After enjoying a long period of being the only game in Tablet Town, the iPad finally has a legitimate challenger, and this challenger is the Motorola XOOM. While the tablet format only allows for so many differences between different models, the XOOM makes a strong case for itself with many unique features and advantages that are sure to leave the iPad shaking in its boots.
As far as physical appearance is concerned, the XOOM and iPad have a fairly similar external look and feel. It has the same dark exterior and rounded rectangular shape, though it is slightly longer, with a length of 9.8 inches. The XOOM is also a bit heavier than the iPad, weighing in at 1.5 pounds. In general, this won’t be problematic, but it may make long periods of one handed operation difficult for some users.(1) Given its size and shape, the XOOM is best designed for landscape style use. Portrait use is still fully possible, but it feels a tad awkward at first and takes some to become acclimated to. Some of the other external features of the XOOM include micro USB and mini HDMI jacks at the bottom, 2 volume buttons on the left side, a power/sleep button on the back along with a rear facing camera and stereo speakers, and the screen (quite obviously) and an additional camera on the front. One detraction of the XOOM’s external structure is the fact that it is encased in a plastic body that is very prone to scuffing and scratching. While most of these marks can be removed with a minimum of effort, exterior aesthetics will suffer to a small degree.
The XOOM makes use of Google’s Honeycomb 3.0 operating system which renders a truly exceptional performance in this device. Nearly all functions, but most notably the web browser and gaming applications run with lightning speed uncommon to a mobile device. This is made possible through 3G connectivity. However, the issue of speed is only made better by the fact that as soon as 4G connectivity becomes available for XOOM on the Verizon network, all users will receive a free upgrade to 4G speed. (2)Also aiding the speed and ability of the XOOM is the Tegra 2 dual core 1GHz SoC processor which is complimented by 1 GB of DDR 2 RAM and 32 GB of internal storage.(3)
The XOOM’s home screen consists of five panels which allow users to perform several simultaneous tasks in an easy and efficient manner without having to leave the home screen. Both icons and widgets can be held by the home screen at the same time. Another very popular feature of the XOOM is known as the “App Switcher”. The App Switcher is a small button which is located in the lower left corner of the screen and brings up thumbnails for the five most recently used applications. This allows for much easier transitioning between applications and tasks that the iPad’s switcher is capable of.(3)
Being that the XOOM uses Google’s Honeycomb 3.0 operating system, it possesses all of the standard Google applications as one would assume. Some of these include applications such as Google Talk, GMail, YouTube, all of which are fairly basic, yet quite efficient. The XOOM’s music application is in some ways similar to the Cover Flow application on the iPad but garners positive reviews for the most part. One notable special feature of the XOOM is called Movie Studio, which is an application that is used to edit videos shot with the XOOM’s two cameras. For the most part, the Movie Studio application is pretty user friendly and intuitive, but some users may feel more comfortable having the manual at hand when they are first starting out. Videos render in excellent quality, though the shape and the weight of the XOOM contribute to a slightly awkward and cumbersome feel while shooting video content. Overall, the Honeycomb 3.0 OS is vastly different from anything before featured on an Android device. Most of the quirks and outmoded features of previous Android operating systems have been streamlined or removed entirely. The XOOM features many more setting and display manuals and choices, making navigation a little bit confusing for some users. The general feel to the XOOM’s browser has a strong desktop vibe which is highly reminiscent of Google Chrome, which brings some comfort in the form of familiarity. (2) In addition to this, the Honeycomb OS is far more user friendly and intuitive on the whole. However, much like with the Movie Studio application, less tech savvy individuals will want to have the manual around when they’re first getting to know the XOOM.
GMail, as mentioned before, is included on the XOOM in a fairly basic form, though there are some differences as compared to the GMail you’d encounter on a desktop. Most of the differences are minor and are aimed at improving efficiency, which they have succeeded in doing. The only real downside is that the menu and navigational items constantly shuffle around based on what the user is doing, which can contribute to a scattered and disorganized feel. (2) The music application has some similarities to the iPad, especially the Cover Flow aspect.(3) Aside from that, the music application is a unique creature which is definitely visually appealing with its 3D user interface and flipbook navigational structure which makes finding music easy.
The XOOM also contains a smattering of other features, including a GPS, digital compass, ambient light sensor, and a gyroscope. Another handy XOOM feature is a Bluetooth keyboard which connects wirelessly and makes text entry more easy than the on screen keyboard does. If needed, a non-Motorola Bluetooth keyboard may be used with the XOOM thanks to the Human Interface Device protocol. In addition, the XOOM boasts an excellent battery life of up to 10 hours, which is superior to just about any other mobile computing device on the market. A full battery charge takes about 3.5 hours to complete.
Last, but certainly not least, are the two cameras that are built into the XOOM. The front facing camera is a basic 2MP camera which is highly useful and capable of producing excellent image quality. The rear facing camera is a 5 MP camera which shoots 720p video and does not drain the battery power severely at all. The only issue with the cameras is that daytime photography can be somewhat difficult due to the excessive glare on the XOOM’s screen.(1)
The XOOM is now widely available both online and in stores, with a starting price of $600 when purchased with a 2 year contract and $800 when purchased without the contract. That puts the XOOM in a somewhat pricy range, but nearly all users feel that the expenditure is well worth it to receive such a superior product. Only time will tell just how far the XOOM will go, but for now, Apple definitely needs to be looking over its shoulder.
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