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Motorola Xoom - Review


Motorola Xoom - Review

The Motorola Xoom was the first tablet to run Android 3.0 Honeycomb. The device  features a 10.1-inch touch display, up to 64GB of internal storage which can be expanded through microSD, a 5 MP camera which is capable of 720p HD video capture, a secondary camera for video calls, and is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM.

The Motorola Xoom has arrived, with the hopes of finally taking the title of an "iPad killer". While previous Android tablets have been oversized smartphones, Google and Motorola have taken the time to come up with a entirely new tablet experience for Android.  In fact, this isn't the first time we've seen the two companies collaborate on big things. We've seen it before with the original Motorola DROID, which was the catalyst that shifted Android to the mainstream, and it seems we’re going to be witnessing it again with the Motorola XOOM.


Design

The Motorola Xoom is a solid, well built device, with a subtle curve going on with its rear cover, but for the most, it’s still comfortable to hold. The minimalistic industrial design might appeal to some people out there, especially with its all black slate look, but its metal machined exterior provides that sense of premium feel – though, it’s a magnet for smudges. However, it’s accented with a small soft touch strip on the back. All in all, its balanced construction and high-quality feel more than make up for its less than stellar looks.

The tablet has a 10.1 inch LCD touch display which has a 1280 by 800 pixel resolution compared to the 768 by 1024 pixel resolution of the Apple iPad. The Xoom presents plenty of crisp details that’ll illuminate eyes all around, while its color production is on the neutral side and doesn't fade when viewing the display at various angles. However, its maximum brightness setting doesn't seem to do the tablet justice when using it outdoors under the presence of the omnipotent sun lurking around. In terms of responsiveness, the capacitive display was more than attentive in registering all touches and gestures. Similarly, its metallic exterior can also accumulate its fair share of smudges and fingerprints very easily.

Above the display you will find the 2 megapixel front facing camera for all your self-portrait and video chatting needs.

There are a total of three physical buttons that your fingers can actually press. The first two are the thin looking separated volume buttons that are found on the left edge, which are tiny compared to the overall size of the XOOM, but they are very responsive.

The dedicated power button has been placed on the back of the device. While this may be surprising to some, it offers a solid tactile feel.

On the bottom of the device, we find the bulk of its connectivity ports perched all in the same area – these include the microUSB port, micro HDMI port, dock connectors, microphone, and a separate power source that’s slightly the size of a 3.5mm headset jack.

On the top and located dead center is the 3.5mm headset jack, while not too far from it, there is a slot that tucks away a future 4G LTE SIM card and the actual microSD card slot as well. Be careful in sliding in a microSD card because you can accidentally drop it into the exposed area left behind for the SIM card slot.

In the rear and built into the soft touch strip area, we find the 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with its dual-LED flash and the spots for the left and right speakers – which offer stereo sound naturally.

Hardware

The Motorola Xoom is powered by a 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor with 1GB of DDR2 RAM which should offer decent performance for regular and hardcore users alike. You get 32GB of internal storage which should more than be enough for even the most multimedia centric individual out there. But in the event that you need additional memory, you can always supplement it with microSD cards up to 32GB in capacity.

One of the unique advantages with the Motorola XOOM, besides it dual-band (800/1900 MHz) radio for 1xEV-DO rev. A speeds, is the fact that it’ll support Verizon’s speedy 4G LTE network down the road. But of course, you’ll be able to get the upgrade for free when it’s available, but you’ll more than likely be required to pay a visit to your local Verizon store to get it installed by a professional. Sadly, you won’t be able to make much use out of the Motorola XOOM if you plan to take this one abroad – partly because it’s CDMA; which is no problem for the upcoming GSM variant. However, if you happen to be near a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can connect it with its on-board 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. Moreover, the XOOM features Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, which will enable accessories, like the Bluetooth keyboard made specifically for the tablet, to connect with the device wirelessly.

Whether you are using the Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G LTE version of the Motorola Xoom, you should experience a decent connection.

