The Motorola Xoom finally arrives in the UK under a burden of expectation. First of all it’s the first tablet to hit the shelves that’s running on Android 3.0 Honeycomb – aka the first edition of Android specifically optimised for tablets. Secondly, it arrives in the wake of Apple’s iPad 2, released just a couple of weeks ago. The Motorola Xoom is available in both Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi + 3G editions and 16GB and 32GB flavours of both. The review model pictured is a Wi-Fi-only 32GB edition.
What we like
The Motorola Xoom looks and feels like money well spent. It’s a solid, weighty bit of gear that practically bellows ‘TECHNOLOGY’ when you first pick it up. It looks a bit like a digital camera that’s been stretched by one of those seaside machines, the ones that hammer pennies into souvenir tokens (this is a good thing).
On the subject of cameras, we had a lot of fun playing around with the Xoom’s twin camera set up. At 5-megapixels for the main rear-facing camera and 2-megapixels for the front-facer, you’ve immediately got a more powerful imaging set up than that of the iPad 2.
Pictures taken on the front camera look great in the gallery and scale up nicely when you set them as your Xoom’s wallpaper (see below).
You get two speakers with the Xoom; these create a stereo effect making the Xoom ideal for listening to music/watching movies on the go. We gave it the old ‘Pink Floyd – Money Intro’ test and thrilled to the sounds of jingling coins bouncing between two channels. We live in hope of a Sword & Sworcery Android port in the future.
The new YouTube app for Android 3.0 works a charm, gathering results quickly and displaying them as a giant wall of thumbnails. Videos fullscreen quickly and if you’ve got a YouTube channel of your own, you can log in and upload stuff shot on your Xoom right from within the app. Sweet.
Similarly, Google Maps is excellent; thanks to the multi-touch screen you can twist, pan and zoom around on your (ahem) Xoom. Everything you’d expect is there, i.e. Places, turn by turn directions, layers etc. Google Maps both looks and works fantastically well on the big 10.1-inch screen.
If you’ve used an Android phone before, you’ll notice that all of your previously downloaded apps will appear in a separate window the first time you enter the Android Market. This makes it easier to find and re-download all of your favourites. If not, no problem; Android Market on the Xoom looks a lot like the web/desktop version which makes it really easy to search for stuff.
It’s easy to personalise the Xoom’s menus. Holding down on the screen brings up a menu from which you can drag and drop shortcuts to apps, individual contacts and widgets as well as add new wallpapers.
Wallpapers range from a selection of futuristic Tron-style static backgrounds and a couple of nicely animated wallpapers. Again, thanks to the powerful camera set up, pictures taken on the Xoom scale up nicely on the big high definition screen.
Browsing the web on the Xoom is fast, buttery smooth and easy as pie. We loved that you could easily open up new tabs and effortlessly add bookmarks. It felt perfectly natural and had more in common with a browsing experience on a laptop than in did on a smartphone. In short, it felt pretty much as we’d have wanted it to.
What we don’t like
Though the Xoom’s weight gives it an aura of solidity, it also makes it rather difficult to hold in one hand. Most of the time you’ll have it propped up on your lap or something, but both those occasional times when you want to hold it in one hand (like when taking a picture) it can feel awkward and unwieldy.
The size and shape of the Xoom means that it’s occasionally difficult to type when you’re holding it in landscape. If you’ve got big piano player’s hands (like this reviewer) it’s less of a problem. But for those of you not blessed with long lanky digits, you might struggle. Hopefully the forthcoming SwiftKey for Tablets app will alleviate this particular gripe.
Generally, the user experience offered by Android 3.0 is a good one. But here and there we couldn’t fail to notice things like the browser, YouTube and the Android Market randomly freezing up and force closing. This didn’t seem to depend on how much stuff we had going on in the background either and happened more often than we’d have liked.
Though we were wowed by the new YouTube app and Maps, we were less impressed with some of the other pre-installed Google apps.
Google Body, one of the flagship apps demoed at the Honeycomb launch event, feels half done. There’s just one human model at the moment (female), a lot of the polygons look jagged round the edges and when you zoom in closely to something like the brain, things get awfully glitchy.
Same goes for the Film Studio app. With the Xoom’s more powerful camera set up we were hoping that this would be a worthy alternative to iMovie on the iPad 2. Film Studio lets you crop and edit sections of film shot on the Xoom and set MP3s as background music. Though it works (just about) the entire process is not very elegant, laggy and not especially user friendly.
At the time of writing, the BBC iPlayer Android app does not work on the Xoom. With that hi-res widescreen display and stereo speakers, this should be the perfect tablet for watching Masterchef or whatever on the go. Sadly this is not yet the case – we hope that the BBC gets on this asap.
Ultimately, a lot of what we didn’t like about the Xoom came down to app support. Obviously it’s unfair to slate Motorola for third party devs not updating/releasing apps. That still doesn’t change the fact that – right now – there aren’t that many apps out there for you to play with.
The Motorola Xoom is a solid feeling bit of hardware that unfortunately, feels a little unfinished. This is largely down to the many force closes we experienced and the scarcity of available apps – two things which we’re sure will only improve with time (and software updates).
As such, the Xoom represents more of an investment right now than a must have purchase. A die-hard Android fan will undoubtedly find much to love about the Xoom and enjoy seeing more and more tablet-based apps and games become available over the coming months. However more casual tablet users may struggle with it.