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Product Review: Motorola Xoom
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Product Review: Motorola Xoom

Does this thin Android-based tablet have what it takes to compete with Apple's iPad?

If electronics were like high school, it’s safe to say that the iPad (and iPad2) is something of the varsity quarterback, prom king and valedictorian all rolled into one.


It’s not only immensely popular but the envy of many – including a host of PC and cellphone makers who have rushed behind Apple with tablets of their own. Motorola is one of the latest to throw its elbow at Apple for a share of the spotlight with its Xoom tablet.

What Sets the Xoom Apart

To compete with the iPad, you've got to bring some big guns, and the Xoom does deliver a few features and benefits that the iPad 2 does not.

First, it's running a new version of Google's Android operating system (dubbed Honeycomb) which -unlike earlier iterations of the OS - was designed specifically for tablets. That means there's better rendering for applications and new widgets for customizing the system. The built-in Google apps – such as Maps and Gmail – are designed for a larger screen. That’s all good.

Android is a more “open” operating system, which means that it’s easier for developers to write apps for and for users to get under the hood and tweak settings. That’s good – if doing either of those things appeals to you. 

Cameras

In one arena, the iPad 2 simply can't compare with the Xoom, and that's the built-in cameras.  The rear-facing camera for snapshots and video recording has a five-megapixel sensor vs. just a VGA-resolution camera on the iPad 2. The front-facing camera for video chats has a two-megapixel sensor vs. another VGA sensor on the iPad 2. While few people will likely use the Xoom as a camera or camcorder (way too cumbersome) the video conferencing capability is  desirable, and the Xoom definitely offers the sharper experience.

Browsing

Another highlight of the Xoom is the tabbed browsing using Google's Chrome Internet browser. Again, this is something the vaunted iPad 2 can't touch. The Xoom also incorporates the latest version of Adobe Flash (10.2) for viewing video content on the Web. Apple has thus far refused to incorporate Flash in its own mobile products claiming it’s too “buggy.” That may make for a few less crashes and freezes on the iPad2, but it also means you don’t get the “real” Web experience as you do on the Xoom. Another point for Xoom.

The Xoom has more internal memory too, at least for the entry model, with 32GB of flash memory. However, with the iPad 2 you have the option of a 64GB version.

The Xoom does include a slot for a memory card, so you can expand your memory capacity (another nice touch not found on its arch-rival). Unfortunately, as of this writing, the card slot is not yet activated. A software patch is promised that will enable the Xoom to recognize memory cards, but it’s not here yet.

It’s not exactly good form to launch a product with parts that don’t work – but hopefully the patch is imminent.

Size

The Xoom boasts a 10.1-inch display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 - enough to show off high definition videos at 720p. It's just a touch larger and a just a few pixels sharper than the iPad 2's screen.

At 9.8 x 6.6 x .5 inches and 25.7 ounces, it's pretty svelte, although not quite as slim as the iPad 2.

Price

The Wi-Fi-only version of the Xoom will set you back $599 - that's $100 more than the iPad, so you'll be paying for those differentiators mentioned above. However, you can get yourself a Wi-Fi plus 3G wireless Xoom for the same price if you opt for a monthly data plan for Verizon. If you want a 3G-capable Xoom without a data plan from Verizon, you'll be paying $799.

Motorola will also enable the Xoom to access faster 4G networks too (again, unlike the iPad 2 which is strictly 3G). But there's a catch - to take advantage of 4G speeds you'll have to mail the tablet back to Motorola. Again, not the best form to have capabilities that require a trip to the post office to enable, but if you want to tap into faster mobile broadband speeds you at least have the option to do so with the Xoom.

Bottom Line

Motorola’s Xoom is one of the few tablets that has the specs to compete with the iPad 2. If you like Google’s Android operating system, you’ll definitely appreciate the Honeycomb upgrade. The Xoom has a few drawbacks – non-working memory card slot and the extra $100 to the price of a Wi-Fi only version don’t help – but higher resolution cameras and a beautiful widescreen display may just be enough to give Motorola a piece of that limelight.

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