- 10.1-inch HD (1280×800) capacitive multitouch display
- 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor
- 1 GB RAM
- 32GB of internal storage
- 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with dual-LED flash
- 720p HD video capture
- 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls
- HDMI-output with mirror mode
- 4G connectivity (3G only at launch with 4G upgrade in Q2 2011)
- WiFi (B/G/N)
- GPS (with compass)
- Gyroscope and accelerometer
- Ambient light sensor
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Stereo speakers
- Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS
- Blazing fast Tegra 2 dual-core processor
- True multi-tasking (even under heavy load)
- Class-leading 3D graphics performance
- Silky smooth scrolling and animated transitions
- Scrollable widgets
- Super fast 4G LTE data connection from Verizon
- Large, HD resolution display
- Premium fit/finish and build quality
- Front-facing and rear-facing (with LED flash) cameras
- Built-in microphone for video chatting
- HDMI-out with mirror mode for playing games, and web surfing on a TV
- Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS is perfectly suited for tablets
- No 4G at launch
- Smudge-tastic metal chassis
- Pricey when purchased without contract
- Lack of hardware buttons can be confusing
- Honeycomb UI is not as intuitive as iOS (iPad)
- No microSD card slot
- No removable battery
- Non-standard charging plug
- Hard to seat tablet into optional dock
To say that the Motorola XOOM is one sexy piece of kit is an understatement. The smartphone maker — and now, tablet maker — has always impressed us with their innovative and quality hardware, and the XOOM proves, once again, that Motorola has what it takes to lead the Android space to greatness.
The first thing you’ll notice on the XOOM is that it feels solid. There are no lightweight and cheap-feeling plastic parts on the tablet. Instead, you’ll find that the majority of the tablet’s case is comprised of a solid aluminum unibody chassis – not unlike the iPad. The only plastic you’ll find is located in a thin strip, coated in a soft-touch matte finish, stretching across the top of the case. This is where you’ll find the rear-facing 5MP camera and the antennas that connect this Honeycomb tablet to Verizon’s network and various WiFi hotspots (radio signals have a hard time penetrating aluminum, which is why the antennas are housed in plastic). Aside from the plastic strip, the XOOM’s chassis is sturdy and doesn’t exhibit any play (wiggle). It’s hard not to compare the XOOM to an iPad, but we figure that’s what Motorola was going for in the first place.
The only problem with the matte black aluminum chassis is how easily it gets dirty. Rub your finger along the backside of the tablet, and you’ll likely leave a trail of dead skin cells. Seriously. If you’re the oily-fingers type, expect lots of smudges – and if you try to wipe those smudges with your finger, well, you’ll be left with both smudges and skin trails. We keep the XOOM in its case to prevent our dirty mitts from marring the backside.
The large, 10.1-inch display also picks up smudges like it’s nobody’s business, but it makes up for it with multi-touch support and its eye-gasmic 1280×800 full HD resolution. This tablet is our first encounter with a display that can natively support full HD video playback, and it does it well. Of course, glare is always an issue with gigantic glass-topped screens, so you’ll have to jockey for a good viewing angle in all but the most ideal lighting conditions. Your living room or airplane seat will probably be as close to ideal conditions as you’ll ever get in the real world.
You’ll also notice that the XOOM lacks any Android navigation buttons. Gone are the standard Home, Back, Search, and Menu buttons that we’ve come to know and love on our Android devices. Instead, the navigation buttons are all located on-screen. Thanks to the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS, you can navigate throughout the entire UI using only the on-screen buttons. These buttons allow you to carry out any task you might require of the tablet: viewing the homescreen, navigating one step back, viewing all your apps, searching within an app, searching Google, customizing the homescreen (widgets, shortcuts, wallpapers), etc. etc. If you’re a regular Android user, this new no-button-having setup will take some getting used to, but rest assured that you’ll be up and running in no time.
The only real physical buttons you find on the XOOM are the volume control rocker and power button. Those should both be self-explanatory as to what they do. If you need more clarification… well, we’re going to assume you don’t. The lack of any other physical buttons lends to the tablet’s sleek and minimalist design aesthetic – again, not unlike the iPad. In fact, the iPad has a physical Home button, giving it one additional physical button more than the XOOM.
