First Looks at the Motorola XOOM

The following writeup documents my personal user experience with the Motorola XOOM. It is intended to provide a user-level overview after using it for a few weeks. While I will try to provide more useful feedback than the PR rep that after spending an hour with the XOOM said “Angry Birds is fun”, this is not intended as a market analysis for the device.  I will let the analysts and pundits handle that.  So here are the specs and my first impressions.

Basic Specifications:

  • Price: $799 unsubsidized, $599 with two year commitment with Verizon
  • Processor: Tegra 2, 1GHz Dual Core
  • OS: Android™ 3.0 Honeycomb
  • Memory: up to 32 GB storage on board; 1GB real memory
  • Wireless: CDMA 800 /1900 LTE 700; Free 4G upgrade when available
  • Sensors: Proximity, ambient light, barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer
  • Display: 10.1-in.; WXGA (1280x 800 pixels; 150 pixels / inch; 16:10), HD 720p
  • Weight: 1.6 lbs.
  • Size: 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches (H x W x D)
  • Bluetooth: stereo 2.1+EDR+HID
  • WIFI: 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Ports: Micro USB2, HDMITM out, power on bottom, mic on top
  • Rear camera: 5 MP, 720p video
  • Front camera: 2 MP, VGA video with digital zoom, Dual-LED flash, auto focus

Advertised Battery Life:

  • 3G web browsing: up to approx. 9 hrs.
  • WiFi web browsing: up to approx. 10 hrs.
  • MP3 music playback: up to approx. 3.3 days
  • Video playback: up to approx. 10 hrs.
  • Standby: up to approx. 14 days

Experiential Plusses:

  • Android Honeycomb 3.0 “Feel”: This is hard to describe, but basic functions like switching tasks, going to the home screen, going back to what you were doing before, and alerts are very easy. It feels intuitive, modernistic and fresh. The “touch” and gesturing was very responsive.
  • Google Integration: Input your Google ID and you are now connected and synced with settings and content for Gmail, Calendar, Latitude, Picasa via Gallery, YouTube, GTalk, Google Maps, Google Books and Chrome Bookmarks.
  • Browser: Plain and simple, the browser is a full-fledged “near” PC-level browser optimized for tablets. Address bars disappear when they need to, it has very snappy performance, syncs with Google Chrome bookmarks, and is very compatible. The 1280×800 resolution on the 10.1″ display shows a lot of content. It even ran many of the tests from the IE9 test drive site, albeit much slower than AMD Fusion based designs. It doesn’t appear to be accelerated as it showed about 5 FPS on the 20 “fish” test.

  • Google Maps: Google has taken tablet maps to the next level. As you zoom in on cities you can actually see buildings in 3D. It took me a while to figure out how to change the aspect, but I finally did after doing what I never do- click “help”.

  • Google Video Chat: The video chat was surprisingly easy to use. Every Google Mail client on the PC has the capability for Google Chat and XOOM users can video chat with all those users. This was the most intuituve and simplest video chat I have used on a tablet or smartphone and has millions of end points.  I thought it was easier than FaceTime.
  • Android Market App Sync: Apps purchased on all of your other Android devices auto install on your device after you log-in for the first time. In fact, just go to the PC web version of Android Market, buy the app, and send it directly to the unit. It’s kind of like buying a Kindle book from their website then directing it to the primary “device”. This is immensely helpful given that researching apps is so much easier on a PC.

  • Horizontal Orientation: iPad is oriented vertically, XOOM is oriented horizontally. This makes three column web sites, movies, and email much more enjoyable.
  • Activity and Messaging Icons: The lower right corner has all messages, displayed subtly. It’s not an assault on the senses, but gentle reminders. Very nice.

  • Multitasking Management: Press an icon in the lower left hand tray and you see screen shots of the actual apps that are open or last used. Nice.

  • Live Screens: In iOS, users must open an app to get to information or data. In Honeycomb, information can be displayed in “Widgets” that display live information. Some examples: last 5 emails, latest NY Times story, CNN Top Story video screenshot, latest Tweet or Facebook post, real-time stock and weather.

