Motorola Xoom Hands-on Review

Since 24th of february, the newest android-based tablet is available directly in best buy stores. The long awaited motorola xoom.  Fortunately we were able to get our hands on a retail unit to review it (thanks again @rafbuff ).

First of all, the price is $800 without a verizon contract, which seems a bit pricey compared to the 32GB iPad, especially since the motorola tablet doesn’t quite match the build quality of the apple device, at least in terms of materials. The xoom comes in a black plastic case with a rubber back and feels slightly heavier than the iPad.

The “on/off” button is located on the back of the tablet next to the built-in camera, which makes it difficult to operate when it is placed on a table.  Plastic construction, the rest of the specs stack up well against the iPad:

– 2 cams –  2mp rear facing, 5mp front facing
– 1x 3,5mm headphone jack
– 1x micro sd slot
– 1x micro usb slot
– built-in 3G, 4G upgradeable, 802.11n wifi, mobile hotspot

Our unit is working with a german t-mobile sim card without any problems, owing to the fact that the motorola xoom is not locked to any specific carrier.  We’re happy to report that the 3g connection works flawlessly with excellent download speeds.

Back to the tablet and its hardware: The display is bright and very crisp, but the auto-brightness feature could use some improvement, sometimes misjudging the lighting requirements. When first turned on the device needs to be activated using a wifi or 3g network.

Once associated with a google account, the tablet will let you sync contacts and messages like any other android device, but in addition to that users also have the option to store additional device settings such wifi passwords in the google cloud. A useful feature that makes it very easy to restore your tablet when necessary. If you plan on taking your motorola xoom with you when travelling, you will definitely appreciate the ability to encrypt all the data on the device with a single password.

This honeycomb-powered tablet also offers open-xchange and ms exchange server connectivity once you have completed the quick and painless setup. It will sync calendar, email and contact data and provide push email functionality. Our xoom was able to receive emails sent from an open-xchange-based system within about a second, which means it matches blackberry’s push service of speed.

The integrated browser looks more like chrome than the standard android browser on pre-honeycomb phones and tablets, and it’s staggeringly fast, even when viewing non-mobile-optimized web content. Unfortunately our device does not support flash at this point. Flash support will likely be a major selling point for android tablets (once implemented), since the iPad’s lack thereof is one of its biggest shortcomings.

Installing applications from the android market is just as easy as you would expect it to be, and a quick round of ‘angry birds’ confirmed that nvidias tegra 2 chip is more than up to the job. We ran 6 applications simultaneously and were able to switch between them with no noticeable lag. The whole device feels very responsive and the touchscreen is a match for the iPad’s interface. Even though this Andoid release was designed specifically with tablets in mind, the UI could still use some improvements. There are no catastrophic problems, but some elements are less than intuitive and require a bit of learning by trial-and-error.

A big plus is the battery life. Our device was charged to 60% when we bought it in the U.S. and it still had 10% left after playing with it at the airport and for most of the flight back to Europe. Recharging took 1-2 hours.

The Motorola Xoom is no bargain at $800, but we feel the hardware specs and the snappy performance justify the price, and once the Android operating system has gone through one or two rounds of bugfixes and useability tweaks, you’ll be getting hardware that rivals the iPad as well as a platform that’s significantly more flexible  and capable than iOS.

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