On the backside of the tablet, nestled within the plastic strip that houses all the RF antennas, you’ll find the 5-megapixel camera and the dual-LED flash. The camera is capable of recording video in full 720p HD resolution. This plastic strip also houses the power button and the stereo speakers. The 2MP front-facing camera lives directly opposite the rear camera, and makes video calls easy and convenient.
The power, HDMI, and microUSB ports all live along the bottom edge of the device. The casing is milled from a solid piece of metal, so the ports require a small cutout in the case. This takes away from the XOOM’s mostly clean lines, but not enough to really notice. The standard-sized 3.5mm headphone jack lives along the top edge of the XOOM, which strikes us as a bit of an odd spot to put a headphone jack. Next to the headphone jack is a small, pull-out tray that looks like a SIM card tray at first glance. This is where the Verizon 4G LTE expansion module will live, once Verizon makes them available in Q2 2011.
Overall, the hardware is solid. The sharp edges on the metal unibody chassis could stand to use a little refinement, and we’d have liked for the plastic strip to be even less pronounced (it’s quite unassuming as it is). The case also picks up smudges and streaks from oily fingers like it’s going out of style. But, those are really the only issues we have with the hardware. If you thought the iPad was sexy, you’ll feel the same way about the XOOM.
Power and Performance
If you haven’t been following Motorola’s development on their very first Android tablet, you’ll probably be glad to hear that the XOOM is at the top of its class in terms of raw processing and computing power. Thanks to NVIDIA’s 1 GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor and blazing-fast GPU, the XOOM can take any task you can throw at it, and then some. The Tegra 2 can run each of its two CPU cores at up to 1 GHz, and works in harmony with the 1GB of RAM (4x that of the iPad) to make quick work of web browsing, watching videos, playing games, and even scrolling through you photos.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS has been optimized to take full advantage of the dual-core processor. It puts all that power to good use with fancy 3D treatments strewn throughout the UI (like 3D buldings in Google Maps, homescreen customizer, and the 3D video wall in the YouTube app) and animated screen rotation transitions. You’ll also notice that scrolling through album covers, photo galleries, and web pages is a smooth-as-silk experience. Scrolling frame rates aren’t quite at iPhone and iPad levels, but the frame rates are high enough that you won’t have to come up with excuses for your Android-powered tablet when your friend pulls out an iPad.
As a testament to the Tegra 2 dual-core processor’s power, we opened five multiple web browser tabs, then started playing some music (and kept it running in the background), and then launched a YouTube video clip. Even under this heavy load, all apps continued to persist in the background and remained responsive – we played music whilst watching a video (not a pleasurable experience, to be sure) with no hiccups; Google Maps’ 3D animations worked smoothly as well. We repeatedly switched between apps to prove that all apps continued to run in the background.
And then there’s the GPU. This is NVIDIA’s forte, and it shows on the XOOM. The 3D animations in Google Maps and YouTube are executed smoothly, but the real tests were the 3D-heavy Cordy and Dungeon Defenders games. Both games ran with no noticeable skipping or dropped frames, despite YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, Music, and multiple browser tabs open in the background.
The XOOM is, by far, the fastest and smoothest tablet to date.
Or, if on-screen keyboards just don’t tickle your fancy, Motorola offers an optional Bluetooth keyboard that will have you tapping out long-form emails and whatnot in no time flat. Just fire up the keyboard, drill down into the XOOM’s wireless settings, and pair with the keyboard – after that, your tablet and keyboard will automatically pair the next time they’re powered on and near eachother. Alternatively, you can use any other Bluetooth keyboard — like the Apple Aluminum Bluetooth keyboard — with the tablet just as easily as Motorola’s optional kit. Compared to Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard, Motorola’s keyboard is slightly larger and is made entirely of injection-molded plastic. The keys mimic Apple’s layout as well, but don’t offer the same confidence-inspiring tactile feedback with each keystroke.
