ratio, screen size, and keyboard formatting in portrait mode all come together to make thumb-typing easier than on a phone.
A real keeper. The Browser is indistinguishable from a desktop browser: tabbed browsing, in-page searching, Flash, you name it. After the 3.1 update, scrolling and zooming (xooming, hah) became much more fluid. Speed tests rank the Xoom browser, laden with all of its memory-hungry features, as being just as fast or faster than Safari on the iPad 1 and 2.
*Note: I would have given 3.0 a 7/10 rating, but the 3.1 update really made it feel like a modern operating system ready for the consumer market.
2) Application Availability: 7/10
*Android market: >100k apps (compare that to Apple's 300,000. This is the major drawback, especially for people who like ten different games of the same genre.)
*Tegra "THD" (ultra high graphics) games: <20 (compare that to Apple's whopping 0. If you want to know what I mean, there are YouTube videos comparing the upcoming game "Galaxy on Fire 2" in Tegra THD graphics mode and iPad graphics mode. The differences are mindblowing.)
*Amazon market and third parties: if you can't find it on the Android market, you can probably install it from somewhere else.
3) Stability: 5/10
The biggest drawback.
While 95% of the time, everything will work fine, the other 5% of the time something force closes. I had to give this a 5/10 just because one shouldn't have to put up with force closures on a high-end tablet. I will note, however, that very VERY rarely is the stability such an issue that a full reboot is required--normally one can just force-close the malfunctioning application, reopen it, and everything works as expected. It can be obnoxious, however.
1) Audio: 6/10
*Speakers suck. There's a "Comfortably Audible" range between 75% and 100% of the volume, and of that, 90%-100% of the volume can cause it to sound "tinny." Regardless, if you keep the volume at 80% and don't hope for vinyl-quality audio playback, you won't have too many issues. I sit my Xoom on my dock and listen to Pandora for hours on end with the volume at 80%, and not only is the sound comfortably audible, but it is also comfortably clear. Just don't hope for a boom box.
*The second speaker complaint--direction. They face away from you, meaning you can't really set your tablet down on your bed, screen facing upward, and expect to hear anything.
*The volume rocker is poorly designed. The buttons are hard to find and harder to hit. Might sound like a meager complaint, but it can get obnoxious.
2) Video: 10/10
*At full brightness, all the colors come through as one would expect.
*The Tegra 2 Chipset means video comes through crisp. I mean REALLY crisp. Video renders better on my Xoom than it does when my MacBook plays DVDs.
*The battery doesn't seem to take too much of a hit doing graphics-intense rendering. I can watch movies or play Samurai II: Vengeance without any noticeable and sudden drop in storage.
*The Tegra 2 Chipset also means amazing rendering of video game graphics. You really have to see it to believe it.
*The screen is actually pretty big.
3) Interface: 8/10
*Pros: thinner bezel makes the device look streamlined and modern, maximising screen size; the lack of physical navigation buttons actually saves space; despite the weirdness of having the power button on the back, you never hit it without meaning to; comfortable in the hands; ports aren't intrusive.
*Cons: volume rocker; speaker direction; curved back means that, if you put it on a flat surface and push on one side, it will rock; thin bezel and weight make it impossible to hold the tablet in one hand without either cradling it with an arm or inadvertently touching the screen
4) Innards: 10/10
*Tegra 2 is amazing. See above.
*1 GHz dual-core means everything loads quickly
*HDMI out with complete mirroring means I can play Angry Birds on a 52 inch plasma tv. Niceee.
*iFixit gave the device an 8/10 repairability rating--in other words, it's not that hard to take apart and put back together.
I'm pretty sure if you've read this far, this is the device for you. Once more software updates are pushed, and once the tablet gets SD card and 4G support, it will truly be without rival, and worth the full $800. Right now it is a worthy competitor for the iPad.
If you're hesitant, don't worry. I was too. But it's turned out to be an amazing investment. I take my Xoom with me everywhere--often in place of my phone. It is much less intrusive to carry a tablet than a laptop, and a tablet offers more functionality than a phone--so if that's what you're looking for, you really can't go wrong with a Xoom.