  • Screen management: Honeycomb has five screens, with “home” in the middle. Want to add a widget, app, or wallpaper or reconfigure the whole page? Just long-click on the screen and everything else will be self-evident. Just drag everything where you want it on the page.

  • Flip 3D and Wrapping: Many apps get the “flip 3D” and wrapping treatment, from YouTube, pictures, CNN, album covers all with the goal of easily identifying information more quickly on the screen.

  • HDMITM mirroring: XOOM will project everything on its screen to a display with HDMI, plain and simple. This includes screens and content. One simple issue that needs to be fixed is that it will only project when in native orientation, so the HDMI cable points down, so holding the device is awkward. I had some stability issues outlined below.
  • Adding Content: If you want to add music, movies or pictures from a PC you don’t have to use a program like iTunes. You just need a USB cable and you drag and drop what you want from the PC to the XOOM. Alternatively, you can even use Windows Media Player and sync with the XOOM.

  • Android Phone Similarity: If you own an Android phone, you will know how to use a Honeycomb tablet, and vice-versa.
  • Rubberized Top: There is a rubberized “top” on the back of the XOOM that occupies 25% of the back cover. I wish it were on the entire extent of the rear of the unit. The rubber top provides a good grip when holding the unit without a cover.

Experiential Things I’d Like To See Changed:

  • Stability: At times, apps crashed and screens would hang for a few seconds with no movement. I experienced this with Android Phone 1.X on the G1 and Google wrung that out just fine. I had some particularly nasty lockups and reboots when using the HDMI cable and mirroring.
  • Shiny display: Compared to the iPad and Samsung Galaxy, the XOOM display is shinier, making it difficult to use in day time and even bright office lights. I wouldn’t want to use the XOOM outside. The iPad is even pushing it, but I can use the Galaxy Tab outside as it has the best display.
  • No Netflix or Hulu: This issue isn’t limited to XOOM, but rather Android in general.
  • Rear power button: Very annoying especially when power management shuts off the screen after a minute. Need to reach around and power the unit back on.

  • Supported Video Formats: One of the big Android benefits has been the variety of CODECs and bit rates supported. This is very impressive on HTC phones.  The XOOM supports only three video flavors in narrow bands; H.263, H.264, and MPEG4. I suppose the broad array of CODECs and specs just aren’t ready yet for Gingerbread.
  • Web Documents: Via the browser, I could not effectively edit documents in Google Docs or Windows Live Office. This was surprising given the robustness of the browser.
  • Volume buttons: These were hard to find and toggle.

  • Proprietary power cord: There is no USB charging which requires a special power adapter to be carried around.

  • Exchange Support: Active Sync for Exchange is not supported. This was an early issue with Android and iOS but later fixed. I had to use “Touchdown” to get access to corporate email and calendar.
  • Flash: Flash 10.X hasn’t shipped yet but is promised as a download in the future.
  • DLNA: I could not get any DLNA media renderer or server to work correctly. This is bizarre and I haven’t had this issue on any modern phone or tablet.

Experiential Unknowns:

  • Battery Life: I didn’t personally do a formal battery life test. Anandtech shows a mixed result on battery life between XOOM and iPad 1. Anand shows that XOOM wins handily on 3G and basically ties with WiFi.
  • 3D graphics capability: Few programs exist yet to tax the Tegra 2 graphics and none that show a demonstrable difference in experiential capability versus iPad. Nvidia has launched “Tegra Zone” an Android app to highlight games that are “optimized for Tegra”. The app can be downloaded here. When I look at the Tegra Zone games, I see nothing yet that is better than the iPad’s Iron Wars, Call of Duty Zombies, Rage, or Infinity Blade.

In my next entry, I’ll have a short look at some things I see as competitive advantages and disadvantages of the XOOM against products available today. I’ll also take a look at what it would require for me to consider replacing my notebook with a XOOM.