Xoom Review

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Looks like the time has come, I have now had my Xoom for about a few days now and its time for me to cast my infinite wisdom worthless opinion upon it. I must stay that I am very impressed with the hardware and software alike, but I still have my disappointments, which I will go over in my review.

I am going to go down the usual list of categories and pretty much talk about them one by one. So lets start:

1. External Hardware

There is no doubt that this is some of the best hardware I own. The design is beautiful. I love the matte black back and thin bezels. The buttonless design has really grown on me and the high resolution screen is something to be envious of.

I would say the most impressive feature so far is the sound quality both in speakers and AUX out. The speakers are incredibly loud, crisp and clear and the output has much crisper sound with a lot more bass. When I compare it to my G2’s AUX out in my car, my G2 doesn’t even compete. Quite amazing in that regard.

The buttons are solid and the lock button is convenient when holding it, but its a burden when its laying face up on my desk. I personally would like an alternative wakeup method rather than having to lift up the device, but it’s no deal breaker for me.

It’s 16:10 aspect ratio is very nice for video watching an video and its 10.1″ inch screen seems perfect for this larger tablet form factor. However, a 7″ version would also be nice to please the mid-range crowd. It’s weight is bearable, but it could be improved. The beast weighs in at 1.5lbs on my scale.

The obvious design choices shows that the device is meant for a landscape screen, which I will back 100% for these types of devices. One of the iPad 2’s greatest flaws is that its still oriented for portrait, and from what we know from traditional devices, landscape is going to be the actively preferred choice, plus apps just look better with the side by side fragments that Google has put a lot of work into with its new SDK.

2. Internal Hardware

The device is snappy, but you can tell very quickly that Honeycomb is quite optimized to handle dual-core processors. Even with its impressive 1Ghz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, the device does seem to show some lag and I really didn’t think I would care to do the 1.5Ghz overclock before I saw how prominent the lag became with enough things going on. However, I don’t think this is something that can’t be fixed in the next couple of updates and enough help from the open-source community.

The device is sporting 1GB of RAM, but the average user will probably never be able to tell. But its nice knowing that you probably won’t have to worry about capping out your RAM and game developers can also be aware of how to develop on it as well. Also included into the device is WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Verizon’s EV-DO Rev. A, GPS, light sensor, and an accelerometer.

The battery life is great. I can easily use this thing to its peak all day and not have to worry at all. The tablet sports 2 x 3430 mAH batteries running at 12V’s (which means an absolutely devastating lose of the ability to charge the device via USB) The battery lasts about 10 hours of use, probably a little less when watching movies or playing games. And I can’t put the device down for long enough to test the batteries standby time.

3. Cameras

The Xoom includes a front (2MP) and rear (5MP) back camera with LED flash capable of capturing 720P video and does it pretty damn well. The image quality is pretty good on the back camera, but the front camera is pretty grainy looking and the high resolution screen doesn’t do it justice when you get to see it blown up. If you have a good connection the video quality seems to be pretty decent, and the audio is very good, but it may not be the best experience on the device.

The camera app really helps the experience along. And the screen size helps really get a good grasp at what your looking at. However, I imagine that some will find it difficult to keep a steady hand while shooting with the device.

4. Android 3.0 Honeycomb

Needs some work, but extremely good at the same time. This product is missing some core features at launch and not even all of Google’s apps are optimized for Honeycomb. But I will say, overall, it’s a great experience. I will say now that Honeycomb is not lag free and it not really taking advantage of the dual-core processor as it could (yet). This is obviously from unfinished optimization rather than a core problem with the platform. There are simply lots of areas that seem unfinished and remain to need some fleshing out. However, I don’t think this would not dock against its long term value because since this is the feature tablet, it will get the most love from Google.

4.1 Music Application

The music app is a big improvement. It has a lot more intuitive design and a few extra features with that. It’s definitely not something that needs to be replaced with a market application, which has consistently been the case with Android. So with that, I am very impressed with how it turned out. The biggest annoyance is you can’t use swipe gestures to change songs. This means that you have to look at the device to find the “>>” button to change the song. Because of that, I couldn’t use it for driving.