There’s also a media dock that connects to the XOOM’s power (charging), microUSB and microHDMI ports, allowing you to dock the tablet in an upright, landscape orientation while retaining full functionality. It’s made from mostly plastic, covered in a rubbery soft-touch finish, but the weight of the dock gives the impression that it’s a premium product. You can connect the dock to your computer’s USB port, to your TV’s HDMI port, and to your wall charger – and the interchangeable dock inserts allow you to use the dock with or without the optional portfolio case. When you come home after a long day, you simply plop the tablet into the dock and you’re charging, watching TV, and transferring data files at your leisure. The dock also has built-in speakers, so you can play music and watch movies directly on the tablet at decent sound levels. Convenience is the name of the game here.
If you’re all about protecting your investment, the XOOM is offered with an optional portfolio case. It has cutouts for all your ports, volume and power buttons, and allows the camera to shine through. The case closes like a portfolio, and snaps into place like a clamshell to ensure that your screen is protected when you’re not using the tablet. It’s the best of both worlds – sleek portfolio styling matched with secure protection. We suggest you steer clear of repeatedly removing and inserting the tablet into the portfolio case, as the plastic tabs tend to leave marks on the case (the marks can be rubbed off, but still…)
Size and Weight
Now, the fancy, unibody metal chassis that gives the XOOM its premium in-hand feel and uncompromising build quality also gives the tablet a good bit of heft. On the one hand, the tablet is dense and feels like it’s worth all that hard-earned money you just spent to buy one. On the other hand, the tablet is somewhat heavy and less portable than we’d like. In comparison to the lightweight and smaller Galaxy Tab, the XOOM is what we’d like to call, a “chunker.” Just like the iPad, you’ll need to hit the gym regularly to beef up those arms if you plan on using the XOOM in bed whilst holding it above your head.
The larger size and significant heft of the tablet also help the tablet feel more stable on a desk or in the hand/lap. The larger display also makes typing on the screen more enjoyable. Turn the tablet sideways into landscape mode and the keyboard will orient itself to match your new perspective. The landscape keyboard is actually large and ergonomic enough to allow for comfortable two-handed typing sessions. If you never thought you’d be able to bang out emails at 50 words per minute on a landscape on-screen keyboard, the XOOM will change your mind.
That said, the larger dimensions of this tablet thankfully don’t translate into added girth. The XOOM is barely thicker than an iPad.
Fit and Finish
There is no battery cover to speak of, allowing for the sturdy unibody design. No moving or removable parts means there’s less chance of any wiggle or “play” in the tablet – we twisted and torqued the heck out of the XOOM with no noticeable movement. The only real moving part is the plastic tray that will eventually be replaced by the Verizon 4G LTE module — it’s like a SIM card tray, but a bit larger.
The fit/finish and material quality on the XOOM reminds us of a German sports sedan. Elegantly understated design underscored by precision craftsmanship and attention to detail.
The Motorola XOOM is powered by the all-new Android 3.o Honeycomb OS. It’s the first tablet-optimized version of Android, and it features all kinds of tweaks to help you take advantage of the extra screen real estate and the plentiful horsepower in tablets these days. Honeycomb, as those “in the biz” call it, is as drastic a departure from the smartphone version of Android OS as was Froyo compared to Donut. The tablet version of the OS brings with it snazzy new homescreen customization options, tablet-optimized app “fragments” (we know them as “panes”), better multi-tasking implementation, a new context-aware “Action Bar”, scrollable widgets, integrated video chat, and on-screen navigation buttons that do away with physical navigation buttons. For the most part, Honeycomb is good stuff, but it does fail in some key aspects.
Homescreen and Navigation
The navigation structure in Honeycomb is basically the same as with other Android versions. You can always reach the homescreen by tapping the “Home” button, located in the lower left of the screen. If you find yourself needing to navigate backwards, you can tap the “Back” button, which lives next to the Home button. You’ll also find the all-new “Multi-task” button located to the right of the Home button. Tap the Multi-task button to bring up a list of your recently used (and still running in the background) apps. Gone is the “Menu” button that’s become a staple for other Android versions, replaced instead with the context-aware “Action Bar” along the top of the screen.
