With the iPad, Apple built a device that I wanted ten years ago, at a time when my workload wouldn’t allow me to use it. I spend most of my days in meetings, producing content, benchmarking and researching. Only the latter is better done on the iPad than a more conventional computing device. The killer apps on the iPad continue to be centered around content consumption and, more recently, gaming. Productivity apps exist, however there are still many usage models that demand the fast response time of a full blown PC or the convenience of a keyboard/mouse, higher resolution display and real working desktop.

That’s just me however. As is evidenced by the number of people I see in airports and airplanes who have traded in their Thinkpads for an iPad, this new era of tablets is serious business. I’m continually amazed by the number of people I see on a regular basis using an iPad, even though I understand why. It’s light, it has a long battery life, it’s easy to use, performance is more predictable than a netbook (thanks to the use of NAND flash vs. a conventional HDD), it’s got a beautiful screen and for some usage models, touching is better than pointing.

A Brief History of Android

Google found itself in an unfortunate predicament in the battle against Apple in the mobile OS space. The iPhone was released in June 2007, but the first Android phone didn’t make it out until October 2008. If Apple were a complacent giant with a stagnant mobile roadmap, showing up 16 months later wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately for Google, Apple was anything but that. Execution is critical in any innovation driven industry and Apple has executed extremely well. Since 2007 we’ve seen yearly OS releases (with subreleases in between them) and yearly hardware updates. Since 2007 the hardware updates have come like clockwork, every June we’ve had a new iPhone.

So how do you compete with a company that has a 12 - 24 month head start? Emulation isn’t the answer.

Google would have to out-execute Apple. Similar yearly OS/hardware releases wouldn’t be enough, because Apple would always be ahead at that point. Google wanted to pursue a more open path, with multiple hardware vendors and fully customizable UIs. While that’s great for the consumer, it made Google’s plight that much more difficult.

Apple only had to worry about a single hardware platform that it updated every year. With a dozen or so customers all with varying underlying hardware, Google would have to take longer (or dedicate even more resources) to developing an OS for all of those platforms. Google needed another strategy.

Apple has committed to a 12-month release cadence for OS/hardware, so Google would have to do better than that. On average we get a major Android release every 5 months. Granted Apple does update iOS more frequently than once a year, but Google has definitely come a longer way in the same amount of time thanks to its late start.

A more aggressive release schedule alone isn’t enough. Google wanted to bring Android to more than one hardware manufacturer, but doing so would make out executing Apple nearly impossible. The solution was to pick a hardware and a device partner for each major Android release. Google would work closely with those partners to release the flagship device for that version of Android. All of the other players in the Android ecosystem would be a bit behind the curve. It was a necessary evil in order to rev Android up quickly enough to compete with iOS.

The hardware and device makers were evaluated based on their roadmaps as well as their ability to execute. Last round Samsung was selected as both the SoC and device partner with the Nexus S. Before that it was Qualcomm and HTC with the Nexus One. For Honeycomb, the tablet exclusive release of Android, Google’s SoC partner is newcomer NVIDIA with its Tegra 2. And the device partner? Motorola with the Xoom.

Google and Motorola worked very closely together on the Xoom and as a result, starting tomorrow, the Xoom will be the first Android tablet available running Honeycomb (Android 3.0). Other Honeycomb tablets based on NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 will follow shortly thereafter (Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, LG’s Optimus Pad) however the Xoom will be first. Down the road we can also expect to see Honeycomb tablets based on other hardware as well.

The Hardware

The Xoom looks and feels like a more rugged iPad. You lose the aluminum finish, but you gain something that feels a lot more grippy and utilitarian. The back is made of the same soft plastic with an almost velvet feel to it that we’ve seen on many smartphones in the past.

The front is all glass of course, however the screen has a much narrower bezel than the iPad making it look a lot more modern. The aspect ratio is also more widescreen than the iPad. The 10.1” screen has a 1280 x 800 display (16:10) vs. the iPad’s 1024 x 768 panel (4:3). As a result the Xoom is the same width in landscape as the iPad, but it’s noticeably shorter (and a little thinner). This gives the Xoom a slightly more manageable feel, although it’s still not as borderline pocketable as a 7-inch tablet.

Motorola Xoom (left) vs. Apple iPad (right)

There are only three physical buttons on the Xoom: volume up, volume down and power/lock. The volume buttons are located along the left edge of the Xoom when held in portrait mode. The power/lock button is actually located on the back of the tablet, near the camera. When held in a landscape orientation the power/lock button should be near the index finger on your left hand. It’s location is actually not that bothersome when you’re holding the Xoom in landscape, it’s when you don’t know how you’re holding the tablet that you run into problems.

