Validation

With the iPad, Apple built a device that I wanted ten years ago, at a time when my workload wouldn’t allow me to use it. I spend most of my days in meetings, producing content, benchmarking and researching. Only the latter is better done on the iPad than a more conventional computing device. The killer apps on the iPad continue to be centered around content consumption and, more recently, gaming. Productivity apps exist, however there are still many usage models that demand the fast response time of a full blown PC or the convenience of a keyboard/mouse, higher resolution display and real working desktop.

That’s just me however. As is evidenced by the number of people I see in airports and airplanes who have traded in their Thinkpads for an iPad, this new era of tablets is serious business. I’m continually amazed by the number of people I see on a regular basis using an iPad, even though I understand why. It’s light, it has a long battery life, it’s easy to use, performance is more predictable than a netbook (thanks to the use of NAND flash vs. a conventional HDD), it’s got a beautiful screen and for some usage models, touching is better than pointing.

A Brief History of Android

Google found itself in an unfortunate predicament in the battle against Apple in the mobile OS space. The iPhone was released in June 2007, but the first Android phone didn’t make it out until October 2008. If Apple were a complacent giant with a stagnant mobile roadmap, showing up 16 months later wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately for Google, Apple was anything but that. Execution is critical in any innovation driven industry and Apple has executed extremely well. Since 2007 we’ve seen yearly OS releases (with subreleases in between them) and yearly hardware updates. Since 2007 the hardware updates have come like clockwork, every June we’ve had a new iPhone.

So how do you compete with a company that has a 12 - 24 month head start? Emulation isn’t the answer.

Google would have to out-execute Apple. Similar yearly OS/hardware releases wouldn’t be enough, because Apple would always be ahead at that point. Google wanted to pursue a more open path, with multiple hardware vendors and fully customizable UIs. While that’s great for the consumer, it made Google’s plight that much more difficult.

Apple only had to worry about a single hardware platform that it updated every year. With a dozen or so customers all with varying underlying hardware, Google would have to take longer (or dedicate even more resources) to developing an OS for all of those platforms. Google needed another strategy.

Apple has committed to a 12-month release cadence for OS/hardware, so Google would have to do better than that. On average we get a major Android release every 5 months. Granted Apple does update iOS more frequently than once a year, but Google has definitely come a longer way in the same amount of time thanks to its late start.

A more aggressive release schedule alone isn’t enough. Google wanted to bring Android to more than one hardware manufacturer, but doing so would make out executing Apple nearly impossible. The solution was to pick a hardware and a device partner for each major Android release. Google would work closely with those partners to release the flagship device for that version of Android. All of the other players in the Android ecosystem would be a bit behind the curve. It was a necessary evil in order to rev Android up quickly enough to compete with iOS.

The hardware and device makers were evaluated based on their roadmaps as well as their ability to execute. Last round Samsung was selected as both the SoC and device partner with the Nexus S. Before that it was Qualcomm and HTC with the Nexus One. For Honeycomb, the tablet exclusive release of Android, Google’s SoC partner is newcomer NVIDIA with its Tegra 2. And the device partner? Motorola with the Xoom.

Google and Motorola worked very closely together on the Xoom and as a result, starting tomorrow, the Xoom will be the first Android tablet available running Honeycomb (Android 3.0). Other Honeycomb tablets based on NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 will follow shortly thereafter (Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, LG’s Optimus Pad) however the Xoom will be first. Down the road we can also expect to see Honeycomb tablets based on other hardware as well.

The Hardware

The Xoom looks and feels like a more rugged iPad. You lose the aluminum finish, but you gain something that feels a lot more grippy and utilitarian. The back is made of the same soft plastic with an almost velvet feel to it that we’ve seen on many smartphones in the past.

The front is all glass of course, however the screen has a much narrower bezel than the iPad making it look a lot more modern. The aspect ratio is also more widescreen than the iPad. The 10.1” screen has a 1280 x 800 display (16:10) vs. the iPad’s 1024 x 768 panel (4:3). As a result the Xoom is the same width in landscape as the iPad, but it’s noticeably shorter (and a little thinner). This gives the Xoom a slightly more manageable feel, although it’s still not as borderline pocketable as a 7-inch tablet.


Motorola Xoom (left) vs. Apple iPad (right)

There are only three physical buttons on the Xoom: volume up, volume down and power/lock. The volume buttons are located along the left edge of the Xoom when held in portrait mode. The power/lock button is actually located on the back of the tablet, near the camera. When held in a landscape orientation the power/lock button should be near the index finger on your left hand. It’s location is actually not that bothersome when you’re holding the Xoom in landscape, it’s when you don’t know how you’re holding the tablet that you run into problems.


The power/lock button

The lack of any physical buttons on the face of the Xoom give it a very clean look but also make it very difficult to tell what direction is up when you’re quickly grabbing the tablet. There’s an integrated accelerometer that allows the OS to know how to orient the screen, however when you first pick up the Xoom with the screen off you need to blindly feel around the back for the power/lock button rather than knowing exactly where it is.

Compared to the iPad the accelerometer/rotation magic seems to take longer on the Xoom. The lag between rotating the Xoom and the OS rotating the desktop seems to be just slightly greater on the Xoom compared to the first generation iPad. It’s not a deal breaker, but just a bit odd. Because of the widescreen aspect ratio I found myself using the Xoom in a landscape orientation more than portrait.