4.2 Gmail

The Gmail app is simply amazing. The new global menu design for tablet devices conform to what you are doing more. For instance, when you are in your inbox you get a different menu set than when you are reading a message.

The experience is much like the desktop version (minus Google Labs) and in many ways a much better experience than the desktop versions.  Sometimes I will end up using the tablet rather than the computer right next to me to check my Gmail.

4.3 Google Voice

Very much the same experience as Gmail at large, but some notable features would be focused around video chat. Video chat works in 3G or Wifi but the quality is not the best (which should be expected when streaming videos off of a device like this and then expanding it to a 1280 x 720 resolution).

4.4 Keyboard

The keyboard is much better than I expected out of a tablet, I can actually type on it pretty well using 6-8 fingers. However, to contrast, sometimes I have seen people say that they weren’t able to achieve the same results. I will say that since the ENTER button replaces the “;” button it makes it a bit hard to hover your hands in the standard keyboard fashion. The auto-correct also needs to be improved a bit.

4.5 Notification System

One thing I have always thought about using 2.2 and 2.3 versions of Android as tablet OS’s is that the notification is just not the same experience as on a smaller form factor. However, the reformed fashion of doing this on 3.0 Honeycomb solves that issue perfectly. Not only did they add more features, but they gave a better interface to work with. The ability to actually interface with the Music app directly from the notification tab is quite amazing. Simply put its perfect for tablets and easily scalable back down the phone form factor as well.

4.6 Lock screen

The new lock screen is a little bit laggy in my opinion. Also, I will say it’s an added annoyance to trying to use this device without looking. I would love to be able to use this tablet as my car radio, but because there is not enough features to enable use it without looking makes it kind of annoying. But that could just be a personal pet peeve. I ended up turning the lock screen off all together.

4.7 Maps

Amazing. Enough Said. No complaints and flawless interface in my opinion. Multi-touch support works great and the interface is extremely fast and responsive.

4.8 Older apps

Unsatisfactory. Facebook widget makes Facebook crash every time for me. Apps simply are not designed to work with bigger interfaces like this and there is no way to simply scale it in Android to a bigger form factor. I will say that some apps do work well with it, but still not idea. When using the Engadget app, it’s nice to be able to see more articles (opposed to iPad where you still see the same amount per page as the phone version, it will actually give you more information where it can). To me, this is the whole reason of having a bigger screen. MORE INFORMATION. So in that regard, it’s good.

4.9 Camera App

The new interface works really well for the larger form factor, it has a lot more easily accessible features and it works really well with your hands trying to hold the tablet. It’s a big improvement from 2.3 and other versions of Android.

4.10 Market App

WAY better for the tablet OS. It’s much like their newly launched website and it works really well. Gets all the information when I want it, where I want it and still looks pretty at the same time.

4.11 App Drawer

Apps are now no longer a scroll-through launcher, rather a page by page process like Apple has. I believe it’s much better for this screen size. Scrolling through apps had no real rhyme or reason to it and the interface really felt hard to navigate through because you never know where apps are going to reside after installing new apps. The new App Drawer seems like a better design for such a device.

4.12 Task Switcher

The dedicated task switcher is a lot more user friendly than holding the Home button to get a grid of icons to select through. Now you get a view of 5 apps you recently used with a snapshot of app and an icon in the corner. So it’s very easy to switch through stuff without really having to think (which is key to good UI design). However I do find it odd that its not scrollable but at the same time, there are 6 apps in portrait view.

5.0 Battery Life

From my own tests, I get about 8 hours watching video and about 10 hours with heavy use. This device last the entire day even the long days spent at airports. It doesn’t require any sort of battery management such as disabling Wifi and 3G to conserve battery or anything, just seems to work. But I do charge it every day, but even the day that I didn’t play with it all day and forgot to charge it, it still made it through the next day without a hitch.

