Review: Motorola Xoom

How does the Motorola Xoom stack up against the iPad? Not bad, actually...

NameTablet: Motorola Xoom
At a glance:Android 3.0 "Honeycomb",10.1-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel display,Dual-core 1GHz processor,1GB RAM, 32GB storage,No USB host port, HDMI cable not included
Summary:A brilliant Android 3.0 tablet, notably missing a USB host port and HDMI.

Motorola’s Xoom crashed onto the New Zealand tablet scene in July, narrowly missing our comprehensive tablet roundup in June.

The Xoom was Google's reference device when designing Honeycomb, the tablet-optimised Android 3.0 operating system. That’s the Xoom’s main claim to fame: it is, quite literally, the archetypal Honeycomb tablet device.

Honeycomb offers a number of improvements over Android tablets that run smartphone-optimised Android 2.x. The most obvious of these is a major user interface redesign to take advantage of the larger screens found on tablets as opposed to smartphones.

Customising your home screens goes from a clunky, drawn-out experience to something as easy as picking new furniture in The Sims and dropping it into place. Settings are easier to navigate, and the overall feeling of working with an oversized smartphone is greatly diminished.

With its 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 pixel display, the Xoom is capable of showing 720p HD video at its native resolution (1280 x 720 pixels); the iPad 2 downscales video to fit its smaller 1024 x 768 pixel display. The Xoom can also play 1080p Full HD video, downscaled to 720p on the fly. Better still, it does it with great picture and sound quality, without a hint of lag.

The included YouTube app is brilliant, allowing you to browse smoothly for your next video while playing back HD content, thanks to an intuitive touch interface.

I’m chalking the video performance up to the Xoom’s dual-core 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. There’s up to 32GB of on-board storage, with “SD card support after software update” (I didn’t test the microSD card slot myself, but it’s visible beside the SIM card slot).

Motorola also claims web browsing performance “twice as fast as the leading competitor on the market today” – I’m not going to try to make performance comparisons, because it’s just too subjective without a massively complex test setup. However, web browsing was definitely quick – both via Telecom’s XT network and Wi-Fi connections. Pages load promptly and – if you install Adobe’s latest Flash Player – the Xoom’s high-powered CPU happily plays Flash games and videos. Many lower-priced Android devices I’ve tested have Flash support, but lack the power to actually run complex Flash applications.

Motorola claims up to 10 hours of continuous video playback on a single battery charge, or 2-3 days of regular use. Charge time is just 3.5 hours, meaning you spend very little time tethered to the wall. Top up the battery nightly for best results.

An optional ‘Portfolio Case’ acts as a screen protector and portable stand. I didn’t test one, but it's comparable to the Apple iPad 2’s ‘Smart Cover’. One-upping Apple, the case has multiple ‘stops’ that let you choose an angle suitable to your working conditions.

Downsides? It's offputting that the Xoom has no host USB port, and doesn't include the proprietary cable necessary for HDMI output. At the time we reviewed it, Telecom didn't even stock the cable. Why have an attractive, powerful tablet cut off from the outside world by a lack of wired connectivity? Another less critical flaw is that the smooth backplate makes the Xoom slide a little too easily from your hands – easily solved with a case. I never dropped it, but a rubberised back would have been better.

Sold exclusively through Telecom, the Xoom’s shelf price is $1,149: deliberately identical to the equivalent 32GB, 3G-enabled Apple iPad. Both have brilliant hardware, and the size and weight differences are negligible. The Xoom has a higher-resolution screen, though perhaps not quite as vibrant as the iPad’s. Really, it comes down to Android or iOS. If you’ve got your heart set on an Android tablet (or want Flash compatibility), the Xoom is a top contender.

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Tags smartphoneMotorolaHoneycombTabletAndroidXoomiPad

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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