There are two cameras on the Xoom: a front facing 2MP and a rear facing 5MP camera with LED flash. The latter is capable of recording up video at up to 720p30. The front facing camera has a red LED next to it that illuminates when the camera is active. Rounding out the light fx are a green charge LED and a white notification LED strip on the front of the Xoom.

There are two speakers on the back of the Xoom, a 1/8” headset jack up top and a micro USB, micro HDMI and power input along the bottom. The micro HDMI port can't be used for mirroring, it looks to be exclusively for getting video out through some of the docks Motorola plans on selling. Update: HDMI mirroring is supported. I couldn't get it working on my Onkyo 508/Samsung UN55C7000 setup however I'll be tinkering around to see why the setup isn't working. 

Internally the Xoom has a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoC (T20) running at 1GHz. This is the tablet version of the Tegra 2 so it’s a physically larger package but it should have the same performance characteristics. Motorola also includes an Atrix-like 1GB of memory and 32GB of MLC NAND on board. There’s an external facing LTE SIM card tray that also hides the microSD slot in the Xoom.

The Xoom is launching with only one SKU at first: a 32GB 3G (LTE-ready) version priced at $799 through Verizon. This is an unsubsidized cost and it requires a single month of the $20/1GB data plan to function even over WiFi (thank you VZW). The closest Apple competitor is the 32GB iPad 3G priced at $729, a difference of $70. Granted the Xoom does give you two more cameras and two much faster CPU cores than what you get in the iPad, however I’m guessing the more fair comparison will be to the upcoming iPad 2.

Tablet Specification Comparison
  Apple iPad Motorola Xoom
OS Apple iOS 4.2.1 Google Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
Dimensions 242.8mm x 189.7mm x 13.4mm 249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm
Display 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 10.1-inch 1280 x 800
Weight 730g
680g (WiFi only)
730g
Processor 1GHz Apple A4 (Cortex A8) 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)
Memory 256MB 1GB
Storage 16GB up to 64GB 32GB + microSD card

If you want a lower up front cost you can opt for a $599 subsidized version, however that requires a 2-year service agreement at $20. If you’re going to pay for the data plan anyway this may be a better option.

What’s missing of course is a plain old WiFi only Xoom. Motorola says this is coming and will be priced at around $600.

Charging & The Display
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  • mrdeez - Monday, February 28, 2011 - link

    I was gona wait for the wifi version but now, I am really thinking of just getting a new lappy for 350...I can still tether to phone and it is cheaper and no stupid data contracts. I am sure we wont see these wifi versions for awhile. It's almost starting to look like google is greedier than apple and thats very scary! Reply
  • IBM650 - Tuesday, March 01, 2011 - link

    Mossburg ran a movie loop, IPAD was about 11 hours, Xoom about 7. So a big difference Reply
  • prtech - Thursday, March 03, 2011 - link

    AS per my understanding 'ADAM' is already out and hoping you got one. Can you give us Benchmarks and in depth review like you did for other products. Reply
  • mmullany - Friday, March 04, 2011 - link

    Iin order to pass ACID, the 100/100 has to match the reference image and the animation has to be smoooth. The Xoom fails in three ways - it has a rendering artifact in the top right, the animation isn't smooth and the colors don't match exactly. In addition, many of the HTML5 features that the Xoom self-reports as having, do not actually operate correctly. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, March 05, 2011 - link

    Great to see some timed tests! Real-world loading time is directly understandable and relevant. Now please do the same in your SSD reviews :) Reply
  • JefTek - Sunday, March 06, 2011 - link

    I ran the Sunspider tests multiple times on my Xoom and never seem to have received a number higher than 2100.

    Without doing a full on average, my results were closer to the 2050ms mark.

    http://jeftek.com/1942/motorola-xoom-sunspider-res...

    I wonder what was different?
    Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, March 13, 2011 - link

    I'd really like to see a 24" 1080p touch screen with smartphone innards. Instead of using desktop or even laptop parts just cause it'd cost WAY less. Or better yet have a 24" 1080p touch screen with an empty slot so you can just insert your tablet/smartphone (would require a universal port or cable) and have that power the display. The display should also incorperate a hdd bay or two. Cause really, who wants to go around buying a tablet for each room in the house?

    I just think it'd be really nice to have a much larger touch screen in the kitchen on the stand where you can stream music, watch a youtube video, look at recipes while cooking. Or out on the deck grilling. 6-10" screens are great if you want something larger than a smartphone/archos tablet to carry around with you and get great battery life where you can basically just surf the web. But for in home use, anywhere a stationary device can be placed, a larger screen is almost always better.
    Reply
  • turbobutton - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - link

    Apparently "Corning Glass" is one part of that equation that can make it happen, although clearly more technology needs to be developed for this to be feasible. You will really enjoy this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cf7IL_eZ38
    Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, March 13, 2011 - link

    "Google lets you "blank" if you want". That whole idea, giving YOU the choice of how you want it to work. I don't just want that, I NEED it. If Apple will never open up and give configuration options to users, then I will never use Apple anything. I will never recommend it and I will always fight their market penetration. Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, March 13, 2011 - link

    Wow, I was hoping for 400 bucks. I was thinking they'd probably jew us out and charge 500 though. 800?! That's just stupid, Archos it is then. Reply

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