The Action Bar is home to app-specific actions – these options can be listed under an “Action Menu” on the rightmost corner of the action bar, and oft-used actions can be listed as individual buttons. Gmail, for example, lists Mark Unread, Report spam, Mute, Refresh, Settings, Help, Feedback? options in the action menu, but also serves up Search, Compose email, Archive, and Trash as individual buttons. The Action Bar is only active when you’re using an app.
In the lower right corner of the screen, you’ll find the Notification area. This is where you’ll find at-a-glance info such as time, signal strength (WiFi or 3G), battery life. System notification icons pop up to the right of the at-a-glance information, alerting you to new emails, app updates, download completions, and even currently playing music. Tapping the at-a-glance section will trigger a pop-up with an overview of all system notifications – from here you can kill individual notifications by tapping the “x” to the right of the notification. Alternatively, you can tap individual notification alert icons to view the notification for a particular app. The expanded notifications pop-up also gives you the option to view and modify quick settings (Airplane mode, WiFi, Screen rotation lock, display brightness, notifications), with the option to open the comprehensive settings menu.
In the top right corner of the homescreen, you’ll find the “Apps” and “+” buttons – there is no Action Bar for the homescreen. The Apps button is fairly straightforward – hit this button to bring up a list of the Android apps that are installed on your XOOM. Apps are categorized in your app tray into All Apps and My Apps, which should be self explanatory. The “+” button brings up the homescreen customizer screen. From this screen, you can add widgets, app shortcuts, wallpapers and more to the homescreen page of your choice. The interface makes it easy to drag and drop a widget/shortcut/wallpaper to any homescreen page, and it even lets you drop the item onto a specific location within a page.
Unfortunately, Honeycomb is still something of a first-generation tablet OS. There are inconsistent user interface (UI) metaphors that are counter-intuitive at best, and downright confusing at worst. The “Menu” button, for example, has mostly been replaced by the Action Bar, but not entirely. Some apps will still cause a Menu button to appear to the right of the Multi-task button, muddling the Action Bar metaphor a bit. And, even for Android veterans such as ourselves (or perhaps because we’re so used to other Android versions), it took us a while to realize that the “Add account” button for setting up Gmail accounts was located in the upper right corner of the screen – this makes sense, given the “+” buttons location on the homescreen, but was confusing nonetheless for us old school Android users.
With the exception of the iPad, most tablets today have rear-facing cameras. The Motorola XOOM has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with a dual-LED flash, as well as a front-facing shooter rated at 2-megapixels. Neither camera is exceptional, but they get the job done – and if you’re really relying on your 10-inch tablet to take on-the-go photos, it’s probably safe to assume you’re part of a very minute minority.
That said, we expected the 5MP shooter to take better shots. Especially since Motorola saw fit to supplement the camera with a dual-LED flash. There’s no touch-focus option, but the camera will automatically adjust focus just before it snaps a shot.
Low light performance without the flash is mostly depressing, but the dual-LED flash does a great job of lighting objects at a medium distance in marginal lighting conditions. Don’t expect works of art from the XOOM’s camera, but if you need to take a quick pic of your surroundings to share with family, the camera will do you proud.
The front-facing cam is delegated mostly to self-portraits and video calls, so camera quality is not really an issue here. You should just be glad you have one available to you for video chatting and those ever so flattering self pics.
The highlight of the rear-facing camera, however, is the XOOM’s ability to capture video at full 720p HD resolution. You can adjust video quality, but we’re happy just keeping the camcorder set to maximum resolution. The higher resolution really makes a difference when you push videos to your TV’s big screen via HDMI. Our video tests showed good performance, with little to no “jerkiness” and smooth frame rates. The larger size of the tablet, versus smartphones, helps keep the camera steady, which helps prevent jerky video.
Overall, the cameras should be more than enough to take photos of your kids or your new gadget to show off to your parents or web forum buddies.
