updated 09:30 pm EST, Wed February 16, 2011
Our Motorola Xoom hands-on from MWC
Mobile World Congress gave us the opportunity to try what should be the final version of the Motorola Xoom. While we got a live demo at CES under controlled conditions, we wanted to see how it would be in real life. Read on for Electronista's impressions and how well the final hardware will stack up against the iPad, its most obvious competitor.
The first thing you might notice is the weight. It's only a tenth of a pound heavier than the iPad, but it can subjectively feel heavier. We suspect that's due to the aspect ratio: at 16:10 versus Apple's 4:3, holding it in portrait mode makes it taller and puts a lot of the weight bias towards the back. Compare it to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and it feels excessively heavy for the size, not to mention harder to grip the smooth surface.
There's no doubt that the construction is high quality, however: we tried the European silver model, and while it looks like a giant-sized original iPhone, the aluminum and glass give it a reassuring feel. Americans will only get black. Videos can look very good on the widescreen display given that there's far less rescaling to fit the video.
Android 3.0, of course, is a big step forward for tablets, at least those from companies other than Apple. We won't rehash the full feature set, but it's both much more optimized for the tablet space and brings some features that Apple could take a cue from: the visual app switcher and subtler tray area notifications, for example.
There are some definite problems in this initial release. We're not sure if the action bar (the top title bar) is necessarily the best solution for a tablet: it forces you to reach both the top and bottom of the screen when you're navigating around apps and the OS. It sometimes takes valuable space from the app, too.
More important appears to just be performance. Even on a Tegra 2 and using hardware graphics acceleration for the main interface, the Xoom feels atypically slow: it uses the same processor and core components as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG Optimus Pad. We noticed a number of transitions, such as browser navigation and just in swiping through home screens. It's possible this particular tablet was facing a problem, but given that text and other less intensive tasks prompted almost instantaneous responses, we suspect something wasn't properly optimized.
Is it worthwhile? At CES it wasn't hard to be enamored with the Xoom, but now we're not so sure. There's no doubt that it has received a lot of care on its way to launch, but we're not convinced it's necessarily the best tablet. A Galaxy Tab 10.1 might not have as much of an upscale feel but makes more sense both out of speed and portability.
Moreover, any conversation about the Xoom now has to center on the price. At a minimum of $600 for a Wi-Fi only Xoom, it's a lot to ask if you don't truly need the 32GB of built-in space. And at $800 for a 3G model whose Wi-Fi is disabled until you pay for a month of service, it's just too hard to endorse. Android is supposed to be open, but it's not to the end user if they have no choice but to pay more than the advertised price to use the full hardware.
It's true that the device is more advanced than the current iPad, but it's only the current model. Apple's next iPad is rumored to run on its own dual-core processor and use dual cameras, negating much of the hardware difference. If Apple keeps prices and capacities the same, a competitive iPad 2 would cost $70 less -- and it would cost $100 less beyond that for those who only need 16GB.
We're eager to get a long-term review unit to see how it works in real-world conditions, and we suspect we would be happier with the Xoom at home than at a Barcelona show exhibit. But it's not quite the surefire tool to convert iPad users that Motorola portrays: with these prices and experiences, it's more for early adopters curious about Android or eager to avoid iOS. We like it, but when a tablet's attachment depends on people loving it, that might not enough.