Smartphones

First impressions of the Motorola Xoom: Five quick insights

The Motorola Xoom is more of a PC replacement than the iPad, but it still has some frayed edges that need to be evened out before most early adopters will want to jump on board.

I typically take about a week to use a product before I'm ready to write a product review. At the very least, I prefer to use it extensively for several days. I recently asked my readers about that approach and got confirmation that you appreciate the extra hands-on time, since most of you aren't planning to purchase the average tech product on launch day.

However, a few of you said that you'd be interested in me writing a "first impressions" post near the product launch and then follow up with a full product review after I've put it through its paces. I've decided to give that a try with some of the biggest and most anticipated tech products. The first one that fits that meets that standard is the Motorola Xoom, the first Google tablet based on Android 3.0 "Honeycomb."

Below are my initial insights about the Xoom from my first three days with the device. Next week I will publish my full review.

Photo gallery

Motorola Xoom: Unboxing and comparison photos

1. It's more of a PC replacement

Within my first couple hours of using the Xoom, after downloading some of my favorite Android apps and widgets and trying to do a bunch of common tasks, I immediately started to have the feeling that this is much more like a full PC experience than the iPad. The iPad is basically an app machine. Everything that it does has to be contained within an app. Android widgets have always been a nice feature on smartphones, but with the extra screen real estate on a 10-inch tablet like the Xoom they become even more useful. The ability to have a lot of at-a-glance information and favorite functions at your fingertips gives the Xoom a more desktop-like feel. Other things add to the desktop-like experience as well. You have more direct access to the file system in Android, so I was able to take a photo (see it here) on the Xoom and then go to the Flickr site in the Web browser and upload that photo just like I would on a PC. You can't do that on an iPad. The Web browser also has a more PC-like feel because of the tabbed browsing. Combine that with the tablet-optimized thumb controls (see those here) and the Xoom has a solid advantage over the iPad in terms of Web browsing.

2. The UI is better than expected

I didn't have very high expectations from Google when I heard that the company was working on a tablet version of Android. My initial impressions of Android when it was first released in 2008 were very poor. It was a badly unfinished OS. The 2.0 version that came along with the Motorola Droid in 2009 was a marked improvement that essentially brought Android out of beta and launched the Android revolution. Still, the OS was much more functional than flashy or ground-breaking. It was largely an iPhone clone with a handful of its own innovations (primarily widgets). In the past, I've even questioned Google's commitment to building a high-quality OS. However, the company has raised its game with Android 3.0 Honeycomb. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Google hiring Matias Duarte (the design chief behind Palm webOS) and making him the Director of User Experience for Android. Honeycomb is one of Duarte's first big projects and the Android 3.0 UI has a very pleasant experience that is not just a copy of the iPad. It looks great, flows well, is generally pretty intuitive (even though it departs from past Android conventions), and introduces some UI ideas aimed at tablets (like the browser thumb controls).

3. Needs more tablet-optimized apps and widgets

The biggest disappointment with the Motorola Xoom is that very few apps and widgets are optimized for the tablet experience. There are a few good ones that show what the tablet is capable, such as the CNN, AccuWeather, and Google Books apps and some of Google's home-grown widgets, but a lot of the other apps end up looking like badly stretched smartphone apps, including the Kindle app. Google has only recently launched its final development kit for Android 3.0 Honeycomb, so Android software makers haven't had much time to adapt their apps (compared to the two months of lead time that Apple gave developers before the iPad launch). I expect that Android developers will catch up pretty quickly and produce some good software, but the early app experience is a bit of a letdown.

4. Functionality is still a little buggy

As I mentioned above, the 1.0 experience for Android smartphones was a mess. I feared that the first tablet version of Android might repeat that experience. Thankfully, it didn't. The core functionality of Honeycomb is quite good. That said, there are still times when things don't work correctly or as expected. There are instances where you have press things several times to make them work or you get a strange error message or things unexpectedly shut down. This is especially the case in some of the apps. For example, I downloaded and opened the social app Seesmic, but when I tried to hit the button to add an account, nothing happens. I'm sure these annoyances will be fixed in the next few months but it serves as a caveat emptor for early adopters.

