The success of the iPad has seen tablets flying off the shelves quicker than at Boots. Motorola’s Xoom (you know it’s pronounced Zoom, right?) contribution comes with the latest Android 3.0 Honeycomb, a 10.1in screen, dual-core processor and lots more besides.
Design and build
It’s a classy piece of kit, with a sturdy and none too lightweight metal casing that clocks in at 249 x 168 x 13mm and 730g. It’s a bit of a brick in comparison with the iPad 2, a little under a centimetre longer, but over 100g heavier. Mind you, this will only be a problem if you constantly use it cradled in your arm – sat on your lap or on a desk, the extra weight has little impact.
The power/sleep button is on the back, next to the 5-megapixel camera lens, loudspeaker and dual-LED flash, which takes a bit of getting used to.
On one side are a power plug, separate microUSB sync slot and Firewire slot for connecting to the optional speaker dock, on the other is a slot for a SIM card and 3.5mm headphone jack, while at the top are two small volume buttons.
The 10.1in touch screen delivers a sharp-looking 1280 x 800 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio – perfect for watching widescreen movies, in other words.
The viewing angle leaves a little to be desired, though, and you’ll probably find yourself stretching the battery by cranking up the brightness. It’s impressively sensitive, though, and posed no problems when distinguishing between brushes and presses.
Interface and OS
The Xoom comes running Android 3.0 Honeycomb and is officially the first tablet to do so (it's also now been named as the first tablet that will get Android 3.1 Honeycomb in the weeks and months to come).
But while some elements are familiar Android – there are five home screens you can populate with widgets and shortcuts of your choice – some of it looks very different.
The hard navigation buttons that usually run along the bottom of the screen with Android handsets have been replaced with virtual ones, which sit in the bottom left-hand corner, whichever orientation you’re using the screen, with buttons for back and home, plus an option to show your most recently used apps as thumbnails. The 3D-style graphics have some depth and look pretty cool, but the pull-down status bar has now gone.
If you really want to, you can squeeze up to 56 icons on to each home screen (less if you include a few widgets, like your calendar, email, Facebook etc – but there isn’t a huge amount to choose from yet).
Like the iPad, touch typing is perfectly easy to do once you get used to bashing your fingertips off the screen, but the keys are easily big and responsive enough.
The 5-megapixel camera has a dual LED flash, 8x digital zoom and a range of scene modes to choose from. Picture quality is okay but not outstanding – and you’ll need strong arms if you’re planning on taking a lot of snaps.
It can also record 720p HD video, which is nice to see, but again, not really much to write home about.
There’s also a 2-megapixel camera on the front which can be used for taking pictures of yourself – no video calling so far.
Apps and browser
The smartphone Android Market may be the largest after Apple’s App Store, but the same apps aren’t necessarily available for the Xoom, at least not yet. There were a little under a 1,000 apps available in the Android Market when we looked at it.
The Market has also had a bit of a makeover in Honeycomb, with apps laid out in a grid format that makes full use of the bigger screen area.
The Android browser has been expanded for the big screen, with desktop-style tabbed windows and even an Explorer-style ‘incognito’ mode for visiting pages you don’t want recorded.
It’s perhaps not quite as silky smooth as the iPad experience, but it does at least support Flash so BBC iPlayer and lots of other streaming video is all go.
Media and connectivity
The Xoom comes in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G versions and has Bluetooth as an added bonus.
The loudspeaker is on the tinny side (and facing away from you!) and while it might pass muster against a mobile phone, it feels distinctly underpowered for a device like this, with which you’d probably rather watch video without headphones. And you’ll have to supply those headphones yourself, since the Xoom doesn’t come with any.
Films look very fine on the big screen, though heavily compressed files that looked okay on your Android phone won’t necessarily benefit from being blown up to 10.1in size. Not all formats are catered for – WMV and DivX being notable exceptions.
There’s a mini-HDMI slot offering an HD connection to your TV for viewing content, though there’s no cable supplied.
The music player features a nice scrolling file menu system and is easy enough to navigate, but there’s no built-in equaliser to adapt the sound to your tastes, and none of those handy tricks we’ve been seeing recently for tracking down related tracks and info on the internet.
There’s 32GB memory on board but there’s also an as yet non-functioning slot for a microSD card, which will apparently be enabled with the device’s next software update later this year.
Performance and battery life
It’s a dual-core device and yes, it’s fast, very nippy in fact, zipping through the apps and functions like its little life depended on it, which in the dog-eat-dog world of modern gadgetry, it probably does.
The battery held up surprisingly well, delivering a good day’s worth of fairly heavy use (about eight hours). Surprisingly, it doesn’t charge via USB, but a proprietary charger with bulky transformer, so you can’t just plug it into your computer for syncing and expect it to charge while it’s doing it.
There’s a charging dock available, but if you’re on the move, you’re stuck with that heavy extra cable to carry.
- Excellent 10.1in touchscreen
- Android Honeycomb
- Fast dual-core performance
- On the heavy side
- Bulky power cable
Verdict: The Xoom is a very well constructed piece of kit, if a little on the chunky side compared with its iPad rival. It’s fast, efficient, and Android 3.0 looks great as well and works extremely well too. But while it might be an iPad-botherer, the weight, screen quality and that awful power lead mean the Xoom's not quite a beater.
More info: Motorola Xoom spec
Price: From free on contract; £500 SIM-free