Motorola Xoom: The first 72 hours
With the exception of an unboxing, performing a review of a new device is a delicate task. When I say new, I don’t mean “new in a line of…” or some shiny new difference in an experience were all pretty used to. The exploration of ”the new” is exciting because it’s one of the few times that as a tech blogger I feel I am able to experience something the same way the average consumer would, or at least a reasonable facsimile of that feeling.
For the moment, the Motorola Xoom is unique. It’s the first device to run Android 3.0 and as such is the closest thing to “the new” that I’ve had the pleasure to experience recently. In order to provide a full review of the device, I use the Xoom to replace my laptop, my desktop, my netbook, and allowed this device to be the only thing I used for 72 full hours. That includes writing this review.
Honeycomb (Android 3.0)
For the average user, Android 3.0 might as well be a completely different operating system that borrows a couple of things from what they know to be Android. For all intents and purposes, it’s a very different experience. For starters, the user interface feels most natural when being used in a landscape view rather than a portrait view. That’s not to say that portrait view isn’t perfectly usable, but every part of the primary desktop user interface seems more comfortable in landscape view. For example, if you have a homescreen full of widgets or icons and you decide you hold your tablet in portrait view, you will find a gap across the top and bottom of your homescreen. (Please look our for my comprehensive review of Android 3.0, which will appear on Geek.com in the coming days.)
The Xoom packaging is a no-frills container. Removing the lid gives you immediate access to the tablet, the front of which is absolutely nothing more than a glass panel with a thin bezel.Removing it from the packaging, Motorola has provided you with a nice matte finish across the back of the device, making it very comfortable to hold. At 1.5 pounds, with a nice big screen, the Xoom is a little heavy to hold with just one hand for any significant length of time. I would definitely recommend adding a stand or case with a handle to your shopping cart.
Turning the device on is awkward. The power/wake button is located on the back next to the camera, instead of along the bezel where traditionally found. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but of the 20 people I’ve handed this device to not a single one has been able to find the button on their own. When the button is pointed out to them I have heard a strangely unified “thats weird” as a response. I was originally concerned about bumping the button accidentally but it has yet to happen and I don’t see it being a real concern in the future. The only other physical button on the device is the volume rocker, which feels very sturdy and requires a moderate amount of force to control.
Clustered at the center of the bottom of the bezel, are most of the ports. Down here you have the standard micro USB, a micro HDMI port, two copper strips for charging magnetically when placed in a dock (sold separately), and power. The power adapter, a small thin power pin vaguely reminiscent of the old Nokia power adapters, makes me more than nervous given the weight of the device. Should the Xoom fall when plugged-in, I would not hold much hope for the survival of this tip, and would highly recommend the charging dock. Across the top of the bezel you find both the headphone jack and the combined SD card/SIM card slot, neither of which are currently functional on this device.
According to the user manual the SD slot will be functional pending an update from Google. The SIM card slot will be functional after the LTE drive is installed, a process requiring you to send the device to Motorola. The headphone jack, a 3.5 mm standard output, is dead center on the top of this device. While it’s placement doesn’t cause any significant usability problems, it doesn’t feel like the ideal place to have it.
The Xoom has both a front facing and rear facing camera. Unlike a cell phone, whose size can often lead to instability and blurry pictures, the bulk of the Xoom lends itself nicely to taking clean, crisp pictures with the rear camera. While the lesser quality front facing camera doesn’t take the best pictures, using it for video chat is comparable to most midrange webcams. Unfortunately, what is not easy to do is enjoy the pictures that you take with these cameras. After taking about 20 pictures and not being completely happy with any of them, I posted a few online and realized that the images all look much better on a traditional monitor.
As I said before I used the Motorola Xoom to replace my day-to-day computing needs for 72 hours. One of my greatest concerns during this experience was battery life. Having been spoiled by my MacBook Air and my CR-48, I’m quite used to being able to travel away from my desk for six or more hours without being concerned about battery life. Fortunately, I can add the Xoom to a short list of devices that do away with that concern. In a full day of traveling, writing, browsing, and general fooling around gave me 10 hours away from power comfortably. However, as with most devices, streaming video and playing games cut that just about in half. What really blew me away about this device is the ability to use it in direct sunlight. It seems that smartphones have only just recently begun to polish the ability to use the phone in direct sunlight, and with 95% of laptops you can forget it. It wasn’t perfect, and the colors are a little washed out, but I was able to read comfortably in direct sunlight.
The Xoom tapers from the center to the edges so that its thickest point is the center. This design lent itself to Android 3.0’s landscape friendly design very well, but creates a somewhat clumsy feeling user experience when holding the tablet in portrait view, since the weight of the device is no longer balanced. Additionally, calling this tablet a fingerprint magnet is a bit of an understatement. I found myself almost compulsively needing to clean the screen about once an hour during heavy use. Do yourself a favor, skip the cleaning cloths and go straight for the alcohol wipes.
Verizon wireless offers very good 3G service in my area so as was expected the Xoom performed very well on their 3G network. Provided you are in an area with good service, you can even video chat over 3G. I was pleased to discover that there is no noticeable battery drain on 3G over Wi-Fi, though I’m eager to see the difference LTE makes. With a range of data plans available for everyone from the casual user up to the data hungry, and LTE on the way, Verizon is clearly the network of choice for this particular device.
The Motorola Xoom feels like an unfinished product. For the tech lover, the gadget hungry, and those who live on the bleeding edge of technology, this is a REALLY cool tool. The whole time I’m using this device, however, I felt somewhat haunted by the knowledge of what this device was supposed to be.
This winter at the All Things D conference Andy Rubin sat on stage with Walt Mossberg and spoke briefly about Android 3.0 while holding this tablet. Andy explained that, up until this point, Android users were essentially beta testers. Android 3.0 was supposed to be the first step out of beta, and into the hands of the general consumer rather than the tech lover. I feel that the Motorola Xoom does less to help this cause than it should have. Here we have a device with parts that don’t work yet, with parts that aren’t installed yet, and with optimized software still “on the way”. I would comfortably recommend this device to any tech savvy individual, but I think Motorola needs to fully bake this one before it’s ready for consumption.