The power/lock button

The lack of any physical buttons on the face of the Xoom give it a very clean look but also make it very difficult to tell what direction is up when you’re quickly grabbing the tablet. There’s an integrated accelerometer that allows the OS to know how to orient the screen, however when you first pick up the Xoom with the screen off you need to blindly feel around the back for the power/lock button rather than knowing exactly where it is.

Compared to the iPad the accelerometer/rotation magic seems to take longer on the Xoom. The lag between rotating the Xoom and the OS rotating the desktop seems to be just slightly greater on the Xoom compared to the first generation iPad. It’s not a deal breaker, but just a bit odd. Because of the widescreen aspect ratio I found myself using the Xoom in a landscape orientation more than portrait.

There are two cameras on the Xoom: a front facing 2MP and a rear facing 5MP camera with LED flash. The latter is capable of recording up video at up to 720p30. The front facing camera has a red LED next to it that illuminates when the camera is active. Rounding out the light fx are a green charge LED and a white notification LED strip on the front of the Xoom.

There are two speakers on the back of the Xoom, a 1/8” headset jack up top and a micro USB, micro HDMI and power input along the bottom. The micro HDMI port can't be used for mirroring, it looks to be exclusively for getting video out through some of the docks Motorola plans on selling. Update: HDMI mirroring is supported. I couldn't get it working on my Onkyo 508/Samsung UN55C7000 setup however I'll be tinkering around to see why the setup isn't working. 

Internally the Xoom has a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoC (T20) running at 1GHz. This is the tablet version of the Tegra 2 so it’s a physically larger package but it should have the same performance characteristics. Motorola also includes an Atrix-like 1GB of memory and 32GB of MLC NAND on board. There’s an external facing LTE SIM card tray that also hides the microSD slot in the Xoom.

The Xoom is launching with only one SKU at first: a 32GB 3G (LTE-ready) version priced at $799 through Verizon. This is an unsubsidized cost and it requires a single month of the $20/1GB data plan to function even over WiFi (thank you VZW). The closest Apple competitor is the 32GB iPad 3G priced at $729, a difference of $70. Granted the Xoom does give you two more cameras and two much faster CPU cores than what you get in the iPad, however I’m guessing the more fair comparison will be to the upcoming iPad 2.

Tablet Specification Comparison
  Apple iPad Motorola Xoom
OS Apple iOS 4.2.1 Google Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
Dimensions 242.8mm x 189.7mm x 13.4mm 249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm
Display 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 10.1-inch 1280 x 800
Weight 730g
680g (WiFi only)
Processor 1GHz Apple A4 (Cortex A8) 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)
Memory 256MB 1GB
Storage 16GB up to 64GB 32GB + microSD card

If you want a lower up front cost you can opt for a $599 subsidized version, however that requires a 2-year service agreement at $20. If you’re going to pay for the data plan anyway this may be a better option.

What’s missing of course is a plain old WiFi only Xoom. Motorola says this is coming and will be priced at around $600.

Charging & The Display
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  • robco - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    From the OS standpoint, I will say I like the Honeycomb home screen better, it utilizes the added space much better than the iPad does. The hardware looks nice, but we'll see how it compares after March 2nd.

    That being said, while looking at the tech specs and OS are nice, neither are what will make or break the Xoom. Tablets are content consumption devices. Apple has done a tremendous job bringing content to end users. And they are consuming it. And paying for it. It's incredibly easy to rent or purchase music, movies, TV shows, books and apps from an iOS device or share them with a connected Mac or WIndows PC. I didn't see anything like this in the Xoom. Does Google, Moto or VZW have any content available? As of last WWDC (almost a year ago now), Apple stated they've paid developers over $1B. Given the relatively short time the App Store has been live and the low cost of most apps, this is a very impressive number. How much has Google paid out via the Android Market? It sends a message that iOS is a profitable platform - and not just for Apple. Not only has Apple sold a lot of devices, users are actually paying for apps and content.

    This seems to be Android's weakness. Google seems interested in Android only as an advertising platform. As such, besides the Android Market, which just recently received a much needed makeover, Google has done little to bring content to the platform beyond its own ad-driven properties. They seem content to let the device manufacturers or carriers do that. The problem is that while Android may be surpassing iOS in sales, none of the individual device makers or carriers really has the resources, clout and/or inclination to build the bridge between content providers/developers and end users the way Apple has. Despite Google's efforts, the gap in apps between Android and iOS remains high, despite Apple being more "closed", requiring a Mac for development and charging more to get apps on their store.