5. Price overshadows the technology

As much as there is to like about the Motorola Xoom and as much as it provides a refreshingly alternative to what a multitouch tablet can do, the one factor that casts a long shadow over the product is its price. The Verizon-subsidized version of the Xoom with a 2-year contract costs $600 (the forthcoming Wi-Fi version of the Xoom will also cost $600) while the unsubsidized version of the Xoom costs $800. Both versions of the Xoom are essentially $100 more expensive than the comparable (unsubsidized) iPad models. Some will argue that the Xoom has much stronger specs than the iPad but that's in comparison to last year's 1.0 iPad. The iPad 2.0 tablet will hit the market in the coming months and will likely provide upgraded specs for the same price and Apple could choose to continue to sell the existing iPad for an even lower price. That will put a lot of pressure on the Motorola Xoom and other upcoming Honeycomb tablets that start at a price point over $500. If the Motorola Xoom had been able to undercut the iPad on price, I think it would have had a great chance to earn a big chunk of market share. However, at the current price, it will mostly be relegated to a niche device.

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

35 comments
Slayerdamo
Slayerdamo

This look's wicked when does it come out in australia

LarryD4
LarryD4

A 5 inchs streak with a two year contract is 99.99 in Best Buy, It is better and more portable.

methodman502
methodman502

it was coded but very obvious to me and im sure anyone else who reads what i printed will see it the same. i was merely looking for my girlfriend(after one of our arguments)who uses an ipod for communication purposes and im brand new to the computer. lets just say ive been in a coma since 1995 and just got out last year. anyway my girl "Dawn" says ive got really odd way of interacting with the computer that somehow gets me what i want even though i cant begin to explain it nor can i do it twice the sameway. the weird part is i can get the same results many times using different paths. anyway ive said all this to say this: i didnt even know where i was(and im still not sure)but knowing ipods are a little different than windows, i attempted to make my computer understand what i wanted it to do which was track my girlfriend and i figured it needed to make the jump to apple's os so, when i did what i did,i somehow landed in a chatroom of sorts and people started threatening my life. well i got mad at these guys for talking above my level of communication and i couldnt fgigure out how to cuss em out(didnt see a "type here" box) and didnt know if the'd hear me if i just started typing so i figured i'd just print what they were saying hoping to get the url so when my girlfriend deciced to come home i could ask her how to get back in that chatroom so i copuld cuss em out for talking shit to me. turns out i was in a chatroom with some guys who appear to be building some kind of new os for the new ipad. they were bitchin about losing slave drives and days worth of work and all kinds of things and they somehow knew all about me and my computer in a matter of minutes. they made me feel a little insecure and i think im gonna go back to just using a cell phone so i wanna sell my computer,printer(w/memory)and all the paper(printed as well) so i can buy me a phone. might even buy me one of them iphones. as smart as them guys are, i bet them phones are really nice. anybody interested in an old 2005 sony viao media adfdition computer? it has one helluva memory on it.

mhikl
mhikl

I am pleased the eXoom looks almost good enough. Apple needs the competition. It may be that Apple is on the right road with the apps world rather than mimicking a pint sized computer. However, in the transition to the new world, it might be important to keep some familiarity with a computer for a few generations until all the kinks are worked out. But if most want a small tablet-like computer, the Macbook Air with the keyboard is the way to go. Maybe Apple is planning on making it a hybrid that stands between the tablet and the computer. Bringing touch features to the screen might be the way to go though it seems the trackpad is the focus for such interaction. Apple is smart to keep the price in check. A cut in price to an iPad that forgoes the cost of cameras is a great idea. Apple may be following the trail blazed by the iPod family with a greater iFamily consisting of the iPod touch, a family of iPhones and iPads at varying price levels that the competition will struggle to meet and still make a profit. Apple still needs the competition, though. There's always going to be some nook with an idea or two that Apple doesn't come up with on its own. Viable competition keeps the toes warm and the ideas fresh. Integration, iTunes and the stores weren't mentioned in the article but they do factor into the success of any tablet that wants to take on the iPad. Stability was mentioned but only time will tell if this gremlin can be kept under the bridge. Experience with the history of the Windows computer suggests it might not be as easy as was hinted in the article.