Motorola touts the XOOM obtaining a battery life of 10 hours with continuous video playback. In reality, we easily managed to get by an 8 hour working shift on normal usage with half the battery remaining. It’s worth noting that we had the brightness level manually set to its highest setting and relied on 3G speeds for all data connectivity. Light users should get by at least a day of usage, while heavy users might want to keep it connected to its wall charger as much as possible.

Camera

Despite not being pocketable, the Motorola Xoom includes the ability to shoot photos and videos on the go. The camera interface has received a slight makeover that attempts to emulate the feeling of an ordinary camera. Specifically, there’s one large dial on the right side of the interface that allows your thumb to quickly navigate between the various settings of the camera. For a tablet, there should be more than enough appealing shooting modes to satisfy most users out there, but it doesn’t quite offer as many manuals modes as we’d like. Regardless of that, we can get up to an 8.0x digital zoom level by pressing on the “+” button. Moreover, there’s an on-screen toggle to switch from camera to video mode, while another one perched close-by will switch it to the front facing camera.

The 5 megapixel autofocus camera on the Xoom offers decent photos. Not only does it capture a substantial amount of sharp details, but color production is delightfully spot-on as well. Even shooting things indoors in artificial lighting, it doesn’t let us down in any way as photos come to life with a perfect balance of crisp visuals and neutral looking colors. Even more impressively, it’s able to work well in low lighting conditions as image quality marginally takes a dip, but still more than acceptable by any means. And thanks to its dual-LED flash, it’s able to once again shoot images with luscious fidelity in complete darkness.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the video capturing. While you do get high definition 720p video captured at 29 frames per second there’s just too much artifacting present – especially more noticeable when panning from low to bright areas. In fact, the artifacting degrades the overall quality by making videos look rather pixelated at times.

Software

The Motorola Xoom runs Android 3.0 Honeycomb which is quite different compared to previous versions of Android. It features an intense amount of 3D visual effects that not only add plenty of eye candy, but gives it some futuristic look and feel.

The familiar Android hardware buttons like the menu and back buttons have been replaced with software buttons placed left portion of the System Bar – which is always present at bottom of the screen at any orientation. Specifically, we find the usual Back and Home buttons, but alongside them is the Recent Apps button that displays a thumbnail image of the most recent apps running. This essentially aids in the productivity department as you can quickly multi-task and get things accomplished. The Menu button will also appear in the same area when it is required.

Additionally, notifications now pop up in the Notifications Panel that’s located in the bottom right portion of the System Bar. It’s not obtrusive at all in the way it presents notifications; such as an email or Twitter mention. In the event you’re not present to see them, specific icons will load up in the Notifications Panel and you’ll have the opportunity of clicking each one to see what they are. Furthermore, you can get rid of the notifications icons by simply clicking the distinguishable “X” icon in the pop up window. The Notifications Panel, while tapping on it will get you access to the Android Settings – along with some quick functions like adjusting its brightness, orientation lock, Wi-Fi, and airplanemode.

While the System Bar is perched on the bottom at all times, we find the Action Bar placed on the top side of the display – which offers different items according to what apps you’re running. At the homescreen, we find access to Google Search, Voice Search, apps panel, and personalization. However, if you run the web browser, the Action Bar simply becomes the area for all the window tabs.

There’s plenty of personalization to find with Android 3.0 Honeycomb as it dishes up 5 homescreen panels for you to fill with various things. Instinctively, you can place additional content, like widgets or shortcuts, by executing a long press on any open area on the homescreen – you can also do it by pressing the “+” button in the Action Bar as well. Once you’re there, the scene changes and displays all 5 homescreen simultaneously, where you can add widgets, app shortcuts, wallpapers, and more. Click and drag is the name of the game, much like Android in general, to get specific items to their locations on the homescreen. Yet another thing we adore is the handful of interactive widgets that Android 3.0 Honeycomb has to offer. For example, the Gmail widget allows you to quickly scroll through your email directly within the widget, while things like the YouTube widget stacks videos together for you to browse.