6.0 Performance

Good performance overall, but sometimes it does get laggy. The games run very well and the benchmarks show some high numbers as well. I currently have my Xoom overclocked at 1.5Ghz and it does make a difference. 1.0 Ghz seems a little bit low for this device at the current state, but maybe once it’s optimized I may take the overclocking down a few notches.

7.0 Stacking up to the competition

With the launch of the iPad 2 it seems only reasonable to compare the two. When you go to a spec war, there is no doubt that the Xoom wins. With it’s matched specs in most area and twice the RAM and better camera quality along side the upgrade to 4G coming up, there is nothing you get out of the iPad 2 that you don’t also get from the Xoom.

Now with that said, some may also care about the size and appearance. The Xoom comes in every color so long as it’s black and the iPad 2 now comes in black and white. The iPad 2 is thinner, but I don’t really see that as much as a feat because both devices are thin enough to do everything you want on them. The better feature in my opinion is the fact that the Xoom has a much smaller bezel. When you compare the two devices surface area, the iPad 2 comes in at 69.35 sq. inches and the Xoom comes in at 4.67 sq. inches less for total surface area at 64.68 sq. inches. This is more important to portability to me than the thinness that the iPad 2 is so heavily boasting about. The least dominate dimension is the one they focus the most about but they didn’t change anything in terms of the huge bezel. That to me gives Xoom a lead.

Another lead the Xoom in my opinion is a better  forward facing camera placement. Apple pretty much forces you to use Facetime in portrait view which seems very silly to me. The only other device that favors portrait view over landscape is the phone form factor, but every PC and Macbook has a webcam adjusted for landscape because it just seems more natural. The Xoom, on the other hand, places the camera for landscape mode and for that, I thank them.

Now here is where the Xoom starts to lose its edge. When it comes to software, I definitely like the overall interface of the designed for tablet version of Android more than I like the iOS interface blown up. However, iOS still has way more integrated apps from the start and all apps still work just like they do on any other device. As I stated for the Xoom, this is not always the case on Android. This means that developers really need to re-up their game if they want to compete in the tablet space and lots of smaller, low budget apps are not going to do that, so it poses a challenge for Android.

Also, the iPad 2 has a huge upper hand when you go to a targeted arena such as the music industry. Not only does the iPad 2 have apps like Garageband built for the iPad, but the industry has already made a ton of products to interface with the iPad as well. Since the Xoom is not compatible in these types of markets, it will simply be ignored and unless someone really wants to take a big stand, its going to remain that way and musicians are going to just continuously buy iPads for their needs.

 

Summary

The Xoom is without a doubt going to be a worth-while investment for those who choose to buy it. I use my Xoom everyday now and I never thought myself to be much of a tablet guy. I think it has lots of room for software improvements, but in my opinion, no software is perfect.  The price tag may sway you into the direction of the iPad, but there are notable features that I think make it worth the extra few bucks (mainly being Flash support and Verizon LTE 4G) and I really do like the interface as well. If you are someone that likes to mix things up a bit more and love the ability to customize, then the Xoom will be a much better fit for you. But if you want something that will just work like all your other devices, regardless of how limiting it may be, then the Xoom may not be the best choice out there.

This is all going to be a matter of preference but I am going to give this product an 8/10. It’s a great improvement with Android and hardware to match, but both of those were just not ready for an early March launch. Thankfully, they chose not to just remove the features and sell it without it, rather they will take you hardware back and put in the upgrades that were promised. So really not a bad investment at all.

 

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About the author

Ian Schwartz had written 137 articles for TEKNAMI

Hello, I'm Ian (eye-an) I was born in Recife, Brazil and raised in the fridge tundra of Minneapolis, MN USA. I graduated from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL with an AA in Audio Recording Production and Engineering. I love tech, always have since I was a little tot and what better way to know more then to tell everyone else about it also. So here is teknami (tech-nah-me) Tek for tech and nami is a derivative of namesake.