acarvaja
acarvaja

When would you get a hand on the kno dual screen, it looks sleek. Who is the manufacture? if you don't mind, would you let us know. http://kno.com/

ddalley
ddalley

And what network does the ZOOM play on? Isn't it Verison's CDMA network? Where's the technology jump?

liston
liston

"You have more direct access to the file system in Android, so I was able to take a photo (see it here) on the Xoom and then go to the Flickr site in the Web browser and upload that photo just like I would on a PC. You cant do that on an iPad." That is misleading. You can definately post photos from iOS devices to Flickr. And if the device has a camera, such as an iPhone, then you can directly post photos taken with the device to sites like Flickr and MobileMe without have to open other apps or accessing the file system. It would be the lack of a camera and not the file system that would prevent taking and then posting photos to Flicker using an iPad. And if the Xoom is more of a PC replacement, it begs the question 'How often do you hold up your PC to snap a photo?'.

bergrrt
bergrrt

It's understandable that they want to make money on their investment but with a not quite ready for prime time tablet, even if it has GREAT potential, they will lose out with too high a price. iPad is refined, it does what it is designed to do extremely well and owns the market.

MacNewton
MacNewton

The iPad was a clear winner from the get go. No real problems to be found, But this tab will have very few buyers it's to buggy, not ready for prime time.. Apple on the other hand has sold 14 Million iPads., Then on March 2 we get Rev 2. Apple may not be perfect, but they did their homework before releasing the ipad to the public. Some companies need to review their game plan before going to mass production. It will be interesting to see the number of units sold sometime next year.

htaylor
htaylor

Really, did I just read that you compared the Xoom to something that Apple hasn't announced officially?!? But then again, people have been using the iWhatever as a comparison point for all smartphones, and tablets since the day the first iPhone come out. I feel like that is going to the grocery store and to be trite, comparing apples to oranges. I must say I hate Apple and their philosophy of give us your money and we will dictate what software you are allowed to run on our hardware... But other than that, Even the cheap Chinese android tablets are more functional in the business world than the iPad in its current incarnation. Now that a major player has joined the game, I want to see what the future of tablet computing holds... I do see your point on pricing... With $800 to spend on a unit, the average consumer will opt to purchase a laptop or netbook. I would have been in that school of thought as well until I bought a cheap Chinese tablet 6 months ago, and it revolutionized the way I provide computer support in our main and remote offices. I have been waiting for a studier unit so I can upgrade and now I am flooded with them... And that is great.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Dead on arrival because of the price. I could finance a laptop for cheaper.

weserphillip
weserphillip

I could be wrong, but I have missed where Apple has announce where they will produce anything with relatively competitive hardware at comparable price to the Xoom. You sound completely biased comparing what Apple might be able to do for a certain price, to the actual living breathing Xoom. In fact I would argue that Apple never has, and never will be able to meet price points with open source linux devices. The fact is that the actual existing Ipad costs as much as the Xoom and relatively sucks in comparison. When I went to Best Buy last weekend they still want 600 buck for their outdated Ipads. I can call Verizon and get a 10X as powerful Xoom for the same price. Seems like a simple decision to me. If you took the hardware in the existing Ipad and put Android on it it would be a 200$ tablet. you can sell the reliability of Apple, not the price point.

azieser
azieser

I appreciate the overview and I look forward to your full hands on review later. I was interested in the Xoom until I found out a lot of the details behind Verizon's plan for the unit. I guess if I could get it for the 600 price point without signing a contract for it I would be more interested. Still the reviews of the device look promising.

allanrbowman
allanrbowman

Any mobile device that cannot be viewed in direct sunlight is useless. Nothing more than a "black screen of death". All the other spec's and geek features are irrelevant.

pmwork1
pmwork1

"There are instances where you have press things several times to make them work or you get a strange error message or things unexpectedly shut down" sounds like every piece of software I own particularly Microsoft but also some Oracle tools . We the user are generally the Beta testers where we pay them for the privilege of telling the developers about the bugs !! Yet we accept the disclaimer which says the developer has no guarantee that it will work.

