The Motorola Xoom tablet ships with version 3.0 of Google's Android operating system (Honeycomb). Honeycomb is the first version of Android that has been designed to run on large-screened tablets instead of smartphones. In Australia, the Xoom will launch on Telstra in May, but the telco is yet to reveal pricing details.
Read our roundup of the best free Android apps for geeks.
Android 3.0 is vastly superior to its predecessors and is so different to use that it's practically unrecognisable as a close relative of the Android widely deployed today. The software's tablet optimisation was evident in the home screens, the widgets, the music player, the browser, the email, and even the YouTube player.
The Xoom zooms to the top of the tablet class in overall style and design. The build quality is solid, with volume and power buttons that are easy to press and a sturdily constructed SIM tray that doubles as the MicroSD card slot cover.
The tablet was designed with landscape orientation in mind: In that position, you hold it with two hands, and the front-facing 2-megapixel camera sits at the top middle of the display, just as the webcam on a laptop typically is. The stereo speakers, at back, appear to the right and left, with plenty of clearance for your fingers (this positioning is unfortunate, however, if you plan to listen to music while the pad is lying flat, with its screen face-up). The micro-USB and HDMI-mini ports are at bottom, perfect for mounting the Xoom in its optional dock. The power button is located on the back, to the left of the rear-facing, flash-equipped, 5-megapixel. The button lies where your forefinger naturally lands when you hold the Xoom in both hands.
The Xoom runs Nvidia's Tegra 2 platform, with a dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 32GB of on-board user memory. The MicroSD Card slot permits users to double their storage space as they use the device--a boon for anyone who tends to pack gadgets with media. Unfortunately, the MicroSD Card slot is not enabled at launch-so early shoppers will have to wait until a software update comes along (eventually, Xoom will ship with the slot enabled).
The display measures 10.1 inches diagonally, with 1280x800-pixel resolution. The widescreen's 16:10 aspect ratio makes it perfect for viewing video; but for folks accustomed to the 4:3 aspect ratio of the 9.7in Apple iPad screen, it may take some getting used to. The unit also stands an inch taller than the first-generation iPad, but it feels comfortable when you hold it landscape-style in two hands.
You'll definitely want to use two hands: Like the first-generation iPad with 3G and Wi-Fi, the Xoom weighs 730g. The weight is manageable for periods of two-handed operation, but intolerable for extended one-handed operation. A third-generation Amazon Kindle weighs one-third as much as the Xoom.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the Xoom's display's quality: In spite of its high resolution, I detected graininess; colours seemed somewhat inaccurate and didn't pop as they do on the iPad and on Samsung's bright, occasionally oversaturated Galaxy Tab.
Initially, the device's display looked lovely. The home screens were readable, and colours looked fine. But as I used the device, the pattern of the screen became more obvious. The display on the iPad felt downright sparkly, as if sand were buried in the liquid crystals themselves. In contrast, the Xoom seemed to present me with a grid whose lines were more obvious in some situations than in others. I noticed them especially in photos and on the grey of the keyboard, but less so on the default blue Honeycomb wallpaper. The lines were most obvious in screens with white backgrounds, such as in the Web browser or in the preinstalled Google Books app. I also detected a lot of pixelation in the letters, but that effect varied depending on the font I used (for example, the sans serif font in Google Books looked relatively smooth)--which leads me to wonder whether this is primarily a screen issue (Motorola says that the display is 150 dots per inch) or a rendering issue.
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