Browsing and Multimedia
This Android tablet comes with a Webkit browser that works much like all the previous stock Android browsers we’ve played with. The browser supports tabbed browsing in multiple tabs simultaneously and even plays nice with Adobe’s Flash technology. And, thanks to the XOOM’s widescreen aspect ratio display, browsing webpages in portrait orientation gives you more vertical depth than other tablets with standard aspect ratios. That means less scrolling and more reading.
Most web pages render perfectly, for lack of a better word. Intelligent zooming mostly works well, but suffers from a (very) slightly jerky “zoom-in” animation. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tab scrolling and pinch-zooming on a webpage is a flawless experience. The high scrolling frame rates on the XOOM aren’t necessarily advertised, but it becomes quite apparent when you flick through or pinch-zoom on a webpage. You can thank the Tegra 2 dual-core processor and the tablet-specific optimizations baked into Honeycomb for all that.
As of the time of this writing, Adobe Flash has not yet made an appearance on the XOOM. Adobe has clarified this lack of Flash on the Honeycomb tablet by assuring us that Flash will be made available to all Honeycomb tablets in the not too distant future – in other words, Flash will hit the XOOM shortly after its launch.
Honeycomb is all about multimedia – which makes sense, seeing as how tablets are mostly built as entertainment devices. As such, the multimedia apps have been optimized for the tablet. They’re able to take advantage of the extra screen real estate to allow you to edit videos, browse through full song info while listening to songs in the background, and even discover music that’s been long lost in your vast music library.
The Honeycomb version of the Music app is completely revamped from other versions of Android OS. Fire up the Music app and you’ll be greeted with a slant-scrolling list of album covers. There’s a dash of 3D flavoring added in for good measure, but the app still manages to scroll through higher-resolution album covers with aplomb. As we’ve already mentioned, smooth scrolling action is the name of the game with this tablet.
When you tap on a song, you are whisked away to the Now Playing screen, which serves up playback controls, song/artist/album info, album art, and a scrubbing bar. The most innovative feature in the Music app is the way it allows you to explore related songs. Tap on the arrow next to the artist name and the app will show you a list of which songs/albums in your library are related or similar to your currently playing song. If you scroll through to the top or bottom of this list, the entire screen will tilt forward or backward, indicating that you’ve reached the end of the list. If you tap the arrow next to the album name, you’ll be taken to a list of songs in that album.
The video player is still fairly bare bones. The main advantage of the Honeycomb video player is that it’s optimized to fully leverage dual-core silicon, which means you can scrub (fast forward or rewind) through 1080p HD videos as if they were lowly 360p videos. Our previous Android video player tests using 720p videos showed choppy video scrubbing performance, but the XOOM handles 1080p videos really (really) well. We would have liked to see more from the video player, but as far as playing videos is concerned, we can’t really complain.
The YouTube app included with Honeycomb is nothing like anything we’ve seen before. In fact, there’s a new YouTube widget, one of the new scrollable variety, that allows you to flick-scroll your way through the day’s more popular videos. Tapping the widget fires up the YouTube app.
The YouTube app’s modular “fragments” (panes) can be rearranged to fit any screen orientation (portrait or landscape), making it easy to consume and discover new content. You can watch a video while scrolling through related videos and comments, with the option to watch the video in straight-up full-screen mode. You can also comment, share, and even like videos while watching them at the same time.
And to take advantage of the HD-resolution display, YouTube videos automatically (if you have a fast enough data connection) display in “HQ” quality. You can disable HQ video playback, but that’s on you. Us? We’ll happily consume YouTube fodder in HQ glory!
What, you didn’t think the XOOM would let its expansive HD display go to waste on just playing video games, recording HD video, surfing the web, checking email, wasting time on YouTube, and watching movies, did you? Of course not. That’s where the Movie Studio app comes in. The new Honeycomb-specific app (for now, at least) allows you to take those HD video recordings that you captured with the XOOM and turn them into full-fledged movies.