CanyonR
CanyonR

Jason, I appreciate your overview of the Xoom. I'm an android user (Nexus One) and very excited about this new round of Tablets with 3.0 on them. I do want to ask about your complaint over price. You state that the Xoom is $100 more than the "comparable" iPads. But the 32GB Wifi iPad is $599. Yes, the 32GB 3G iPad is only $729, but I would argue that the existence of a subsidized Xoom closes that $70 gap and makes the iPad more expensive if you consider that most people who by 3G iPad are paying for the service regardless of contract. I also believe that many purchasers are more conscious of statistics like storage than they used to be, or at least are seeking the advice of friends who are. I agree that this will all change when the iPad 2 is announced and the updated pricing is made available. I expect that my family, currently with only a kindle, will get both the iPad 2 and a Android tablet this year. While I'm excited about the Xoom, I'm waiting to see the comparisons, beyond stats alone, with the other tablets shipping in the next few months. Thanks for your great coverage. Canyon R http://canyonr.com

SamirBeMad
SamirBeMad

As far as i understood, the point was that you have a file system on the Xoom as opposed to widgets and shortcuts to apps on iPad, giving the xoom a PC experience. What for example (as far as i can give one having used none of the mentioned devices) would you do if you wished to upload the picture to imageshack/photobucket instead?

mhikl
mhikl

I suspect Motorola was desperate and wanting to get their eXoom out the door before iPad 2 so they could grab some discussion and maybe sell a few tablets. The reviews of its stutter and poor quality screen and lack of apps speaks loads. But that is what happens when you copy an original and then add fluff to distinguish it. This is good for Apple. We know that Apple produces quality products and Motorola supports the fact. Apple has been working on the iPad long before it produced the modern smart phone that everyone madly copied. The iPhone is actually the iPad shrunk with phone capabilities added. The tablet copiers have been working on their copy a tenth the time Apple has been planing and testing. The competition does Apple a service in two areas. They will go places Apple wouldn't and the odd trek will be a nook Apple hadn't thought of; the other loops will be nooks Apple already knew wouldn't work. The second area is the point already made: Apple makes products without major flaws; the others, like Microsoft and Motorola sell buggy products which show Apple in an even sharper light.

mhikl
mhikl

I must say I hate Apple and their philosophy of give us your money and we will dictate what software you are allowed to run on our hardware... But other than that, Even the cheap Chinese android tablets are more functional in the business world than the iPad in its current incarnation. Most intelligent comment so far. Yes the cheap Chinese android tablets are more functional in the business world and that is why they are being bought by the business world and the iPad is on the brink of failure. They will be dead in a week. Hating a company that is about to die is not very kind. I would suggest pity would be a more favourable human emotion. I have pity for Microsoft, not hate. Funny, it is the epitome of open and yet it is dying but I am sure the openness of the Google tablet copy cats won't suffer from Microsoft's problems. The eXoom isn't complete but it is out. The iPad 2 will be out shortly but I doubt it will be half baked. When the eXoom and the iPad 2 are "fully" out and working then we can have a fair discussion, wouldn't you agree. Then we can see whom to hate or pity. And if a "closed" system is to be hated, what of a closed mind? Is that to be hated or pitied? I think pitied.

htaylor
htaylor

You can find a desktop for cheaper as well... part of the selling port of a tablet is portability. Walk around a hospital all day with a laptop in your arms checking patient stats, or construction site to construction site lugging a laptop up and down girders, or from courtroom to courtroom... If the prices were a bit lower, I could see your servers at the local restaurant sending your order back to a kitchen screen or printer from your table before they leave. Tablets used wisely and not as glorified video game systems and toys could and are revolutionizing how we currently do business...

jwhite
jwhite

I used Oracle tools about 7 years ago, relatively extensively at the time. I've had no worse software experience with a major, successful product than with Oracle. Part of the learning experience was learning the workarounds for all the bugs. And this wasn't a new product (version 9i, if I'm not mistaken). It was slow, clunky, ugly, and buggy. DB software is one instance where I'd stick with MS (as hard as that can be to say) and even probably save a few hundred thousand in licensing costs (Oracle sales reps used to make obscene money. I assume that's less and less the case these days, though).

