After months of saving and deliberating whether or not to buy an iPad, I didn’t. Let’s face it, you want a tablet to be your one-stop access point for all your Google searches, quick game plays and videos. Since I already own an iPod Touch (2nd Gen) and an iPhone 4, I really couldn’t see what I was going to gain by getting another iOS device. Sure, there are over 120,000 iPad specific apps, but big deal, it’s just a big iPod touch.
This left me with quite a dilemma. A load of cash burning a hole in my pocket and an aching need for new tech. My only option was to look around at Android tablets as they offer something different. More practical and customisable, with home screens and widgets, letting you put everything you need right in front of you, displaying the info then and there, without loading separate apps.
After taking up nearly an hour of some poor blokes time in my local electronics store I came to a conclusion. Either the Acer Iconia A500 or the Motorola Xoom. I weighed up the pros and cons, and am now the proud owner of the Motorola Xoom.
My first impressions un-boxing it were that it was an incredibly well built device. Weighty enough that it feels like a quality piece of hardware, but not too heavy that its a chore to hold it in your hands. Now for some technical bits. It has a 10.1″ screen, which is bigger than the iPad, and a screen resolution of 800×1280. So it has a bigger screen than the iPad 2 and a better screen resolution. 1-0 Motorola.
So start up takes only a few seconds. It locates and connects to my home Wi-Fi with my password, and login into my Gmail account which fire up Mail and other applications. This is my first experience of actually owning and Android device, after testing several phones and slowly being persuaded towards those little green robots.
Out of the box, the Xoom ran Android 3.0 Honeycomb, which I immediately updated to 3.1 (Honeycomb). This was a simple task of going into “Settings” and going to “About Tablet” and “System updates” where it checked and installed the latest release from Motorola which also came packed with 3.1
The obligatory next steps are to set up all my other accounts. So straight to the market I went and downloaded TweetDeck, Twitter, Facebook and a few other choice social media apps. Logging in was a whiz and I could add the widgets to any of the 5 home screens giving me intstant feeds to each of these.
I was very impressed with the Android Market, which has a different design on tablets than the phones. Much simple and cleaner looking. Just better to be honest.
How I have both several work email accounts and personal accounts, and the Xoom copes with them all perfectly. Hotmail works perfectly, and Gmail accounts of course work, with more focus and attention to detail here, such as better layout and sorting options.
I’ve downloaded a few games to see how the Xoom performs with graphics and sound, being that this is a 1GHz dual-core device, with 1GB of RAM, I was expecting the results to be good. Angry Birds was downloaded, as was Air Control, both on a medium level for graphics, but with sound and heavy emphasis on touch control made them ideal choices. The Xoom suffered no lag or delayed loading times, and game play was smooth and fluid.
A big thing on my list of “must-haves” for a tablet is a good media player. Now I know the Xoom doesn’t have a decent video player built in, but there are several good options from the Market. More on that later. The music player is the most polished and advanced version Android have put out to date, with a really nice album cover view9 that scrolls diagonally across the screen, and tap to view album tracks and details. I was a little disappointed in the quality of the speakers, considering this has two on the back, playing in stereo. They sound great and deliver a really nice clean sound, they’re just nowhere near loud enough for my liking. I’m not expecting B&W Zeppelin quality, but a bit louder would have been nice. I travel a lot, so its not a major issue as I’ll most likely be using headphones anyway. All basic music controls are present, such as loop, shuffle, skip and pause etc, and there’s a really handy widget you can stick on a home screen so you don’t have to keep loading the app.
For a video player, I hit up the Market and chose MX Video Player, which seemed the best choice, and also downloaded and additional Codec (ARMv7) which optimises the player for the Xoom. I set both of these apps up for automatic downloading so I can keep them updated. Watching films on the go is a big thing for me, and now you can now buy DVD ‘s which a bonus digital copy, it’s great to have a device which utilises this extra facility. Video playback is really good quality and capable of 720p files.
I must now take a moment to discuss it’s faults. Let’s face it, all gadgets have them and nothing is perfect. What we should be concerned about is the severity and the impact these faults have. After over a month of pretty solid use, and being thoroughly tested by tech-head friends and family, not to mention 6 and 10 year olds, its held up pretty well. Very minor screen lag, but I’ve only noticed this when web browsing, and put it down to slower internet connections. The Market is where I have the biggest gripe, mainly due to its frequency to crash. This is a new look store for Honeycomb, so can only assume it’s almost a beta style version that’s offered up.
The brightness adjust on the screen is also an issue. Auto-brightness is just shocking, and really doesn’t do a decent job when outdoors, and you need to manually bump up the brightness. Not a massive issue, but just one of those things that stops the device from being brilliant.
In summary, I’m really happy with it. If the faults could be rectified, which I’m sure with the next OS update to 3.2 they will be, it will be the perfect device for me. It’s decent screen size and clarity make me reach for it more and more over my laptop, and it’s build quality and metal design justify its weighty feel. One month in, I can already see it has a place in my life as a gadget, toy and a utility. It is saving my phone battery as I make for the Xoom to browse the web and email more, instead of the phone, and have even taken Android in a way I never thought possible. As an Apple loyalist, I expect things to work, but as an Android tablet user I just shrug my shoulders if it doesn’t, without a care or a worry, because I know one day, after an update or two it will. It has instilled a different attitude for OS’s in me. And I like it.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend the Motorola Xoom enough. It’s ease of use and simplicity, coupled with it’s top line hardware make it hard to beat, and difficult to pass up in favour of something else. Chances are if you’re in the market for a tablet, you might be looking at this device, what I’m saying is look no further. This is the tablet you want, this is the tablet you need in your life.
I guess the only dilemma is there’s also a Motorola Xoom 2, which features similar specs but has a different processor, an ARM Cortex A9 instead of the Xoom’s NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core chip, and also comes out of the box with Android 3.2 instead of 3.0 (both Honeycomb) but can be updated, or even rooted to run Ice Cream Sandwich, and 2 HD cameras, front a rear as oppose to the standard Xoom which has HD rear and SD front facing camera. But if I’m honest, I don’t see the point in cameras on a tablet, its more of a web tool, and the £50 price difference for such tiny changes isn’t cost effective.
If you can’t quite stomach the prices of these tablets, but don’t want to lose out on what Android tablets have to offer, have a look at the Andy Pad, which is a really nice little device, and hell, it’s Android too so you know what you’re getting in terms of software before you even look at the hardware.
Happy tablet shopping
– Gary (aka the Gadget-Geek) Cook