The app allows you to bring together a handful of video clips, photos, and even sound/music clips to create movies on the go. The interface makes it easy to expand time scales, insert/delete clips, preview clips, crop video/photos, and even apply special effects to the video. You’re not going to get Final Cut Pro, or even iMovie, tools in Movie Studio, but it’s comprehensive enough to have you playing the part of “cinematographer” in no time.
Overall, the multimedia experience is top-notch. We’d have liked a more full-featured video player and movie editor, but there’s always room for improvement. If you’re looking to consume content on the XOOM, we’re sure it won’t let you down.
You don’t need a gaming console anymore. Well, that might be a bit of an overreach. The point is that the XOOM is a fully-capable gaming machine with the kind of 3D graphics horsepower that you used to only find in dedicated gaming consoles. No joke. The NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core CPU and high-performance GPU make this tablet a gaming force to be reckoned with. We tested two 3D-heavy games — Dungeon Defenders and Cordy — and were blown away by the speed and smoothness of the games.
In case you’re not familiar, both the Dungeon Defenders and Cordy games put you smack dab in the middle of a fully built-out 3D world. The games are filled with interactive 3D environments, real-time 3D environment renderings, and all kinds of animations that require high frame rates to really look good. And, looking good in 3D gaming never, well, looked so good.
To top it off, you can connect the XOOM to your TV via HDMI and play the games on the big screen. We have a hard time believing anyone would need a bigger screen than the 10.1-incher on the tablet, but having the option to play games on your TV is definitely nice.
Screen Quality and Battery
Widescreen. HD resolution. 10.1-inches. These are all words that might describe the XOOM’s display, but they don’t really capture the subjective feel of an HD widescreen display in the flesh, as it were. The expansive display is bright enough to comfortably view in a brightly sunlit room, and throws off enough colors to keep even the pickiest of movie-goers entertained for a couple hours. But, all that big-screened, crisp colored, backlit goodness comes at a price.
The XOOM is virtually unusable outdoors. Just taking a picture through a sunny window is nigh impossible, as the glare coming off the screen hides the picture underneath. Try using the tablet in direct sunlight and it gets even worse, as the screen gets washed out like an 80’s glam rock band. Even turned up to the brightest level, the display suffered massive glare issues. As much as it hurts us to say it, the XOOM display is an indoor-only jobbie.
As for battery life, that’s where the XOOM shines. On a full charge, we watched three 1080p HD movies back-to-back with enough juice left over to last almost an entire cross-country flight (eBook reading and 3D gaming were the activities of choice). With moderate daily use (push Gmail enabled, taking a dozen pictures, surfing the web for at least 30 minutes per day, and playing at least 30 minutes of 3D games per day), the XOOM had enough battery power to last three full workdays – with enough juice to go for at least another day. You can thank the power-sipping Tegra 2 for that.
In the end, the XOOM is on par with the iPad when it comes to screen quality and battery life.
The XOOM has what it takes to beat iPad, but…
The Motorola XOOM. Can it really be called an iPad killer? Well, the short of it is “yes.” And “no.” Let us explain.
The XOOM is, in most regards, an iPad killer. It has more RAM than the iPad. It has twice as many processing cores. It has two cameras. It can record 720p HD video. It can connect to Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Heck, you can even use the XOOM as a portable movie editor. And, even in terms of industrial design and aesthetics, the XOOM plays on the same level as the iPad – unibody construction, precise craftsmanship, high-quality materials. Were you to have told us a year ago that Motorola could design a tablet as sexy and sleek as the iPad, we’d have laughed. We’re not laughing.
In many ways, the XOOM trounces the iPad.
Unfortunately, Android 3.0 Honeycomb is still not the polished, intuitive mobile OS that the iPad’s iOS can claim to be. The interface, while eye-catching and powerfully flexible, isn’t as easy to use out of the box. If there’s any learning curve to using Honeycomb, it’s already behind the so-easy-a-toddler-can-use-it iOS interface. Honeycomb, as amazing as it is (and it really is an amazing platform), is the XOOM’s weakness.
That said, if you don’t care about ease of use and you want a tablet with cutting edge power, a flexible OS, and integrated features that rival iOS, the XOOM is hands-down the best tablet on market today.