will.todd
will.todd

"Yes, the 32GB 3G iPad is only $729, but I would argue that the existence of a subsidized Xoom closes that $70 gap and makes the iPad more expensive if you consider that most people who by 3G iPad are paying for the service regardless of contract." That may be true. But this isn't a comparison of what we think people will do; it's a comparison of what they are required to do. If you buy the unsubsidized Xoom, it will cost you $1180 ($600 + (24*$20)). If you buy the 32 GB iPad, you pay the $729, and you aren't required to pay anything else. As an example, I have the 16 GB 3G iPad, and have had it since launch, and I've only purchased data 3x in 9 months. Add to this the fact that the 3G iPad lacks "activation" fees, "account suspension" fees or "reactivation" fees and the data cost is just what one might expect: $15 for 250 MB (which is the plan I've purchased) and $25 for $2 GB.

g0dFather
g0dFather

Jason, you recently posted the article "The one big reason why iPad rivals can't compete on price." http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/hiner/the-one-big-reason-why-ipad-rivals-cant-compete-on-price/7724 Considering how true this article is, you should fairly point this out when reviewing any tablet other than the iPad. What consumers don't realize is that in return for the iPad's lower price are the shackles of Apple having full control over your tablet life, and the hidden costs associated afterwards.

htaylor
htaylor

Hope that imageshack/photobucket or whatever reason you had to access the file system had an app in the app store.

quentinjs
quentinjs

Its very sad hat so many people have drank the apple juice. They over look Apples arrogance and total disregard for customers interests. People also keep forgetting to mention that Apple until recently was in its own niche market of over priced products that they copied or stole from every leading manufacture they could. They have been for decades been a has-been, and if it wasn't for one designer they would still be in that same space.

MacNewton
MacNewton

I would hate to be in a car with you in the near future. Why, Apples about to get into the auto entertainment business in a big way. Your next car may have a iPad 4 build right in the dash. Now that would be funny. You see my friend, your never going to get away from Apples influence. It's going to follow you wherever you go. When your in your 80's the diabetic insulin pump that was implanted in you will probably be made my Apple. Yes, I'm way off the main point. But its fun to look into Apples crystal ball now and then. lol Stop hating so much and start living!

htaylor
htaylor

Unfortunately with technology, there will never be a good comparison. I bet the research and development department at Motorola and other vendors are already kicking around the next version of the tablet. As Apple is about the "iPad2" which will no doubt have similar features as the current incarnation of the Xoom. I do not propose that Apple will die within a week or month or a year. There are other tablet makers out there who are failing in the game far worse than Apple's closed Market. Rim for one. HP is another example. In fact, the Android Tablets being introduced as competition to the iPad will have the same effect as introducing android phones as an alternative to the iPhone. Some users will want the iPhone and not balk at the closed the market and no real access to the file system or structure of their phone. And others will hold to the ideal that I have. If I am going to buy a tool for business at the price tag of $500+, then I will want the ability to customize it to my needs without waiting for Apple to accept or Deny an application critical to untethering myself from my desktop and laptop...

BrightLibra@Gmail.com
BrightLibra@Gmail.com

Tablets are poised to take over the slot of textbooks for primary and secondary schools. In addition they can provide the connectivity that modern learning demands at a price that will make the current run of textbooks look like the Gutenberg designs they really are...

mhikl
mhikl

What consumers don't realize is that in return for the iPad's lower price are the shackles of Apple having full control over your tablet life, and the hidden costs associated afterwards. What you don't realise is that a writer doesn't include bias opinion in the article he is writing. What is shackled is the thought processes of the mind of some commenters. Check out this site. It has humour and poignancy. http://photos.appleinsider.com/droid.001.jpg The Curious World of Android Enthusiasts 1 Apple's Closed! Taking software from an open source project (BSD), adding a valuable layer of closed software (Apple), tying it to a proprietary baseband and then vendor locking the device = a closed Apple iPhone. [disgusting] Android Open! Taking software from an open source project [Linux], adding a valuable layer of closed software (Google), tying it to a proprietary baseband and then vendor locking the device = an open Android phone. [commendable] The Curious World of Android Enthusiasts 2 Evil Apple! Creating an app market of meritocracy, where developers add value for cash, the curator of the market gets paid a cut, and buyers get lots of great apps for very little. [Disgusting] Righteous Android! Creating an app market of mediocrity, where developers value ad cash, cuation of the market is cut, and vey little by, getting lost looking for great apps. [Commendable] There's more but I'm shackled with bored.