    The file transfer looked clunky. No mention of whether or not companies like Netflix or Amazon will offer content. If I want to rent a movie or buy a song on an iOS device, it's a few taps. Can I do that on a Xoom? When my friends show me cool apps on their iPads, will I be able to download the same or similar apps to my Xoom? That is what will make or break the Android tablet business, - not SoC's, memory, displays and cameras.
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    Do you own an Android device currently?

    Yes, when your friends show you cool apps from an iOS device, chances are highly likely that you will be able to download it on your Android device. And for all of the apps you cannot, there are plenty for Android that they cannot as well.

    Lastly, I feel you seem to be assuming that Android isn't profitable for developers and that there is a lack of content in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Do you really think Amazon would be releasing their very own App store for the Android OS if Google didn't care about content?

    If you really think that the gap between quality, non-superfluous apps that real people download and consume every day is that large, you may be getting your information from the wrong sources.

  • billyblonco - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    The Xoom is pretty fast on loading pages but the atrix was right behind it,even tho the atrix has flash and the xoom and ipad does not.
  • sb1831 - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    I've had my Xoom for over 24 hours now, and have yet to have a a force close nor has my fiancee on hers. I was wondering if you had a production unit or a test unit.

    As for my experience with the tablet. Everything is snappy with no lag at all that I've notice. Switching from one app to another is easy. I'm a big fan of Honeycomb. It does remind me a lot more of a traditional desktop OS. With that being said, my 60 year old mother played with it for a little over an hour and a half last night, and was amazed at how quickly she picket it up.

    She's familiar with computers, and owns a netbook, but is seriously thinking of going out and getting a wifi version when it becomes available. It's simple enough for her to know that a browser will get you to the internet, and actually commented on how the browser reminder her of the one on her desktop (Chrome LOL) That to me speaks volumes about how easy this thing is to use. I really didn't even need to guide her at all that much. She managed to pull up some music and download angry birds from the market

    I think that when tablets become more common and the prices start to come down a bit, people will think that the Honeycomb OS is closer to the experience they're used to and will side with it. I put it next to my iPad and the first thing I though was "Everything I really use is right here on the main screen browser, gmail, music, and the market." iOS looked clustered to me and almost like a toy next to the Xoom. I thought "hmmm if the apps shortcuts were vertical and the clock in the gadget sidebar like in Win7 it would look pretty much like a desktop. "

    All in all I'm a big fan of the Xoom, and unless the iPad2 makes some drastic changes and starts to feel more like an actual desktop based OS I will be selling my iPad and sticking with the Xoom.
  • OCedHrt - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    The battery lives in the first chart are shorter than the second chart. Shouldn't it be the other way around?
  • PubicTheHare - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    What Anand said about the screen is 100% spot on. It seems cheap--grainy, low contrast, poor viewing angles.

    The screen wasn't super responsive like the iPad's. I will wait for the iPad 2 before I start looking at tablets.
  • j.harper12 - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    This read as one long sales pitch for the Optimus 2X to me... really, the Optimus 3D, as, if I'm not mistaken, it did even better in benchmarks. Seriously though, impressive results from the Xoom, do you really have to solder the LTE card though? I thought there was just a placeholder for a mini PCI-E card...

    Really, though, Nvidia told me not to buy the Xoom... you know, when they announced quad core Tegra 3 would be available by the end of the year with 5x the performance. Definitely can/will wait until Christmas for a tablet. Ancillary benefit? Tablet Android will have the kinks worked out then.

    Also interested in seeing what's coming March 2nd. Can't wait for next year's "Retina" display on a tablet... because it'll force everyone else to up the resolution. Not really an Apple person, but always happy and impressed with how Apple can up the ante for everyone else.
  • j.harper12 - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    My comment was a joke by the way, I'm always impressed with how unbiased this website is... so I just don't want people thinking I genuinely thought this article was a sales pitch for the Optimus 2X, I'm speaking only to the benchmark results.
  • ATOmega - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    $600 for a wifi model? Rip off. I remember some of the big talk before Android and several of the ARM-based chipsets being "cheaper". Where did that go? Oh yeah, investor greed.

    Tablets need to come way down in price, especially considering how notoriously poor the after-purchase support is. You're forgotten the second you buy any Android device. Good luck contacting the manufacturer, let alone hoping for OS updates.

    Also, the heavy reliance on cell phone companies is disappointing. They don't make the devices, but they still have some influence, I really wish google would do something about this market. It's turned into one big gouge.
  • bplewis24 - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - link

    I personally think the non-Motorola branded tablets will be much more reasonable in price. Specifically the Asus Transformer.


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