And finally, pressing on the apps icons in the homescreen will plop the apps panel into view with a nifty looking falling from the sky animation. Once they’re all there, icons are positioned in the familiar grid-like pattern which are finger friendly in size. Moreover, you’ll be able to swipe left and right as you begin to accumulate more apps on the Motorola XOOM.

Just because it sports a higher version number than Android 2.2 Froyo, which introduced support for Flash 10.1, it doesn't mean that it’s going to be sprinkled with that near perfect desktop port. Sadly, it disappointingly lacks support for Flash 10.1, however, it’s positioned to get some sort of software update not too far from launch to throw it on.

The Gallery app offers a novel 3D-like effect going on with the different albums in the gallery as you either tilt the XOOM or touch the screen. Granted that it will display content stored locally on the tablet, but it’ll even pull things from your Picasa account as well. However, once we moved past the updated looks of the Gallery App, there isn’t much else different with it. Naturally, you can scroll between photos by simply swiping left or right, and zoom with pinch gestures, but there isn’t much in terms of editing functions offered – only things like rotating and cropping are available. And as usual, you can share content with a variety of services like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

The stock music player offers an eye catching carousel of album covers that we can browse through with smoothness like no other. Definitely flaunting some eye catching visual flare with its own spin on Apple’s beloved Cover Flow mode, we’re glad to see that the transformation has finally arrived for the Android music player.

The Xoom is a great device for watching videos. High definition videos play back in full fidelity on the Motorola XOOM as they move smoothly with any rare instances of slowdown or lag. Although you’ve got the ability to watch videos in portrait, the best experience can be found with landscape obviously since it stretches to make use of the added real estate. So if you’re going on a long trip, the Motorola XOOM makes for a great companion. Additionally, its microHDMI port will allow you to watch videos stored on the tablet directly on the big screen.

Google has also decided to finally bring aboard a video editing app going by the name of Movie Studio. Granted that it isn’t your professional grade editing software, it nevertheless offers users some of basic editing functionality on the go. Although it’ll take some time fully comprehending how the app works, there is a reasonable amount of editing functions that you can apply – like adding different templates, transitions, and effects.

Google Maps has also received a subtle makeover as it makes use of the added space of course. However, there isn't any new functionality present with this version for tablet, but at least we’re offered things like 3D view, Google Latitude integration, street view, and free voice guided turn-by-turn directions with Google Maps Navigation.

The YouTube app has been updated as well to provide plenty of interaction while you’re watching a video. Initially, it’ll display a 3D wall of videos that you can scroll ever so smoothly, but when you select one, it’ll break down to various panes with their respective content. As the video plays in one pane, you can simply read about its description or comments in another, while related videos will pop up in the last pane. Also, you can obviously share particular videos to specific social networking accounts as well.

As for other standard apps that haven’t been optimized to work with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, they run just like they normally do on a smartphone. So for things like the official Facebook and Twitter apps, it’ll basically embody the look and feel that you’re accustomed to using, but hopefully developers will quickly optimize them. That’s because they’re scaled up and don’t take advantage of the extra real estate. Furthermore, there appears to be some bugs with it as well since we experienced on numerous occasions abrupt closures on apps which requires a reinstall to properly work again.


Conclusion

The Motorola Xoom has be quite a costly purchase, and its design isn't all that alluring to make you pick this device over an iPad. However the exciting features offered by Android Honeycomb make the device much more appealing.

Compared to the previous Android tablets, the Motorola XOOM fully realizes and embraces the tablet experience, and takes it to a whole new level. Of course, there are some competing Honeycomb tablets on the horizon, but it all goes back down to pricing. In the end, the Motorola XOOM could have been the perfect candidate to bring Honeycomb to the masses, however, it’ll be interesting to see how it competes at its current price point. One thing is certain though, the gap between iOS and Android, in terms of tablet experience, has never been smaller.
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