mhikl
mhikl

" drank the apple juice. . . Apples arrogance . . . total disregard for customers interests. . . own niche market . . . over priced products . . copied or stole from every leading manufacture . . . a has-been." Gosh, a genius has arrived. Quality costs, Envyboy. Apple has the highest customer satisfaction rating (independent surveys), Apple copies? where are your brains. At least read and study before making ignorant opinions. Where did M$ Windows come from dummy? And iPad (remember the Newton-way before anything M$ or Palm et al. tried? to fabricate) But you Envyboys will say anything. Hey, just because you and your stuff are Failure Queens, being ignorant of the facts won't fix either your simple brains or your cheap junk copies of trail blazed Apple ideas. Why don't you write about the good of what you believe or is it just easier to tear down what you fear. As Nelson says, "ha ha". PS I mean this in the kindest way.

g0dFather
g0dFather

Remember all those cars that came with built-in satellite radio and three free months of service? I don't see them promoting that much anymore. Perhaps because most people weren't interested? It's very simple. If Apple does end up in the dashboard of a vehicle I'm looking at, it's sole purpose had better be to do its job and do it well. If it shows bias towards certain audio/video formats, forces me to create an iTunes account, or anything else Apple is known for, it will be removed or I won't buy the vehicle. Since an "iDash" would probably be an added expense and not standard, most people can opt for the cheaper system and put that savings towards an after-market non-Apple system. In other words...there's always a way.

htaylor
htaylor

And an Ipad built into the Dash would be ripped out by me. The issue at hand for me as a consumer is not which brand is better. Ultimately, a tablet is a tablet. There will be things that an Android Tablet can do that the iPad struggles at and vice versa. That is the nature of computers. Every company walks the fine line between emulation and copyright infringement when a competitor releases a similar product to their own which has features they either deemed unnecessary or didn't think of. The BIG issue that I have with spending any money on Apple Products is the company closed environment philosophy. That is why I am Anti Rim as well. No matter how "secure" you boast that the OS/Platform etc is, they are all just as insecure as the next one because of the human interface. Your network and mobile security is only as secure as the end users who access your data and resources. A vpn is pointless if the end user connects at a coffeeshop and walks away and leaves his computer running... And mobile security is only effective if the user calls you immediately when they lose their tablet, phone, etc. In my experience it has been a week later because they were sure that they left it at this friends house over the weekend and could not get in touch with them for 4 days... But I digress. The gist of my anti-Apple is this: If I pay you MY hard earned cash for a device, I thought I owned the device, and I don't want you dictating what software can be run on that device. Yes, I can jailbreak my iOS SOFTWARE and void my HARDWARE warranty (explain that concept), or I can just go with a platform and solution that allows the installation of third party apps and/or supports what I need or want it to support. Give me Flash, an Open Market, and Open exchange from Apple, and I will probably return to my nonchalant attitude that it does the same job and its just a matter of brand loyalty. But Apple created a niche market with their iDevices, and just as they have drones of supporters, they will also have drones of haters. Get used to it.

g0dFather
g0dFather

...shackled with ignorance. My Nexus S isn't tied to any carrier so nice try there. Can you purchase any model iPhone that way? I think not. I can download and install any apps I want, including third party apps outside of the market. Oh...and I have Adobe Flash which Apple fanboys swear they're doing fine without (HTML5 can't do it all). I'm not forced to install iTunes (aka iControlU) on my computer. The best part is...none of this requires rooting or hacking the phone! Now that's [Commendable]! "Sorry. There is no version of DivX Mobile Player for iPhone. Please write letters to Apple and tell them you want DivX Certified products." Not true...you can VLC DivX...IF you jailbreak. [Disgusting] "Adobe will no longer pursue its plans to bring Flash to Apple???s iPhone and the iPad." You can get it though, IF you jailbreak (there's that word again). My boss bought an iPad because he wanted something simple for his Fantasy Football, only to find that the sites he likes uses Flash. So in his eyes (and mine), he bought a $700 brick. [Disgusting] Apple's charges Music Sub Services 30%. [Pathetic] I don't know, mhikl. I hear "iPhone" and "jailbreak" in the same sentence an awful lot. But I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with shackles and control! Have a nice iDrone life.